When the beach beckons, Nassau, not even four hours by plane from New York City and two hours from Atlanta, makes an ideal long-weekend escape. The capital of the Bahamas is not only historic, but also abuts Paradise Island, where you'll find Atlantis, the 800-pound gorilla of Bahamas resorts. For water-park lovers, it's a not-to-be-missed attraction and a family favorite—even adults can find something to like here. Unfortunately, it's also expensive, but for those who are looking to save a bit of money, there is another viable option just next door.
If you book an early flight, you can find yourself poolside before 2 pm. There’s really only one item on the agenda for most travelers to Paradise Island: Pick up a bracelet so you can access the fun at Atlantis’s Aquaventure water park, with myriad water slides and rides. Most families hurriedly change into swimsuits and head out to the facilities whether their room is ready or not, grabbing a quick bite when hunger overcomes excitement. Early flights require early-morning departures (and wake-up calls), so your first night may consist of nothing more exciting than an early dinner and bed. Try Anthony’s (main courses from $30) at the Paradise Village Shopping Center (closer to the Atlantis Coral or Beach towers), or Bimini Road (main courses from $27), one of the more moderate restaurants in Atlantis's Marina Village Shopping Center.
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Even die-hard water park fans may want to escape from Atlantis, if only briefly, to enjoy some of what Nassau has to offer. Frankly, Nassau is no longer a shopper's paradise, though duty-free liquor is well-priced. More interesting are some of the historic sights, including the grand Graycliff, both a boutique hotel and a tourist attraction in its own right. If you have the opportunity to tour the 250,000-bottle wine cellar, you'll have an unforgettable experience.
John Watling’s Distillery, a newer attraction in Nassau, is the Bahamas' only rum distillery. You can take a free tour, sample the spirit, and buy a cocktail (there are also occasional parties).
No trip to Nassau would be complete without lunch at one of the local fish fry spots on Arawak Cay. Freshly made conch salad is a specialty.
After a return to Aquaventure for your afternoon swim, splash out for dinner in town at Luciano’s (upscale Italian with fabulous views of Paradise Island) or Café Martinique (the best restaurant at Atlantis, courtesy of Jean-Georges Vongerichten).
If you can manage a late-afternoon departure, you’ll have time to spend a couple more hours enjoying everything that Atlantis has to offer. Unfortunately, on busy days (like Sundays), you really do need to leave for the airport three hours before departure, since traffic can be heavy and check-in lines slow. But if you're too sunburned or burned out to hit the beach or pools on Sunday, you can always shop in the Atlantis Marina Village or across the road at Paradise Village, which has a sprawling gift store with reasonable prices.
WHERE TO STAY
The biggest decision one has to face when going to Nassau is whether or not to stay at Atlantis (from $670, with frequent discounts) or somewhere else. Staying at the sprawling resort provides guaranteed access to the water park, pools, walk-through aquarium, spa, and other facilities at no additional charge, a not inconsiderable perk. But this comes at a cost, which can be considerable.
For those on a more limited budget, the completely renovated Comfort Suites Paradise Island (from $350, with frequent discounts) is just across the parking lot from the Coral Towers and offers unlimited access to the Atlantis facilities (including Aquaventure and the spa). Surprisingly, the Comfort Suites is closer to Aquaventure and the spa (which is at the Royal Tower) than Atlantis’s own value-oriented Beach Tower rooms. With a decent (and quiet) pool where you can read or relax, free breakfast, a friendly lobby bar, and solicitous staff, the Comfort Suites makes a strong case for itself, as you can still enjoy Atlantis's perks without staying at the resort.
WHEN TO GO
From January through May, temperatures in Nassau rarely top 80°F or dip below 70°F, offering a pleasant alternative for those who live in the cold- and snow-challenged Northeastern and Midwestern states. However, water temperatures can also be on the cool side and rain is not unheard of, which brings temperatures down to less comfortable levels, particularly in the winter months. But notably (except for holiday weekends), Atlantis and the Comfort Suites don't charge high-season rates from January through mid-February, when it's coldest in the U.S., making Nassau a tantalizing weekend destination, though its proximity to much of the East and Southeast makes it a viable short jaunt anytime of year.
Anyone can purchase a day pass to use the Atlantis facilities (which include Aquaventure), but it costs a whopping $139 per person and passes for non-guests may be cut off when the resort is at full or near-full occupancy. The ticket office where you can purchase day passes is near the Coral Tower’s main lobby. Comfort Suites guests pick up their passes in the Royal Tower main lobby (lower level, by the aquarium entrance).