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We have visited the Bahamas five times now with the first four trips focusing on the Nassau area. On our fifth trip we visited Great Exuma in the out islands.
Great Exuma - 2011
Getting down there was interesting but fun. We flew a Delta 757 from Detroit to Ft. Lauderdale and then connected to a Continental Connection Beech 1900-D 19 seater prop-jet. That's the smallest commercial plane I've ever been on.
I'm sorry that we didn't get to see much of the island other
than just the ten minute drive from the tiny airport to the resort.
I've got to tell you that the all inclusive, luxurious Sandals Emerald Beach Resort is wonderful. It's a large property that started out life as a Four Seasons Resort. Sandals had been operating it for about a year at the time of our visit. This is a resort for couples. Kids are taboo.
The resort features several buildings and nearly all of the rooms, if not all of them, have full or partial views of the drop dead beautiful water. I almost said "Caribbean Sea" but this is technically part of the tropical Atlantic. It's just a couple hundred miles from the Turks and Caicos island chain.
The rooms were beautiful with nice king size beds. For a change, there was no reason to fear the mini-bar! It's all included. And they don't skimp. For rum, they featured Bacardi, etc.
The resort currently has 5 restaurants featuring everything from fresh island seafood to Italian to an authentic English Pub to pizza. During our visit, they were working on a couple of additional restaurants.
The resort has an incredible swimming pool, swim up bar, and fire pit. The beach is absolutely lovely. Immediately in front of the property there's nothing but a white, sandy bottom--perfect for swimming. To the far right and especially far left along the beach, there's plenty of coral which makes for very nice snorkeling.
Golfers will delight in an incredible
Greg Norman designed golf course that
cozies right up to the water offering stunning vistas!
We only had three days here. Not nearly enough. But it was most enjoyable.
As for the guests, I'd say half were in their 50s and 60s. The other half were 20 or 30 somethings. I didn't really see any really young couples.
Great Exuma is about an hour and a half flight non-stop out of Ft. Lauderdale. About the same flying time from Miami. And you can also connect in Nassau for a final hop to the island.
Be sure to check out the snapshots of this beautiful island and resort at the bottom of the page.
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 and 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 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 to 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 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, Holiday Inn Sun Spree.
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.
You'll find plenty of local specialties in the food department including Souse. 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! Conch is another favorite of ours. Read on for more on delicious conch!
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
Like the previously mentioned trip, this was a quick, long weekend trip by air. Again, we headed directly to Paradise Island from the Nassau Airport. No muss, no fuss, no touts like cruise ship passengers face.
Out stay came at the same place. Only the name had change from the Holiday Inn Pirate's Cove Resort to the Holiday Inn Sun Spree Resort. Now, it's known as the Paradise Island Harbour Resort. I can't vouch for it under that name but I just hope they haven't screwed it up. Our only complaint on our second visit here were the slow elevators. When one was out of service, it made for long lines and packed elevator cars.
As with our last trip, we had a lovely and elegant meal at the Buena Vista in downtown Nassau. For more casual seafood try the Poop Deck. It's a busy restaurant right on the water. There are two -- this one's at Yacht Haven. SBut be advised, if you plan to eat there on a Friday or Saturday night, make a reservation as early as possible. We usually call ahead from the U.S. a week before we head down there. It's worth the long distance call! Their number is (242) 393-8175. I don't know about you but I miss the old, standard 809 area code for most of the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean!
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. And be careful -- conch is supposedly a strong aphrodisiac!
We found the Bahamian people to be most hospitable on this visit. Often while waiting for an elevator or cab, locals would step side and welcome visitors to go first.
Downtown Nassau was bustling, as usual, but we were not threatened by any would-be pickpockets or unpleasant individuals.
The currency in the Bahamas is just beautiful. They have (or did have, anyway) a fifty-cent bill and even a three dollar bill, believe it or not! While U.S. dollars are on a par with the Bahamian dollar and accepted everywhere, I'd suggest you get some local currency for your collection. We always enjoy looking at past currencies we've spent around the world. Brings back great memories.
Closing Thoughts on the Bahamas
Our trip to Nassau in 1972 seemed incredible to us at the time. We had only been out of the country one other time (our honeymoon to Jamaica) and we found it very exotic.
It's a great first time island experience. Cruise lines make it very, very inexpensive. The beaches are nice, overall the people are, too.
We'd highly recommend a visit to the Nassau area and we can't wait to make it to some of the out islands and explore the laid back Bahamas although arriving there on a cruise ship, you will be viewed as chunks of meat by the vendors. Just prepare for it and after five minutes, you will have cleared all the hassles. And again, remember that these people aren't bad people. Just hungry people looking to make a buck off of unsuspecting tourists. You can't really blame them!
Try and get out and explore some of the out islands. It's a whole different world from the hustle and bustle of Nassau!
Currency is the Bahamian (Ba-hay'-mian) Dollar. Driving is on the left.
IMPORTANT: All Americans visiting the Bahamas now need a valid passport.