– Traveled Summer 2013 –
Another year, another adventure; this time to The Bahamas. There are many ways to stay at The Bahamas, at a cruise, hotels, timeshares, etc.; we went to a timeshare in Paradise Island. If you are planning a trip from LA, keep in mind that there are no direct flights to The Bahamas so plan for a layover. Also, since you are flying to the East Coast, you will lose a day; taking the red-eye flight will help.
The Bahamas is a group of 700 islands so there are lots of activities to do, such as fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling, water sports and miles and miles of beaches; so choose your activity. There are a few islands that are populated. We arrived at the capital Nassau. Right next to the Nassau (drive over a bridge) is Paradise Island. That is where we spend most of our time. In Paradise Island there are many hotels, private homes, Harbor Side Resort and the world famous Atlantis Hotel.
There is a lot to do in Paradise Island; so much so that you could spend your entire trip there, but plan to spend at least one day in Nassau. Nassau offers a lot of local stores and main brand duty free stores (Gucci, Rolex, etc.) which offer at least a %25 discount form the original price; I am not sure how much savings that is compared with the prices in the US so be wise; do some comparison shopping beforehand. If you enjoy cigars, the island has a big variety of cigars to choose from, including Cuban Cigars. Keep in mind that you can’t import Cuban cigars into the US so some shops will not sell them to you. If you are able to purchase them, enjoy them at the island.
A few tips: The Bahamas’ currency, Bahamian Dollar, is at par with the US dollar so there is no need to worry about currency exchange. Also, all stores, small and big, accept and provide change in US dollars. In addition, you need a passport to travel to The Bahamas, although you don’t need a visa.
Transportation from Paradise Island and Nassau is easy; you can take a taxi ($6 per person, one way) the Nassau or a water boat ($4 per person, one way).
Transportation and Accommodations
There are many airlines that fly to The Bahamas; the following website has a comprehensive listing of all the airlines that travel to The Bahamas from the USA; it also includes a graphical representation of the airline routes.
When leaving the island, keep in mind that the airport in Nassau is very small. The airline counters are within 50 ft from the door, so there is no need to pay anyone to carry your bags, unless you want to help the local economy. Once you get your boarding pass you will need to fill a US declarations form since you will be doing US customs at the Island (not at the international airport in the US as you do when you arrive from another foreign city), prior to leaving the airport. We left the island on Sunday afternoon, and we arrived at the airport before noon and arrived at the at the security check by 12:15 p.m. Right after we arrived, the line at the security gate got very, very long; so you may want to be at the airport before noon.
If you plan to rent a car keep in mind that they drive at the left side of the road, if you are adventurous go for it! My recondition though is that if you are planning to spend a lot of time at the beach, you don’t need a car; use the local transportation to get around the island. If you are planning to spend most of your time at Paradise Island you definitely don’t need a car.
Transportation from the airport to the hotel is easy; there are plenty of taxis, of all sizes, so going from the airport to your hotel is not a problem. We were a group of 5 people with 6 suitcases so I was concerned that we wouldn’t fit in one car; this turns out not to be a problem, as soon as you get out of the airport they see how many passengers and suitcases there are, and they guide you to the correct size car.
Gas Station Locations
There is no need for this service is you are not renting a car, but gas stations are located throughout Nassau.
There are many, many places to stay in the island; but the most famous in the hotel in the island is the Atlantis Hotel. The main attraction is its water park; from lazy rivers to water slides, the adventure is for everyone. It addition there are a lot of pools and beaches to enjoy and rest. Access to the park is about $150 per day per person but is complementary to hotel guests and Harbor Side Resort guests. The hotel also has one of the biggest sea salt aquariums in the world.
Another option to stay in Paradise Island is the Harbor Side Resort. This resort has from single bedroom apartment to a three bedroom apartment, and each apartment has a refrigerator, microwave, stove, and dishes. This resort is within walking distance of the Atlantis, and because it is part of the same company, you have daily complementary access to the water park. We had a two bedroom condo which can house up to 9 people; each one with access to the water park. I guess you could have more than 9 people in the apartment but only 9 will have access to the water park. If you stay here, get your wristband at the complex pool that way you avoid the long lines at the water park, especially during cruise days. Shuttles depart every 10 minutes to other areas of the Atlantis resort.
Where to go
There are a couple of beaches around the resort that are free to the public. Each beach has chairs provided by the hotel free of charge. The hotel also provides towels for the pool or beach and they can be retrieved at any poolside hut. Cove beach is a quiet beach where families can go swimming and snorkeling. The beach is protected by rocks so the water is calm and not boats or jet skis can enter the area. Atlantis Beach West and Atlantis Beach are two adjacent beaches where many people from the hotels go so it can bet a little busy. At the Atlantis Beach West you can rent Jet Skies, Banana Boats and parasailing. They only take cash so plan accordingly. It is ok to bargain for the equipment. At the Paradise Lagoon Beach North (more like an inlet) you can also do some snorkeling. At the beach hut you can rent snorkeling equipment. If you decide to adventure beyond the buoys, they require that you use a life best, since it can get over 15 feed depth. You can get a life best – free of charge – at the beach hut.
This adventure provides an intimate interaction with the dolphins. The least expensive activity starts and $150 and you get to interact and touch a dolphin. I don’t recommend doing this, unless you really love dolphins. For starters, you are not alone; they separate you in groups of at least 8 people. The group stays in the water for about 30 minutes, and each person may interact (and take pictures) with the dolphin for about 5 minutes. The rest of the time you are watching everyone else in the group interact with the dolphin. Save your money for something else.
Powerboat Adventures is the place where you want to spend your money. The cost of this whole day excursion is not cheap ($190) per person but you get a lot, and I mean a lot more, than the Dolphin interaction. This is a whole day activity which includes an all you-can-eat lunch. You start by catching a speed boat at Paradise Island (across the street from the Harbor Side Resort, so there is no need to take a taxi) for a one hour drive to the first island where you get to go disembark and feed wild iguanas. The crew provides you with grapes which you attach to the end of a stick (lots or broken branches at the island can be used for this purpose) and feed the iguana. If you want to see an iguana jump, place the grape about knee high and see them in action.
Once you are done feeding the iguanas the group travels to another island (about a 10 minute ride) where you will spend the rest of the day. As you disembark, you are provided with snacks and drinks, sodas and juices for the underage and hard drinks for adults (18 and older). The bar is open from the moment that you arrive to the island up to the time you leave. While you settle in and the staff is getting ready there are snacks, chips, fruit, sandwiches to hold your appetite. Then it is time to feed the wild stingrays. You lineup at the beach, place the food in between your fingers and the stingrays will come to you and suck the food from your fingers. Once the feeding is over, the stingrays clear the beach and the sharks start to come in. From a line in the shore you get to see the shark feeding and wrangling show; you don’t get to feed the sharks but you are two to three feet away from the sharks (especially if you are close to the shark wrangler). Once the feeding is over, the sharks leave the beach.
A few minutes after the sharks leave is it time for you to jump in the water and do some drift snorkeling. You can bring your own snorkeling gear or the tour will provide you with the necessary equipment. Everyone has to wear a life best. If you have not snorkel before, it will be a good idea to practice before hand. Because there is a strong current in between the small island, you can’t just jump in the water and start to snorkel; the current will take you to the open ocean. Instead, you take a short walk to beginning of the island, get in the water and let the current take you to the end of the island. You can do this up to three times.
Once the snorkeling is done, lunch begins. The all you can eat lunch includes fresh fish, stakes, pasta, hot dogs, hamburgers, salad and fruit and anything that you want from the open bar. Once lunch is over, you can explore the island, lay on the beach or just relax in the water. To complete the day, towards the end of the tour, they bring fresh conchs and make a mean ceviche. Part of the show is extracting the coach from its shell and hand the shell as a souvenir.
After this relaxing day, it is time to board the speedboat for the return trip. The crew is great, they are your guides, cooks, life guards and stingrays and shark handlers. As we left the island a couple of people forgot their glasses and a t-shirt; they notified the crew and they radioed the people at the island. They retrieved the items, jump in their small boat and brought them to the speed boat. That is service!!
Food is very expensive in The Bahamas since most of it has to be imported (mainly from the US) but there are plenty of places to eat in Nassau and Paradise Island. The Atlantis resort offers a breakfast and dinner plan which allows you to eat at a selected number of restaurants (and a selected number of items from the menu) at the resort. The plan varies from $80 to $130 per person per day; children under 11 pay less. (Prices may vary so check prices before you decide to sign up for the plan). For us this didn’t make any sense; for 5 adults the cost would have been $650 a day or $3,900 for 6 days; and this doesn’t include lunch. That is crazy!
Instead, we opted to bring our own food; we created a daily menu and purchased the necessary items. Since we planned to be at the beach during lunch, we packed sandwiches and chips to the beach. We eat like kings for about $600. A couple of days before the trip we purchased food at Costco (frozen ground beef, sandwich meats, hot dogs, bacon, etc.) and Wal-Mart (Suffers Lasagna and a couple other frozen entries). What was not frozen (sandwich meats, hot dogs, bacon, etc.) was frozen beforehand. At the day of the trip, in lieu of a suitcase we took a cooler with all of the frozen food. The food was still frozen by the time we got to the room (about 20 hours from door to door). We purchased all the perishables (eggs, milk, bottle water, juice, etc.) at the local marked where prices were reasonable.
We decided to add dry ice to the cooler to ensure that the food was cold. According to the TSA you can bring up to on 5 pounds of dry ice in a plane. When we tried to check the cooler, the airline representative indicated that we could not take dry ice at all. Rather than arguing, we decide to remove the dry ice. Good thing that by brother-in-law took us to the airport so we sent the dry ice with him; if we had disposed the dry ice in the trashcan we would have caused a major incident. At the end, there was no need for dry ice.
Virgil’s real BBQ is also a good place to eat, this is a family style restaurant, the portions are huge and there is plenty to share. We ordered 3 plates: BBQ chicken. Memphis pork ribs and Sliced Texas Brisket with a side of Coleslaw, biscuits and Macaroni & Cheese; that was enough to feed 11 people with plenty of leftovers.
Located in Nassau’s shopping district, this is a great place to find local crafts, from wood carvings, to knickknacks and purses. Make sure to bargain for the prices; offer half of what they are asking and plan to pay about 75% of the asking price.
Tortuga Rum Cakes & Rum
The island is very famous from its rum cakes. You could purchase them at the main island close where the cruise ships doc or at the Martina Village; which is within walking distance of the resort. I suggest that you buy them here that way you don’t have to be caring them in the taxi. One word of caution, the cakes are really bathed in rum, you can really taste the alcohol when you eat the cake.
Marina Village is basically an open mall where you can find a selection of jewelry stores, cloth stores, street cars and restaurants. This is a great place to spend the evening, with in a walking distance of the resort. The line at the Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream store is always long!