A September 2002 trip
to Nassau by billmoy
Quote: Nassau is the capital of the Bahamas, a string of about 700 islands off the eastern shore of Florida. This is the main city of New Providence Island, which is linked to the smaller Paradise Island by a pair of bridges.
The Straw Market, located near the dock area, is a popular place to look for locally made handicrafts. This is a shoppers delight if you enjoy the haggling and the bargaining. Also near the dock is a hair braiding pavilion if you want a few strands or all of your hair beaded and braided. Overall, I found the salespeople in Nassau to be amiable and not too annoying with their sales pitches.
Taxis are usually available, but they are not dirt-cheap. At least the drivers are not too pesky when they are gently asking if you need a ride. Tiny ferryboats cross between Nassau and Paradise Island throughout the day, with each ride costing between .50 and each way. Jitney buses can be flagged down to and from downtown Nassau, with rides starting at one dollar. None of these jitneys cross over to Paradise Island. There are tolls if you drive over one of the two bridges linking Nassau to Paradise Island. I have read that there is a small toll for walking across, but I was never charged.
Hotel | "Club Med (Part 1) - ACCOMMODATIONS"
The property has over 300 rooms scattered in several building clusters to create more of an open resort feel. My room faced the Atlantic Ocean, so I could hear the waves crashing along Paradise Beach. However, I had no view of the ocean since my room was on the first floor. My room was not fancy, but suitably comfortable with two European twin beds, a shower stall with just a few toiletries, hairdryer, and one closet and in-room safe per guest (sometimes single guests are matched up with a roommate, but I had the room all to myself). There is a small TV with plenty of stations (check out the Club Med channel for a great soundtrack of Caribbean music), a couple of small tables, and not much else. The philosophy is that you will not spend a whole lot of time in your room, so if you are ok with that you will enjoy your stay even more.
There is a shuttle boat service ($5 round trip) between the Club Med and the Nassau port. The excursions desk is very helpful if you would like to see a bit more of the Bahamas off-property. The boutique has a few items of mild interest, but it comes in handy if you need to buy a few stamps for your postcards. The reception area has a bulletin board which posts departure flights for all guests, so be sure to check that for your ride to the airport. The security patrol on property is visible but not overbearing. Gratuities are not necessary with the all-inclusive package.
(Continued in Part 2)
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 19, 2002
Club Med Paradise Island
Hotel | "Club Med (Part 2) - ACTIVITIES"
Club Med is famous for loads of activities, and this Paradise Island property is no exception. This one is highly regarded for it's tennis facilities, with 20 courts and hands-on instruction. The pool was under renovation, but you can do your swimming in the strong currents of the Atlantic Ocean. Other activities include windsurfing, scuba diving, archery, ping-pong, spa treatments, volleyball, and basketball. Aerobics sessions are conducted in a renovated chapel building, and there is an air-conditioned workout room next door with a few pieces of exercise equipment. One can relax on the lengthy Paradise Beach, a public beach that is guarded day and night. You can walk to the western end past the yoga retreat, or check out the eastern end that butts up against the adjacent Atlantis property. Nudity on the beach is officially frowned upon, but there were a few topless women sunbathers, and even a couple of totally naked men in a secluded part of the beach.
There is a nightly variety show at the theater, usually consisting of amusing skits performed by the versatile GO's, although sometimes there is some memorable audience participation involving the GM's (Gentil Membres, or "congenial guests"). On the surface, lip-synch acts and relay races may seem a bit corny, but it's all professionally done and you'll usually end your evenings here with a smile or a few belly laughs. If you want to continue your night moves, you can dance away your sorrows in the intimate nightclub.
(Continued in Part 2)
Hotel | "Club Med (Part 3) - DINING"
To me, the highlight of the all-inclusive Club Med Paradise Island is the food. There is a more formal restaurant on-site (Grayleigh), but this section is focused on the main dining hall. There are large, air-conditioned non-smoking and smoking sections, with some spillover onto a few al fresco tables. The dining hall faces Nassau Harbour, so you can catch glimpses of downtown Nassau and the large cruise liners docked there. The tables have from four to eight seats, so there is ample opportunity to mingle with other GM's (Gentil Membres in French, or "congenial guests" in English) and GO's (Gentil Organisateurs, or "congenial hosts") from around the world. I ate every meal possible here, and it was fun to socialize and swap travel anecdotes with people. The GO's wear nametags with flags indicating what languages they speak, although with guests you have to guess if they are French or American.
The three daily buffets are amazingly diverse and delicious. There are stations for beverages, cold items (salads), hot items, soups, pizza, fruits, and desserts. The food is all self-serve except for a few carved meat items. The breakfast buffets are tasty but not adventurous, with the most unusual item being rice and raisin pudding (I had this during breakfast twice during my stay). The lunch menu is usually very diverse, including very good dessert selections. The impressive dinner buffets have different themes depending on the day of the week. I can honestly say that these dinner buffets are of an incredible value because of the variety and quality of the food. French Night featured delicacies like frog legs, rabbit, escargot, and onion soup. Italian Night featured osso buco, eggplant parmesan and polenta. Mediterranean Night starred paella, moussaka, souvlaki, calamari, and couscous. Asian Night had spring rolls, duck, noodles, sushi. Seafood night had a zillion kinds of seafood, but enough meat and veggie selections for landlubbers like me. Desserts can be a buffet in itself, with rotating selections like tiramisu, profiteroles, baklava, sacher torte, baked alaska, black forest cake, fruit pies. If these are too rich for you, there is always fresh fruit and self-serve soft ice cream.
The hours for breakfast are 7:30am to 10:00am. Lunch runs from 12:30pm to 2:00pm. Dinner is held from 7:30pm to 9:30pm.
An all-inclusive drink package is $179 per week, which may or may not be worth it depending on your penchant for drink. You can belly up to the main bar next to the theater or the beachside bar. I enjoyed selections ranging from Kalik (the most popular local beer) to Gatorade.
A word of thanks to all the friendly folks I met at the Club Med, including my favorite GO Roxanna!
Hotel | "Atlantis Paradise Island Resort and Casino"
The two big attractions to the Atlantis are the "Dig" and the Casino. The Dig is the nickname for the "world's largest marine habitat", designed as an artist's impression of what an underground archaeological excavation of the lost continent of Atlantis would look like. Some parts of the Dig are for guests only unless you pay an admission fee, but you can still see quite a bit of the display for free. The lower level aquarium is stocked with an impressive array of creatures like hammerhead sharks, manta rays, lobsters crawling on the ersatz ocean floor, and about 200 species of tropical fish. If you step outside, you can look down into the water and occasionally see a shark fin thrusting through the surface of the water. There are over 50,000 sea creatures living in 11 lagoons.
The Paradise Island Casino at the Atlantis is probably the grandest of the casinos in Nassau / Paradise Island. Interestingly enough, Bahamians are not allowed to gamble in their homeland, but tourists are certainly welcome to try out various games of chance. The colorful glassworks of renowned artist Dale Chihuly embellish the casino.
There are 23 floors with over 2300 deluxe rooms, each with its own balcony. The pool and beach areas, along with the infamous Mayan temple water slide (the Mayans would have loved such a contraption!), are reserved for paying guests or visitors on a day pass.
There are many restaurants and shops for you to choose from. One can easily stay on property for an extended period of time and not be bored if you were to choose to do so.
Atlantis Paradise Island Royal Tower
Hotel | "Hilton British Colonial"
Walk into the lobby and you will feel that this is more of an old-fashioned businessman's retreat. This is definitely not the hang-loose Club Med or the razzle-dazzle Atlantis! There is a refined quality in the relatively quiet lobby, with a concierge desk and seating area flanking the central staircase. This is a good place to read a newspaper, wait for friends, or plot your upcoming travel agenda. I bought a couple of postcards in the convenience store, and the sales clerk broke out into an uplifting gospel song! Well, perhaps the hotel is not that stuffy and formal after all.
The hotel has seven floors and 291 rooms, but it looks much larger than these numbers might indicate. The rooms are certainly nice enough, but since it's an older property the rooms are not oversized. The hotel has a couple of restaurants and bars. The "back" of the hotel faces the channel that separates Nassau and Paradise Island. Guests can enjoy the outdoor freshwater pool and the secluded beach. You can also enjoy the tennis courts, health club and jacuzzi.
British Colonial Hilton Nassau
One Bay Street
Attraction | "Ardastra Gardens"
There is no map of the complex, but the animal exhibits are numbered and there are a few red arrows to lend a sense of order. Guests can feed lory parrots by hand or get very close to peacocks walking about unfettered. You can see iguanas, monkeys, calyparas (these guys look like giant hamsters), a pot-bellied pig, Bahama parrots, a cockatoo, a boa constrictor, and much much more! Obviously the animals are the stars of the show, but there is an interesting variety of fruit trees and other flora.
Ardastra has a small snack shop and souvenir shop. The complex is open 7 days a week from 9AM to 5PM. The entrance fee is $12, but practically every tourism brochure or newsletter has a coupon redeemable for a free t-shirt in the store. There are package deals that will include shuttle bus pick up at hotels (usually $20) if you book in advance, but I did not mind the healthy walk west from downtown Nassau.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 25, 2002
Ardastra Gardens, Zoo and Conservation Centre
West Bay Street
You will probably approach the area from the north and encounter the Queen's Staircase, which has 65 (formerly 66) stairs carved out of limestone cliffs by slaves in 1790. The stair leads to what is known as Bennet's Hill. The canyon created by the stair excavation is rather quiet, as you see a vertical wall with a trickling waterfall, accompanied by a few palm trees and vines. You may encounter a few genial vendors selling t-shirts, local handicrafts, or cool drinks. You may also run into guides looking for a tip, but hiring one is really not necessary here at all.
Fort Fincastle is a tiny stronghold commissioned by Governor Lord Dunmore in 1789. This is one of three historic forts remaining on Nassau (the other two are Fort Charlotte and Fort Montagu). The basic fort is circular, with an extension that has been compared to a bow of a ship. There are a few old cannons on the site, which has no admission fee. Again you may encounter guides here, but they usually like to hang around groups of tourists. Take the easy climb to the roof deck of the fort for a better view of the surrounding area.
The water tower is shaped like a huge white saltshaker, so it is not much to look at. The top of the water tower (which is also a lighthouse), with a height of 126 feet, is the highest point of New Providence Island at a height of 216 feet above sea level. Since there is a general local ban on skyscrapers, the observation deck affords stunning 360-degree panoramic views of Nassau and of Paradise Island across the way. The entrance fee is a measly 50 cents, and you can either take the elevator or climb the circular interior stairway that wraps around the elevator shaft. The entrance level has a small snack shop and lavatory. Outside there are friendly vendors selling local items, and a few stray dogs yearning for a cooler climate.
Queen's Staircase / Fort Fincastle / Water Tower
West Bay Street Top of Elizabeth Street
Walk over the raised walkway to enter the complex, constructed from limestone and surrounded by a dry oat and battlements. There is a curious set of concrete steps on the west side, apparently constructed for tourists to sit and enjoy the surrounding views (at least that was what I did). Old cannons are posted at what would be important defensive locations. The fort is definitely not one of the most visually appealing structures, and it indeed appears a bit run down, but it is fun to see old graffiti carved into the walls by soldiers who were stationed there. Take a walk into the belly of the beast through some dank underground passages to see some dungeon-like rooms, including an area with a dilapidated dummy strapped to some sort of torture bed.
There is free admission into Fort Charlotte, but you may encounter a guide who will expect a tip if you use his services. It is located west of downtown Nassau, near the cricket pitch, the Botanical Gardens and well-advertised Ardastra gardens.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on September 25, 2002
West Bay Street & Marcus Bethel Way
The Changing of the Guard ceremony is held in front of Government House on alternate Saturday mornings. The Royal Bahamian Police Force Band conducts this ceremony. The tradition is a remnant of the old days of British rule, as the Bahamas are a standing member of the British Commonwealth.
Near the Government House is Gregory's Arch, a small viaduct cut into the hill to provide a shortcut for locals going from downtown Nassau to their humble homes inland.
Government Hill, Duke & George Street PO Box N8301
Parliament Square seems packed with these pink and white structures, including the Senate, House of Assembly, and Supreme Court. There is a small park with a marker commemorating the soldiers killed during previous wars. Posh shops and smaller trinket shops, along with a couple of restaurants, flank the two long sides of the square. Watch for the movement of cars here, though they are all going slowly past the government complex.
The south end of Parliament Square features the octagonal Public Library. This building was formerly the town jail when it was built in 1797. The library has hopelessly outgrown the size of the original building, but the librarians and the school kids gamely use the facilities here. Some of the old cells have been converted into bookshelves and displays. Unfortunately the former dungeons are not accessible to the public. Walk up the stairs to the top balcony for some views of Parliament Square. Watch out for birds roosting overhead and bundled stacks of old yellowing newspapers on the ground (are these the archives?).
Parliament Square and Public Library
Attraction | "Versailles Gardens and Cloisters"
The Versailles Gardens, along with the Cloisters, are part of the Ocean Club property, but both seem to be quiet enough where you can ramble through without any interference. The north-south axis that runs through the gardens aligns a string of several classical sculptures, and nearby is a statue of FDR, a hero of Hunt's. The Ocean Club’s groundskeepers immaculately manicure the stepped lawns. The north end of the axis is the pool of the Ocean Club, but this is more of a private area so be careful if you venture this far. Even though you would think that this garden would have a cooling effect, there is very little shade so you are liable to fry under the strong Bahamian sun.
Both the Versailles Gardens and the Cloisters are located in the eastern part of Paradise Island and are a pleasant 15-minute stroll from the Atlantis. If you are staying in Nassau, it will take a bit more effort to visit, but both are pleasant to visit as a tandem if you are in the area.
Ocean Club Paradise Island Drive, New Providence Island,
Attraction | "Island World Adventures Exuma Excursions (Part 1)"
Once you are docked at Saddleback Cay (about 40 miles from Nassau), you will meet the hosts, a couple which are basically caretakers of this cay. This is basically a stripped down version of Gilligan's Island, but in a good way. There is a nice beach where you can relax or walk about, or you can take a look at the interesting selection of critters (geckos, hermit crabs) and pests (mosquitoes, bring a good repellent!). The powerboat then pulls out to a reef area for some snorkeling. The captain is careful to mention areas that are safer than others, as he does not want divers to stray too far from the boat.
Lunch is served back on the island, with a decent buffet of salad, pasta, chicken, fish, veggies, fruit and cookies. You can get beverages like juices, water, Kalik beer or a mean rum punch. Sit at one of the wooden benches under thatched roof canopies and swap travel stories with your new mates. You are advised to save the chicken bones and other leftovers so that you can feed them to the sharks, barracudas and seagulls. Get into the water and you can feed stingrays, or just let them sideswipe your legs with their smooth bodies (quite a sensation!).
Island World Adventures
1 Marina Drive Paradise Island Ferry Terminal
Attraction | "Island World Adventures Exuma Excursions (Part 2)"
The Exuma Excursion continues with a nature hike, where our host points out some space junk, a couple of old buildings, and some nice panoramic scenery. Unless you enjoy walking barefoot on a variety of rough surfaces, wear some sandals or water-friendly footgear. The hike is not too rigorous, but you will wade through knee-high water and climb some steps surrounded by shrubbery.
The powerboat then takes you to Leaf Cay, one of the Allan's Cay Islands. This little piece of land is the home to some Bahamian rock iguanas, some growing to a length of three feet or so. You can swim ashore (the boat does not dock on Leaf Cay) and feed grapes to the iguanas using twigs and sticks so that they do not bite your fingers. The return powerboat ride gets you back to Paradise Island around 5PM. If you are lucky, you may spot a dolphin along the way.
Island World Adventures ain't cheap, costing $160 per person (as of September 2002). The trip is comparable to an excursion I took around Cairns, Australia in November 2001, but that was under $100. Still, if you want a fun splurge, the Island World Exuma Excursion is a good way to spend a fun day in the sun. My tour was rained out the first day, but my excursions expert at Club Med was able to book me for the next day. It is recommended that you book at least one day in advance so you do not miss out.