The island in the Bahamas that is now home to the Atlantis resort was once called Hog Island by British colonialists. Rather than world-famous waterslides and New York-based sushi restaurants, however, the Brits used it as a pig farm. When supermarket heir Huntington Hartford bought the island in 1959 he changed the moniker to Paradise Island and hired Gary Player and Pancho Gonzalez to teach golf and tennis, respectively. Paradise Island quickly became a secretive getaway for European royalty and the jet set, as well as the backdrop for scenes in Thunderball and The Beatles' Help.
Now Paradise Island, once owned by both Donald Trump and Merv Griffin, is largely synonymous with Atlantis, a resort once dubbed “Disneyland for adults.” It's not hard to see why: the resort takes up around 600 of the island's 800 acres with more than 11 million gallons of water activities, a 30,000-square-foot casino, an 18-hole golf course and the world's largest outdoor aquarium. It is also the Bahamas' largest employer.
The resort's 2,300 guestrooms and 35 restaurants, bars and lounges are tiered in terms of cost and opulence— much like its resorts and amenities—making Atlantis a sort of Xanadu-within-reach for everyone from spring breakers to honeymooners to high rollers.
For example, the Bridge Suite, which connects the two landmark 23-story Royal Towers, could set visitors back more than $35,000 a night when it opened in 1998. On the other hand, a room in the Beach Tower (choice of king or two double beds; near the Lazy River ride) can be had for $200 in the middle of the week during the off-season.
Atlantis is the brainchild of South African hotel and casino magnate Sol Kerzner, developer of a number of successful resorts around the world, including the Sun City in South Africa. That project famously became a magnet for criticism during the last days of apartheid in the 1980s, with a number of high-profile artists pledging not to play the venue.
Much like Atlantis, Sun City features similar recreation for adults, including a casino, four hotels and two golf courses, one with 38 live crocodiles in the water hazard on the 13th hole. Kerzner also developed the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut.
When it came time to expand Atlantis in 2004, plans to build another 1,500-room tower were scuttled in favor of a smaller, pricier condominium-hotel development modeled on the high-end casinos of Las Vegas. It might be a smart bet. Earlier this year, a private equity real estate consortium including Istithmar, Colony Capital, Whitehall Street Global Real Estate, Providence Equity Partners and The Related Companies acquired Atlantis' owner for $3 billion, plus the assumption of $599 million in debt.
As Atlantis expands at home, the company is looking to develop a companion property in another location familiar with luxury and extravagance—the Palm in Dubai. It's certainly a long way from Hog Island.