If you’ve always wanted to stand at the bottom of a tank filled with sharks but you’re worried about ruining your new hairdo, the Shark Safari at Aquaventure, Atlantis, is what you’ve been waiting for.
Excited by the prospect of walking underwater with a bubble on my head – who wouldn’t be? – I headed to Aquaventure. On arrival, I was led to Shark Lagoon, which is right in the centre of the park, at the foot of a pyramid that houses most of the slides, including two that shoot straight through the tank I’d soon be submerged in. I was taken to the side of the tank with the rest of the group and, as the sharks swam in the water right behind us, we were told exactly what we’d be doing and how all the equipment (called the Sea Trek underwater system) worked before we were allowed to enter the water.
As I dipped my toes in and climbed down the ladder, the water felt a lot colder than I expected. But I figured the 50 or so sharks swimming in the tank like the water to be that chilly. And we’ve got to keep them happy – after all, they are sharks.
I climbed down a little further, and was given an air tank that rested on my shoulders before the bubble-shaped helmet was lowered over my head, and I was ready to go. All this equipment was heavy at first, but as I went underwater the weight lifted and I continued down the ladder, getting closer and closer to the sharks.
I made my way to the bottom of the pool, equalising my air tank as I descended just like I’d been instructed. You aren’t completely sealed off from the water while wearing the helmet, which goes right below your chin, and there’s space for you to reach your hand up inside the helmet if you need to scratch your nose. The water level rises slightly if you lean too far forwards or backwards, but I was assured that there was no way the helmet would fill up. Having been scuba diving before, the fact that your head isn’t actually touching the water is a strange feeling, and takes some getting used to. Even after getting out, I grabbed a towel and started to dry my hair, forgetting it had never been wet in the first place.
Once my feet touched the floor, I started walking around and admiring the view. It was a bit difficult at first as I felt weightless, and with the helmet on I felt like an astronaut, or the man who runs the London Marathon in an antique diving suit.
As well as the Blacktip Reef sharks, Bowmouth Guitar sharks and Grey Reef sharks, which swam about or lounged in the corners, there were plenty of other fish to see in the tank, too. Colourful fish darted around my feet, and rays swooped inches above my head. Every now and then I caught a glimpse of people shooting past me on the slides.
It was all over too soon, though, and after 20 minutes, my guide floated towards me and gave a thumbs-up – it was time to head back to the surface.
The Shark Safari costs Dh275, and is open from 11am-12pm, and 1-4pm daily. Call 04-426-1000 or log on to www.atlantisthepalm.com for details.