Family vacations are great. They are even better when no kids are allowed. Us mommas decided to head-off to the Bahamas with no kids in tow (even though my son did try to pack himself in my suitcase as I was packing). If you want to plan just an adult getaway, Nassau is a great destination.
Our Bahama Mamas! trip started off rather slowly. We flew out of SFO to Chicago, and that was an overnight flight. Luckily, I had my essentials- a Real Simple magazine, a book of word games, a pack of Mentos, and a neck pillow. This is actually the first time I’ve purchased a neck pillow for a flight, believe me when I tell you, it makes all the difference. As ridiculous as it looks- a neck pillow will save your life when sleeping on a plane. However, buy the foam or gel pillows, they conform to the back of your neck better than the stuffed neck pillow I had or the blow up ones.
We spent 4 hours in O’Hare for a layover, but after we got going, the trip from Chicago to Nassau was just a few short hours. One note, I bought a carry-on suitcase, about 21.5 inches tall, and it was too large for the small Bahamian plane. I had to check my bag at the gate, but on the bright side it was waiting for me at the gate when I arrived; I didn’t have to go down to baggage claim.
The Nassau airport is very small, but clean. We de-boarded the plane outside on the tarmac, then had to walk up some stairs to get into the airport. These stairs might be difficult with a heavy bag if you are elderly or injured, but you can request assistance. The Customs line was fairly long, but moved quickly. If you rush from the tarmac up to customs you can beat a lot of the arriving passengers, and get through Customs a lot faster; we were in line for about 20 minutes.
I expected the ride from the airport to be full of new things – beaches, palm trees, historical pink buildings, street vendors and people. Instead I saw Subway, Chevron, Starbucks, Dominoes, Burger King, Dairy Queen, and a host of Chinese food restaurants. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed by American cultural & business encroachment on this land. Great someone else is dying from our fast food!
We arranged a ride via Majestic Tours from the airport to our accommodations – the Blue Water Resort. The Blue Water Resort is actually a condo complex rather than a hotel, but for a lower price than many other accommodations we got 3 bedrooms (2 with 2-twin beds, and 1 with a queen bed), 3 bathrooms, a full living room and kitchen, pool, tennis courts, and private beach access; it was a great deal. When we arrived at about 2 pm, our room was not ready; check-in was at 4 pm. So the staff took our bags, and we were left to entertain ourselves for a couple hours. We choose to walk down to the grocer and grab some essentials for our condo, since we had a full kitchen. We spent $33 on eggs, turkey sausage, bbq chips, greek yogurt, water, nectarines, and bananas. Groceries are a bit more expensive than in the states, but they have mostly the same brands as we do.
Fish Fry Review – Nassau, New Providence, Bahamas
Our next task was to find a restaurant. We heard a lot about the Fish Fry from our Majestic Tour driver. The Fish Fry sounds like a single restaurant, but it’s actually a collection of small food vendors and restaurants in a single area. They are all hawking Bahamian seafood, prepared every way imaginable.
Many locals told us that the Twin Brothers restaurant at the Fish Fry was the best, so we stopped there first. We had conche (pronounced “conk”) every way imaginable – conche fritters, conche chowder, conche salad, and a conche burger. The conche fritters were pretty good, but was mostly breading rather than conche. The conche chowder utilized a tomato paste, and came out tasting like beef stew, no one really cared for it. The conche salad was mostly fruits and vegetables and very little conche, but good if you’re looking for something fresh and cool to eat. And the conche burger was pretty good, but putting the conche in between a bun was a little too much. I also partook in the Bahamian fried chicken wings which were delicious but didn’t really taste exotic at all, the fried plantains which were not very tasty in my opinion, and the Bahama Mama which was good. In all, Twin Brothers was a bit underwhelming.
Riding the Bus in Nassau, Bahamas
We rode the bus back from the Fish Fry. Buses in the Bahamas are large vans, they reminded me of airport shuttle buses. They are typically really old and worn inside, but not enough to make you feel uncomfortable.
Our driver actually turned around and changed his route in order to take us home and collect the fare. The bus drivers are independent-operators, like taxi drivers, and they will change their course to make a dollar. This particular driver also solicited tourists on the side of the road for a ride; fares must not come easy to these guys.
Bus drivers will accept $1.25 in U.S. or Bahamian currency at the end of the ride.
Swimming at Cable Beach, Nassau, Bahamas
Once home we attempted to sort out activities for the next day, and ultimately agreed on very little. But we did head out for a night-time dip in the ocean at Cable Beach. Cable Beach is gorgeous, the sand is white and fine. The water is of course clear and gorgeous. The water also felt like taking a dip in the bath, but being that it was dark we were a little nervous about swimming.
So we turned our attention to the resort’s pool which sits feet from the beach. The pool also felt like warm bathwater. There was only one other couple in the pool with us, but a few people sat at the tiki bar nearby. Music played all-night poolside which made our swim rather festive.
– And end scene. Our first day in the Bahamas was a wrap.
Sunday in Nassau Bahamas
Sunday is a sleepy day in the Bahamas; the tourists have gone home and the locals are taking it easy. But we decided this would be the perfect day to invade Ardastra Gardens & Zoo in Nassau. Of course we hit a detour to Atlantis. The Atlantis Hotel is basically like a Las Vegas resort. It is a huge, awe-inspiring, pink sight at the edge of Paradise Island. They have 11 pools, a water park, restaurants, an aquarium, and lots of adventure. If you don’t actually stay at the Atlantis, you’ll quickly discover that Atlantis is the center of the island; all fun leads back to Atlantis. We stopped there to look into some of their activities and we booked a snorkel adventure for Monday morning.
After we took a bus to Ardasta Gardens & Zoo. The bus we took was actually used to move tourists between the cruise boat dock and Atlantis, but the driver was willing to take all four of us back to New Providence Island, where Nassau is, for $25. One thing you’ll discover about the bus drivers is they’re very entrepreneurial, for the right amount of money they’ll take you wherever you want to go. So we talked him into taking us on a mini-tour of Nassau. We wanted to see where the common folks lived.
He took us on a tour of the East Street neighborhood. The houses there were first occupied by slaves. Many are very small, and the neighborhood is very poor but we did see some outstanding historical sites. We drove past two military forts, one is Fort Fincastle (pictured below) and Queen’s Staircase, chipped out of a rock with a hammer and chisel by slaves on the island. They were both amazing feats of human engineering. If you are interested in viewing the forts, entry is only $1; by far, one of the cheapest things you can do on the island.
After our mini-tour we finally made it to the gardens.
Ardastra Gardens & Zoo Review
Ardastra Gardens & Zoo is located in Nassau, not far from the famous Fish Fry. We stepped into the most immaculate tropical gardens. It looked like you would imagine a rain forest looking. But what stole the show was the flamingos. That’s right, I’m talking about the pink bird. Ardastra has a Flamingo Encounter show which is a grandstanding of flamingos that follow military command. Needless to say, it’s pretty interesting to watch. View here. In addition to the flamingos, the zoo offers a host of other tropical birds, monkeys, and other small tropical animals like squirrels.
After our garden tour, we headed back to the hotel and took a plunge in the ocean. The water is still warm, but this time we were joined by two sting rays swimming by.
Monday in the Bahamas
Snorkeling Trips in Nassau
I was so excited for our snorkeling trip. Not only were we due to see fish, but also sharks. That’s right, we got to snorkel with sharks. We booked our tour with Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas in Nassau, and left out on a skipper with about 10 other guests. We took the “Snorkel Trip” package which is there cheapest package, and one of the cheapest snorkel tours on the island. The tour is $75 per person and includes 3 dive stops, one of which includes sharks. They don’t tell you that on the brochure, maybe because they want you to sign up for the more expensive tours. But if you’re looking for some adventure at a cheap price, this is the best deal for your money.
The first stop, we saw beautiful-schools of fish including the Yellow Fin snapper and a host of others. The second stop included a tour of one of the island’s reefs; swimming above and around the reef was quite magical. By the second stop, I was pretty exhausted. Keeping afloat against the ocean current, although it was mild, and getting the hang of breathing through my mouth and not my nose was taxing. I could tell many of the other tourists were feeling exhausted as well. As we left from the second stop to head to our final stop no one said a word. Some of us even fell asleep, even though it only took 10-15 minutes of traveling time to get to each spot. We spent about 25-30 minutes snorkeling in each dive spot.
Our last stop allowed us an opportunity to snorkel with sharks. We weren’t given the same amount of freedom to move around as with the first two stops, instead we were taken out a few at a time and made to hold onto the buoy rope. Our guides lowered a bait box with fish parts 30 feet below. A dozen or so sharks swarmed the box, as we watched them at the surface of the water. They weren’t the least bit interested in humans, they were mighty-focused on that bait box. Lucky for us! I of course lost focused on my breathing and felt the need to vomit. So I had to head in after just one minute of swimming with the sharks, but it would’ve been great had I lasted the full 5 minutes allocated. I did get to view the sharks swimming furiously around the boat, so that in itself was a great treat.
Oh Andros Restaurant, Fish Fry, Nassau Review
Speaking of treats, we were all starving after our snorkel with the sharks and other gorgy fishes. We headed back over to the Fish Fry and decided to give Oh Andros a try. Oh Andros serves up a variety of seafood including chonche, snapper, grouper and lobster- either grilled or fried. I ordered fried lobster and shrimp with macaroni and cheese, peas and rice, and cole slaw. The seafood was great. The peas and rice left many questions unanswered. The first, “Where are the peas?” Evidently, the “pea” means “bean” in the Bahamas. So this dish is really just beans and rice, but there are very few beans in it. The mac and cheese was okay, but not delicious. And the cole slaw was a bit plain. But the service was great and the atmosphere was decent.
This meal with bottled water cost $31, not including tip.
Tuesday in the Bahamas
Swimming with Dolphins in Nassau, Bahamas
Tuesday was another exciting day in Nassau; we booked a Dolphin Encounter at Dolphin Caye. The operator picked us up from our hotel. We got hit with a surprise charge of $9 for the ride (but that included the return trip back to our hotel after the dolphin experience). We agreed to just pay for the ride there since we planned to stay downtown after our dolphin encounter. Once we were at Dolphin Encounters, we were surprised again by the price for the encounter. The brochure quoted $110, the sign at the tour office stated $115, but we were charged $92. Not sure why, but I decided it was best not to question it.
We took a ferry (included in the price) to Blue Lagoon island. It takes about 10 minutes to get from downtown Nassau to Blue Lagoon by ferry.
The island looks as majestic as it sounds. It is truly a man-made paradise, not the island itself but all that is on it. Blue Lagoon offers a well-stocked beach with slides and other fun water activities, along with both dolphin and sea lion encounters.
Our dolphin encounter allowed us to pet, dance and kiss the dolphin. It was truly an awesome experience.
Haggling at the Straw Market, Downtown Nassau, Bahamas
I heard a lot about the Straw Market and thought it would be the perfect place to pick up some cheap Bahamian trinkets. The Straw Market is like a large indoor swap meet located just shy of the cruise boats. It is there for tourists and only sells trinkets to remind you of the Bahamas. The aisles in the Straw Market are tight, so if you are claustrophobic, you might feel a bit cloistered in this space. Most of the vendors hawk the same items, so after going down about 2 or 3 aisles, there is no real need to keep going – you’ve seen it all. Mostly what is sold are wooden sculptures – some that are massed produced and others that are carved right there on the spot, T-shirts, beach bags, items made from straw, wraps, hats, and figurines.
The vendors at the Straw Market are very aggressive. All of them will refer to you as “Pretty Lady” and attempt to sell you some of their goods. If you don’t like aggressive salesmanship, this isn’t the place for you. All of the vendors are ready to strike a deal. They all negotiate down their asking price for you. This is obviously to prevent you from attempting to haggle any further, but don’t be deterred– there is still room for further negotiation. Most will accept $2-$5 below their bottom asking price.
I grabbed a beach bag for $10, a wooden lobster with removable arms for $20, and a conche shell for $5. I also grabbed a wrap from a store nearby for $8.
Sharkees Restaurant for Dinner
We stopped at Sharkees Bar & Grill after the Straw Market. Sharkees sits just shy of the dock where the cruise ships stop, and is the first restaurant many patrons see after de-boarding their cruise-liners. Sharkees is pretty big inside, and festive with kind of a pirate theme. Needless to say, Sharkees does a good amount of business. I ordered fish and chips for $14.99. The fish was flaky and light, absolutely delicious. It came with fries and cole slaw; neither was something to write home about.
Sharkees is probably best known for its creative bar offerings such as Liquid Cocaine. All drinks will come in 70-ounces for a mere $30. I wasn’t brave enough to try one of these explosive combinations mid-day so I can’t offer a review here.
Good Breakfast Restaurants in Nassau
We’ve officially run out of eggs and bacon we bought from the store our first day. So we are looking for a good breakfast spot in Nassau. Most restaurants in Nassau don’t open until lunch or dinner. It’s like these people don’t eat breakfast. After doing some research on Google, I discovered that the nearby Melia Resort offers a really good breakfast buffet.
The buffet is $30 and features a host of yummy breakfast items including pork and turkey sausage, egg whites with spinach, pancakes, waffles, french toast, bacon, turkey chipotle meatballs, salmon, different cheeses, muffins, croissants, turnovers, other pastries, fresh fruit, fresh juices like celery, pineapple, pear and spinach juice, and a few other items which I’m forgetting here.
Melia Resort Review – Nassau, Bahamas
After visiting the hotel for breakfast, we came back that afternoon to see if we could sneak a swim in one of their pools. Unfortunately, they have a lifeguard on duty slash security guard who keeps anyone that’s not a hotel guest from pooling around.
So we snuck onto their beach, which has no security. The Melia Resort has a very shallow oceanfront, so you can go 200 feet out and still only be chest deep in the ocean. It’s great for swimming with small kids.
The Melia also offers a lot of play equipment for kids and adults including water bikes, paddle boards, and clear-bottom kayaks. They also allow a private vendor to rent out jet skis to guests on the beach, and that same vendor will take you on a banana boat ride or take you parasailing.
Our beach day was interrupted by some serious rain, so we hide out under their beachside bar. I ordered a Sangria which cost $10 and tasted watered down. After hanging out for a while, we roamed around the hotel and discovered the Melia had a small casino with nice no deposit offers called the Crystal Palace Casino, which doesn’t open until 4 pm each day, a deli, convenient store, and a hair salon – which I made an appointment at.
Thursday in Nassau
Bahama Divers Review
I was determined to get this snorkeling thing down, so I accompanied my mom and Aunt on another snorkeling excursion. This time instead of using Stuart’s Cove, we booked a trip with Bahama Divers. This dive company is a few bucks cheaper than Stuart’s Cove, Bahama Divers charges $60 while the later charges $75. Like Stuart’s Cove, Bahama Divers also offers free pickup, and our driver showed up several minutes early.
Bahama Divers is actually a dive shop, and while you’re waiting for the boat to arrive to take you out, you are free to wander around the shop and of course buy things. The excursion with Bahama Divers wasn’t as formal as Stuart’s Cove, we had no idea where we were headed, our guide didn’t tell us anything about the reef system we were snorkeling around. They just pulled up and encouraged us to jump out. One plus about Bahama Divers is we had a very entertaining guide who body surfed part of the trip.
We were allowed to snorkel at one-site for 45 minutes. I was told that if we had booked the morning trip we would’ve been taken to two separate sites. During our snorkel I saw a ton of different fish, and our guide pointed out a sting-ray and starfish. The guide also took video of our snorkel excursion which could be purchased for an additional $30.
After the dive, our bus driver recommended a host of food stands that offered the freshest seafood in Nassau. “They pull it right out of the water and cook it for you,” he said. So we let him drop us off there. The food stands are located under the bridge that takes you to Paradise Island. I saw no tourists there, except us. It is heavily populated by locals. It is loud with laughter and generators going, and it appears a bit unsanitary. Needless to say, we quickly left without getting anything to eat and headed back over to the Fish Fry to try a new restaurant.
Goldie’s Restaurant at the Fish Fry Review
We choose Goldie’s Restaurant at the Fish Fry. What I loved about Goldie’s was the ’70s R&B music they had playing in the background. The vibe is definitely chillax. We ordered grilled lobster which came covered in a sea of vegetables with one side, and I ordered fried chicken wings, macaroni, and cole slaw. Compared to Twin Brothers, the most highly recommended restaurant at the Fish Fry, Goldies offers a better macaroni and cole slaw but I liked Twin Brothers chicken wings better.
Friday in the Bahamas
National Art Gallery of the Bahamas Review
It is our last day in the Bahamas. We decided to take in some culture at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas. I’m typically not a museum person, but I was mighty impressed with the works on display at the National Art Gallery. The museum was reminiscent of an old plantation home with two-stories of fine art to drool over. Entrance to the National Art Gallery is only $5, well-worth the money.
Down the street from the museum is Graycliff, a Brazilian steakhouse in the middle of Nassau’s historic district. Not only is this restaurant well-known for fine-dining, they also create their own chocolates, and will take you on a chocolate-making tour for $50.
Jet-Skiing at Cable Beach
For our last activity in Nassau, we decided to rent some jet skis. I read a lot of reviews about tourists renting jet-skis from locals and feeling ripped off. We rented our jet-ski from the Melia Resort on Cable Beach. The actual jet ski vendor is independent from the Melia, but they rent a space on Melia’s private beach, so they are somewhat monitored by the Melia staff. The cost to rent a jet ski was $70 for 30 minutes. Pretty pricey, but it would’ve been well-worth it had it not been for the limitations. We were not allowed to go more than 1000 feet from the Melia beachfront; which sucked since we really wanted to head to a nearby island.
Getting a Perm in the Bahamas
Bahamian women wear the same hairstyles as we do in the states. Therefore their hairdressers are just as knowldgeable and experienced as ours. Before I left the Bahamas, I decided to pay to get my hair done. The Melia Resort has a wonderful salon with a full staff capable of doing any type of hair. But they are a bit pricey, I paid $80 for a wash and flat iron, and my mother paid $100 to get her hair permed. But for the convenience of having a fresh and neat hairstyle before I headed to work that Monday, $80 wasn’t bad.