Escape from Atlantis: Top Bahamian Experiences on New Providence Island Outside the Megaresort
Sure, many people come to New Providence Island to stay at Atlantis. And with the promotions they have going on now, who could resist? But unless your favorite travel destinations are Las Vegas and Orlando, you're going to need to take a day or night away from all the madness.
Luckily there are several good experiences nearby. I recently spent a long weekend in New Providence without once stepping foot in the Atlantis complex. Here are my must-do island experiences–and a few ideas for saving some cash while you're out.
Top 6 New Providence Experiences
For the Foodie
Graycliff. New Providence is the Bahamas's culinary hub, hosting star chefs such as Bobby Flay, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Nobu Matsuhisa. Atlantis alone has 21 restaurants; but for a truly unique experience, I love Graycliff in downtown Nassau. The Bahamas's only five-star restaurant showcases Continental fare with a Bahamian twist. Waiters in tuxedos and a jazz singer all add to the refined atmosphere. On site is the owner's 275,000-bottle wine collection, the third largest in the world, and a cigar shop where cigars are hand-rolled daily. Ask to take a tour of the wine cellar before or after your meal. It will cost you a grand to eat down there, but tours are complimentary. I held the world's oldest bottle of wine, a 1727 Rudesheimer Apostelwein worth $200,000. W. Hill St. at Cumberland Rd., Nassau, 242/322-2796, www.graycliff.com.
For the City Slicker
Downtown Nassau and the Straw Market. Unlike the other islands in the Bahamas, New Providence has some of the major brand name stores you'll find back home, along with a wide array of specialty shops. But if you didn't come to the Bahamas to shop at Coach, hit the Straw Market. Housed in a temporary shed after a 2001 fire destroyed the original market, hundreds of vendors selling straw bags, t-shirts, and beaded jewelry vie for your attention and dollars. I found it a little overwhelming (and honestly, how many t-shirt stands do you care to browse), but if only for five minutes, it is a scene to behold. Bay St., near the cruise ship docks, Nassau.
For the Romantic
Versailles Gardens and the One and Only Ocean Club. If you need to Zen out, down the beach from Atlantis is the One and Only Ocean Club's Versailles Gardens. The thirty-five acres of manicured perfection features a French cloister, imported in the 1920s by newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst. Overlooking Nassau Harbour, it's a popular spot for wedding vows, or a simple "I love you." Best of all, it's free! If you really want to turn up the romance dial, (or if you need a vacation from your Atlantis vacation), book one of the Ocean Club's suites. The most posh stay on the island features marble bathrooms, private balconies, personal butlers, Jean-Georges Vongerichten's open-air restaurant Dune, and most of all, lots of silence. Ocean Club Dr., Paradise Island, 888/528-7157, www.oneandonlyresorts.com.
For the Beach Bum
Love Beach. If you want to get off the resort's beaches, one of the island's loveliest little stretches of sand is near New Providence's northwestern corner, nine miles from Nassau (you'll need a car, or dough for a pricey cab ride). About 1 mile off Love Beach is the Sea Garden: 40 acres of coral, sea fan, and forests of fern. The beach and clear waters are a favorite with locals and snorkelers.
For the Adventure Traveler
Day trip to the Out Islands. To really experience the beauty of the Bahamas, get out of New Providence and charter a day trip to one of the secluded Out Islands. In fact, the highlight of my trip to New Providence was this day trip out of it. High Seas Private Excursions will take you out on a 40-foot powerboat to the Exuma Cays, less than an hour away. Here you can visit a cay crawling with wild iguanas, see sharks and dolphins, step on a footprint-less sand bar, and forget that other people exist. 242/393-3501, www.highseasbahamas.com.
For the Local Wannabe
Potter's Cay. Right under the Paradise Island Bridge, Potter's Cay is a colorful scene; boats bring catches of fish and conch, and open-air stalls carry fresh fruit, vegetables, and local foods. Along the road to the cay are dozens of stands where you can watch conch, straight from the sea, be extracted from their shell and chopped into a conch salad on the spot, as fresh as it comes. Many locals and hotel chefs come here to purchase the fresh catches. Islanders play dominoes outside many of the stalls; see if you can join in on a game. Under the Paradise Island Bridge.
Sights in Nassau and Paradise Island are within walking distance of each other, so you'll be able to hoof it if necessary. If you're tired, a cab ride from Nassau to Paradise Island is about $10. There's also a water taxi that runs between the two. Beware: departures are on island time, so if you're in a hurry, be sure to get to the dock early.
You'll need some wheels to get to Cable Beach. Roundtrip cab fare from Nassau is about $40; car rentals are around $80-$120 a day. If you want to save money, hitch a ride on the jitney bus. Fares are just $1 each way, and it's a nice way to see the sights and chat with locals. Hail one at a bus stop, hotel, or public beach. Bus service runs until 7 PM. And brace yourself: rides range from smooth sailing to hair-raising.
Ways to Save in New Providence Island
Consider visiting the Bahamas this summer. Although June through November is hurricane season, storms aren't likely to hit outside of August through October, and rates can be up to 30 percent lower.
If you're not staying at Atlantis, but want to spend a day on the grounds, consider booking a one-night stay. Day passes for the water park alone are $110 for adults, but rooms can dip to $260 in low season.
Most restaurants add 15% gratuity onto your bill. Make sure you check before you double tip!
Although it's not terribly less expensive, use of Atlantis' facilities is included for guests staying at the Comfort Inn next door.
"Close to Comfort Suites, you have Anthony's Bar and Grill, its colorful, tasty, portions are big, and much cheaper than anything at Atlantis complex. Great for breakfast or dinner. If you need to save money, you can walk over the bridge, or if you feel better about taking a taxi, head over to Poop Deck. Nice setting in the marina, decent food, better prices again than anything in Atlantis." ---blamona
"I highly recommend you get certified at home and do your open water dive in the Bahamas. Some of those resort places can be sketchy and are usually very expensive." -- GoTravel
Photos courtesy of (1) Molly Moker (2) One and Only Resorts (3) Molly Moker
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