Bahamas Feature

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Bahamas Today

Like much of the world, the Bahamas has had to put big development plans on the back burner as the country rides out the economic recession. The largest project, the Baha Mar overhaul of the Cable Beach strip, is finally underway, but is years behind schedule. Bahamians have used this situation as an opportunity to spruce up existing properties and improve an infrastructure that was starting to show signs of age and neglect. Once the tide turns and tourism picks back up, the Bahamas will be better than ever.

Today's Bahamas

…is still very British. From driving on the left side of the road (albeit mostly in left-hand drive cars) to tea parties to wig-wearing lawyers strolling into court, the Bahamas still has a decidedly British air about it. The country gained independence from England in 1973, but old colonial habits die hard. Bahamians learn British spelling in school, and the country still uses the Westminster style of government. That said, a constant diet of American media has had an impact on the country. Bahamians measure temperature in Fahrenheit instead of Celsius, and although the English gentleman's cricket is the national sport, you'll be hard-pressed to find a local who understands the game, much less plays it.

…is a playground for the rich and famous. With its near-perfect year-round weather, modern infrastructure and amenities, and proximity to the United States, it's no wonder that the Bahamas is a home away from Hollywood for many celebrities. Sean Connery lives behind the gates of the exclusive Lyford Cay community on New Providence Island. Johnny Depp owns his own private island in the Exumas, as do Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, David Copperfield, and Nicolas Cage, who also owns a home on Paradise Island. Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon got hitched on the grounds of her private Eleuthera estate; the island is also home to Lenny Kravitz, whose mother, actress Roxie Roker, grew up there.

…is many different destinations. The majority of the 4 million tourists who visit the Bahamas each year experience only Nassau, Paradise Island, or perhaps Grand Bahama. But with more than 700 islands, there's so much more to see and do. Each island offers a different flavor and none of them have the hustle and bustle of big-city life experienced in the capital. The farther south you venture, the slower the pace. Locals have distinct looks, dialects, and surnames on each island. White Americans and British settled in the Abacos and north Eleuthera, and their strong accents—putting an h where there isn't one and omitting one where there should be—help tell them apart from expats. Long Island is home to a large "conchy joe" population, white Bahamians who might have had a black great grandpa. Tell someone you're a Knowles and they'll want to know if you're a Long Island Knowles or an Eleuthera Knowles.

…is getting spruced up. After 10 years of temporary tent quarters, the Nassau straw market's magnificent $11 million new home opened in 2011. Bay Street, once Nassau's Madison Avenue, is on the road to recovery after years of neglect. The Lynden Pindling International Airport is now a modern gateway that truly welcomes visitors. And following a number of false starts, the multibillion-dollar Baha Mar transformation of the Cable Beach strip is well underway. As Nassau continues to develop, the Out Islands remain untouched, preserving the quaint nature that attracts adventure travelers each year.

…is not part of the Caribbean. Even though the country gets lumped in with the Caribbean in glossy travel brochures and on cruise itineraries, it is not geographically a part of it. Rather than being situated in the Caribbean Sea, the islands of the Bahamas are in the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, more Bahamians have traveled to nearby South Florida than to the Caribbean. But from a cultural and political point of view, the Bahamas is aligned with the neighboring islands. The country is a full member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Bahamians will cheer on their Caribbean brothers and sisters in any sporting match.

…is worried about the environment. Thankfully, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill did not affect the Bahamas, but Bahamians now have become much more aware of the need to protect the "sun, sand, and sea" that puts food on so many tables. The government works closely with the Bahamas National Trust to identify and develop protected green spaces, and any developer interested in putting up a sizeable or potentially environmentally sensitive project anywhere in the country is required to pay for and submit an Environmental Impact Assessment before consideration is granted.

What We're Talking About

Bahamians are passionate about their politics. Despite elections only every five years, everyone is continually vocal about which party will win and which scandals will and will not sway voters.

The Bahamas has a parliamentary system, much like England's. As elsewhere in the British Commonwealth, there is a governor general who serves as the Queen's representative. A prime minister leads the government and bicameral legislature. The upper chamber is called the Senate, whose members are appointed by the prime minister in consultation with the opposition. Members of the lower chamber, the House of Assembly, are elected directly. Perry Christie and the Progressive Liberal Party unseated Hubert Ingraham and the Free National Movement Party for a second time in 2012. The Democratic National Alliance, led by a former FNM cabinet minister, was the first fringe party to run a full slate of candidates in 2012.

Even the most patriotic Bahamian will admit that the country's jewel—downtown Nassau—had lost its luster. With the recent global economic slump, once spectacular stores had given way to tacky T-shirt shops or have been left vacant, and sidewalks and building facades had suffered. Since its formation in 2009 the Downtown Nassau Partnership has made steady strides towards revitalization. The straw market destroyed by fire in September 2001 has been rebuilt, and Pompey Square, a vibrant open space that attracts locals and visitors to the area, has opened. Other clean-up is still underway.

Updated: 2013-12-16

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