Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is the heart of this chain of more than 700 islands. It has been home to Amerindians, pirates, Spanish invaders, British colonists (their input is readily apparent in the island's contemporary culture) and rumrunners during Prohibition in the United States. Sixty percent of all Bahamians live in Nassau, where the population is about 210,000.
Tourists love Nassau and its history, but be prepared: Everything seems to take just a bit longer than in the States, and locals will repeatedly offer to braid your hair on the beach or to sell you T-shirts for everyone you have ever met. A smile and a shake of the head should be sufficient to avoid doing either!
Nassau has two very large casinos: Atlantis Resort and Casino on Paradise Island (242-363-3000, www.atlantis.com) and the Crystal Palace Casino on Cable Beach (242-327-6200). You can play the slots at any time. Gaming tables are open from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m.
All cruise lines offer a variety of shore excursions to Nassau, but it's an easy do-it-yourself destination. One way to see Nassau is on a surrey ride around town. You'll find several standing in wait at Rawson Square, right near the port. Check out Queen Victoria's statue and the government buildings dating back to the 1800s, and note the British-styled "Bobbies" handling traffic (which, believe it or not, gets fairly busy around the port). Allow time for exploring Bay Street and its mélange of tempting shops.
Other local modes of travel include buses (just flag one down, fare is about $1), rental cars, motorbikes, bicycles, and limousines. Taxis are accessible from all areas at all times. Jitney buses, which run from downtown and Cable Beach in Nassau/Paradise Island, are government controlled and many are metered. The first quarter mile with one or two passengers is $2.20, plus 30 cents for each additional quarter mile. Water taxis also make the trip from the port to Paradise Island.
Nassau is fairly cosmopolitan. You'll find ethnic foods from around the world. Of course, fast food is available -- Wendy's, Pizza Hut, etc. -- but make it a point to try local delicacies, like the jars of guava jam available for sale. While you're at it, try a slice of guava duff (a pastry) from a bakery. Conch, a shell-dwelling creature and a local staple, is delicious when prepared properly, and Bahamian lobster (a claw-less variety) is quite good. Fried fish and Johnnycake are other local treats. Consider Conch Fritters Bar and Grill (242-323-8778) on Marlborough Street near downtown Nassau's landmark hotel, the British Colonial Hilton Nassau; or do lunch at Prince George Dockside overlooking the port and Bay Street (242-322-5854).
It's good! Along Bay Street are two shops bearing the green awning of Colombian Emeralds, where stones and jewelry in all sizes, shapes, colors and price ranges await (www.colombianemeralds.com). John Bull (242-322-4253) is another popular shop.
Climb the 66-step Queen's Staircase to Fort Fincastle for a spectacular photo op (Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.). You can see the whole enchilada from up on top, and it's worth the climb. Another fortress, Fort Charlotte, is on the west side of Nassau. Dating to 1787, it has solid rock walls, many of which have been restored.
To book a round at the 18-hole golf course at Cable Beach call 242-327-6000 or 800-214-4281.
Think scuba and snorkeling, fishing and boating, para-sailing, windsurfing, shark diving, and of course swimming on some of the world's best beaches like Cable Beach and South Ocean Beach. Any cab driver can take you there. Think warm and wonderful gin-clear waters and professionally operated dive companies. The Bahamas Diving Association (www.bahamasdiving.com) offers e-mail addresses for Stuart's Cove (242-362-4171); Bahamas Divers, Ltd., Dive Dive Dive, (242- 362-1143); Diver's Haven (242-394-8960/1) and Nassau Scuba Centre (CQ), (242- 362-1964).
Assuming your ship is in port until late, plan a romantic and elegant dinner at Nassau's only five-star restaurant, Graycliff, in a 250-year-old home on West Hill Street (242-322-2796). Straight out of a movie set, the restaurant has been visited by a veritable who's who. It's on the Jet Set to-do list in Nassau!
For More Information
Recommended web sites include www.bahamas.com or www.bahamasfilm.com. Another informative site is www.nassauparadiseisland.com. On Nassau, visit Festival Place for up-to-date information, how to book tours, etc. On-island, call 242-302-2000.