Nassau is the capital of the Bahamas, and its largest city. It’s situated on New Providence Island, and Paradise Island connects to it by bridges. You may know it from any of the four James Bond films shot here or the coral reefs for snorkeling and diving, but there’s much more.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Nassau Paradise Island again, and it was much different than it was when I was here with my mom, dad and sister many years ago. This time, beyond the beautiful beaches and water adventure, I discovered the cultural side of the Bahamas as well as some very tasty food.
Nassau Paradise Island is a convenient getaway for families and couples alike and it’s especially close if you live on the American east coast. I’d also venture to say (from experience as a child and now as an adult) that it’s a place worth returning to again and again. Here are some of reasons why—and first, a look at what’s changed after visiting the island as a child and as an adult.
Then: NPI back in the day
As a young girl in December 1997, I remember a beautiful pink kingdom with water prettier than my young eyes had ever seen surrounding it on every side. Yes, that’s right: It was a kingdom. This kingdom had waterslides, a lazy river, turtles, dolphins, and too many pools to count. This kingdom was Atlantis, Paradise Island. It was the most perfect childhood dream vacation.
I remember the Bahamian ladies braiding my hair sitting on the sand, while I stared in awe at the vast ocean in from of me. “Pretty girl, can I braid your hair?” I remember the straw market, and talking to the locals. I remember our snorkeling trip out to Rose Island and protecting the camera because it still took film. I remember the big turtles all around the hotel grounds and choosing a different pool every single day to lounge. My mom and dad took us to shows at night and every once in a while, they got away to the casino.
It was a special trip because my parents treated us to the very best vacation at Atlantis. In the time since, Atlantis has pretty much tripled in size (at least). And now there are more hotel buildings than just the original tower, where we stayed when I was a kid. If only my family could see this place now!
Now: NPI in 2016
While all that I remember as a child still rings true, going back for a second time (without my family) allowed me to see what else can be found in Nassau on the way to a true Bahamian experience. It also allowed some reflective time to consider how things had been renovated since I had last been there….for one thing, they changed the kiddie pool. Instead of a crab in the pool, it’s now a lobster! How could they?!
Once I was finished walking through memory lane and texting my family to show them all the spots we visited so many years ago, I focused on the awesome new additions that where not there for my first visit.
I stayed in the 600-room The Cove Atlantis, which is the furthest building if you’re looking at the complex from the bridge coming in. When you walk into the lobby, you’re greeted with an open-air lobby designed by interior architects Jeffrey Beers and David Rockwell.
Even though the rooms are getting ready to go through more renovations, they were stunning. The bed was comfortable, the sitting area had a couch and table, and the bathroom was luxurious with a full soaking tub, separate shower and nice shower amenities. And the balcony led to the most spectacular view, which welcomed me in the morning and put me to bed at night. From the balcony, you can even feel the sand and smell of the ocean!
Guests of The Cove get unlimited access to the Cain at The Cove, an exclusive adults-only pool with outdoor gaming, cabanas and gorgeous ocean views.
The massive 141-acre Atlantis property features a variety of accommodations built around pools, lagoons, and marine habitats. In fact, the resort holds the largest open-air marine habitat in the world, with more than 50,000 marine animals and 250 species throughout the place.
Dolphin Cay educates guests on the different animals and even lets you ride on a dolphin’s back. The casino entertains during the day and at night. There’s entertainment in each building lobby—some type of music and dancing for every age level. There are shops and boutiques as well as restaurants from first-class chefs including Nobu Matsuhisa, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Todd English.
A personal favorite (as a young girl and now) was the waterpark! Though they removed the waterslides in the beach tower area, they built a massive new waterpark with a slide that even zips you through an aquarium where you can see the fish on every side of you.
Just as my kid self walked through the old aquarium and looked up over my head, now I could zip down in a tube gazing up at nurse sharks above my head.
Nassau food-tasting & culture tour
Around four million visitors come to Nassau each year, and few get to experience its real culinary scene. Even passengers on the cruise ships docking daily probably don’t get to witness the pastel-colored British colonial buildings, Bahamian food and rich history.
The Bites Of Nassau Food Tasting & Cultural Walking Tour by Tru Bahamian Food Tours was an awesome treat—literally. It will satisfy your hunger and give you a taste of the local history at the same time. We tasted some great food, from conch fritters and curry conch chowder to rum cake, chocolates and more. In between stops to eat, we got to walk past historical buildings and learn about the Bahamas’ past, like the pink-colored Government House and other pastel colonial buildings.
Here are some of my favorite stops on the tour:
1. Bahamian Cookin’
The restaurant is owned by a female and serves up some mean conch fritters, fried fish, and crab and dough. We enjoyed some steamed chicken and peas n’ rice and finished our meal with some yummy Bahamian limeade called switcha.
2. Van Breugel’s
Van Breugel’s is situated in the middle of Old Nassau with a charming dining area and food served with European and Thai flare. I had the coconut curry conch chowder served with a baguette and homemade parsley garlic butter.
3. Balcony House
The Balcony House is the oldest standing wooden residential structure in Nassau. It was once lived in by first black Bahamian elected to Parliament.
4. Genuinely Bahamian
This specialty store made jams, jellies, spices, hot sauces, teas, and confections sourced from Bahamian artisans throughout The Bahamian islands. I recommend sipping the iced fever grass “bush” tea! It was so refreshing after a hot day. The spices, hot sauces, and spicy jams were great too.
5. Graycliff Hotel & chocolatier
The AAA-Four Diamond rated resort is a historical Nassau heritage site dating back to the 18th century and also home to a chocolatier operated by award-winning chocolate-maker and pastry chef Erika Dupree Davis. They use Bahamian ingredients like guava, key lime, goat pepper, and mango in the chocolates. Try the key lime pie white chocolate bon bon or the a dark chocolate salted caramel bon bon!!
6. Government House
This is the official residence of the Bahamian Governor General, the country’s representative to the Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth the 2nd (who is still the country’s official head of state). It’s located at the top of the highest point in downtown Nassau and faces Nassau Harbor. It’s a beautiful building and good example of a mix of American colonial architecture and Bahamian-British architecture.
Did my recent Nassau Paradise Island trip remind me of my circa-’97 family vacation? Yes, and more. With a bigger and better Atlantis, the experience of walking around downtown Nassau to sample the food, seeing historical architecture and really getting emerged in the culture of Nassau, I think grown-ups may have even more fun.
Needless to say, I’m excited to one day bring my parents and sister back to relive our memories again.
For more on Nassau Paradise Island in the Bahamas, visit nassauparadiseisland.com.