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Touring on my own in Nassau and Paradise Islands

Editor’s note: Erica Silverstein is at sea this week posting about her experiences onboard Carnival’s Fantasy. Follow along from the beginning at the Ship to Shore homepage.

The Fantasy’s last port-of-call was Nassau, Bahamas. It’s the first real port we’ve visited on this trip, as the other two were essentially contrived by Carnival.

I got off the ship around 9 a.m. and wandered up and down Bay Street, the main shopping street. Unless you’re interested in diamonds or T-shirts, you can skip Bay Street. The straw market is like most Caribbean markets I’ve seen—narrow aisles with stalls crammed with T-shirts, knockoff purses, wood statues and trinkets, and straw bags, fans, photo album covers, you name it. Prices are negotiable, so always make a counter-offer.

You don’t need a tour to visit the Pirate Museum or the Queen’s Staircase/water tower/Fort Fincastle area. It’s an easy walk to both and you can pick up a map at the tourist information desk at the port. At the Queen’s Staircase, climb the 66 steps (one for each year of Queen Victoria’s reign), while admiring the limestone walls and waterfall. At the top, turn the corner to reach the top of the hill, the water tower and fort, and great views of Nassau and Paradise Island.

It didn’t take long to run out of things to do on my own in downtown Nassau, and I didn’t want to start pounding drinks at Senor Frog’s or the Hard Rock Cafe. So I went back to the terminal and joined some other cruise passengers in a cab ride to the Atlantis Resort across the harbor on Paradise Island. The cab ride is $4 plus tip per person and a water taxi is $3 plus tip per person. A cab will drop you off right at the front door or at the nearby beach, while the ferry dock is a decent walk from the hotel entrance.

Now, let me say that I’m not impressed with resorts. I avoid casinos, and my favorite part of visiting Las Vegas was getting the hell off the Strip. As for Atlantis, my advice to you is to empty your bank account and book yourself a room. Skip the cruise, skip Grand Turk and Half Moon Cay, and spend your precious vacation time and dollars luxuriating at this resort. And I tell you this without having seen the rooms. The place was simply incredible.

Atlantis is like a Vegas resort, but it’s on a beautiful island it shares with some millionaires. It has a big casino and some high-end shops on the premises, and you can visit these for free. But what blew me away was its grounds and aquariums. Atlantis, if you can’t guess, has an ocean theme, and the buildings are surrounded by lagoons that are chock-full of tropical fish. When I say fish, I mean sharks, enormous stingrays, fish larger than small children, and water creatures of every color imaginable.

To access the grounds and the two main aquariums, you must purchase a day pass ($29 for adults and $21 for kids). With your wristband, you can explore the Predator Tunnel where sharks swim right over your head and the Dig where “re-creations” of Atlantis serve as the backdrop for fish tanks full of spiny lobsters, sea horses, moray eels, and groupers. The pass also allows guests to access the outdoor areas, but prohibits use of the pools and water slides. Which is too bad because I was drooling over those water slides—the slides are clear so you can see giant sea creatures swimming above your head as you shoot through the tube. But I did enjoy wandering over the various rope bridges and gazing at the fish in the many lagoons.

Hotel guests clearly have it made as all the water-based activities and aquarium tours are included in the price. But I highly recommend Atlantis as a fun way to spend an afternoon in the Bahamas. You can combine your exploration of the resort with a trip to the beach for a full day of activity at under 10 bucks per person in transportation costs.

Tonight is my last night on the Fantasy. The evening’s dinner entrees are fettucine with mushroom cream sauce, teriyaki salmon, délice of ocean (prawns, scallops, and other fish), oven-roasted turkey, pan-fried medallions of pork, sirloin of American beef, and zucchini and eggplant parmesan. There doesn’t seem to be a farewell event, but I know that my dinner table companions and I will be swapping email addresses and taking photos before the night is through. Look for my feature article on Carnival in the next Cruise News for the full scoop on this cruise line and my adventures aboard the Fantasy.

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