Nassau's popularity continues cruising along
It's not as though Nassau needed Anna Nicole Smith to draw tourists. It has long been a perennially popular port for cruise ships, especially for first-time cruisers. At one time or other, virtually every cruise line schedules stops there.
But there's more to Nassau (known to locals as New Providence Island) and neighboring Paradise Island than Anna Nicole Smith. There's so much, in fact, that even an eager visitor could hardly see all of it, especially in the typically brief time that most ships linger there.
In some ways, Nassau is a step back in time. The city boasts a past that includes a roster of 17th- and 18th-century pirates who called the 21-mile-long island home: the notorious Blackbeard, Calico Jack Rackham (known for his wild taste in pants), Anne Bonny, and Mary Read. You'll see policemen in starched white jackets and colorful pith helmets and catch the clip-clop of horse-drawn surreys along streets studded with candy-colored houses.
For starters, we suggest bypassing the straw markets near the pier that sell mostly the sorts of trinkets you will buy on impulse but then toss in the attic. Instead, consider what's really hot here - the beaches and cozy coves that dot the shoreline.
There are many to choose from, but we hear Smugglers Beach is the most intimate. Since it's on the remote easternmost end of Paradise Island, a spit of land adjacent to New Providence, expect to have the powder-white sand all to yourself.
If you want to go nose to nose with fish but not get your feet wet, head for the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island. The resort's $700 million waterscape comprises 11 million gallons of freshwater and saltwater, and its 11 lagoons hold more than 50,000 sea creatures, representing more than 250 species. The 34-acre fantasy claims to be the largest open-air marine habitat in the world, and a stroll through is worth every minute of your time.
Should all that water viewing tempt you to dip into a pool or loll at a beach, Atlantis offers lagoons and adrenaline-pumping waterslides, one 68 feet high.
Even though you've probably gorged yourself on your cruise ship's cuisine, you might still be starving for something special on shore. A few favorites in Nassau will whet your appetite.
Graycliff, which serves both Continental and Bahamian cuisine, is the Caribbean's first five-star restaurant. Its expansive wine cellar boasts 180,000 bottles and, according to the Bahamian Tourist Board, is one of the largest and most reputable cellars in the world.
Among the newest and most renowned additions is the Japanese restaurant Nobu, run by chef Nobu Matsuhisa. Even if you're visiting here on a Crystal ship, which has its own Nobu restaurant on board, check out the sake "cellar" at Nassau's Nobu - the room is in a domed tower lined with glowing sake bottles, and its windows provide views of the Atlantis marina.
Described by the tourist board as a one-of-a-kind restaurant, Indigo Cafe dishes up an eclectic menu and a colorful Bahamian atmosphere augmented by an impressive collection of original artwork.
If it's your mind that needs satisfying, step into the Pirates of Nassau Museum. On the corner of Marlborough and George Streets, just a block from famous Bay Street, the museum is a collaboration of an antiques collector, historians and the Bahamas government. The interactive museum lets "visitors listen to pirates reveling and preparing for sea; they smell the salt air of the docks and step aboard the 75-foot pirate ship Revenge," the museum's materials note.
If you prefer to visit Nassau's well-trod but intriguing sites, you can join a walking tour or explore on your own. A former residence of England's Duke of Windsor is located off Parliament Street. On George Street, Christ Church Cathedral is renowned for its stained-glass windows, impressive organ and mahogany ceiling. The neoclassical Vendue House (Pompey Museum of Slavery and Emancipation) on Bey Street warrants a visit for its historical revelations.
You can try to climb Queens Staircase, 65 carved limestone steps to Fort Fincastle. From the summit of the fort's 126-foot Water Tower - the island's highest point, 330 feet above sea level - you can get exceptional views of the city. Or you might prefer to roam the dungeons and underground passageways of Fort Charlotte or visit Balcony House, Nassau's oldest wooden structure.
For nature lovers, consider the Retreat and Versailles Gardens, two botanical wonders.
At the 11-acre garden of the Retreat, a national park and headquarters of the Bahamas National Trust, you can see the world's largest collections of rare and exotic palms or stroll through gardens bursting with native orchids, bright red ginger, and graceful green ferns.
Versailles Gardens offers a bit more opulence. A popular spot for weddings, these gardens brim with bronze and marble statues, fountains, reflecting pools, and waterfalls.
And by the time your ship slips from Nassau, you'll probably have a list of things you'll want to see on your next visit.
For information, go to www.Bahamas.com
or call 1-800-224-2627.