Over the years, I have kissed a lot of things in my quest for a good story — Ireland’s Blarney stone; my luck goodbye in Las Vegas and shipboard casinos; terra firma after returning wobbly-kneed from the Sydney Harbor Bridge climb. But nothing I’ve ever kissed in the line of duty has given me as much pleasure as smacking lips with Katrina, a 6-year-old dolphin at Dolphin Cay, part of the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
Katrina’s name is an homage to her mother, one of 16 dolphins rescued by the resort from the Gulfport, Mississippi, Oceanarium after Hurricane Katrina demolished the building, sending its residents into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Today, Katrina and her mother, Sheree, are both part of the Dolphin Experience here at Atlantis. Visitors, after being briefed on what is and isn’t polite behavior around the aquatic mammals, can give them high-fives, rub their bellies and, yes, kiss them.
The fabled island of Atlantis was first mentioned by Plato in an allegorical work describing its attack on Athens, the philosopher’s ideal state. In “Timaeus,” the angry gods punished Atlantis for its hubris by submerging it in the Atlantic Ocean.
In 1998, Atlantis re-emerged on the other side of the Atlantic in the form of an ocean-themed resort combining six hotels, 21 restaurants, 19 bars, 11 pools (plus miles of white beach), a casino and shopping.
All of this surrounds the piece de resistance — a 141-acre waterscape of pools and palms, lagoons and lush tropical foliage. Perhaps the most impressive feature of the resort is The Dig, an architectural rendering of the submerged continent of Atlantis. Located just off the main lobby of the Royal Towers, The Dig is a series of mazelike pathways lined by glass-walled aquariums featuring marine life.
That marine life ranges from the fearsome (six-foot moray eels, piranhas, poisonous jellyfish) to the benign (starfish, sea horses and black and yellow clownfish), all showcased against a backdrop of reconstructed temple columns, colorful pottery and statues.
DAREDEVIL THRILLS, SEDENTARY PLEASURES
On my first visit to Atlantis a few years back, I was a bit of a daredevil — trying several of the thrill-a-minute water experiences — the most thrilling of which was tubing through a dark cavern and ending up in a tank filled with hammerhead and Caribbean reef sharks. (I was encased in a glass cylinder that prevented me from being chum for the circling sharks.)
This time, I decided on more sedentary pursuits. First up was a treatment at the resort’s Mandara Spa. The spa building resembles a Balinese temple (the company was founded in Bali) with water- and plant-filled public spaces and 32 treatment rooms.
Next I wanted a good meal, and that’s easy to find at Atlantis. My first evening’s dining adventure was at Bimini Road, a colorful, casual spot in the Marina Village. Seafood is the star attraction, and whatever else you order, try the island staple, conch chowder. (I recommend the pineapple bread pudding as well.)
If I started out casual, I ended up classy at Cafe Martinique. James Bond fans will recognize it from its cameo in the 1965 film “Thunderball.” International chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has put his own stamp on the restaurant with a classic French menu in a setting that features a dramatic mahogany staircase and etched glass windows.
My favorite dining experience was at 77 West, the resort’s newest fine-dining restaurant, with a menu that is a fusion of South American and Caribbean cuisine. Bahamian cracked lobster is a specialty of the house, as is duck and chorizo empanadas and for dessert, dulce de leche cheesecake.
As for accommodations, many visitors opt for the Royal Towers due to its proximity to all the action. If you are looking for something quieter and more exclusive, book a suite at the Cove.
A DAY IN NASSAU
With everything available at Atlantis, it’s tempting not to stray off the property. But it would be a shame not to spend at least a day in Nassau, just across the causeway.
I started off my day with an excursion to John Watling’s, a craft distillery that will educate you about the production of rum, the Bahamas’ signature spirit.
It’s located on the Buena Vista Estate, built for King George III’s counsel to the Bahamas (although the distillery itself was named for a less savory character; John Watling was a notorious 17th century British buccaneer).
The free daily tour takes in the production area, shop and tavern, where visitors indulge in rum tastings and hear tales of two ghosts that allegedly roam the estate.
Afterward, I took a short walk to Graycliff for a leisurely lunch. Nowhere is the romance of old Nassau as alive as it is here. Built in 1740 by a pirate (piracy paid handsomely in the Bahamas), it is today a combination boutique hotel and elegant restaurant, with a chocolate shop, cigar bar and museum on the premises.
I started with a tour of the impressive wine cellar, containing 275,000 bottles. One shelf alone contains wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux valued at more than a million dollars. The cellar also holds the oldest registered bottle of wine in the world — a German dessert wine from 1727.
I opted for a considerably less pricey vintage to go with my lunch of the ubiquitous conch chowder, Bahamian smothered grouper with rice and peas and guava duff, a local specialty that resembles a jelly roll, served with rum sauce and whipped cream.
I was ready to head back to Atlantis, confident that it hadn’t slipped back into the sea.
If you go . . .
You can book rooms at Atlantis Paradise Island online at atlantisbahamas.com or by phone, 888-877-7525. Accommodations range from the luxury Cove (from $623 a night in late April) to the value-priced Beach Tower (from $264).
All-inclusive packages — including accommodation, water park, activities and meals — are available from $299 per night, with a minimum three-night stay. Blackout dates apply.
Flights into Nassau from New York start at $327 round-trip in late April; JetBlue, Delta and American all offer regular service; flight time is about three hours plus.
John Watling’s Distillery (242-322-2811, johnwatlings.com) is on Delancey Street in Downtown Nassau; it’s open daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and until 9 p.m. on Fridays.
The Graycliff Restaurant (855-472-9254, graycliff.com) is inside the Graycliff Hotel on West Hill Street in Downtown Nassau. Wine luncheons and Chef’s Table experiences are available; reservations can be made online.