Sumptuous free press junkets aren’t always as great as they sound— I’ve dodged empty beer bottles in Iceland, vaginal Ping-Pong balls in Thailand, and severe boredom in Russia— but the one two weeks ago to check out the updated Atlantis, a 44-acre resort on the Bahamas’ Paradise Island, was gaudy, excessive, and pretty fabulash. The words too much come to mind, starting with the invite, which said, “You will be greeted by the Seven Golden Flying Horses of Atlantis.” Six would have sufficed— but I appreciated the extra effort.
Once past that equine statue with the spurting fountain, we were free to “explore the tropical waterscape, brave the five-story Mayan Temple, walk the ancient dig, and marvel at 40,000 fish of 150 species.” Most of them on our plate. The gargantuan hotel is a cornucopia of faux seashells and dolphins, mammoth glass sculptures, and a lazy river ride that practically floats you to your room. Taking in the splendor, Carmen Electra observantly told me, “It’s like you’re in Las Vegas, but you’re in the Bahamas!” Except it’s easier to get a quickie marriage and annulment in Vegas.
In the style of that desert metropolis, Atlantis has a glitzy casino, bedecked with the usual cigar-chomping cranks and their surgerized floozies. Presenting one of the more surreal visions of the trip, Larry Flynt was positioned alone in front of a roped-off blackjack table, intently playing around with some 2 million dollars’ worth of chips. If he had run out of those, Flynt could have always pawned off his glittering diamond watch and priceless Hustler attitude.
In another corner, a publicist was hauling in bags of Lalique gifts for Oprah Winfrey and her friend Gayle King. The rest of us got sarongs, bottled water, and a bracelet that admitted us to endless free meals and parties. The first one was a welcoming reception in the Great Hall of Waters— a humble little place with mermaid murals and a ceiling of gold shells— culminating with a concert by Quincy Jones and stellar friends like Patti Austin and James Ingram. And the starry lineup didn’t end there. Even my rickety ferry ride to the town of Nassau the next day was celeb-crazed, the two-buck fee covering the tour guide’s screamed-out commentary about the stately mansions of local tax exiles like Richard Harris. The town turned out to be a marvel of mixed metaphors, from its T-shirted Santas to its weird mix of Gucci stores for tourists and hovels for natives. Weirdest of all are the exuberant straw-goods sellers who call you sweetie and honey,but when you don’t respond, snarl, “Hey, don’t you talk English?”
I sported my new Gucci back to the hotel, where Leonardo DiCaprio was nicely letting fans photograph him by the ancient dig, though he wouldn’t pose for the paparazzi— just like in New York. And he’d schlepped his huge, exclusively male posse with him— just like in New York. Plus he desperately wanted a CD player in his luxury suite and got what he wanted— just like in New York. (“Get them the fucking CD player!” owner Sol Kerzner reportedly told subordinates.) Still, Leo had brought such magnetism with him that every time he moved, 30 people followed. If he’d dived into an empty pool, there would soon be a pile of idiotic dead bodies in it.
As the weekend’s biggest blowout approached, Yasmine Bleeth was coercing hotel store workers to lend her some earrings and a necklace, assuring them they’d get publicity if she wore them. Ivana Trump took hers off to zoom down the 60-foot water slide, which shoots you into a tube that goes through a shark-infested tank. (When she landed, she learned that the Donald was at the proceedings.) And then we all landed at the gala, where we picked lobster claws off the tops of the hoop gowns worn by help dressed as crustaceans.
Carmen Electra was now being interviewed for British TV by two puppets with orbs hanging from their heads, which prompted her to gurgle, “I like your balls!” Just then, the cojones-laden Zula, a large woman in tribal garb, was carried out on a throne by very strong men, after which “the Goddess of Atlantis,” Grace Jones, appeared in rainbow-colored wings to address us as “my subjects” while Lee Majors danced wildly with the ballsy puppets. Suddenly, there was a choice between “seafood bounty” with KC and the Sunshine Band by the lagoon, and “rotisseries and Bahamian specialties” with an Albita concert in another outdoor area. While breathlessly running back and forth, I prayed I hadn’t missed an Olivia Newton-John rotunda with string cheese.
But the real treat was the concert on the Mayan Temple, which filled up with a 300-member gospel choir and the Winanses, Natalie Cole, Stephanie Mills, and Stevie Wonder,all singing the praises of divinity and Sol Kerzner (who they all seemed to forget was responsible for South Africa’s much boycotted Sun City resort). At the climax, black activist Michael Jackson was escorted up to the temple to perform, which he no doubt had agreed to do because the owner’s daughter happens to be named Bubbles. He sang “Heal the World.” He looked like he needed to heal his nose. After his brief, but freakily compelling performance, Jacko was escorted right out as a man quipped to me, “Make the world a better place— but get out of my way!”
Just then— it’s not over— the entire front of the hotel erupted in fireworks, sparks shooting off the terraces as we thanked God we hadn’t stayed in our rooms. The second it was over— as if Sol himself had some arrangement with the Lord— the expected rain started and everyone ran inside to watch the Junkanoo Parade of guys in feathered headdresses bumping their pelvises as a brass band played a reggae version of “I’ll Be There.” Star Jones was gushing that she’d been to all sorts of events, “but this shit is really fabulous!” Even the Donald told me he liked what they’d done with the place— and he used to own it! The only mildly perturbed person was Julianne Moore, whom I told to keep her baby away from Jacko.
In New York, it took weeks to recover from the glittering food and frenzy, but some sobering experiences helped. From the luxury towers of Atlantis, I went right to The Prince of Egypt, which could have used some rotisseries and Bahamian specialties. The dud movie is alternately ponderous and unpleasant, and though The View‘s Debbie Matenopolous seemed to be somewhat impressed by it, she told me, “Taking a kid to that would be like taking them to see The Shining!”
Queens of Mesopotamia are the stars of Paul Rudnick‘s The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told,though the second half— a lively Christmas party in
modern-day Chelsea— works far better than the biblical takeoff in Act One, which transports Rudnick’s somewhat moldy spoofs of gays as potential decorators with hair-care and crudité fixations to the beginning of time.
There are half as many exposed penises in The Blue Room, but the one is quite golden-flying-horsey enough, thank you. A friend of mine joked that the show has given Tom Cruise his first chance to see Nicole Kidman naked— but that is not true and THEY ARE NOT GAY, OK? In any case, this Room is a provocative one to check into— it’s a slight, but enticing romp with so much sex appeal that the night I saw it, people were streaming out of the theater in impassioned lip locks. If they could only bottle this stuff, we wouldn’t need to get quite so excited about puppets.