Finding Atlantis

Stepping into the backyard-style oasis at The Atlantis Lodge in 

Pine Knoll Shores one wouldn’t be surprised to see Poseidon 

himself rise from the sea, greeting visitors as they admire his 

storied domain. 

But this Atlantis hasn’t much to do with the mythical city 

with which it shares its name. Rather, according to Donna Hall Nally, 

current general manager of the lodge and granddaughter of the original 

manager Ruth “Mabee” (pronounced Mah-be) Bray, the name was likely 

picked because it would appear first in the phonebook. 

Though the calendar 

says 2018, those old enough 

may be brought back to the 

1960s as they cruise down 

Salter Path Road and see 

the infamous teal and white 

Atlantis sign – the same one 

that has been there for 55 

years. Should they decide 

to make the turn, they’ll see 

many things indeed haven’t changed at all – the yellow and teal color scheme 

that spreads throughout the property, the abundance of trees, bushes and 

birds, the feeling that you might’ve just stumbled upon a secluded chateau 

nestled between the road and the dunes. How one family has managed to 

maintain such a treasure, untouched by time in many ways, has remained 

somewhat of a mystery to locals and tourists alike. 

Ruth Bray was the original manager of The Atlantis when the first guest 

checked in on May 29, 1963, and remained in that position until 1980. But 

the man behind the development of Atlantis was her son-in-law AC Hall, 

who managed the lodge from 1980-2003 alongside his late wife Dot (she 

passed in 2013) when their daughter Donna took the reigns. His apartment, 

the one in which he still lives, was converted from four original rooms and 

overlooks the restful retreat along the shoreline of the town he put so much 

of his heart into bringing to life.

The story of this Atlantis actually began long before the first piling was 

ever put in place. AC and Dot received a share of an insurance settlement 

when Ruth’s husband (Dot’s father) was killed in a work-related accident in 

1958. AC and Dot managed to save their portion and eventually made the 

decision to buy property along the ocean side of Bogue Banks. Wanting to 

have an unobstructed view of the ocean but a naturally wooded area, they 

headed past Atlantic Beach and decided on a plot of land west of the Iron 

Steamer Pier. 

AC intended to only buy 200-feet of the oceanfront property, but Shelby 

Freeman, an agent for the company representing Teddy Roosevelt, III who 

had inherited the land from his wife’s aunt, the infamous Alice Hoffman, 

insisted he must sell 300-feet. With some negotiation and financing, a deal 

was reached and so began the Atlantis Lodge. 

The original building and guest rooms were completed and opened in 

1963 and between 1965-1972, more buildings and thus more rooms were 

added for a grand total of 46 guest suites. When AC and Dot made the 

permanent move to Pine Knoll Shores from Raleigh, the four rooms they 

converted into their apartment brought the total of rooms to where it stands 

today, 42.

AC developed not only The Atlantis but was also heavily involved in 

the development of the Town of Pine Knoll Shores itself. The land between 

Salter Path Road and Bogue Sound was essentially an uninhabitable swamp 

and would have remained so unless a way was found to drain it and install 

septic systems. AC walked every inch of the saturated swamp in his knee-high 

boots, getting a feel for each rise and dip in the land, until he had devised the 

perfect plan to dig canals to bring down the water table and thus create the 

layout of much of the town as it is today. According to Donna, he even let his 

children help him name the streets.

“We (she and her three brothers) had to go with a theme – it was either 

going to be fish or trees, and we went with trees,” Nally shared. “This was of 

course way before Google so we had our encyclopedias out on the dining room 

table picking out all of the names we wanted to use.”

The names have stood the test of time, as any local child will quickly inform 

you of the difficulty of trying to pronounce arborvitae at age 6. 

Waking up at the Atlantis Lodge is akin to welcoming the day at an exclusive 

outdoor nature program. When visitors start to stir in the mornings here, it is as 

if the entire place – the buildings, the birds, the people – are collectively waking 

up. One may gaze across the property and see several others enjoying their 

morning coffee on their porches, silently engaging in that special camaraderie 

that only the partially-awake can share. Others may be heading to the beach or 

taking dogs on their morning walks. The birds are up busily hopping about the 

vegetation Atlantis surrounds, singing their sunrise songs and either oblivious 

to or not caring about anyone’s desire for a few extra minutes of sleep. The 

east-facing buildings are splashed in sunlight, waving good morning to their 

drowsy west-facing counterparts. 

Pastoral mornings like these aren’t exclusively reserved for those on 

traditional vacations as the Hall family strives to give back to their community 

and the state as a whole. Every year, they participate in Mile of Hope which is 

an event where children with cancer visit the area on Mother’s Day Weekend. 

These children are selected by their nurses and primarily come from Duke, 

UNC and ECU hospitals. Many of these pint-sized guests stay at Atlantis.

During this special weekend, the children get to go out to eat at local 

restaurants, attend a wildlife show at the lodge featuring critters native to the 

area, participate in a sand sculpture contest and even get a visit from some local 

pirates. Donna said the family looks forward to the event each year.

A few things have changed at The Atlantis since its early days, but many 

things haven’t. A wildly popular trait, that owners say will never change, is the 

pet-friendly environment. One may assume that Ms. Bray was an avid animal 

lover, but Donna says this wasn’t entirely the reasoning behind the pet policy.

“She wanted people to be able to come down and stay for weeks or months 

at a time and feel like they were at home – if you’re a pet owner that means 

having your pet with you.”

The Hall family has always been sure to make their non-human guests feel 

welcome too. There are water bowls all over the property, a dog bathing area, a 

dog park, dog treats in the guests’ welcome packages and some lucky pups may 

even find the latest edition of Fido magazine in their accommodations.

Though the most frequent visitors are dogs, they’ve had their share of other 

pets as well: cats, a ferret who visits yearly, a few birds and one time even a potbellied pig

came for a beach getaway. Overall, guests enjoy having the animals 

around – it is just another thing about Atlantis that reminds visitors they’ve 

gone somewhere different, they aren’t at another chain motel but rather have 

stumbled upon a magical maritime forest complete with its very own variety 

of woodland creatures. 

Whether or not guests bring along any furry or feathered friends, extended 

stays continue to be an option – one may decide to come spend a winter month 

at the lodge where space, peace and quiet, and breathtaking sunrises and 

sunsets are most abundant. The phenomenal views can be found both in and 

outside of the accommodations at Atlantis as each room has 

a window and sliding glass door that runs its entire length on 

the beach-facing side.

The room decor could possibly be described as retro but 

that would be a step too far – you’ll find no shag carpet or 

disco balls here. Rather, it’s as if the decor of the 1960s and 

70s took one big step towards the 21st century … then took 

a pause and decided to keep one foot planted firmly at home. 

This mix creates a uniquely inviting space for vacationers, 

one that they know they want to spend as much time as 

possible in but can’t quite figure out how to perfectly describe 

to friends back home. There are hints of the past, comforts 

of today and color combinations and pieces of art here and 

there to remind people they’re at the beach. 

Most rooms at Atlantis aren’t rooms at all but rather 

efficiencies or suites. The large suite is about 600 square 

feet and has all the makings of what may be authentically 

described as a beach bungalow, the kind of place that creates 

the urge to kick off one’s shoes and start digging through 

bags for flip flops upon arrival. The majority of the units at 

Atlantis fit this description with only a few traditional-style 

rooms being available.

Of course, Atlantis has kept up with modern-day 

technology. It has the wi-fi no one can live without and flat 

screen TVs with cable in the suites. But reservations must be 

made the old-fashioned way: over the phone. According to 

Donna, they tried doing online reservations for a year, but 

quickly realized that it just didn’t work for a place as unique 

as theirs. 

“The location of your room within each building truly 

determines what kind of view you’re going to get and that is 

really hard to explain online, especially to people who have 

never stayed here. The way we’re positioned, if you are in a 

first floor unit, you’ll see the ocean but you won’t be able to 

see any of the sand”, she explained. Overall, people don’t 

mind having to call though, just another personal touch that 

makes Atlantis distinctive among its competitors. 

With its abundance of repeat annual visitors, many 

reservations are actually made in person while checking 

out. Returning guests have first right of refusal on the room 

they’ve just stayed in and have the option to book it again 

the following year before it is made available to anyone else. 

It is for this reason Atlantis only allows reservations up to 11 

months in advance. This policy highlights the level of loyalty 

and commitment the owners show to their customers and 

illustrates why the customers return that loyalty by spending 

their vacations with the Halls year after year.

Regardless of room location within the lodge, all guests 

can go to the third floor sun deck and lounge areas for a truly 

panoramic view of the ocean and the shoreline. Visitors can 

play pool, ping pong, watch movies on the big screen or just 

hang out in the large living room style area that was added 

along with the 1965 additions to Atlantis. 

The lounge is home to many of the awards that have been 

bestowed upon AC throughout the years as well as mockup 

drawings of the Atlantis before it was built along with other 

artwork depicting the lodge that has been given to the family. 

The small back room of the lounge where AC’s plaques and 

ribbons are housed has a museum-like feel – it would be easy 

to lose track of time studying the pieces of history adorning the 

walls.

One of the spaces that has been recently revamped and 

encourages, practically demands, all things relaxation is a lanai-style space (think Golden

Girls) that lies just behind the lobby 

complete with a fire pit, chairs and sofas with deep teal cushions, 

wicker basket-style swings and grills for guests to use. This area 

is perfect for guests to get out of the sun while still enjoying 

the warm summer breeze, sipping a cocktail and waiting for 

their freshly caught dinner to finish cooking on the grill. Pets 

are invited to join here too, just please be sure to wipe off their 

paws, lay down a beach towel or utilize the nearby doggie bath 

area. 

Speaking of man’s best friend, one of Donna’s favorite 

additions has been the dog park – a

fenced grassy space where guests can let their four-legged 

friends run around off-leash. There are picnic tables and chairs, 

both in the sun and shaded, for pet parents to sit and enjoy 

watching their little ones play.

“People have really enjoyed this area and so have the pets,” 

said Nally. “It’s nice for them to have a space to run around 

without owners having to get in the car and drive to one of the 

other area parks.”

The swimming pool is another guest-favorite. Though 

the pool itself isn’t new, Donna decided to switch from 

chlorine to salt water and to have the pool heated. The heating 

mechanism allows the pool to be open March-October which 

is much longer than most area pools. It boasts the same natural 

landscaping as the rest of the property. Trees hang lazily over 

the deck of the main pool and run thicker towards the kiddie 

pool area which is more shaded and fed by a waterfall from the 

larger pool. Like much of the outdoor areas of Atlantis, the trees 

around the pool create a hidden feel and a fantastic place to lie 

down and get lost in a book or nap. 

Visitors who’d rather enjoy the sand and ocean instead of the 

pool have just a short stroll down the wooden walkway to reach 

the pristine beach of Pine Knoll Shores. In the summertime, 

beach attendants are available to carry out umbrellas and chairs 

and set them up – though if they prefer, guests can give the ageold art of erecting a beach

umbrella the “Ol’ college try” there is 

a sign at the end of the walkway with instructions. 

The Atlantis Lodge is probably not for everyone – like all 

things, there are those who get it and those who don’t. Beach 

lovers looking for a vacation that isn’t so run-of-the-mill, but 

rather one where they can load up the kids and the pets and just 

go relax and be authentically themselves for a few days or a few 

weeks will find just that in The Atlantis Lodge. And odds are, 

they’ll return.

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