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Breathtaking Bahamas – the perfect family get away for fun, frolics and a slice of paradise

By Emma McNamee – 24th October 2020
RECOMMENDATION | Billy Bob’s Parlour & Diner – The Yorkshire Dales 145
My Love Affair with The Bahamas

I was lucky enough leaving university many moons ago to land my first “proper” job with the Bahamas Tourist Office, which served as my intro to what would be a 20+ year career in travel and tourism.  At 23, I was taking an Italian film crew island hopping around the Bahamas to film a documentary, and taking journalists, travel agents and tour operators on familiarisation trips to showcase all that the Bahamas has to offer as a destination.

 

I therefore got to explore The Bahamas both as a local and a tourist and have longed to go back for many years to share it with the family.  So, October half-term 2019, we did just that and had the holiday of a life-time with our kids, then 14 and 11.

 

So from the incredible marine life and water parks at Atlantis on Paradise Island to the iguanas and swimming pigs in the Exuma Cays;  From the colourful colonial buildings in downtown Nassau to the idyllic pink sands of Harbour Island;  Let me take you on a journey with the family to these picture perfect Bahamian islands, just 4 of the 16 amazing island destinations you can visit in the Bahamas.

 

Value for money: (7 of 10)

It’s not a cheap holiday for sure, particularly when it comes to eating and drinking out, but if you try and do some of your wining and dining more in local restaurants rather than the  4/5 star hotels, it definitely becomes more affordable and you’ll have the added bonus of experiencing the cuisine like a local.

However, in terms of the destination, experiences and memories you’ll create there as a family that you can’t put a price on, it’s a 10/10 all the way.

Getting to the Bahamas

We flew direct with British Airways from Heathrow to Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, on New Providence Island.  It’s about a 9 hour flight.  On arrival at Nassau, we transferred over to Atlantis on Paradise Island, about 45 mins by taxi, and home for the next 7 nights.

 

Paradise Island and The Atlantis Resort

Paradise Island is connected to Nassau by 2 bridges that cross over Nassau Harbour.  Although there are other hotels, the Atlantis resort dominates Paradise Island with its extensive marine habitat and the Aquaventure water park.  To be honest, you could easily spend a week at Atlantis with all that it offers and never leave Paradise Island, but it would be a damn shame to venture that far and not explore the beauty beyond Atlantis, particularly the colonial charm of Nassau and the untouched beauty of the outlying islands.

 

We did a day in, day out schedule during our week staying at Atlantis.  First of all, when staying at Atlantis, you’ll need to choose between the 6 resort sections for your accommodation.  This is where you’ll come to realise that Atlantis really does offer something for every type of traveller, from time-share style condo units to classy adult-only zones – It’s certainly not just a resort for the kids!

 

We opted to stay at The Reef, which is pitched as their luxury condo-style tower offering self-catering apartments.   We had no intention of cooking, but with older children the 2 bedroom apartment we had in The Reef gave us ample space.   There was a central open plan lounge/kitchen/dining area, and a bedroom off each side of it.  In typical American style, one bedroom offered a huge double bed, and the other bedroom had 2 queen beds so the kids each had their own bed and both bedrooms had their own bathroom with double sinks.  Plenty of space to settle in for a week!

 

Wherever you stay at Atlantis, all resort sections are interlinked and it’s truly lovely to walk around the whole resort amongst the beautifully landscaped gardens, grounds, lagoons, pools and marine life.  There’s also a shuttle bus that hops between the various resorts of Atlantis which is handy if you’re just popping out to another resort for dinner or an activity.

 

Here’s a short summary of the other resorts of Atlantis:

The Beach – the most affordable option for staying at Atlantis located at the far end of the resort with its own lazy river, easy beach access and large pool.  The most dated looking of the Atlantis Towers, but decent enough rooms.  Good for families/couples on a tighter budget.

 

Coral Towers – similar to The Beach, but a bit more central to the wider Atlantis Resort and next to the harbour and Marina Village which come alive in the evening with shops and restaurants.

 

Royal Towers – this is the more iconic landmark building that you’d associate with Atlantis, at the heart of the resort, and hence the busiest of the resorts too.  Pools, waterpark, fancy restaurants, spa, Dolphin Cay and casino are all within easy reach here.

 

Harbourside Resort – these are time-share owned properties, colourful lower level condo-style units, which can be booked in a quieter location away from the hustle and bustle of the resort across the marina, beside the harbour.  Also popular with families, as similar to The Reef, they offer more space and kitchen facilities.

 

The Cove – the resort for the trend setters and fashionistas and a price tag that comes with it!  A more boutique and exclusive feel about it, and rather classy surroundings.  It also has an adults-only party pool, with outdoor casino corner and resident DJ.  Getting the picture?  It’s the place to be seen…

 

So, that’s your accommodation options.  Now, where do I start with Atlantis Resort itself? If I start by saying that it is home to the world’s largest open-air marine habitat with 14 lagoons and over 50,000 aquatic animals, you can probably begin to imagine the extent of the marine life you can witness there.  We spent a whole day just taking it all in, from the underwater ruins to the coral and caves, havens for all sorts of marine life from sharks to stingrays, turtles to barracudas, eels to thousands of exotic fish.  When you venture in to the Aquaventure water park, you can also take the Mayan Temple water slide which finishes off taking you through the middle of a shark lagoon in a clear tunnel.   Quite an experience – even I braved the slide to see this!

 

You can pick up a timetable of feeding times if you want to plan your self-guided tour around the resort to tie in with feed times of the various aquatic animals.

 

Then, in terms of participative activities with the marine life, you have an abundance of options.  My son and I woke up early one morning to have a sunrise snorkel with the dolphins.  A very serene experience, such graceful creatures – certainly more graceful than me with my flippers!

 

Of course, there’s other options to paddleboard, kayak or swim with the dolphins too, and then you’ve got all the other animals to factor in too – playtime with the sea lions, sting ray experience, snorkelling the ruins of Atlantis, walking with the sharks… you can even work along-side one of their aquarists for the day, as a junior trainer, learning about the animals and helping with feeds.  Perfect for your budding marine biologist…

 

Marine life aside, young or old, you can’t stay at Atlantis and not enjoy the 141-acre water park.  River rides, rapids, high-speed slides, rubber ring adventures, 20 swim areas & waterfalls all set amidst lush surroundings.  What’s not to like? Guaranteed fun.

 

There’s pools and restaurants-a-plenty, beach, lounge-type bars, a casino, a nightclub – our daughter went to the teen evening at the nightclub and had a ball, and thanks to snapchat and instagram she’s still in touch with a bunch of local girls she met there who taught her to twerk!  Safe environment, no alcohol served, a mix of locals and tourists.

 

My one gripe with Atlantis was the cost of eating out there.   Staying at The Reef, access to the waterpark and to roam around all parts of the resort and see all the marine life was included.   However, eating/drinking out in resort was very pricey, though I do think this is fairly typical of this sort of resort generally.  But best manage your expectations before you arrive.   If we’d wanted to have breakfast at one of their breakfast buffet restaurants, it would have set us back around $160 for the 4 of us including tax/service.  Of course, another benefit of staying at The Reef and having your own kitchenette and dining area meant we could DIY our own breakfast.  There was also a café and Starbucks on resort, so we kept things low-key for breakfast.

 

Infact, other than the odd snack poolside, we only dined out once at Atlantis as we prefer to head out of resorts and experience the food and culture more like a local.   All-inclusive hotels are generally lost on me.

 

Although I did want to experience the Sunday lunch buffet at The Mosaic restaurant at The Cove Atlantis and it was well worth it!  Fantastic spread of food, hot and cold, that served as a perfect brunch for us and kept us going until the evening.

 

If you’ve got younger kids with earlier bed times and you plan to eat in resort mostly, they do offer a half-board dining plan that may be worth considering, though there are some restrictions on the restaurants included with this.

 

So that’s Atlantis – a week there felt just right as we interspersed days at the waterpark and poolside with days out exploring Nassau and beyond.

 

Exuma Cays

One of the highlights of our holiday was our day trip to the Exuma Cays.  We did this with Harbour Safaris – there’s a minimum age limit of 10 years, and it’s not recommended for the faint-hearted or anyone with back/heart problems or pregnant.  You can see why immediately when you set off.  You’re properly zooming across the ocean at high speed in a boat, bouncing across the waves.  In all, you spend about half the day on the boat, but this is broken up every hour with visits to different cays to feed the iguanas, swim with the pigs, and a visit to a private island on the way back.  The skippers en-route talk you through some of the other Exuma locations where parts of the Pirates of the Caribbean were filmed and where Pablo Escobar did some of his drug smuggling in days bygone.

 

You’ll stop for lunch at Staniel Cay which is picture perfect, and you can wade with the sharks here if you’re brave enough!    I wasn’t, but I did “stroke” them – a word I’d never ordinarily put with a shark!  A full day excursion but truly exhilarating – just watch out for “floaters” (aka pig shit) on this otherwise beautiful experience.  Plenty of photo opportunities for the snap happy among you – aquamarine seas, pretty bays, idyllic secluded beaches, pigs, iguanas, sharks…

 

Nassau and New Providence Island

Another half day out  we spent with a local taxi driver having a personal tour of New Providence Island, a great way to get a true feel for Bahamian life past and present, and see it through the eyes of someone born and bred there.  They’ll also take you to many hidden gems you wouldn’t otherwise have found.

 

Another afternoon we ventured out and did our own self-guided tour of downtown Nassau taking in Government House, Parliament Square, the Queen’s Staircase, Fort Fincastle and the Straw Market.  Plus, you’ve got to swing by Graycliff, a historic colonial mansion which is home to a rather exclusive 5 star hotel & restaurant with a world-reknown wine cellar, if not just to visit their Chocolate Factory, Cigar Company and Heritage Village.

 

Two other main attractions we didn’t make it to on this trip, but could be fun to do with kids would be the Ardastra Zoo & Gardens and the Pirates of Nassau Museum.  And if you’re a real foodie, you can do a cultural food tour around Nassau too.  It’s definitely worth going on to the official website of the islands of the Bahamas, to see all the many activities you can do when there.

https://www.bahamas.com/islands/nassau-paradise-island/popular-activities

 

In terms of eating out, you’ve got to head to Arawak Cay to enjoy a “fish fry” like the locals in one of the restaurant shacks along this man-made stretch of land, reclaimed from the harbour.  It’s quite a buzzy area, particularly on a Sunday when all the locals head down.  To eat like a Bahamian, try the Conch salad or some form of fried fish.  I opted for the lobster which was to die for.    Neither of my kids will eat fish, but there were still plenty of other options too from burgers to pasta so there’ll be something for everyone.

 

Another favourite meal out during our week was at the Poop Deck, just over the bridge from Paradise Island.   Waterfront dining and local specialities along with some great cocktails to boot – my potion for the night was a Bahama Mama.

 

At the base of the bridge on Paradise Island side you’ve also got Margaritaville, Jimmy Buffet’s restaurant – 3 bars, indoor & outdoor seating options, music and signature menu.  Less Bahamian, more American, but the kids enjoyed it here and handy as we could jump off the Atlantis shuttle bus fairly nearby.

 

So there you have it, our first week in the Bahamas.

 

North Eleuthera & Harbour Island

From the rather commercialised but beautifully landscaped existence of Paradise Island, we then moved on to the untouched beauty of the out islands of the Bahamas, taking a 30 minute internal flight from Nassau to North Eleuthera with Bahamasair.  We then had a brief taxi ride to the harbour,  and jumped on a small passenger ferry for the short crossing to Harbour Island, our home for the next 3 nights.

 

You’re now a far cry away from the high-rise hotel towers of Paradise Island and the bustling hub of Nassau. This is where life really slows down and you’re willingly drawn to the laid-back island life.   This was by far the most relaxing part of our holiday, our own slice of paradise for a few days, to just sit back and take in the untouched beauty around us.

 

Harbour Island is a small haven of tranquillity that is just 3.5 miles long, by 1.5 miles wide, and famous for its pink sand beach that runs the entire length of the island on the Eastern side.   We stayed at Pink Sands Resort located along this beach in a two-bedroom ocean view cottage, with a private footpath down to the pink sandy beach below.   It has been a life-long dream for me to stay here, since having a tour of the hotel on an agent fam trip in my earlier working years with the Bahamas Tourist Office.   The views were just as mesmerising as I remembered, and the sand is the softest ever.

 

Pink Sands Resort have kayaks, paddle boards, body boards and snorkels readily available for guests’ use which we took full advantage of.   The hotel pool didn’t get a look in as we were in the sea morning, noon and eve as it was far too appealing to do otherwise, be it catching the early sun for a pre-breakfast swim, or surfing the waves at sunset on a body board.

 

I could happily sit for our hours on our terrace, just looking out across the palm trees and pink sandy beach to the aquamarine ocean beyond.  It’s really quite special.   We did however venture out and explore the rest of the island too – this is easily done by golf buggy which we collected at check-in and had at our disposal for the whole of our stay, and we could drive it right up to our cottage too and park up.

 

As the island is so small, exploring it doesn’t take long even in a golf buggy, but it really is picture perfect with pretty pastel New England-style homes, beach front eatery shacks, lush greenery and the ocean which surrounds you pretty much every direction you look.

 

Very atypical for us, but I’d booked the all-inclusive option at Pink Sands as there was an offer when booking which made it too good a deal, and this is one of the few places I’d really recommend it.    It saved us a lot of money as food/drink again was fairly pricey, and the setting was idyllic and meant we didn’t have to venture far from the beach or our cottage during the day.  What’s more, October is low season so many of the other restaurants on the island were still closed, so our options for eating out would have been limited anyway until season kicked in again in November.

 

Breakfast and lunch were served at their Blue Bar & Restaurant overlooking the ocean and pristine pink sands, whilst dinner was served at Malcolm 51, their colonial style fine-dining restaurant with laid-back charm typical of the island.

 

Throughout our stay the staff couldn’t have been friendlier or more helpful, we really had the warmest welcome.   When it was time to say our goodbyes, instead of flying back to Nassau for our onward connection, we were able to take a ferry direct from Harbour Island to Nassau which took around 2hrs 40mins.

 

Last night in Nassau – Compass Point

We were then flying out the next day to Miami, so wanted to stay near the airport in Nassau for one final night before leaving the Bahamas.   I knew exactly where I wanted to stay – again a hotel I had visited many years ago that had stayed in my mind ever since – Compass Point Beach Resort.

 

Ordinarily they won’t take 1 night bookings, but as it was low season and I booked this final night fairly close to the arrival date, they were able to accommodate us for the night in a 2 bedroom seaview hut.  And wooden huts they are, brightly painted inspired by the Bahamian “Junkanoo” Carnival.  Simple accommodation but tastefully kitted out with modern amenities, really quite unique, in another picture-perfect ocean front setting.    One of the most instagrammable hotels of the Bahamas in my view with such bright colours set amongst lush gardens.   Similar to The Cove at Atlantis, this is another of those hotels to be seen, popular among savvy, trend-setting travellers.

 

Their pool, jacuzzi and restaurant overlook the Atlantic and we fell asleep to the sound of the waves crashing against the barrier wall.  A perfect end to this truly memorable family holiday.

 

A Multi-Centre Destination Holiday

The Bahamas has got 16 island destinations frequented by tourists.    The trip I’ve outlined here is perfect for your first introduction to the Bahamas, but most likely it will just serve to whet your appetite for more future exploration of other out islands there.  Next on our list is The Abacos.

 

The Bahamas is also a great destination to include as a multi-centre holiday with the States, being 50km off the coast of Florida.  On leaving Nassau, we flew in to Miami for a couple of nights, then north to New York for 4 nights before finally flying back home to England.

 

This was partially due to all our flights being booked with accumulated Airmiles, just booking the flight options available to us, but it actually made for the perfect family holiday combo with a mix of city, culture and beach.

 

We can’t wait to go back!

 

For more information:

https://www.bahamas.com – the official website of the Islands of the Bahamas – lots of inspiration and a good overview of all the islands you can visit

 

https://www.atlantisbahamas.com/ – Atlantis Hotel official website, Paradise Island

 

http://www.pinksandsresort.com – Pink Sands resort official website, Harbour Island (North Eleuthera)

 

http://www.compasspointbeachresort.com – very instagrammable hotel in Nassau, convenient for airport, and popular with trend setters.

 

https://www.harboursafaris.com – Exuma Cays excursion to swim with the pigs

 

https://thepoopdeck.com – restaurant recommendation in Nassau

 

https://www.bahamasair.com – internal flights

 

https://www.bahamasferries.com – internal ferries (we took from Harbour Island to Nassau)

 

Enjoy!

Emma xoxo

RECOMMENDATION

This is a Girl About recommendation. This means that this holiday was not gifted in return for a review but paid in full by our writer and the venues had no idea that I was there. We only recommend places we absolutely love, and places that we know you’ll love too!

 

Emma McNamee
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