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(2014 - Spring/Summer Issue)


The tourism department slogan “It’s Better in the Bahamas” tells only part of the story.

With its history of pirates, renegades and royalty, the Bahamas is a colourful destination. The people are hospitable, the food is interesting, and the activities are diverse and engaging. Its private islands, high-end resorts and casinos attract many jet-setters, and a number of celebrities have homes here including Oprah Winfrey, Johnny Depp, Celine Dion and Sean Connery.

The Royal Treatment

The stretch limo at the airport set the tone for my stay at the Sandals Royal Bahamian Spa Resort in Nassau, a royalist’s paradise. The original resort, The Balmoral Club, housed a glittering crowd of rich and famous visitors, including guests of the Duke of Windsor (formerly King Edward VIII). Following his abdication, Edward relocated to Nassau as Governor of the Bahamas with his wife Wallis Simpson. The lively piano bar displays a collection of historic photos of the couple during their time in the tropics.

The newer Royal Windsor building, where I stayed, offers lavish butler suites with ocean views. Butlers trained by the Guild of Professional English Butlers are at your service 24 hours a day, but as a butler neophyte, I felt awkward. While I didn’t accept his offer to pack or unpack my bag, I did let him walk me to dinner at Gordon’s on the Pier, an intimate restaurant complimentary for butler-category guests. I also enjoyed the fanciful towel sculptures he created and the snacks he brought.

Sandals promotes its all-inclusive, couples-only resorts as romantic getaways for weddings, honeymoons or escapes. Some couples cuddled on the beach, while others joined the lively pool-side scene as the DJ blared tunes until 11 p.m. The Royal Bahamian hosts as many as 90 weddings a month.

Dining choices are eclectic with 10 on-site restaurants including an English pub and a Caribbean seafood restaurant on its own private island. The Bella Napoli Pizzeria bakes scrumptious thin-crust pizzas in an outdoor wood oven, offering an exotic array of toppings including Baileys chocolate ganache, bananas and coconut. At Kimonos, the Japanese teppanyaki restaurant, Chef Tiny (weighing more than 136 kilograms) warned us never to trust a skinny chef as he grilled our chicken, shrimps, lobster and beef while telling jokes, tossing knives, flirting and singing.

Eat Your Heart Out

No visit to Nassau is complete without a visit to the legendary Graycliff Hotel, which boasts the Caribbean’s first five-star restaurant, a pizzeria, churrascaria, beer garden, cigar factory, and chocolate factory and shop featuring delectable hand-painted chocolates. Housed in a historic 18th-century mansion built by a reformed pirate, Graycliff has hosted the likes of Pierre Trudeau, Winston Churchill, Al Capone and King George III. After touring the wine cellar (one of the world’s largest private collections containing 275,000 bottles) we enjoyed an elegant dinner including grouper in Dijon sauce and pepper filet in cognac sauce. Our feast ended with a duo of light-as-air Grand Marnier and chocolate soufflés. The highlight of the evening was meeting the owner and family patriarch Enrico Garzaroli, who regaled us with stories of visiting celebrities. He boasted that he had introduced singing superstar Beyoncé to her husband Jay-Z, and that I was actually sitting in the very chair Beyoncé had occupied.

At the opposite end of the dining spectrum is the popular hangout Frankie Gone Bananas in the Fish Fry area of Nassau. Conch, a local seafood speciality, was the star of the show, and conch master Frank Johnson demonstrated how to clean and cut one up, before tossing it into a refreshing chopped salad. Next up was a plate of local favourites that included fried conch strips (tastes a bit like calamari), peas and rice, and baked macaroni pie. The food was fresh, hearty and delicious.

As both a foodie and a history buff, I adored the food tasting and cultural walking tour with Tru Bahamian Food Tours. Alanna Rodgers, the gregarious and knowledgeable guide, led a three-hour culinary journey in the heart of historic Old Nassau. Stops included a Jamaican restaurant called Pepper Pot Grill and Juice Bar, where we tasted rice and peas, jerk chicken and fried plantain. Next was Bahamian Cookin’ where three generations of Wallace women serve conch fritters and macaroni pie. At Van Breugel’s Bistro and Bar we sampled a contemporary spin on conch chowder made with red Thai curry, coconut milk and sweet Thai basil.

Atlantis Rising

Unlike the adult-only all-inclusive Sandals, the larger-than-life Atlantis Paradise caters to both families and adults alike. Spanning 70 hectares and employing more than 8,000 people, this glamorous 3,500-room resort is the largest in the Caribbean with prices ranging from $149 to $25,000 a night. Families flock there because of the fun-filled kids and teens programs and the 57-hectare water park Aquaventure, which includes 11 pools, a river ride and multiple waterslides. Although I was too frightened to do the Leap of Faith waterslide, a near-vertical plunge into shark-infested water, I did enjoy The Current, a mile-long river journey seated in a rubber inner tube through rapids and caves. The bad news is I bailed as a large wave crashed over me; the good news is I was rescued by a handsome lifeguard seconds later with only my pride injured.

Marine experiences at Atlantis include The Dig (a beautiful aquarium), dolphin and sea lion encounters, and snorkelling. Hugging and kissing Atlas the dolphin was a remarkable bucket-list experience.

Water activities create an appetite, and there is no shortage of dining options at Atlantis. I enjoyed a hearty lunch at the New York-style Murray’s Deli, but could not get through the gargantuan Reuben sandwich. A sophisticated option for brunch is Mosaic in the luxurious Cove building, where the coconut French toast was a standout. Atlantis features several on-site celebrity chef restaurants including Todd English’s Olives where kids will enjoy the flatbread pizzas. If you’ve had luck at the casino, try Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill featuring delectable dishes with southwestern flavours. To start things off in style, order the white peach margarita, followed by shrimp and roasted corn tamale, spice-rubbed New York steak with a side of sweet potato gratin, and end with churros in a chocolate sauce.

Swimming With Wild Pigs

A short 30-minute flight from Nassau takes you to the sophisticated and secluded resort, Sandals Emerald Bay on Great Exuma. The highlight of our trip was a snorkelling excursion with Four C’s Adventures where we swam with wild pigs. When our boat approached one of the many deserted cays, five wild pigs darted down from a hill and eagerly approached us. For the price of a few morsels of bread, they swam with us in the tranquil warm sea. The captain was also prepared with chicken sausages to attract these porcine bathers. Swimming with wild pigs is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime, albeit weird, experience.

Travel Planner

Air Canada Vacations (aircanadavacations.com) offers packages to Sandals Royal Bahamian Spa Resort and Offshore Island, Sandals Emerald Bay, as well as Atlantis and Graycliff Hotel. Check online or call your travel agent for flight and pricing information to Nassau and Great Exuma.

For more information, visit:

Atlantis Paradise: atlantis.com

Graycliff Hotel and Restaurant: graycliffhotelrestaurantnassau.com

Sandals Resorts International: sandals.com

Tru Bahamian Food Tours: trubahamianfoodtours.com

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