A laidback tropical island with copious amounts of candy-pink colonial (and sometimes funky) charm, Nassau is the capital of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas -- and the largest city on New Providence, one of its smaller islands. In fact, half of the Bahamas' quarter million residents live on New Providence. Famous Cable Beach and Paradise Island are but a stone's throw from downtown Nassau.
A city with a vibrant swashbuckling pirate past, it offers tropical tree-lined streets filled with horse-drawn surreys ruled by policemen in white starched jackets and colorful pith helmets; soft-sanded beaches for kicking back and catching ocean breezes; lavish Vegas-type casinos with attractions to match; dozens of obscenely good restaurants and enough duty-free shopping stops to please even the most jaded of fashionistas.
It's the largest and one of the most well-trafficked cruise ship ports, handling up to seven vessels in a day. One reason for its immense popularity is its close and easy proximity to the Florida coast -- making it the perfect stop, if not the cornerstone, for many Caribbean trips, be it for overnight or weeklong voyages.
Nassau Quick Facts
Check out these island attractions:
Head over to the man-made island of Arawak Cay, a local beach dusted with pastel-colored shacks, incredibly fresh conch from vendors cracking the mollusks right before your eyes, fried fish and grits, lime-marinated conch and plenty of coconut milk laced with gin. Very popular, especially with the locals, and very crowded, especially on weekend evenings from 5 p.m. until midnight. On the harbor, across from Fort Charlotte.
Pink flamingos, honey bears and peacocks, oh my! You'll find all this and more at Ardastra Gardens. Wait'll you see the flamingos parade in drill formation (10:30 a.m, 2:10 p.m. and 4:10 p.m.). Daily 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Chippingham Rd., Nassau.
If you'd rather just spend the day as a guest at the showy 34-acre Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, consider purchasing a hard-to-come-by day pass for about $25 ($19 for kids). The pass gets you access to most of the must-see sights at the resort, such as the Dig, the marine habitats and their beach. What you won't get is the fun stuff around the pools and waterslides. You'll see a kiosk selling the passes by the cruise terminal -- or you can try to purchase one at the resort.
The number one photo op on the island is the balcony of 18th-century Balcony House, which also happens to be Nassau's oldest wooden structure. Step inside this island landmark to see the mahogany staircase said to have been salvaged from a shipwreck in the mid-1800's. Monday - Wednesday and Friday 10 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., Thursday only until 1 p.m. Trinity Pl., Nassau.
For dolphin encounters of the bottlenose kind and seven stunning beaches, head for Blue Lagoon Island (a.k.a. Salt Cay). If it looks a bit familiar, you saw it in the film Splash (the beach scenes were filmed here). There are plenty of water sports to try and hammocks to idle in, but for all things dolphin, make sure you plan ahead (www.dolphinswims.com). You'll find plenty of amenities such as showers and changing rooms too. Catch the ferry from the cruise terminal.
One of the most popular cultural stops on the island is the 18th-century Fort Charlotte. It's fun to roam the dungeons and underground passageways and see the waterless moat -- but some say the amazing views of the harbor from the ramparts is the real don't-miss here. Two other forts worth checking out are Fort Fincastle (overlooking the town from Bennet's Hill) and Fort Montagu (E. Bay St.). Monday - Saturday 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. Chippingham Rd., Nassau.
For those who love British pomp and circumstance, see the changing of the guard at the Government House every other Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, accompanied by the music of the Royal Bahamas Police Force Band. The official residence of the governor-general of the Bahamas since 1801, this bubble-gum-pink mansion is an excellent example of Bahamian-British and American Colonial architecture. Duke St., Nassau.
Kids love the Pirates of Nassau, a rather new, interactive museum filled with pirate stuff. They can walk through a 75-foot, three-masted pirate ship, too. Monday - Saturday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Tours are scheduled every half-hour. Marlborough St., Nassau.
We dare you to take a royal climb up the 66 steps of the Queen's Staircase, which was carved out of calcareous, a coral-based sandstone at the end of the 18th century. The stupendous view is the prize for such athleticism. Elizabeth Ave., Nassau.
Hop aboard the Seaworld Explorer for a 90-minute submarine tour. Think underwater observatory, as you descend five feet below the water to observe the "sea gardens" through large glass windows. Daily 11:30 a.m.; they add an additional tour at 1:30 p.m. from December through June. You must make reservations. Located on the corner of Bay Street and Elizabeth Street.
Best Beach for Active Types: Paradise Island where you can find all manner of water sports rentals and eateries. Some say the most beautiful one here is Cabbage Beach, on the north shore. Another good choice is Cable Beach, with all the usual beach amenities and dazzling beachfront resorts along baby-powder-soft sand. For great snorkeling, try Love Beach near Gambier Village, about 12 miles west of downtown Nassau.
Secluded Beach: South Ocean Beach, close to Adelaide Village. Caves Beach in Rock Point (close to the airport turnoff on Blake Road) is another good out-of-the-way choice.
Since the island is fairly compact, the transportation of choice here is walking.
There are a handful of car-rental companies such as Dollar Car Rental, Avis, Thrifty Car Rental and Budget at Prince George Wharf as well as on Paradise Island and at the airport, but they are pretty expensive, ranging in price from $55 to $110 for the day. And then there is that pesky left-side-of-the-road driving to deal with.
Taxis are plentiful and can be hailed everywhere, be it right by your ship or at all the hotels and restaurants. Count on sharing the taxi with other tourists and locals. Rates are fixed by law. Typical fares to Paradise Island are $4 per person, plus a 15 percent gratuity.
Jitney buses run between the downtown area to Cable Beach and Paradise Island from early morning until about 7 p.m. at 30-minute intervals. Fares vary (though generally about $0.75), depending on route. Exact change is required.
The Nassau Water Taxi departs every 30 minutes from behind the Straw Market to Paradise Island, operating daily from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. The roundtrip cost is $6. Notes: Though the trip takes just 10 minutes, the water taxi may not depart on time. Since the operators tend to give you a bit of a "tour" along the way, expect to be approached for a gratuity.
Horse-drawn surreys can be found around Rawson Square and sometimes along Bay Street. They run about $5 for 30 minutes, but are negotiable. Note: From May to October, the horses rest from the day's sun from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.).
Where You're Docked
Prince George Wharf, near Rawson Square (as well as the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism for picking up maps, brochures, etc.), in the heart of Nassau.
Staying in Touch
Prince George Wharf Cruise Terminal, Nassau.
Internet Cafe, Bay Street Mall, Nassau.
Cybercafe, Robertson Rd., Nassau.
Anthony's Caribbean Grill: Think TGIF...Caribbean style. Gourmet-type pizzas topped with jerk chicken, very excellent ribs doused in an awesome barbecue sauce and warm-weather cocktails bigger than a house. Per-person cost for three courses including wine will run about $20. Daily from 11 a.m. Casino Dr., Paradise Island.
Crocodile's Waterfront Bar & Grill: Waterside dining under thatched tiki huts and island drinks galore -- consider this place if you're looking for funky-casual. The Bahamian-style fried chicken is excellent. Per-person cost for three courses including wine will run about $20. Daily 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. E. Bay St., Nassau.
Cafe Matisse: Everyone loves this place for its excellent Italian food. Their spinach gnocchi topped off with Gorgonzola cheese and a walnut sauce is amazing. Per-person cost for three courses including wine will run about $32. Monday - Saturday noon - 3 p.m. Reservations recommended. Bank Lane, Nassau.
Graycliff: Food's great, they have nearly 180,000 bottles of wine (worth millions of dollars) and they make their own cigars. We say go all out and order the Perigord Goose Liver black truffles! Reservations a must. Monday - Friday noon - 3 p.m. Per-person cost for three courses including wine will run about $50 W. Hill St, Nassau.
Pink Pearl Cafe: Perhaps a bit on the formal side, that still doesn't take away from the really good food served here -- Bahamian style. The creamy, chunky conch chowder is divine, but the banana fritters capped off with a nutmeg ice cream drizzled over with hot butterscotch are beyond fabulous. Three courses with wine will run about $25. Tuesday - Sunday 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. E. Bay St., Nassau.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Legal tender is the Bahamian dollar, which is equivalent in value to the U.S. dollar. Both U.S. and Bahamian dollars are accepted interchangeably throughout the island. European currency is not, so exchange is necessary at an ATM (you'll find them at Rawson Square, Bay Street and at the casinos) or bank. All banks and their branches are generally open Monday through Thursday 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and until 5 p.m. on Friday. For more currency exchange information, visit www.oanda.com.
Note: Some hotels and restaurants add a fee for cashing traveler's checks.
The Straw Market at its temporary digs along the waterfront near Bay Street (just beyond the British Colonial Hilton) is nearby. A market is being built closer to its old location (after the original was destroyed in a fire in 2001) and is scheduled to open in early 2005. It's perhaps Nassau's most popular attraction, and you'll still find all things straw and artwork made by locals, including shopping bags, handbags, hats and wonderful dolls. Monday - Saturday, 8 a.m. to about 3 p.m. Bay Street -- where you'll find tonier shops like Gucci -- is also nearby, as are the dozens of shops inside the Nassau International Bazaar at Woodes Rogers Walk and Charlotte Street.
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