by: Stacey Rifkin
A bustling and active cruise ship port, Nassau is often seen by tourists for only a few hours at a time. What these weary travelers miss on their quick jaunt is an island filled with charm and warmth, and locals ready to give you a taste of true Bahamian flavor. So whether you’re looking to go scuba diving with sharks or just chill on the beach with a fruity beverage in hand, the crystal clear waters of Nassau are ready to accommodate your every desire. Just come hungry, as their seafood is as fresh as it gets and never disappoints.
…where to crash and get some R&R
If you’re looking for the most luxe and private accommodations in Nassau, look no further than The Island House. Located in Lyford Cay (pronounced ‘key’), it’s a solid 40 minute drive from downtown Nassau. It’s a mere 8 minute drive to the beach from this mountaintop resort, which will be a breeze for you in the rental car you’ll most certainly need if you stay here.
But you don’t come here for action or adventure, you come here for the privacy and world-class amenities. Huge pool, yoga studio boasting fun classes such as aerial yoga, a world-class gym replete with squash courts (and instructors should you desire), 2 gourmet restaurants and a delicious lunch and coffee spot, as well as a ‘beyond organic’ Bamford Spa will leave you with plenty of things to keep you busy in between catching some rays and checking emails. Easily the most comfortable I’ve ever experienced, the 48 seat movie theatre has luxurious thick couches and footrests so you can really kick back as you watch films picked specially for their own “Bahamian Storyteller Series” as well as classic Oscar flicks. All films are curated by local Bahamian filmmaker Kareem Mortimer; if you’re a movie buff, make sure to stop in and have a chat with him. Everything about The Island House is authentically Bahamian and they’re quite proud of it: from the architecture to their art, which is all done by well-known Bahamian artists.
A historic mansion formerly owned by renowned pirate Captain John Graysmith, this 18th century building oozes history and charm. The current owners bought the property 43 years ago and have since lovingly spent a lot of time (and money) making it the expansive property it is today. Each room is unique in its design and decoration, and is much more reminiscent of a B&B than a hotel. The pool, surrounded by lush tropical landscape, is a piece of art itself with hand painted Italian tiles making up the pool floor.
Atlantis has all the comforts of home, if home were Las Vegas. A monolith by any hotel’s standards, it can either be the ostentatious getaway you’ve been dying for or the kid friendly dream vacation of your life. It has a casino and plenty of upscale shopping (think: Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace), nice restaurants (Nobu, for one) and even a few trendy - if touristy - clubs. While Atlantis is set up to leave you wanting for nothing, you’d be making a mistake if you came to Nassau and never left Paradise Island. There’s simply so much more Nassau has to offer.
There are three words that aptly describe this member of the Hilton chain: location, location, location. Perched right in the middle of Bay Street in downtown Nassau, the British Colonial is walking distance to almost everything you can possibly imagine. The rooms are small but well-appointed, and with this location you won’t spend much time in your room anyway. Right off the back of the hotel is a private beach with all the soft powdery white sand and see-through ocean you imagined in your dreams. The hotel has complimentary snorkel equipment and ocean kayaks. You’re close to the cruise harbor so you can’t venture out far on the kayak and there isn’t much to see while snorkeling, but the water is so inviting and warm you won’t care.
…where to chow down and then unbutton the top button
A traditional Fish Fry means a gathering of stalls, stands, or shacks where traditional Bahamian cuisine is cooked and served. If you’re looking for authentic and fun, take the time to walk up and down this colorful collection of restaurants in Arawak Cay. The most lively patio when I visited belonged to The Big Yard Restaurant, whose spirited proprietor Wesley Finlayson will regale you with lofty tales of being featured on several TV shows while simultaneously offering you free conch fritters, whether you eat there or not. The conch fritters are so good it’s unlikely you’ll decide to leave.
Calling all wine snobs and wannabe sommeliers! The Graycliff restaurant may have delicious food in an ultra charming setting, but that's not why people flock here from all over the world. It's the 30 million dollar, 270,000 bottle wine collection. At a whopping 106 pages long, their wine list is (ahem) extensive. If you'd like to drop 200k on a bottle of dessert wine from 1727, this is your place - although there's no guarantee your house-sized wine purchase still tastes good after 250 years! In my opinion, reservations here are a must if only to get a tour of the famous wine cellar (make a tour reservation and request the uber-knowledgable Michael Burrows). Housed in the manor's former pirate dungeon where people were tortured and even murdered, it's unlikely you'll experience anything more interesting or intriguing in your time in Nassau. I certainly didn't.
It took some searching for me to find out that a Poop Deck is actually the highest deck of a ship, and not just an unappetizing name for this popular restaurant. Nonetheless its two locations have been a staple for locals and tourists alike for 30 years. Fresh fish right off the boat sit on ice as you walk in and you can pick out your selection for lunch or dinner. Almost always packed, this a great location to sit waterfront and enjoy your local fare.
This fine dining restaurant inside The Island House boasts elevated Thai food prepared by Aussie chef Dave Rodgers. Trained under “Thai Food God” David Thompson, Rodgers created dishes that will leave your mouth either watering or burning (if you’re brave enough to pick a delicious dish with more than one fire-breathing dragon icon next to it). The entire dining experience from beginning to end is flawless, much like The Island House itself.
Seafood Haven Arawak Cay
The unassuming front to this restaurant does no justice to the quaint and picturesque waterfront patio that lies inside. They serve tasty but simple Bahamian food which includes whole fresh fish cooked to your liking alongside hefty portions of mac and cheese, plantains, or beans and rice.
… where to drink up and get down
If there’s a better way to spend your vacation than on a 40 foot catamaran, soaking up the Bahamian sun and sipping on a rum punch, then I’d love to hear it. Offering a four-hour trip which includes lunch and a free drink, you can go adventurous and jump off the top of their catamaran or opt for something more laid-back. Ask anyone who has been on this trip and they will tell you it was their highlight.
This 9,000 square foot nightclub inside Atlantis is well-known for their guest DJs and all-night parties. You might not find many locals hanging here, but if you’re looking for the biggest dance party in town, you’re likely to find it here.
Bahamians and tourists alike flock to this downtown Nassau club, known for great music and late night parties. Their dance floor and bar overlook the water and offer some nice tropical breezes while dancing the night away. With the party really starting to move and shake after midnight, it’s a great place to end your night.
Want to play a fun game? Go to Nassau and ask a local to tell you about their line-up of festivals. Then go take a swim in the ocean and come back and they’ll STILL be talking! Short story, there are a TON of festivals, and chances are you’re likely to run into one during your time here. A far cry from the clubs that cater to the big cruise ship clientele (picture yourself with a waiter aggressively shoving shots of watery tequila down your throat. No thanks!), these festivals offer a taste of true Bahamian fun. From Junkanoo twice a year and Goombay in the summer (more on that HERE) you will be surrounded by locals dancing and singing. Don’t forget to try the infamous Sky Juice, the local cocktail of choice made with fresh coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, and a lethal combination of your choice of several boozes.
ANTS IN YOUR PANTS
…what to do when you can’t sit still
There’s so much to do and see in Downtown Nassau and if you’re looking for shopping, Bay street leaves no stone unturned. Head into the Straw Market to grab that kitschy straw beach bag you never knew you needed, or keep walking to grab that Gucci handbag your husband pretends he never knew you wanted.
In lieu of staying at Atlantis, why not take advantage of the best perk they have to offer and get a day pass to Aquaventure Park? For about $150 a person you have access to 141 acres of serious family fun. Enjoy a rock climbing wall, a mile-long lazy river replete with small rapids, a waterslide that starts at the top of a massive Mayan temple and shoots out into a shark tank (for real), and Dolphin Cay where you can shell out more of your hard-earned dollars for a chance to swim with everyone’s favorite sea mammal.
If you’re in Nassau, chances are you enjoy the ocean, so why not get your feet wet with a snorkel tour? Stuart Cove’s is one of the most highly regarded operations in town and your trip will include three different stops – the last one you have the option to dive with sharksI In the mood for a catamaran? Try Flying Cloud Charters, a 57 foot catamaran offering full and half day sail and snorkel adventures.
This historic building is so much more than a hotel; it’s a complete experience. With a chocolate factory, cigar factory, pool, heritage museum and 2 amazing restaurants you’ve got an entire day of exploration on your hands, if you want it. Make a reservation for a 1 hour fully interactive chocolate making lesson and you walk away with a pound of chocolate to take home! Stop by their world-class cigar company to witness the deft hands of Cuban cigar rollers hand-rolling leaves from Ecuador, Brazil, and Costa Rica. For a taste of Bahamian history spanning hundreds of years, stop by the Heritage Museum for a guided tour.
Experience some local history and take a quick visit to the Queen’s Staircase, located right in the heart of downtown. It took 600 slaves to dig out a 90 ft deep passageway straight through a limestone wall - and then hand carve the 66 stairs leading back up (one for each year Queen Victoria reigned) . Built as a quick escape route to the ocean from Fort Fincastle, it's a piece of history that is both heartbreaking and stunning.