The Bahamas are so much more than Freeport and Nassau.
In fact, the chain of 700 islands, and many cays and islets, offer any type of vacation you’re looking for – from a rural getaway to an all-inclusive resort to gated community living.
You can find tropical wilderness in Eleuthera and wild dolphin excursions off North Bimini and laid-back luxury in Exuma and the more familiar shopping, casinos, hotels and all-inclusive resorts in Nassau.
Most people know Nassau as a quick hop from Miami that offers upscale shopping, the historic straw market for souvenirs, casino gambling on Paradise Island, beautiful beaches and those really nice umbrella drinks.
For a more pampered experience, though, a quick 30-minute flight from Nassau will take you to Exuma, a string of islands and cays, stretching more than 100 miles, from about 35 miles southeast of Nassua to the western boundary of Exuma Sound.
Celebrities and captains of industry have already discovered the islands’ hideaways, natural harbors, secluded beaches and privately-owned islands.
Illusionist David Copperfield owns two islands, country music stars Faith Hill and Tim McGraw have a vacation home there, and actor/writer/director Tyler Perry parks his yacht at Staniel Cay Yacht Club.
Exuma boasts a Sandals resort, where the Four Seasons once stood, but if you want to get away from the all-inclusive experience, the Grand Isle Resort – a gated, townhome condominium community – provides the amenities of a resort, but the privacy of residential living, ranging from $250 to $1,500 per night.
Foreign nationals often buy the homes and turn them into rental property, earning income when they are not using the houses and avoiding Bahamian taxes. There are homes available for sale, as well, beginning around $600,000.
Golf carts are provided so you can tool around the grounds and beyond to nearby strip mall to pick up food and other supplies. The kitchen has all the pots, pans and cooking tools one needs. The townhomes also have washers and dryers and there is a full-service restaurant on the grounds, as well as a spa, a fitness center, pool, hot tub, access to a beautiful white-sand beach and a golf course. The villas also have wonderful views of the beach and the beautiful golf course.
Grand Isle is offering a 25 percent discount off a minimum three-night stay between now and May 23 and special offers frequently pop up on the site.
If you want the more traditional tourist experience, the Atlantis resort and waterpark on Paradise Island has something for just about everyone, from hotel rooms for folks on a budget to villa rentals to condominium hotel residency and a 600-suite tower.
The resort has several separate pool/beach areas that cater to different groups. So families can enjoy an area with a children’s pool and traditional amenities, including a sundry store, a harbor-front restaurant and shuttle service to Atlantis. For the hip and childless (or couples escaping the kids for a while), there is an area with cabanas with sliding doors that open to the beach or to the pool.
Prices vary, depending on the time of year, specials the resort may be offering and whether you choose the meal plan or go a la carte on the amenities, but can range from $200 per night at the Beach Tower to the Club at the Cove Atlantis, which runs about $650 per night.
The resort also features an Aquaventure, which combines slides, lazy rivers and rapids into one large waterscape with four waterslides, including The Current, a mile-long water ride with waves and artificial tidal surges.
If you prefer your entertainment dry, however, visit The Dig, a series of aquariums designed to look like the legendary Lost City of Atlantis, featuring hundreds of different species, including manta rays, sharks, a variety of jellyfish, barracudas and stingrays.
Away from the resort, make sure to check out the Educulture Junkanoo Museum and let historian Arlene Nash Ferguson fill you in on the background of “Junkanoo,” the national festival of the Bahamas akin to mardi gras, or go to Dolphin Encounters for a swim with dolphins and be kissed by a sea lion.
Dolphin Encounters also offers a camp for $250 a week that helps high school and college students interested in marine careers gain experience, assist in research projects and fulfill internship or work-study requirements, assist trainers and participate in animal care and training duties. Volunteer opportunities and fellowships are available as well.
If you want to stay right in town, familiar chain hotels are also available in Nassau. The Hilton, for example, starts at $179/night and the Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort, is about $199/night in mid-May. Specials are frequently offered and deeper discounts are available if you book a combination flight+hotel package, either through the hotels’ websites or travel sites like Expedia.com or Orbitz.com.