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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Live and Learn: Nassau 1.7.12


The Bahamas always sound so glamorous, don’t they? Attractive people lying on the beach sipping on beers and drinks with umbrellas in it. Well, it’s not all fun and games in paradise, even when you’re on Paradise Island. Fortunately, not too many things went wrong on our Bahamas trip, but maybe that’s because we are so used to things going abnormally, so when things go a bit sideways, it doesn’t even phase us. Who knows? At least we’re laid back and are able to roll with the punches.


Call to confirm tours before traveling – I was so excited to find out that you could tour the Bacardi factory in Nassau that I planned to take the bus out there and whoop it up with free cocktails while learning how delicious, delicious rum is made. Once the day came for us to jump on the bus and make it to the factory, we called to find out what times the tours happened and were met with confusion over the line. Tour? Well, needless to say we decided to make the trek anyway. Nowhere did it say after your approximate 90 minute bus ride would you have to then walk a mile to get to the Bacardi property. Partway up the road we were stopped by a guy in a truck asking if we were going to the factory. He said he was also going that way and could get a ride. Score! For the record, this is never a good idea and we did it on the way there and on the way back to the bus stop.

Bus stop for Bacardi
Apparently, the website was incorrect and tours had been closed for quite some time (Damn you, Bacardi!), so we hung out in the free bar and tried some of the different flavors of rum and then headed to the gift shop (yay!) to check out their gear and a video. Unfortunately, we were also not in time or too early for the video about the history of Bacardi and how sugarcane/molasses becomes my favorite alcoholic beverage. So, we disappointedly started back to the bus weighted down with our heavy bags of bottles and other souvenirs after less time than we had been on the bus. As we were heading out, a tour bus showed up and we found out that they still do tours, but only if there were 10 or more people to go on one. Lame.

Hey! We got bread, too!
Stock up on snacks – If you travel in the off-season as we do, you are likely to end up in the Bahamas during hurricane season. They won’t tell you that they have a lot of hurricane issues. In fact, most of the damage that was caused by the big storms really don’t get repaired, which makes leaving your resort a bit of a disappointment. The big buildings can be beautiful, but the smaller, less stable buildings kinda look like rubble patched together. Well, we did end up getting caught in a hurricane watch and everything closed up shop in anticipation.

We had food stocked up in our fridge, but we made wandered the streets for lunch anyway and found the only restaurant open in the city. Of course, they couldn’t cook anything new, so they said told us they had two lasagna plates left if we were interested. We were! We had lasagna and salad with two bottles of random flavored Snapple they had on hand still. It wasn’t the best lunch we’ve ever had, but it was fun and we had a good time with a few other people who didn’t want to eat in. 

Where the non-cruise ships "dock"
Don’t shop near the port – This is something that is easily understandable. Nassau is a port for cruise ships. Apparently, everyone wants to go to the Bahamas! They have some shops near the dock that are there specifically for tourists and cruisers. These shops can be double the cost of others that sell the same merchandise and are only a few blocks away. The crew on the cruise won’t tell you this. In fact, they will tell you that they are “[cruise line]-approved” and encourage you to spend your money there. Don’t do it. There are the same shops offering the same goods at lower prices, literally, 2-3 blocks away. You just can’t see them until you walk around the corner.

This might be the saddest beach I've ever seen
It isn’t always warm in the Bahamas – In all honesty, there’s not even all that much beach in some areas. When we booked our stay, we (and by we, I mean Eric) were lured in by the promise of a private beach at the timeshare rental we found. We got there and looked around. Our bungalow was awesome. Our pool was pretty kick ass. The open-air bar was lovely. The beach…uh…where was it? Oh! That 20 foot stretch of sand that nobody is interested in? Well, it does make it private. Both times we went out to survey its usefulness, it was cool and windy, so if you got in the water, you didn’t really want to get out. I laid by the pool, which was a mere 12 feet away from the murky ocean, for about 15 minutes before going back inside.

View from a fort
Bring some good walking shoes – If you plan to take the bus, then you will also be doing a lot of walking to things off the bus route (if you want to save money and not hire a taxi). For this reason, you will want to take along some walking shoes that will hold up to hills, concrete and more. One day you may be walking up to the Queen’s Tower, the next you may be going four blocks to the nearest grocery store and the next hiking through the aquarium at Atlantis.

Straw Market: Enter at your own risk
Learn to say no – If you go to the Straw Market (which is highly recommended), you will be yelled at from all sides from vendors trying to sell their wares (many of which are knock-off designer bags). I think their motto is “everyone wants what you have”. I suppose that could be true, but I really don’t want a fake Kate Spade bag or 42 shell necklaces. What I thought I did need was two faux Coach bags…after being harassed for 15 minutes after I stopped and expressed the smallest amount of interest in a handbag. So, I wasted even more time haggling for a bag, which turned into two, that I didn’t really even want. At least I helped that guy out that day with a sale, plus I was able to sell one to a friend (fakeness disclosed) for almost the same price I paid for both bags.

One of the many Atlantis pools that were closed
Atlantis is not as great as it seems – There are parts of Atlantis resort that are awesome, but after wandering around for the better part of a day, I can’t imagine spending $300 a night to stay there. I assume if you have kids that just want to swim all day long, it might be a consideration, but eventually you’re going to want to do something else. You can take advantage of movies they have in their movie theater, but they are movies that you have probably already seen on DVD and you also have to pay to see them. The casino in Atlantis also leaves something to be desired. Not only do they need to replace the carpets and décor, but they need to have a bigger selection of smaller denomination slots. Not everyone can afford $1 and up, mostly because they just dropped $300+ on a night to stay there. Everything in Atlantis is set up to part you with your money (Shocking, I know!)

Random view from our cab
Taxis are not the enemy…if you can find one – If going across town, this is when I would suggest getting a cab. If not, you can certainly catch the bus (which you can get anywhere on the road along the route) and/or walk. We paid $10 to take a cab from Atlantis back to our resort, plus received a mini tour of the city from our driver. [PS – Anna Nicole Smith died in a really badly constructed looking hospital.]

Those are not armrests
Don't expect personal space on the bus – The smaller buses are called jitneys. you can hail one anywhere along the road and get off anywhere you want along the route, which is SUPER convenient when your lodgings are right next to the main road. Generally, the jitney (which is like a big van) has pairs of seats along each side; however they won't actually turn down passengers and there are pull out seats on each side that will enable more people to sit per row. Of course, this means there is NO aisle, so hopefully you don't have to get off when this happens and you are seated in the back. If you do, then everyone has to move and then re-situate themselves. It's a great way to meet your fellow tourists or some locals just trying to get around.

Pool and covered poolside bar
So, as depressing as some of this may sound, the Bahamas really can be beautiful. The people are awesome and there is a lot to see when you find the beach inadequate or too cold. Wednesday I'll talk about some great places to go on a budget in and around Nassau. You'll see that there is plenty to keep you busy for a week or more. Did you have any less than ideal moments on your Bahamas trip?
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