At the top of the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, an imposing new building has appeared. The US$1.4 billion (AU$1.93 billion) hotel and residence combo dubbed Atlantis Royal took 14 years to prepare. It aims to raise the bar of luxury in the most affluent city in the world.
The 43 floors, 87,097 m2 (937,500 feet2) sits next to its iconic family sibling, the Palm, and looks like an architectural mix between a Jenga game and the Millennium Falcon.
Once completed, it is likely to be content for inclusion in our Best Luxury Hotels in Dubai article.
Its futuristic curves and celestial gardens offer breathtaking views of the Arabian Gulf from 795 rooms and 231 apartments.
If a hotelier listed all the luxury amenities and multiplied it by 10 in terms of ambition and quantity – 92 pools, check; outdoor crystal chandeliers that double as umbrellas, check; 17 restaurants and bars from chefs including Heston Blumenthal and José Andrés, check it out – it would look a lot like the Royal on paper.
But executing such a project was nothing short of a challenge.
Like the other Atlantis in Dubai, the Royal began as a joint venture between hotel developer Kerzner International, owner of the One&Only Resorts brand, and investment firm Istithmar World. After funding dried up in the midst of the 2008 global financial crisis, the property was left to languish for years.
The Investment Corp of Dubai (ICD), the sovereign fund of the emirate, intervened for the rescue.
Since resuming construction in 2016, Atlantis Royal has been seen as a central part of the overall strategy to grow Dubai’s tourism scene with a focus less on families and more on party-loving singles. Particularly in the 25-44 age group, these have been tracked by Emirates Airlines as a rapidly growing demographic in recent years, especially since Covid-19 hit.
Pandemic restrictions on the movement of labor and the resulting supply chain crisis have plagued and delayed already costly construction. Now, with plans to start taking bookings in Q3 2022, here’s a look at what the Royal could add to the Dubai mix, based on an exclusive Hard Hat Tour of Sybaritic Excess currently underway.
Although it was just a concrete foundation the day I visited, the influencer-ready Cloud 22 was a great place to start understanding the Royal. Its 90-meter rooftop pool soars 22 stories above the skyline. (Hence the name.)
It already comes equipped with a fiberglass DJ booth shaped like a robot’s head, with red LED “veins” to vibrate to the beat of the music, and each of its 14 booths has a private plunge pool in acrylic. A two-level “VVIP” cabana has a special acrylic-bottom pool that appears to float above the edge of the structure.
From ground level, it is easier to appreciate the architecture, which is wider than tall.
Made by New York-based Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, who designed the masterplan for Manhattan’s Hudson Yards, it’s meant to look like a skyscraper that’s been deconstructed into pieces side by side, some connected by a futuristic skybridge . .
Most of the restaurants will be on the ground floor, including a branch of Andrés Jaleo’s Spanish tapas spot, a classic sushi entree from Nobu Matsuhisa and an offshoot of Heston Blumenthal’s experimental London flagship, Dinner.
Other spots will be better known regionally, such as Ariana’s Persian Kitchen, whose namesake owner Ariana Bundy has a popular cooking show airing throughout Asia and the Middle East. Ling Ling by Hakkasan, a restaurant and lounge overlooking Cloud 22, will provide the most prominent drinking and dancing venue.
Also on the ground floor is Dubai’s largest private beachfront, a 2 km (1.25 mile) stretch of sugar sand reserved for guests and residents that extends to the Atlantis resort of origin.
The only comparable space is in the new islands of the Anantara world; accessible only by speedboat, a 2,000 m course2 the private beach is accessible only to guests staying in its 70 rooms and suites.
After party recovery
Indulgence is only one side of the coin; well-being is the other. “Property features that target emotional and spiritual well-being, such as meditation and massage spaces, are more important than ever,” said Timothy Kelly, executive vice president and general manager of Atlantis.
The pandemic, he adds, has sparked greater interest in holistic wellness among travelers.
The 3000m2 The wellness center offers a six-room “Hammam Sensorium” where the typical Turkish bath experience will be enhanced with aromatic poultices mixed according to your preferences. There are also Korean spa-style “halotherapy” salt caves and a snow sauna.
Typical of Dubai’s hotel competition, amenities such as hypnotherapy treatments (available to treat everything from insomnia to anxiety) are meant to set themselves apart from the more superficial US$422 caviar facials at the ” seven stars” Burj al Arab; whether they are as relaxing as a simple high-quality massage remains to be determined.
I found it surprisingly soothing to look at some of the artwork already in the lobby, including an 11.5 meter tall, 5.5 ton stainless steel sculpture called Droplets, which has the bulbous essence and brilliant of a Jeff Koons Balloon Dog and plays off the motion of 4,000 jellyfish serenely whipping through nearby tanks.
The tourism boom in Dubai
Atlantis Royal’s ambitions mirror those of Dubai. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai, plans to double Dubai’s tourism over the next 20 years in hopes of making it the most visited city in the world.
The Covid-19 pandemic has hampered some of these ambitions.
In 2021, Dubai expected 27 million visitors but only welcomed 7.28 million, despite its borders being open all year round. less exceed them, as we hoped.
During the fourth quarter, Dubai welcomed 3.4 million visitors, or 74% of what the city welcomed during the same period in 2019.
One explanation is the drop in Chinese visits which accounted for 989,000 of the 16.7 million tourist visits to the city in 2019 – the fifth largest visitor source market.
A cooler wrinkle is the drop in high-spending Russian tourists, whose purchasing power has evaporated due to sanctions triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (The United Arab Emirates serves as a haven for some of the wealthiest Russians).
The silver lining for Atlantis Royal is that it can offset some of the lagging tourism by selling residences to help recover expenses for the $1.4 billion project.
The tower apartments, priced between US$2 million and US$49 million and including the most expensive unit in Dubai, have all been sold.
Real estate agents are signaling interest from a wave of cryptocurrency investors and blockchain entrepreneurs looking to settle in a city that is becoming increasingly crypto-friendly. (Sheikh Mohammad has pushed to promote the industry through “free zones,” which can license and approve crypto transactions and are lax on taxes.)
Industry insiders say additions like the Royal are just what Dubai needs to achieve its lofty tourism goals.
“The tourism industry is far bigger than oil and gas in Dubai,” says Kostas Nikolaidis, who focuses on the Middle East for global hospitality data and insights firm STR.
“Iconic hotels like this not only boost the image of the destination, but can also often stimulate new demand.”
This article is published under license from Bloomberg Media: the original article can be viewed here