Family Vacation Guides:

What to Do
Where to Stay
Where to Eat
Money $aving Tips

We just returned from a short trip to New Providence and Paradise Islands to review what's available for family vacations. Accompanied by daughters Jenny (10) and Katie (6), we spent several days touring the islands in search of the best of everything. These islands are a great place to take kids for a long weekend or a more extended vacation. In addition to enjoying the many activities and beautiful beaches, you and your children will have the opportunity to experience another culture and a different lifestyle.

To get the most out of your visit, check out the Ministry of Tourism's People-To-People program available in Nassau. Those who take advantage of this program will be introduced to a Bahamian family who will show you how they live. This is an excellent chance to learn about "real" Bahamian culture on a first-hand basis. For more information on this program, write to the Ministry of Tourism, P.O. Box N-3701, Nassau, The Bahamas. The matches take several days to work out, so try to do this in advance of your trip. Your travel agent or hotel can also assist you in the process.

New Providence Island (where Nassau is located) and Paradise Island offer families numerous choices in accommodations, dining, beaches, and activities. Hopefully, our findings will help you in making your decisions.

Paradise Island: If beaches are of great importance to you, choose Paradise Island as your home base for your visit to the islands. We found the beaches on Paradise Island to be breathtaking, particularly the beach in front of the Ocean Club. Here you will find the wide, white sand beaches and clear turquoise waters. The beaches surrounding the Paradise Paradise resort, the Atlantis and its next door neighbor, the Radisson Grand, are also nice. The beach in front of the Pirate's Cove Holiday Inn, although beautiful, is small and crescent-shaped. The Inn's high-rise building can cast a shadow over the beach at certain times of the day. Although we were on the island during the high season (and Spring Break to boot!), the private beaches on Paradise Island were relatively uncrowded. The waters around Paradise Island, albeit beautiful, can be rough at times. Many of the resorts have areas roped off for swimming, however, sometimes the currents can be tough for younger ones to handle. In addition, there is a substantial dropoff in some areas which may be difficult for small children to negotiate safely. Older kids, however, will love to body surf in the waves. The Pirate's Cove Holiday Inn has an advantage for families with young children, in that its beach is surrounded by a protected lagoon. If you are staying on New Providence and wish to spend a day on the Paradise Island Beaches, you can take the ferry to Paradise Beach. This lovely stretch of white sand beach has facilities for you and your family to use, but you'll pay $3 for the privilege ($1 for children under 12). There is also a deposit required to ensure the return of any towels used. The ferry can be boarded at Prince Georges Wharf in Nassau.

New Providence Island: The best "hotel-front" beaches on New Providence appeared to be in front of the Meridien Royal Bahamian on Cable Beach. This section of the beach was quite wide and secluded. Other sections of Cable Beach were narrow and rather unattractive. Several of the hotels on Cable Beach have built up their beaches to make them more attractive. Since we visited the island during Spring Break during the height of the winter season, it was hard to judge what the beaches might look like normally. When we visited, however, the beaches were very crowded and we were continually approached by vendors offering to braid the girls' hair or sell us coconut milk. The beach in front of the Ramada South Ocean Golf & Beach Resort was long, white and narrow. There is no drop-off, so smaller children can safely walk out quite a distance. Watch for the rocks in the water, though. For those with a car, other nice beaches on New Providence are Love Beach and Caves Beach, 7 miles west of Nassau.

What to Do

I'm sure you and your family will take advantage of the many beach, sports and water activities available at your hotel. In addition, here are some great things to do with your kids when you'd like to venture away from your hotel:

The Dolphin Experience - This was one of the high points of our visit to the islands. My daughters and I love dolphins, and we enjoyed the chance to see them "up close and personal". The "encounter" costs $30 per person including the boat ride, and the swim is $85. Information on this program is available from Dolphin Encounters (809-363-1653), Majestic Tours (809-322-2606) or from your hotel concierge. Reservations are necessary. During peak periods, these trips are heavily booked. Do reserve early. If you wish to stay on Blue Lagoon Island after your encounter or swim (see below), a full day package can be arranged as part of your package for an additional $29. I would highly recommend it -- the island is beautiful!

Blue Lagoon Island - Even if dolphins aren't your thing, do check out a trip to Blue Lagoon Island. It's kind of a chance for you and your kids to play "Shipwrecked", but in a very upscale way. The beaches ringing the island (all seven of them!) are gorgeous, hammocks swing under the palm trees, a steel drum band plays, and you are served a delicious lunch. In addition, you can climb the pirate's stone watchtower, swim in the protected lagoon, snorkel, and explore the island. The cost is $35 per person, with a 10% discount if you book directly through Calypso Cruises. Remember to bring towels with you. Call Calypso Cruises (809) 363-3577/8, Majestic Tours (809-322-2606) or speak to your hotel concierge for more information.

Discovery Island - This little island is just offshore from the hotels of Cable Beach, and is a fun trip for those staying in this area. The island has a nice beach, a good recreational and changing facilities. Boats depart from the watersports kiosk area at the Nassau Marriott on Cable Beach. For more information, call the Nassau Marriott at (809) 327-6200 and ask about the Discovery Island trips. Hint: Tell the person who answers the phone that these are not run by Majestic Tours, and ask them to connect you to their watersports desk. This may eliminate some of the phone runaround we experienced.

Coral Island - This marine park located on Silver Cay consists of a wide variety of aquariums, pools, parks, and an underwater observation tower. This attraction is one of the most popular in the area, and your kids will love the shark tank, the turtle pool and the stingray pool -- not to mention all the other marine life they'll see here. The Pleasure Reef snorkeling trail is excellent, and Silver Cay Beach is available for your use. Coral Island is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call (809) 328-1036.

Ardastra Gardens - Check out the drill team of pink flamingos at this 5 1/2 acre park. These birds perform each day (except Sunday) at 11:10 a.m., 2:10 p.m. and 4:10 p.m. In addition to the flamingos, one can see all sorts of exotic wildlife including boa constrictors, monkeys, iguanas, crocodiles, and a wide variety of waterfowl including rare Bahamian parrots. The tropical gardens are beautiful, too. admission charges are $7.50 for adults and $3.75 for children 4-12. For more information, call (809) 323-5806.

Horse-Drawn Surrey Rides - If your kids like carriage rides, they'll love riding through Nassau in a surrey. The drivers know a lot about the area, and it's a nice way to see Nassau. Surreys wait for passengers at Rawson Square in the center of Nassau. Approximate costs are $5 per person for a 25-minute tour. The maximum number of passengers per surrey is 2 adults and 1 child. Horses typically rest between 1-3 p.m. May through October and between 1-2 p.m. November to April -- so don't plan on going at these times and end up with disappointed children!

Horseback Riding - Happy Trails offers guided rides through the wooded areas surrounding Coral Harbour, and some rides skirt along the beach. Both English and Western saddles are available. For more information, call (809) 326-1820.

The Straw Market - No vacation is quite complete without at least one souvenir, and what better place to look for them than the Straw Market. The Market is an experience in itself, and one for which you should prepare your kids. As soon as you enter the market, women will approach you to ask about braiding your hair and your children's hair. Braiding hair has become quite a little industry in at the Market and on some of the beaches, and you will see many tourists sporting at least one braid, or often a whole head full. The going price appears to start at about $1 per braid. The Market is crammed with vendors selling a wide assortment of beautifully woven straw hats, bags, dolls, wall hangings, mats, and other items. You can watch crafts people weaving their wares, and many items can be personalized while you wait. In addition, vendors also sell wood carvings, jewelry, and hair ornaments. Bargaining is expected. If your children have not been exposed to a crowded, assertive vendor environment, you may wish to prepare them for your venture into the Market. In my opinion, this is a great place to visit just for the experience -- even if you don't buy a thing! The Straw Market is located in Straw Market Plaza on Bay Street in downtown Nassau.

Hartley's Undersea Walk - The helmets provided by Hartley's allow you and your family to breathe with ease as you walk along the ocean floor. The cruise lasts for more than 3 hours, however your walk lasts about 20 minutes. You do not need to be able to swim to make this walk, as you climb down a ladder to the ocean floor. Two trips go out daily on the 57 ft. yacht Pied Piper. Families who went on this underwater walk enjoyed it, and found it to be both exciting and fun. For more information, call (809) 393-8234.

Glass Bottom/Submarine Boat Rides - These trips provide an excellent opportunity to view underwater shipwrecks and sea life without getting wet. They are particularly excellent for younger children who are too small to snorkel in the open sea. Booze & Cruise Co. offers glass bottom boat rides on board the Lucayan Queen. The boat leaves Nassau Yacht Haven at 1:30 p.m. and returns at 5 p.m. For more information, call (809) 393-3722. For a different type of experience, take the Atlantis Submarine trip 80 feet below the ocean's surface. This 50-minute trips will take you past coral reefs, famous movie sites, shipwrecks, and other undersea phenomena. For more information, call (809) 356-3842.

Potters Cay - This fresh food market, located underneath the Paradise Island bridge, is a great place to experience local Bahamian life. It is here that the Bahamian boats dock each morning to sell their fresh produce including conch (just about any way you can possibly eat it), other shellfish, fish, fruits and vegetables. It is also a great place to buy shells. Try to come down in the morning when Potters Cay vendors are at the height of their activity.

For Parents: Family vacations are at their best when both parents and kids get to do things they want to do. Here are some pointers for pastimes that may interest you: Golf - Check out the 18 hole, Joe Lee-designed Ramada South Ocean course, by far the best course on New Providence Island. This championship course is used for a number of golf tournaments and offers some spectacular views. For more information on rates and tee times, call (809) 362-4391. On Paradise Island, the Dick Wilson-designed par 72 course at the Paradise Island Golf Club is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. The view on the 14th hole is particularly gorgeous. For more information, call (809) 363-3925. The oldest course is located at the Cable Beach Golf Club. This 18 hole, par 72 course is operated with the Arnold Palmer Golf Management Company and is owned by the Radisson Cable Beach. For more information, call (809-327-6000).

Shopping - After you finish at the Straw Market, check out the huge variety of shops on Bay Street. Since the Bahamas abolished import duties on a number of luxury goods in 1992, you can find a massive number of bargains. Some of the best buys can be had on British china, crystal, liquor, French perfume, Swiss watches, and Irish lace items. Most of the stores are on Bay Street and along the side streets in this area. Store hours are generally 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Before you go, check some of the local publications like What-To-Do (available at the airport and at most hotels) to find stores specializing in the item's you're interested in purchasing.

Scuba Diving - There are numerous reefs and wrecks surrounding New Providence and Paradise Islands. For information on sites and trips, contact Bahama Divers (809-393-5644), Diver's Haven (809-393-0869) or Stuart Cove's Dive Center at the Ramada South Ocean Beach (809- 362-4171).

Places To Stay

Casinos - Cable Beach and Paradise Island compete for the size and glitz honors in this category. Most of the hotels run free (or very inexpensive) shuttle buses to either the Crystal Palace Casino on Cable Beach (809-327-6459) or the Atlantis (809-363-3000) on Paradise Island. The 35,000 square foot Crystal Palace Casino is the largest in the Caribbean, however, at 30,000 square feet, the Paradise Island Casino isn't far behind. The casinos are open 24 hours for slot machines and from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m. for other activities. Each casino offers over 750 slot machines as well as craps, roulette, blackjack and other activities. Both also offer Las Vegas-style revues in the evenings. Free gaming lessons are available at both casinos, and complimentary cocktails are available for players. Children are not allowed on the floor of either of the casinos, so make babysitting, kids club, or other arrangements Best of the Bunch:

Where to Stay:

* Atlantis - This recently renovated mega-resort complex, formerly the Paradise Island Resort and Casino, is a great family destination and a water-lover's paradise. A recently completed multi-million dollar renovation has turned the courtyard of the hotel into a 14-acre waterscape including lagoons, grottos, waterfalls, and a 3 million gallonsaltwater habitat. This mini-water park features an underwater glass tunnel through which one can observe Predator Reef, a giant aquarium filled with large fish, sharks and other interesting things in the sea. Other caves and pools allow kids to observe sting rays, all manner of tropical fish, sea urchins and starfish. Other water-related amenities include a huge pool complete with waterfalls and a dynamite water slide. My kids loved the long "lazy river" tube ride right next to the main pool area. The baby pool is also large and nicely situated. In addition to the water park, the resort complex features a large casino, a theatre with a Las Vegas-style show, twelve restaurants, babysitting and an extensive kids program (operates both during the day and at night), water sports, and plenty of shops. Golf and tennis are close by. Rooms are of a nice size and well decorated. Rates start at $195 for 2 adults, however, packages available through travel agents and tour operators will reduce these rates significantly. For more information, call Atlantis at (809) 363-3000, Paradise Island Vacations at (800) 722-7466 or your local travel agent.

TIP: The organization that owns Atlantis also owns several other resorts on Paradise Island. Individuals staying at the Ocean Club and the Comfort Suites Paradise Island can use the amenities at Atlantis (including the kids program and the water park) and have complete signing privileges. Free buses run between the Atlantis and these properties. If you prefer small, intimate luxury properties with superb facilities, the Ocean Club may give you the best of both worlds (glitz and action at Atlantis -- peaceful, elegant surroundings and outstanding beauty at the Ocean Club). If you would prefer a suite with more living space (but no kitchens and beach on-site), the Comfort Suites (800-228-5150 or 809-363-3680) may be a good bet.

* The Ocean Club - This exclusive small property on one of the best beaches in the islands offers seclusion, beautiful gardens, superb tennis facilities with a tennis pro, and a beautiful pool. I had read an earlier review of this property suggesting that it was "too formal for children". Our experience did not confirm this observation. My kids loved it, and we did too! If you are a highly discriminating traveler and your family is used to beautiful settings with the best of amenities, this is an excellent fit for you. The property, formerly Huntington Hartford's estate and private home, derives over 65% of its business from former guests. My kids enjoyed the beautiful setting and the fact that the movie "My Father The Hero" was filmed here. The postcard perfect beach was lovely, beach chairs and cabanas were provided, and the rooms were well-appointed and nicely decorated. The hotel offers babysitting, concierge service, very attentive and thoughtful staff, and a complimentary shuttle to the Atlantis and the golf course. Formal gardens surround a French cloister set on 35 acres of lawns, set off by statues, reflecting pools and fountains.

Such beauty, however, comes at a price. Rates range from $275 to $575 per night for two adults. Lower rates are available in the off-season or as part of a package. The lanai rooms are the smaller and least expensive of the rooms, and are located next to the tennis courts. The majority of the rooms are located in a lovely two-story colonnaded building built around a beautiful pink patio where breakfast and dinner are served. The deluxe rooms have ocean views. For more information, call (809) 363-3000, Paradise Island Vacations at (800) 722-7466 or your local travel agent.

* Radisson Grand Resort, Paradise Island - The 14-story Radisson is located next to Atlantis, and is beautifully sited on an uncrowded 3 mile section of broad white beach. Rooms are nicely decorated and feature balconies offering ocean views. Resort amenities include a pool, water sports, babysitting, children's activities during the summer and holiday periods, and restaurants. Rates for two adults range from $159 to $219, however, available packages can reduce these rates substantially. For more information, call (809) 363-2011 or in the United States you may call (800) 333-3333. For package rates, call Paradise Island Vacations at (800) 722-7466 or your local travel agent.

* Coral Island Villas - These neat resort on the private island of Silver Cay shares its island home with Coral Island, one of the best attractions in the Nassau area (see Activities). Each one-room villa has a king-size bed and a pull-out queen size sleep sofa, a kitchen, microwave, and its own private 24-foot swimming pool. The furnishings and appointments are lovely, and the kitchen can come in very handy in cutting down expensive "dining out" bills. Nassau is not an inexpensive place to eat! Guests have access to laundry services, babysitting, snorkeling gear excellent for exploring the Pleasure Reef snorkeling trail) and free daytime transportation to downtown or the casinos on Cable Beach. Entrance to the Coral Island park is also free for those staying in the villas. Villa rentals are in the range of $220 per night for two adults, and up to two children under 12 stay free in their parents' villa. For more information, call (800) 328-8814 in the U.S., or (809) 328-1036.

Honorable Mentions:

Pirate's Cove Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort - This resort property is more upscale than your usual Holiday Inn, and is located on Paradise Island. It is particularly notable for its fantastic pool and range of kids activities. The white sand beach is surrounded by a beautiful lagoon which is nice for swimming. For more information, call (809) 363-2100 or 800-HOLIDAY.

Radisson Cable Beach - This huge resort on Cable Beach is to be commended for its daily kids camp and supervised activities for children 3-12. For more information in the U.S., call (800) 333-3333. before you go. Unlike Las Vegas, there are no on-site child care facilities available.

Health Spas - The best in the area is located at Le Meridien Royal Bahamian Hotel on Cable Beach. It is open to both hotel guests and those not staying at the hotel. For more information, call (809) 327-6400.

Where to Eat

Eating out on New Providence and Paradise Islands is expensive, primarily because everything (except the conch and fish) has to be imported. If you are considering a package trip, take a good look at the all-inclusive options if your family tends to eat a lot and you enjoy good food and fine dining. Expect to pay $9 to $12 for a continental breakfast; $7 (for a kid's meal at a poolside restaurant) to $14 for lunch; and $13 to $50+ for dinner.

Here are some great places we found for families to eat:

Green Shutters Restaurant - 48 Parliament Street in Nassau Packaged Deals or Tours - This packaged trips, sold through American Airlines, Delta Airlines, US Air, and a variety of travel agents, can make your trip to the islands considerably less expensive. Before committing to these trips, however, understand your family's priorities and do some research to assess what's out there. A good travel agent can be very helpful. Make sure you probe to make the best selection from what is available, and carefully understand what is included (and what is not!) in these packages.

Getting Around - Activities and attractions in the Cable Beach/Nassau/Paradise Island area can be quite spread out, and taxi fares can quickly eat into your budget. Do try to choose a location that is the closest to the things you want to do, and make good use of the free and inexpensive bus service available. Car rentals are also available at the airport and some of the major hotels.

Seasonal Rates - Rates for accomodations on New Providence and Paradise Islands drop significantly after the middle of April. If you have any flexibility in your vacation scheduling, try to visit from late-April through November.

(809) 325-5702. This place is like an English pub. It offers a great menu with a variety of English and Bahamian fare.

Seagrapes Restaurant - In the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island (809) 363-3000. Casual dining and great dinner buffet with a wide variety of salads, soups, main dishes and desserts.

Cafe Johnny Canoe - On West Bay Street, Cable Beach (809) 327-3373) Wild colors and a Friday night junkanoo parade make this a natural for kids. The menu is a mix of American favorites and Bahamian fare. Live music is featured on the weekends.

Junkanoo Cafe - In the Pirate's Cove Holiday Inn (809) 363-2100. This restaurant offers a nice selection of sandwiches, salads, and lighter dinners.

Money $aving Tips

Packaged Deals or Tours - This packaged trips, sold through American Airlines, Delta Airlines, US Air, and a variety of travel agents, can make your trip to the islands considerably less expensive. Before committing to these trips, however, understand your family's priorities and do some research to assess what's out there. A good travel agent can be very helpful. Make sure you probe to make the best selection from what is available, and carefully understand what is included (and what is not!) in these packages.

Getting Around - Activities and attractions in the Cable Beach/Nassau/Paradise Island area can be quite spread out, and taxi fares can quickly eat into your budget. Do try to choose a location that is the closest to the things you want to do, and make good use of the free and inexpensive bus service available. Car rentals are also available at the airport and some of the major hotels.

Seasonal Rates - Rates for accomodations on New Providence and Paradise Islands drop significantly after the middle of April. If you have any flexibility in your vacation scheduling, try to visit from late-April through November.

Travel Tips

The Nassau/Paradise Island accommodations landscape is constantly changing. Here are a few things to be aware of:

* Families used to favor the Wyndham Ambassador Beach hotel on Cable Beach, particularly for its kids program. It has now been taken over by another firm and is about to become Breezes, a Super Club designed primarily for singles and couples. If you are one of the families who used to frequent the Ambassador Beach, this hotel is no longer for you.

* The Ramada South Ocean Golf and Beach Resort has an excellent golf course -- probably the best on the island - and superb dive facilities. It is, however, located on the New Providence Island's south coast, about a 25-40 minute drive from Nassau depending upon the traffic. The Bahamian Experience buses make runs from the resort to the Cable Beach Crystal Palace casino, downtown Nassau and Paradise Island. The round trip cost per family member is $10 to Cable Beach and Nassau and $15 to Paradise Island ($40 to $60 per trip for a family of four). The resort's isolation can be a positive or a negative, depending on your family's preferences. If you decide to stay here, try to stay in the more modern beachfront rooms. We found that many of the rooms at this resort appear dark, and the older rooms are quite small. At the time we visited, the resort appeared to be having some maintenance problems.

* Marriott recently purchased the massive Crystal Palace Resort & Casino and is making improvements. It is now called the Nassau Marriott Resort, and features a huge number of activities and a nice pool/water slide/swimming lagoon area. At the time we visited, the "beach" was a man-made sandy area that was packed to the gills. Stay tuned for what's on its way.

* The Best Western British Colonial Beach Resort is located in the center of downtown Nassau, and is in need of refurbishment. If you decide to stay here, do request a room in the East Wing section of this large hotel.

* Before booking, you may wish to contact the hotel of your choice directly to see if there will be renovations going on during the time you are at the hotel -- and if so, just how extensive the inconveniences will be. Hotels in this area appear to be undergoing a wave of much-needed renovations. While this is good for future guests, I'm not sure you want to travel to the Bahamas to be awakened by the sounds of construction noise.

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