Swim with more than 65,000 marine animals in a Dubai hotel
There are more than 65,000 marine animals inhabiting Atlantis The Palm’s Ambassador Lagoon – and now you can swim alongside them. Holly Sands grabs a snorkel and takes the plunge.
While Dubai’s coast offers plenty of scope for spotting colourful fish and spiky sea urchins, the chance of spotting a hammerhead or reef shark moseying around the breakwater at your local beach is more than a little slim. And it’s a long drive to Fujairah or Musandam for an afternoon in the sea with no guarantee you’ll spy anything to set your heart racing. Enter the ultimate snorkel experience now being offered at Atlantis The Palm, in the heart of the complex at the Ambassador Lagoon.
Upon arriving at the entrance to The Avenues (non-hotel guests are no longer allowed to enter the complex through the main hotel lobby), my snorkelling buddy and I pick through the scrum outside the doorway for the Lost Chambers to check in. Unfortunately, the rest of our snorkelling group is running late, but this at least affords us some time to have a look around the displays inside. Once everyone in our six-person group is assembled, we’re led to the top of the aquarium – to our surprise, this involves an almost behind-the-scenes stroll through the complex’s service corridors and lift.
Instructions are dealt out by one of the several guides to hand. She expertly handles a torrent of obnoxious questions from a particularly precocious pre-teen who happens to be part of our group, while my snorkel buddy and I exchange a look that says we would both enjoy seeing one of the sharks make an appetiser out of him.
Luckily for us, my buddy and I both find the experience is in fact highly relaxing, and we bob around in our bright yellow floatation vests pointing excitedly whenever something comes close. Though the incredible clearness of the water can lead to a little vertigo when you first jump in and put your face into the water (mask and snorkel on, mind), the closeness with which shoals of guitar fish and rays glide past is mesmerising. Though the grey reef sharks stay mainly in the half of the lagoon where we aren’t allowed to snorkel, a daring hammerhead darts beneath us some metres below at one point, before just as speedily retreating.
Throughout our 30 minutes in the water, the dive guides point out different species and share their knowledge (which is all fun and games until you hear the words ‘related to the piranha’ as a particularly large fish approaches). Despite the fact half an hour may seem like a short amount of time for such an activities, one of the most noticeable things about the experience as a whole is how un-rushed and calm the atmosphere is.
We’re not chivvied along once, and for any experience of the same length and calibre in Dubai, that must surely be a first. We reach the end of the swim as satisfied customers.
Well, almost. Sadly, as it turns out (or not, for Atlantis’s public relations team) the snorkel itself goes without incident, and our chubby-cheeked foe survives a lap in the cool water unscathed. On the upside, we get to keep the mask and snorkel (as do all guests), and are inspired to scour the city’s beaches for marine life – sharks or no sharks. Dhs225 per person (including snorkel and mask), diving packages also available. Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 3000).
Top beach snorkelling spots in Dubai
Al Mamzar Beach Park There are several different beaches to choose from here – we recommend snorkelling along the inside of the breakwater on the far left side of beach four. In the past, we’ve seen dozens of colourful fish, crabs and even a ray. There can be few better ways to spend Dhs5 anywhere in Dubai. Dhs5 per person. Al Mamzar (04 296 6201).
JA Jebel Ali Golf Resort Check out the breakwater to the right of the Watercooled beach sports hut. Don’t be put off by the seaweed, as you could spot small rays skimming along the sea floor. Day beach access Sun-Thu Dhs180, Fri-Sat Dhs220. Jebel Ali (04 814 5555).
Kitesurfing beach The numerous small bays are each partially guarded by rocky breakwaters – spot small fish and crabs here, though watch out for urchins. They aren’t poisonous, but getting caught on one does hurt. Free. Behind Saga World, Jumeirah Beach Road (no number).