Bahamas Bound From Toronto In February
We are amongst the large number of Canadians who can’t make it through the full cold Canadian winter without a trip south to warm our bones. This year, Toronto experienced the coldest February we have ever had and we were so lucky to be Bahamas bound for the whole month! When my best friend Rob offered us his Nassau condo, we didn’t realize how truly thankful we would be. With a home base on Cable Beach in Nassau on New Providence Island, we were able to explore the local sights and we even managed a Valentine’s week escape to Sandals Emerald Bay in Exuma.
We were surprised to realize that it had been 5 years since we had last been Bahamas bound. Arriving at the Lynden Pindling International Airport we walked through the new terminal, pleased that we were no longer deplaning on the tarmac in this southern destination. We were whisked along the new airport highway to see the vastly changed Cable Beach skyline! Right beside Rob’s condo, the Baha Mar resort was being finished for its March 2015 opening. This new resort spread over several buildings would offer a wide range of new accommodations (from rooms to condos) and would offer a greatly refreshed new casino. Along with the new buildings, the resort had done major work on the beach, bringing in tons of soft white sand, building a new pier and establishing an improved new underwater eco-reef. We spent many days wandering along the new Cable Beach strip and beach, from the condo down to the Melia for our Starbucks iced frappuccino treat!
February Festivities in Nassau, Bahamas
During February, there were a number of local events to keep us entertained. There were parades and parties to advertise and start to drum up interest for the Bahamas Carnival (May 2015).
The roads were marked off for one day while bicycle riders did the “Ride for Hope”.
With a small but thriving Greek community, the “Greek Festival” drew crowds for the great Greek food, the music and for a chance to visit the Greek Orthodox Church.
Local Attractions in Nassau, Bahamas
We were pretty lucky during our trip to have had Derrick available to drive us anywhere on the island we wanted to go (Derrick and Bev look after Rob’s condo and pamper the lucky guests that show up!). Derrick was a great source of local knowledge and he seemed to know everyone wherever we went. We explored the parts of Nassau few tourists see and even bought fresh snapper at the Montagu Beach fish market. While we sometimes escaped Derrick’s watchful eye over us – to snorkel, walk the beach or take the #10 Cable Beach bus around – we saw much more of New Providence Island because we could get off the beaten paths. We certainly saw no other tourists when we visited Marathon Mall!
But many visitors to Nassau come on a cruise ship. Nassau has become a major cruise ship harbour.
While it once was a shopping mecca, we wonder how the new sales tax will reduce the tourist shopping (you can get a tax refund at major stores on big items but for many other things you are paying the 7.5% VAT). Many people leave the cruise ships and head for the tacky tourist souvenir shops or to the bars lining the pier. A short walk or taxi ride will get visitors from the pier to the beach and the numerous daiquiri booths along the way.
If you go a bit further, you will reach Arawak Cay – known for the “fish fry”. There you will find a long strip of restaurants selling local fish and the specialty of the area “conch salad”. On our first trip out that way, we were entertained as the Tropical Conch Salad was made right in front of us, complete with spinning machete knives and food piles.
On another trip we stopped at the famous Goldies for a conch buffet – conch salad, conch fritters and cracked conch. If you looked behind Goldies you could see the wall of conch shells that clearly show that conch is the specialty of the house.
Great food was never hard to find anywhere in Nassau. We ate like locals enjoying the view of the marina at Twisted Lime in Sandyport. This was probably the best customer service (and dessert) that we had in our whole Bahamas trip. For an interesting twist on Bahamian food, we had dinner one night at the Lukka Kiari downtown across from the cruise ships. While conch and vegetables are heavily represented on the menu, the dishes are unique home cooked varieties of old favourites. And of course, we drank local Bahamian beer (Kalik) outside with great views!
A short walk from the downtown pier you will find the National Art Gallery of Bahamas. It is home to a large permanent exhibit that celebrates Bahamian art and culture. On this visit the temporary exhibit featured local artists exploring “What is Bahamian”. This is a great way to spend a few hours when visiting Nassau!
|NAGB – Boom Box Rhapsody, 1993 By Jackson Burnside|
If you want to try something different from Cable Beach, you can head over to Paradise Island for a visit. We have spent many days on previous visits with the kids lounging at the water park at Atlantis. While we took the easy route around the lazy river, the kids would line up for the big drop water slide under the shark waters. The Atlantis property is great place for a stroll.
Whether you are a kid or an adult, it is always worth a walk through the aquarium at Atlantis.
Gambling enthusiasts can spend hours in the casino. It will be interesting to see if the new Baha Mar casino will bring back gamblers that had shied away from the old tired looking Crystal Palace Casino being renovated as part of the Baha Mar project. One of our favourite treats when visiting Paradise Island is to have dinner at Nobu.
Snorkelling the Waters of Nassau, Bahamas
There are those that think that David and I may have fish blood in us. Give us water and we are searching for snorkelling or scuba gear.
We have always snorkelled in the waters of Cable Beach right in front of the condo, even if historically there has been little to see. When we have travelled with the kids, finding any sea life right off our beach was a big treat. One visit David scuba certified the whole group and used the condo pool and the sea for his scuba lessons. Other than hauling tanks and gear from the 5th floor condo, it couldn’t have been a more ideal training base.
We were excited to find that the Baha Mar had put a lot of thought into re-building the marine life along Cable Beach. While we worried that the new pier would draw mostly more boats and water sports activity, we were delighted when we snorkelled down the water line and found the new eco-reef underwater habitat that is being grown. If you build it, the fish will come back!
While we did most of our Nassau snorkelling close to the condo, in researching things to do, David found the new underwater reef being grown in the Clifton Park area. The “Ocean Atlas” sculpture and other man made reef starters have been sunk beside an existing reef. This was an interesting snorkel experience for us one afternoon!
Valentine’s Week Escape to Exuma
While we were already in paradise staying at Rob’s staffed 6,000 square foot condo on the beach, we decided we should see another of The Bahamas islands. We have visited the outer Exuma islands by boat on an earlier trip, but after seeing Rob’s swimming pigs video, we decided our Valentine’s treat would be at the all inclusive Sandals Emerald Bay Resort. It was a great week, with days spent relaxing by the quiet pool, mixed with days where we set the alarm clock to wake early to go scuba diving or on the awesome Ocean Safari trip to see swimming pigs, iguana island and to snorkel the great waters of Exuma.
I could say that the best part of spending February in the Bahamas was escaping the frigid Toronto winter but that would not be fair to all the great things that we did this trip to Bahamas. We enjoyed a great mix of just sitting in the sun and exploring. At one point I texted my friend Rob … “if I were any more relaxed, I would be dead”. We would leave the Bahamas totally refreshed.
Of course, it was easier to leave knowing we had already booked our Caribbean and South American cruise for April!
What is your favourite thing to do when you are Bahamas bound? On other islands? Where should we visit next time we come to The Bahamas?