We have visited the Bahamas four times now with all of our visits focusing on Nassau. Things have changed quite a bit since our first visit back in 1972.
Nassau - 2009
This trip involved a five day cruise out of Jacksonville, Florida on the Carnival Cruise Lines ship Fascination. To be quite frank, we weren't expecting much out of this mini-cruise but it turned out to be a really nice experience.
The clientele was much younger than I expected and much more affluent for such a short and inexpensive cruise. The staff of the ship were great and the food surprisingly tasty.
Half Moon Cay was very nice. Not the drop dead beautiful island settings we've seen before around the world in the true Caribbean (the Bahamas are located in the tropical Atlantic and not in the Caribbean despite what you may have heard or read before), the South Pacific, Hawaii, Bali and so forth. But still, very nice.
The water was, as they say, gin clear. During this short stop, only our ship was in port so the beach wasn't absolutely mobbed. Sometimes two or more ships can be anchored up at one time here. For snorkelers, this beach offers very little at all. The white sand bottom, while great for swimmers, is not good for attracting tropical fish. For that you need rocks or reefs on the bottom. Again however, this is a perfect beach for swimmers who don't care about watching what's going on down below.
We anchored up at Half Moon Cay early Monday morning and left late in the afternoon for the overnight hop to Nassau.
We arrived in Nassau early on Tuesday morning and remained in port until 10pm.
Nassau has always gotten a "bad rap" by many visitors. We couldn't understand this until arriving on the cruise ship. As we left the ship and walked toward the exit, which puts you right in downtown Nassau, we were absolutely mobbed by at least a dozen vendors hyping horse and buggy rides, taxi tours, time share properties, hotels, and on and on. They followed us until they realized that we weren't interested in their services. I realize that these people rely on cruise ship passengers to make a living. But being absolutely swarmed by these vendors was extremely obnoxious.
My wife and I had seen most of Nassau and New Paradise Island on past visits but we had our daughter, husband and the grandkids on this trip so they wanted to get a taste of Nassau so we just took off on a brief foot tour. We walked along the waterfront to the famous Straw Market. Wow, how it had changed since our first visit. Back then in the early 70s it was an open air affair. Now it's under a big tent soon to move just down the street to a new and dedicated new home.
Our daughter and her family ventured slightly inside until they got mobbed to death by vendors and exited. I waited outside and had an interesting encounter. A local kid, who must have been 15 or 16, came bumping right into me hard concentrating his contact on what should have been my wallet pocket on my right hip. Yep, absolutely, he was a would-be pickpocket. I just grinned and told him I wasn't stupid enough to be carrying a wallet. He just gave me a "feces eating" and nasty grin and ran off. We've been bumped by pickpockets in many worldly venues, most notably Rome and Prague, and they've never gotten anything from us. Pickpockets are a fact of life in many and perhaps most cities. Just be aware of it and keep your valuables in a waste pouch or neck pouch under your shirt.
Nassau looked noticeably more rundown than I remembered it from our last visit in 2005. After sweating off 10 pounds on this hot and muggy late June day, we hailed a taxi for a day at the fabulous Atlantis Resort just across the bridge on Paradise Island.
Kids can be extremely and embarrassingly honest and when the mini-van driver asked us how we were enjoying Nassau, the adults all had kind words. Our little grandson, age 7, said it was a dumpy looking place!
I want to share a great tip with you if you take a cruise to the Bahamas and want to include the Atlantis Resort in your visit, and you really should plan to visit this incredible place. Carnival offered various shore excursions. As I recall the cheapest to Atlantis was something like $90 a person. That got you round trip transportation to Atlantis from the cruise port, beach but not water park access, and lunch. Now there were seven of us on this trip. Had we taken this excursion, the price tag would have been about $630. Another package involved round trip transfers, beach access and access to all the water park facilities for $155 a person. Do the math on that one it came out to a total of $1085. We had read suggestions on the internet to book a room or two rooms at the Comfort Suites right across the street from Atlantis and get full access to the beach and water parks for just $230 a night per room with a max of four per room. So for $460, everybody could do the full Atlantis deal at much cheaper rates than offered by Carnival. Weeks before departure, my daughter checked rates at the Comfort Suites and they were more than $300 a room had the hotel not been sold out, which it was. My daughter then checked Price Line or a web site like that, can't remember which one for sure, and she got an incredible rate at Atlantis, on property at the Coral Tower for just $200 per room. We got two rooms. So, we saved a bundle and stayed on property for the day. The cab fare two and from the port was just $4 per person, or just under $60 dollars both ways not including tip.
Atlantis was fabulous. Many towers, more swimming pools than I think I've ever seen at a resort, lots of water slides, some really neat lazy rivers, and a great way to spend a day in the Nassau area.
We still ran into some wonderful Bahamian people as we had remembered during our first trips there. The staff at the Atlantis were great. The cab drivers were absolutely wonderful ambassadors and proud of their city. Some of the Straw Market venders were very nice even though it was obvious that we were not in the mood to buy much. However, getting nailed by all the touts leaving the cruise ship left a very bitter taste in my mouth and I honestly don't know if I'd want to go through that drama again. Arriving by plane with a quick and pretty drive along the water directly to Paradise Island was never a hassle.
Now I'll digress back on our first trips to Nassau.
Nassau - 1972
Our first and best trip came in 1972. It was just a long weekend and we flew over on a Pan Am 727 and had intended to fly back on the same airline and plane. But fortunately that changed and I'll explain why in just a moment.
After a quick exit from the airport our cab took us to the Sheraton British Colonial Hotel in the heart of Nassau. Back then it was a little worn down but was in a prime location. The beach was small and was on the cruise ship canal that lead just down the way to the docking area. It's now the Hilton British Colonial.
Junkanoo parades took place each afternoon with steel drum music. It was great. Reminded us of the Caribbean. We had a fantastic dinner at a place called Black Beard's. Sadly, it burned down shortly after our visit and was never rebuilt. One big surprise in downtown Nassau, back then, was an "Aluminum Room!" Sure enough they had a White Castle at the time and we enjoyed a few belly bombers after a night out on the town, just as we had done during our youth growing up in the Midwest.
We had brought our expensive snorkeling gear with us and one day after a brief snorkel and seeing very little on the sandy bottom, a little Bahamian kid approached us asking if he could "borrow" a snorkel, mask and fins. This little tike was probably 11 and I knew that when he said he wanted to "borrow" our stuff, he probably meant "make off with it." I made a deal with him. I told him that if he could point out some conch shells on the bottom, empty ones so I could take one home, I'd lend him my wife's gear and I'd go out with him. He agreed and off we went. Just as he pointed to some conch shells not far off in about 15 feet of water, I saw a lemon shark cruise right under us. I calmly tapped the kid, told him there was a shark down below and that while it was no big deal, we might want to head to shore. The kid took off like a bat out of hell screaming "shark, shark" at the top of his lungs. The entire beach cleared out and I felt like a dunce as the kid and I waded out of the water!
And I hesitate to share this story with you but I will because I found it very interesting. My wife quizzed me about what happened while the kid and I were out there. Before I could say anything she said: "Let me ask you something. Was the bottom absolutely sandy with no rocks or structure?" I replied: "Yes." She then asked: "Did you see the shark going from left to right ride along the bottom?" I was stunned and answered "yes" again. Some how, some way, she had known what I saw down there. We've never been able to figure that one out and nothing like that has ever happened again!
We got an island tour by a very nice cab driver and enjoyed our short stay.
When we headed back to the airport for the short flight back to Miami, I saw an old Eastern Airlines Electra prop-jet on the tarmac. I hadn't flown on one of these venerable, old turboprops since the early 60s. While we were booked on Pam Am, I rushed over to the Eastern Airlines ticket counter to see if the Electra was in service. They told me it was going to Miami at about the same time as our originally scheduled Pan Am 727. I worked with Pan Am and they allowed us to change our tickets to the Eastern Electra flight. My wife had never ridden on a prop-jet and she got a kick out of it.
Nassau - 1994
This was just a long weekend trip to the Bahamas. We flew into the airport and took a cab directly to Paradise Island. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Pirate's Cove Resort, a high rise property with a nice snorkeling beach. It has changed hands since that visit and is now called the Paradise Island Harbour Resort and it's an all inclusive resort.
It was a nice experience, so nice that we chose it again on our next visit to the Bahamas. By then it had changed to a new Holiday Inn brand name. More on that in a minute.
One reason we picked it is that is has some pretty good snorkeling. If you go, you'll see plenty of huge gray angelfish, barracudas, French angelfish, triggerfish, squadrons of squid and much more including various parrotfish.
There's plenty of good, local food in the Bahamas. Conch is a local favorite food---or as they spell it in Nassau---favourite! Its the meat from a big, pinkish seashell and its usually served in chowder, in fritters and in my favourite form---cracked conch. Thats where they take the entire critter out, pound it out to tenderize it, and then bread it and pan fry it. Yum Yum!!! Its kind of like a sweet fried clam.
Souse is another favorite down there. You can get it with chicken or fish (and probably other things, too) but I've always had the chicken souse. It always comes with Johnny Cakes, too. Souse may be an acquired taste. Everybody loves Johnny Cakes!
If you’re going to Nassau and want to really “put on the Ritz,” one night for dinner I would like to suggest the Buena Vista in downtown Nassau. Its not the most elegant restaurant on the island but it is extremely good and not quite as expensive as a couple of other of their world class restaurants. Try the grouper a La Bimini. Its deee-lish. Even if you're HQ'd on Paradise Island, it's worth a trip over the bridge to enjoy the Buena Vista experience!
I don't know how long the local Kalik (Kah-lick') Brewery has been around but we sampled the local suds for the first time on this trip and it was cold and tasty on a hot summer's day!
Nassau - 2005
This was a weekend jaunt to the islands from Detroit and again we focused on Nassau and Paradise Island. We flew into the airport and made a beeline for the Sun Spree Holiday Inn on Paradise Island. My wife's mother flew in from Indianapolis and we had a nice time.
We mainly just soaked up some sunshine around the pool and did a lot of snorkeling. For dinner one night, we dined at an excellent place called the Poop Deck. I knew this place would be busy so I phoned for reservations days in advance, long before we actually left Detroit for Nassau.
We had to dine at our favorite elegant restaurant on New Providence Island, too, Buena Vista. My mother-in-law was extremely impressed with the elegant yet not stuffy service. And as always, the food was a perfect ten.
We explored a little on foot in downtown Nassau and didn't meet up with any would-be pickpockets or undesirables. Just nice people as we had remembered from past visits.
Currency is the Bahamian (Ba-hay'-mian) Dollar although U.S. dollars are perfectly welcome and are on an exact par when it comes to value. Driving is on the left.
IMPORTANT: All Americans visiting the Bahamas now need a valid passport although a new directive allows that cruise passengers on a closed end tour (starting and ending at the same U.S. port) only need a birth certificate with raised seal although a Passport is preferred. Be sure to check before you go as the latter relaxation of the "rules" could change.