As the rain pelts down on us here in Toronto on a blustery early spring day we have wonderful memories of our most recent cruise through the Caribbean. First stop: Nassau in the Bahamas.
Not strictly speaking actually in the Caribbean (it’s actually in the Atlantic), Nassau is the capital of the Bahamas and isn’t actually an island. The island is New Providence, but no one ever seems to say they’re going to New Providence, rather they say they’re going to be in Nassau since the city does dominate. Nassau has long been a favorite winter vacation spot for Canadians although in recent years that has skewed more toward Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba (yes, there are hundreds of actual resorts in Cuba contrary to the impression you might get from the American media recently) because of the price differential: The Bahamas is much more expensive, but it does make for a nice day ashore when cruising in.
Although it’s sometimes sensible to take a ship’s shore excursion – first-time visits to European ports come to mind – we try to avoid them when at all possible. The reasons will fill a future story, but for now just accept that discerning travelers prefer to be on their own or with a private guide! Avoiding the dreaded shore excursion means that we often like to self-direct our day ashore. Here’s how we did Nassau.
A familiar stop for us, Nassau is like an old friend and we knew exactly where we were headed when we left the ship that day. We do love the chance to walk a distance so we planned our route from the cruise terminal left along Bay Street toward one of the two bridges to paradise Island (one takes traffic in one direction the other takes it in the opposite, but you can walk in either direction on both). It’s about a 1.6 km (about a mile) walk to the bridge – takes about 20 minutes going through the part of downtown that has seen better days. We hadn’t been there for about four years and the recession seems to have taken hold.
We then headed up and over the bridge. That end of Paradise Island is dominated by the monstrously large Atlantis Resort complex. We spent a week there a number of years ago and if you haven’t ever been there before, it might just be worth taking an excursion that gives you access to their acres and acres of property, lagoons, beaches, impressive aquariums and the lot. We just walked over and back along the farther bridge that passes over the Potter’s Cay Fish Shacks and back to East Bay Street.
We retraced our steps and then went on past the cruise terminal along the part of Bay Street where the requisite duty-free shops and souvenirs are located. There is little about all of this that is Bahamian, but a visit to the storied Nassau Straw Market is designed to make you feel closer to the authentic Bahamas. Sadly, that is no longer true.
Historically, the straw market showcased the traditional skills of plaiting, braiding and weaving of straw into myriad baskets, hats and other kitschy products. You used to even be able to watch the process. These days you’ll find more ‘straw’ hats from China, T-shirts and hordes of other trinkets from as equally far-flung places than traditional hand-crafted products. But if you look closely, you will find a Bahamian straw product or two. We didn’t spend much time there.
We walked along Bay Street as far as the British Colonial Hilton, a hotel where Art stayed too many years ago to even count now! Across the street there used to be a terrific spot for conch fritters, a must-try when visiting the Bahamas. Sadly, it, too had closed, and the space was forlorn and empty.
With that we made our way back to the ship to toast another warm and breezy Bahamian day.
If you have a few minutes, we invite you to come on that walk with us…