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Red-Hot Bahamas

It's no surprise that Atlantis serves as a principal backdrop for After the Sunset. The three conch-colored hotel towers pierce the heavens like the tines of Neptune's trident. The Royal Towers are festooned with sea horses and nautilus-shell architectural details and decorated inside with marble floors, gilded murals, and Greek key-patterns. When you see spotted manta rays floating in tanks in front of people eating seafood in a subterranean café, gaze at Dale Chihuly glass assemblages in the casino, or watch tweens bump and grind at their own disco, Club Rush, another movie comes to mind. Maybe it's my own adolescent perversity, but I can't help imagining how cool it would be to set a remake of The Poseidon Adventure here.

In 1994, Kerzner, who had developed the controversial Sun City in South Africa, purchased the prize package of Paradise Island real estate that would become Atlantis. The property had previously been amalgamated by Resorts International and in the eighties had passed through the hands of Donald Trump and Merv Griffin. Kerzner first visited the place in the early seventies, to check out what were then Paradise Island's newest hotels. When he was offered the opportunity to buy the property out of bankruptcy, he returned—to find that it was, as he bluntly puts it, "horrible." He was delighted to see, however, that the beaches and water he remembered so vividly from his visit almost 15 years earlier remained "among the best in the world." Even more impressive was the fact that about 600 largely undeveloped acres were for sale, allowing him to create his own mythical kingdom. Kerzner spent almost four years building Atlantis. After adding lagoons and marine habitats to the grounds of the two existing Resorts International hotels, he conceived the rest of the complex as a surf-and-turf environment, with beaches, water slides built into a Mayan pyramid, and walk-through aquariums filled with sharks and piranhas.

By the time the third building, the Royal Towers, opened in 1998, Kerzner had become the Bahamas' second-largest employer, after the Bahamian government itself. He is now bringing prosperity to the island and is widely admired by the local population as both an astute businessman and a philanthropist. His clout with the authorities is considerable, and since Atlantis opened there has been a noticeable ripple effect throughout New Providence. A college specifically for hotel workers has been founded, roads are being repaired, the airport is scheduled for improvements, and restaurants and shops are springing up in Nassau.

Kerzner's empire in the sun is expanding: he is building a fourth Atlantis tower and an Ernie Els-designed golf course set on its own islet, and he recently acquired an old Club Med on the western end of Paradise Island. In a new village with 65,000 square feet of shops and restaurants, Café Martinique, modeled on the French dining spot in Thunderball, will reopen under the direction of Jean-Georges Vongerichten. A Nobu Matsuhisa restaurant is also on tap for Atlantis.

The acquisition that gave Kerzner control of almost 75 percent of Paradise Island included a smaller piece of property once owned by A&P heir Huntington Hartford. In 1962, Hartford, a legendary spendthrift, purchased a waterfront mansion on what was then called Hog Island for $9.5 million from a Swedish industrialist. He renamed it Paradise Island, turned the former owner's house into the Ocean Club, a small hotel for his friends, and reconstructed a 12th-century European cloister amid the lavish gardens visible from his swimming pool.

Kerzner has doubled the capacity of this idyllic hideaway, where butlers are on hand to cater to your every need. There's a new 56-room wing, three private villas, and Dune, a chic Christian Liaigre-designed restaurant headed by Vongerichten. That night, I drift off to the scent of plumeria wafting in from outside and the sound of chirping frogs between peals of distant thunder. The next day begins at Dune, with a breakfast of smoked salmon and mango French toast. I spend the following hours lolling on the beach, getting a massage in one of the private Balinese spa villas, and taking golf lessons from a pro named Lemon. The Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational is held here, but try as I might, I can't quite get my slices to sail anywhere.


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