WHERE DO YOU GO FOR CHRISTMAS VACATION WHEN YOUR FAMILY CONSISTS OF: A mother who wants to gamble; a father who wants to golf; a sister who wants to shop; a brother-in-law who wants to eat; two nephews (ages six and eight) who want to swim, play, and play some more; an infant nephew who's teething; and Auntie Star, who wants to rest, relax, and spend every day at the beach?Easy—you go to the Bahamas. Specifically, you head straight to Atlantis, a 34-acre, 2,300-room resort on the north coast of Paradise Island.
A half-hour trip by bridge or water taxi from Nassau, Atlantis dates from the sixties, but was renovated and expanded in a major way (at a cost of $725 million) and relaunched a few years ago. Want sun?Got it. Want entertainment?Got that, too. Want gorgeous beaches?Please . . . this is the Bahamas, dear; all those are easy to find. What makes Atlantis such a standout is its range of places to stay—three towers (with countless room configurations), plus a sister property, the small and entirely indulgent Ocean Club, all connected by shuttle buses. More important, what draws our family are the unbelievable facilities: 18 restaurants, 20 nightclubs, a kids' camp, an enormous outdoor aquarium, a spa, a sports center, a golf course, the largest casino in the Caribbean, and 11 million gallons' worth of water activities. So it's really just a matter of figuring out your wants.
In planning the trip, we agreed we'd get together for at least one meal a day. Then we went off in different directions. My parents and sister and brother-in-law requested large connecting rooms in Atlantis's oceanside Coral Tower, so the children could run back and forth between their parents' and grandparents' spaces. (The older kids got the sofa bed, and my sister had the concierge arrange to bring up a fridge and microwave—handy for baby bottles.) I, on the other hand, booked a room at my favorite hotel, the Ocean Club. I've stayed there six times; I keep returning because, although I want access to everything Atlantis offers, I don't want to feel surrounded by a crowd of vacationers. The Ocean Club, with 106 rooms (each with a balcony or terrace), and the beach outside my door, is my spot.
We arrived the day after Christmas and soon staked out our own territories. My nephews Thomas and Terrell signed on at the Discovery Channel Camp (which is conveniently located in the Coral Tower). There they would do crafts or play with other kids in a place free of "Stop," "Be quiet," and "Don't touch that." Their favorite camp excursion: watching the "sea keepers" feed the manta rays and others of the 50,000 fish and aquatic animals on view in dozens of interconnected lagoons.
On more than one afternoon, my sister did some damage at Gucci, Versace, and the Atlantis store (great T-shirts), all just off the Coral Tower lobby. After passing through the shopping arcade, you hit the casino and entertainment complex, where the Dragons Disco kept me and my sister and brother-in-law dancing into the morning. My mother played slots daily until her arm got tired, and won more than she lost. Mom can play all day on $100; how, I will never know. Meanwhile, my father (Pop Pop to his grandchildren) golfed at the Ocean Club's new championship course on the edge of the sea. That's where Tiger Woods plays whenever he's down for a visit. Warning: If you aren't Tiger, the winds might make you hate the game . . . but you will love the views.
As for me, I spent my days lying on the beach, eating conch salad, having daily massages on a hill overlooking the ocean, and reading the latest legal thriller. My kind of vacation! But I had to be an attentive aunt, too, so I played baby-sitter at the Ocean Club, whose beach is open only to guests and their guests. All I can say is thank goodness for the staff. I co-opted my favorite butlers, Anthony and Anton, to help, and by day's end we were all completely covered in sand. It took me 20 minutes to rinse off the baby—who knew they had so many crevices? Lest you think I was given special treatment, the Ocean Club offers personal butlers to all its guests, and the beach service rivals that of the fanciest resorts on the Riviera—cool towels and a spritz of Emily Rose spray when it gets hot, the best chicken club I've ever eaten, brought right to my lounge, and fruit sorbet every afternoon.
Of course, there are any number of ways to cool down around here, one of the most popular being Atlantis's 60-foot Mayan Temple slide. You walk up about a million stairs to get on this massive water slide that shoots you out of what looks like a monument to the gods and into a big pool. I have yet to take the plunge, but my nephews did it 10 times in one week! And if you've ever wondered what it's like to swim with sharks, you have to experience the Dig. This giant aquarium, located under the Royal Tower, the centerpiece of the resort, is supposed to remind you of ancient Atlantis. It's home to every sea creature imaginable, including six kinds of shark: as you walk through the clever Plexiglas viewing tunnel, you get the sense that you're right in there with them.
We had great family lunches at the Atlas Grill, overlooking the marina. It's perfect for kids, but be prepared to wait. On New Year's Eve, I joined friends at the Ocean Club's new restaurant, Dune. If the food reminds you of the best New York has to offer, that's because it is: Carib-Asian fusion cuisine courtesy of über-chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.(Dune also provides the beach food—remember to try that chicken sandwich I was telling you about.) Meanwhile, my parents had a romantic meal, and my sister's family went to Atlantis's traditional Courtyard Terrace, which may actually be my favorite restaurant. Order the steak Diane from Captain John; it'll make you want to "smack your mama"! (Just kidding, Mom.) Afterward we all gathered at the Ocean Club for fireworks. But Terrell didn't like the noise, so my sister's evening was cut short (there's a reason I'm single and child-free). I, of course, stayed and got my party on.
Terrell recently asked whether we were going back to Atlantis this Christmas. "But don't you want Santa Claus to come to your house?" I asked. He just looked at me and said, "He can find me on the beach."