By Samantha Chapnick
Say “Bahamas” and most people think of Atlantis, the massive resort on Paradise Island. With a water park, dolphin swim program, casino and gourmet dining from some of the world’s most renowned brands, it’s easy to think that’s all there is to a Caribbean vacation in the Bahamas.
Actually, there are plenty of other attractions — many even serving a wide variety of budgets — that make this a good spot for a family vacation. Here are some of my favorites:
Ardastra Gardens, Zoo & Conservation Centre – Situated only minutes from the heart of Nassau, there’s no place quite like the Ardastra Gardens, Zoo and Conservation Centre. Part jungle, part gardens, it’s home to hundreds of beautiful mammals, birds and reptiles — many of them endangered species of the Caribbean. The zoo is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is renowned for its famous marching flamingos, the national bird of The Bahamas, which perform daily at 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Blackbeard’s Cay – A 25-minute boat ride through the crystal clear waters of Nassau Harbor is all that keeps travelers from this tranquil little island — named in honor of the most feared pirate to ever visit the Caribbean, Edward Teach, a.k.a. “Blackbeard.” The island is mostly focused on sports and sunbathing. Expect to play volleyball or basketball, or to participate in the Stingray Adventure Program. Kids love meeting the stingrays face-to-face and joining in the feeding program.
Dolphin Encounters – Even if you are not staying at Atlantis on your family vacation you can do a dolphin encounter program. On Blue Lagoon Island, three miles from Nassau, guests can participate in either Close Encounter (visitors interact with the dolphins from a waist deep platform) or the familiar Swim with the Dolphins (a 30-minute swim where guests can touch and feel them in the water).
Pirates of Nassau Museum – This is one museum visit that involves no eye rolling or “I’m bored!-ing.” The Pirates of Nassau Museum is an interactive experience into the pirate era when pirates dominated the Bahamian waters in the 18th century. Experience the true story of pirates in an amazing, historically accurate, interactive environment. Open Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Stuart Cove’s – Stuart Cove’s is the place to go for underwater activities during your Caribbean vacation in Nassau. If offers scuba diving, snorkeling, even SUB (scenic underwater bubble) experiences. Teens and ‘tweens ages 10-15 can become Jr. Certified divers, while younger children, ages 4-10, are welcome aboard the boats as snorkelers or official bubble watchers.
Fort Charlotte – The largest of Nassau’s three forts, Fort Charlotte covers 100 acres. Located on a hill overlooking the far west end of the harbor, Fort Charlotte commands an impressive view of Paradise Island, a good part of Nassau and the harbor. Built in 1788 by Lord Dunmore, this fort has a moat, dungeons, underground passageways and 42 cannons, which have never been fired in an act of aggression.
Fort Fincastle – Built in 1793, the front of the fort is shaped like the bow of a ship and would have provided a good spot for a lookout to stand. Its cannons have never been fired in battle. Located on Elizabeth Avenue, you can reach this fort by way of the Queen’s Staircase a few blocks up from the harbour on East Street.
Fort Montagu – Built in 1741 of local limestone, Fort Montagu is the oldest fort still standing on the island of New Providence. It is at the eastern end of Nassau harbor along the waterfront.
Samantha Chapnick is a New York writer who scours international destinations looking for what hasn’t been found.