Paradise Island, Bahamas

Thunderball, the 007 with Sean Connery has taken on a different meaning for me now and so has Pirates of the Caribbean. The meaning of slicing through an ocean of blue on a speed boat or diving into the deep blue with teeming marine life is not a mystery left to the pixels on the movie screen anymore. It is a first hand experience that I can now relegate to pen and paper. Thunderball was filmed on the island of New Providence and was mostly shot under water. The movie stands as a marker for things that have remained unchanged on this island of blue. Cafe Martinique, featured in the bond movie in 1965 still stands elegantly as a fine dinning restaurant at the Atlantis Resorts.

The city of Nassau will have history buffs scampering from Rawson Square to Fort Nassau, especially with regard to Paradise Island. Connected to Nassau by a toll bridge, Paradise has rags to riches story. Hog Island as it was first known was bought by Huntington Hartford in 1959 and he renamed the island Paradise. And rightfully so. It is a place like paradise. Surrounded by varying hues of turquoise, aquamarine, and green waters, the island will truly captivate your imagination. It is nature at its tropical best.

Sipping on colorful drinks all day long, lounging on a beach chair and watching the waves lap at the shore, or simply enjoying a quiet walk on a pristine beach are experiences that could be experienced at many beach vacations. But a vacation on the islands of the Bahamas is as unique as the people who inhabit this once crown colony. There is history, natural beauty, commerce, shopping, and an array of ocean adventures waiting to lure the pleasure-seeking tourist. But what makes Bahamas truly unique is the crystal clear, aquamarine waters. The color of the water will leave you spell-bound for as long as you visit here. For as long as the ocean stretches the blue water stuns your senses; soft, white sand beaches cushion your feet; warm friendly lukku- cairi or island people will make you feel right at home and get you thinking about making it more than just a vacation destination.

An island nation made up of 661 cays (pronounced keys) and 29 islands was discovered by Columbus is 1492. The origin of the word BAHAMA is relatively unknown. It could be a derivative from the Spanish word baja mar meaning shallow seas. Shallow seas it is. You can wade quite a distance into the ocean and still be only in waste high, aquamarine blue waters. The island is rich in history because of the various South American, European and African influences that date back to the 9th Century. History aficionados can go on a walking history tour to get a perspective on what went on in the lives of these plantation workers all those years ago.

Nassau is the capital of the Bahamas and also a city once commandeered by the legendary pirate Blackbeard. So famous were his adventures that a cay is named after him, which is a quick boat ride away from here. So Captain Jack Sparrow becomes at this point more than a fictional character. Depp’s role in the Pirates of The Caribbean is perfect fit to what the days of this wrecking and pillaging pirate would likely have been. Nassau is a commercial hub famous for things from batiks to Rolex watches.  For encounters of a different kind, venture east and cross the bridge from the town of Nassau to “Paradise,” with resorts, casinos and exciting nightlife on an island formerly called “Hog.”

Hog Island as it was first known was bought by Huntington Hartford in 1959 and he renamed the island Paradise. And rightfully so. It is a place like paradise. Surrounded by varying hues of turquoise, aquamarine, and green waters, the island will truly captivate your imagination. It is nature at its tropical best. Swaying coconut trees, white sand beaches, and warm friendly people make up that picture perfect post card on this island. It remained unnoticed and undeveloped for several years. However, after the addition of luxury hotels, casinos and resorts, it has become one of the most glamorous and celebrated resort centers in the world, combining exclusive tranquillity and lots of action.

One reason why Bahamas travel is so popular is because there are so many ways to fill your itinerary. One way is in, on, or near the water. There are almost 20 beaches here; you could do one or all of these everywhere in the Bahamas – people-watching, sunbathing, or more involving activities such as horseback riding or playing volleyball. You can also charter a sailboat, watch the sun set on a cruise, or go windsurfing. Whatever you choose to do, you will always be reminded of the blue expanse. The highest elevation here is 212 ft. So there is no way but the water way. The phenomenon of the gulf stream makes the waters here teem with exotic marine life. Gamefish that have become legendary, draw sport fisherman from around the world. 5% of the planet’s reef mass is found here on the island of Bahamas. There are inexhaustible ways to view marine life up, close and sometimes in a very personal way. Dolphin Cay on Paradise Island provides one of a kind dolphin interaction experience at the Atlantis Resorts. Rescued dolphins from hurricane Katrina call the resort their new home and provide registered guests with an opportunity to interact with them. The experience is almost other worldly. They snuggle, nudge, kiss and dive their way into your hearts.

A short walk from the resort is the Versailles Garden. If you didn’t know the background  to these gardens, you would believe these magnificent ruins to be part of the history of these islands. Dating back to twelfth century France, these statues and cloisters were purchased by Huntington Hartford from an estate in California and transported to Paradise Island. In 1962, Huntington employed Jean Castre-Manne to reassemble the pieces in the Versailles Gardens. Visiting these gardens should be on your itinerary if you are on Paradise Island. A short walk from the resort, these gardens have been immaculately maintained and gives you the feeling of being in a romantic roman setting by the ocean. Since these gardens offer great photo opportunities, you will see newly weds and couples getting their photographs taken in this intimate and beautiful location.

As the night sky drapes a blanket of darkness over the blue expanse, the island comes alive in the night with its glitz and glamour. The casino and nightclub at the Atlantis Resort offers not just world-class entertainment, but also a chance to spot celebrities. Oprah Winfrey has filmed her show here several times. Salma Hayek, Pierce Brosnan, Micheal Jordan and many other red carpet celebrities make their appearances here very often. Aura, the 9000 sq. ft. nightclub is one of the best in luxury entertainments. Raised off the casino floor, a grand staircase leads into the nightclub with an illuminated glass dance floor. Two bars, two VIP sections, and a private VIP parlour complete this amazingly incredible club.

December in the Bahamas is not just about the warm weather, but also about Junkanoo. It is a funky, larger than life dance parade that is celebrated throughout the country. Junkanoo is at its best in the capital city, Nassau, where the first ‘rush’ takes place on Boxing Day and the second on New Year’s Day. It is a national festival full of energy, color, and music drawing you into the frenzy. Even before you see the paraders, you’ll hear the loud whistels, cowbells, cymbals, blasting conch shells and drums. The performers stream into the street like waves over a shore. They descend with such great pomp and show that the onlookers are awe-struck for a long while after they’ve left. The costumes are elaborate with rhinestone, foil, crepe, plaster cement, and so much more. Some costumes can weigh more than 90 kgs. The festival was brought to the Bahamas by slaves and its history dates back to 18th century Ghana. The festival begins at 2:00 AM and ends somewhere in the morning hours of 8:00 AM. Since it is situated right on Bay street, visitors stay on longer and grab some breakfast at the many eclectic restaurants that line this shopping street.

It is also a shoppers haven for designer names. Since the country has no tax on products bought here, it is duty-free everyday for everyone. Step out to the straw market where cruise ships dock and you will see why people shop till they drop.

Straw market is a Bahamian souk. Vendors line this small square with offerings as varied as hair braiding, tattooing, basket weaving, henna art, and wood carving. If you have been looking for that Bob Marley hat, look no further. This is the place to find it. Vibrant colors crocheted to perfection, these unisex hats will accessorize any wardrobe. You could also walk along Bay Street, the main shopping thoroughfare. This street is the quintessential place for high-flying, high-end brand name goods including Gucci, Versace, Chanel, Luis Vuiton, Colombian emeralds, Swiss watches, Cuban cigars and a variety of duty-free liquor.  When your tired, aching shopping feet can take no more, stop at any of the ice cream stores for some excellent rum cake topped with rum ‘n raisin ice cream, and all your jitters will melt away with each succulent bite.

Nassau also offers some unique experiences that you will find on very few beach destinations. Horseback riding on an unspoiled, pristine, virgin beach is the stuff of movies and glamor magazines. But this is one place where horse meets, sand, meets human. Happy Trails Stables the only stable in Nassau stakes its claim to fame since they have been featured in After the Sunset with Salma Hayek and Pierce Brosnan. These rides are offered to beginners and experienced horse riders. After a few lessons and instructions, participants are guided through a wooded forest onto a quiet, clean, white sand beach to ride along the crashing waves or to just amble along the path. Alice Town, Bimini is a small island made famous by Ernest Hemingway. Hemigway’s love for angling and fishing brought him to this small island in 1935. He is said to have worked on To have and Have not here. A blue marlin weighing over 230 kgs is said to have inspired his Nobel winning novella Old Man and The Sea. This is a visit worth more than words if you were ever inspired by this great writer.

All of these activities are bound to make you tired. So end your vacation by reserving a session at the Mandara Spa. It is a unisex spa with massages, facials, scrubs, and wraps. It is a sanctuary of relaxation for the body, where trained hands of a masseuse will ply away the knots and kinks that come with a jet-setting vacation. Whatever is your reason to visit this beautiful island nation, the one thing you will take away from here is a reminder on what little it takes to relax.

© Sharoon, 2010

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