PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas - The last time I tried to sneak into a pool it was 2 a.m. after a party. A few of us had wandered over to a private club just outside Boston for a quick dip. With a push from below, the first of our group scaled the top of the 6-foot-high chain-link fence and dropped down the other side. Then the security guard turned on his spotlight. We didn't make it to the pool, but then we we didn't end up at the police station either.
Now the goal was grander: use 11 pools, five slides, and one river ride at the Bahamas mega-resort Atlantis without staying there.
Atlantis is unquestionably impressive, with its Disney-esque waterparks, lavish grounds, and a jaw-dropping display of oceanic creatures in underground aquariums. However, such decadence has its price, and it was too much for our budget.
But this time getting in was easier. We took advantage of a unique relationship between Atlantis and our hotel, the Comfort Suites across the street. Showing our room key gained us access to the resort's 171-acre complex.
Our room, which came with a decent self-serve breakfast, a refrigerator, and a pull-out sofabed for our kids, was about half the cost of a room at Atlantis. And although the Comfort Inn is not on the beach, it is closer than some Atlantis hotel rooms to some of the more interesting areas of the complex, including Marina Village (with many restaurants and shops), Atlantis Beach, and a series of pools and waterslides.
If you're in the Bahamas for the beach, you can find a more secluded resort than Atlantis. But it doesn't hurt that Atlantis has great restaurants, a casino, and a spa.
The grounds are expansive; you will walk a lot so bring a stroller for the little ones. We picked a daytime base near the main water slides to deposit our towels, food, and beach gear. Like most resorts the food can be expensive, but most of the poolside snack bars were tolerably priced. The best deal was the refillable soda cups, which could be used day after day.
Our activities were all about the water during the day, including plunges down the Mayan Temple water slides that take you in a clear, thick Plexiglas tube through the shark-infested waters (yes, live sharks) of Predator Lagoon.
The top draw for us was Aquaventure. Anywhere else, Aquaventure would be a full-scale water park with a $50 admission, but for an Atlantis (or even Comfort Inn) guest, it's free. It includes a mile-long river ride, towering slides, a water playground, and more.
We spent most of our time at the Current, a river ride that is so long - nearly a mile - that you can spend the whole morning on its many meandering branches.
One branch takes riders (tubes and all) up through the Power Tower, a 120-foot-tall structure that houses three tube slides. Riders simply stay in their tubes and are lifted up the tower on a conveyor belt that offers sweeping views of the ocean and nearby beaches. At the top, you can select one of two slides or walk up one level to the roof, where you wait in a line for the ultimate drop.
There riders sit in their tubes, slide over the edge when the warning light turns green, then drop like a roller coaster into a steep dip. But the slide's special magic doesn't kick in until you've reached the bottom of the dip and start up the other side - that's where the "master-blaster" water jets take over. Propelled by hundreds of gallons of rushing water, riders and tubes zoom up the slide. After a rapid, spiraling, up-and-down journey, riders end up back in the Current.
Another branch of the Current leads to the rapids section. Here a wave generator simulates a surge that sends tubes and riders bouncing forward on 3- to 5-foot waves that careen off hairpin turns.
In another section, riders get a short break while a conveyer belt lifts them about 20 feet to simulated white-water rapids.
Last spring Atlantis unveiled Dolphin Cay, an 11-acre lagoon where you can pet feed, and swim with dolphins.
Though the size and volume of activities at Atlantis can be overwhelming, we discovered that after the sun goes down and the pools and slides close, everyone heads inside. Our kids loved walking through the grounds after dinner, enjoying the relative solitude. We would bring drinks and dessert and sit by the pool, with the sounds of the ocean and the soaring towers of Atlantis silhouetted through the palm trees.
David A. Kelly, a freelance writer in West Newton, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.