Nassau: Capitalism Run Amok

The Atlantis on Paradise Island seen from the Cruise Dock
The Atlantis on Paradise Island seen from the Cruise Dock

After the holidays each year there is a shoulder period here in South Florida.  The holiday crowds have left and the Snowbird Season has yet to begin in earnest.  During this time local cruises, especially the 2-5 day type, reach their price nadir.  And when our niece Amanda came down from Detroit, we couldn’t resist the temptation to hop on the NCL Sky for a weekend at sea.  Three nights sailing with a day at their private island and a day in Nassau.

This was our umpteenth visit to Nassau.  Our first was back when Merv Griffin owned the Paradise Island Resort.  That hotel has evolved considerably and is now the Atlantis, owned by the South African firm, Kerzner International Resorts.  This over the top playground for both adults and children is Nassau’s highlight as reflected in our ship’s shore excursion offerings.  Tours, dolphin encounters, waterpark passes and other combinations of activities at the resort are the featured tours and they can be pricey…in fact several were more than we paid for the cruise.  And depending on your interests the price may be worth it.  One thing you don’t want to do it try to sneak into the resort without a pass…unless you just want to visit the casino and do some high-end shopping.

The other activity that Nassau is known for is various water explorations in the shallow waters around Providence and Paradise Islands.  This is not a Scuba diver’s mecca, but is a great place to snorkel, kayak and take a dip in the warm waters.  And if you don’t want to get wet there is SeaWorld and Glass bottom boat experiences.

The Famous Straw Market
The Famous Straw Market

Being in the travel business we tend to avoid the pre-planned adventures that the cruise lines offer, but honestly that is perhaps a mistake.  Once again we walked off the ship just looking to explore.  You always imagine that you can find that great local restaurant known only to the most intrepid tourists.  Alas, Nassau is not set up that way.  We were there on a Sunday and ours was the only ship.  The terminal building was  filled with tourist shops (mostly closed) with the usual offerings labeled NASSAU or BAHAMAS so you can show your friends that were there.  The foot traffic was forced through the full length of the pedestrian shopping area with tour operators attempting to get your attention.  “Tour for you!”  “Trip to Atlantis only $5 per person!”  And once outside more taxis, tour operators and scooter rental facilities.

One block from the exit of the terminal building is the main shopping street (Bay Street) with mostly jewelry emporiums, duty free liquor and t-shirts.  There are excellent deals for the American tourist at these stores…jewelry savings can be significant.  So if you are in the market, this is a great opportunity.  And our friends picked up as much rum as they could carry and saved about $5-10 dollars a bottle.  And the pricier the beverage the more the savings.  And there is always the straw market, which has been rebuilt under a solid structure since the last time I was there.  There was a fire that burned it all down a few years ago.  Despite the fancy new digs, its still the same stuff…colorful, decorative and often handcrafted.  And mostly completely useless.

We ate lunch at the fine Bahamian establishment, Senor Frogs, which was honestly a lot of fun.  The Bahamians know how to host a party, even if it’s in an imported Mexican restaurant.  After that craziness, I decided to set off on my own to see what there was within walking distance of the port.  First I headed toward the old British Colonial resort, now a Hilton.  This grand old hotel of the capital has been renovated and rebranded innumerable times and never quite lived up to its classic palatial exterior.  A little past the hotel is the famous Junkanoo Beach. During Spring Break this is the wild city beach with lots of activities.  The day I was there it was very quiet with a few little huts selling drinks and other items.  About a half mile past the beach is Arawak Cay, which is a famous place for Cracked Conch and other local fare.  This is the best place to go for a touch of real Bahamian culture in a comfortable atmosphere.

So often when you visit a port the shoreside stores and vendors are tourist oriented and you only need to walk a few blocks into town and find more genuine product and prices closer to what locals pay.  Once back from Junkanoo Beach I headed up the hill toward the Government House.  It was Sunday and nothing off the main drag was open and I saw almost no one walking around.

On the steps leading up to the Government House is a statue that is labeled Christopher Columbus.  It looks nothing like any Columbus I’ve ever seen with its feathered hat and piratical stance.  The building is the most dominant in the city and was built in the early 19th Century.  It is the residence of the Governor General.  At the end of the short boulevard at the entrance to the cruise port are the Parliament Buildings, which like the Government House are pink and white and built in Georgian Colonial style.  There were several impressive churches within walking distance of the port.  The Anglican Christ Church Cathedral (established in 1670), the Presbyterian St. Andrews Kirk (1810) and the Methodist Trinity Church.  All looked intriguing to me, but all were locked tight.  I walked along the coast toward the bridge to Paradise Island.  There were a few stores (all closed) for clothing and liquor, but about half the store fronts were empty and boarded up.

It’s unfortunate that a place with as much potential as Nassau cannot become more appealing.  There is a lot of history here, but they seem to be satisfied with being the backyard for the Atlantis.  Hopefully one day they will start thinking more long term about their tourist appeal and create something that is worth visiting.


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