The Commonwealth of the Bahamas is a string of more than 700 islands and 2,400 cays stretched over 100,000 square miles of waters shimmering in such an intense shade of aquamarine that they can be seen from space. Nassau is situated on the island of New Providence, at the heart of the Bahamas archipelago. The aptly named Paradise Island, home to the impressive Atlantis Resort, is just a 600-foot-long bridge away. Throughout Nassau, visitors will find a harmonious blend of traditional and modern architectural styles. Downtown is brimming with historic sites and attractions set amid a growing collection of trendy restaurants and coffeehouses that have sprouted up to cater to the luxury-seeking crowds who frequent Atlantis, Paradise Island.
The first landfall Christopher Columbus made in the New World was in the Bahamas, where he encountered the Lucayans, the islands’ native inhabitants. Although Columbus thought he had reached India, the discovery was a crucial turning point in world history.
Over the next 150 years, the Bahamas became a safe harbor for pirates, religious dissenters, rum smugglers, and runaway slaves. The islands were eventually claimed for Britain in 1629, but pirates continued to challenge that rule for the next century. The Pirates of Nassau Museum celebrates the glory days of the notorious swashbucklers who once dominated Nassau’s harbor.
The Bahamas became an independent nation within the British Commonwealth in 1973, but 200-plus years under British rule left a lasting impression. Within the candy-pink government buildings in Parliament Square, which date to the late 1700s, Nassau’s lawmakers still wear white wigs. The matching pink-and-white Government House a few blocks away has served as the official residence of the Bahamas’ governor-general since the turn of the 19th century.
Beyond the historical sites downtown, Nassau’s main activities revolve around either the clear waters offshore or the Atlantis, Paradise Island megaresort. The name Bahamas originates from baja mar, Spanish for “shallow sea.” When the shallowness is combined with the low tidal range, the result is the sublime turquoise hue of the water. With a visibility that often tops 200 feet, the waters are prime for pretty much any activity under the sun—snorkeling with stingrays, dolphin encounters, glass-bottomed kayak tours, big-game fishing for blue marlin, and more. Plenty of coral reefs and shipwrecks are waiting to be explored, and there’s even an underwater-scooter tour.
To see the sea without getting wet, board the glass-encased Seaworld Explorer. The craft descends five feet below the water’s surface, where the striking seascape is visible through large glass windows. For those who prefer to simply relax at the water’s edge, Nassau has 17 nearby beaches. Junkanoo Beach is the closest to the cruise terminal, about a 15-minute walk or five-minute taxi ride away.
A short boat ride off the coast of Nassau is Pearl Island, one of the Bahamas’ most unique private islands. There is a variety of activities such as water trampolines, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards. Or relax amidst ocean breezes in front of the iconic lighthouse, grab a frozen drink, or a conch salad made right in front of you. There is also the opportunity to celebrate your special day of saying “I do” on the stunning, secluded white-sand beach.
Located on the 685-acre Paradise Island, Atlantis is connected to Nassau by twin bridges. Atlantis is not just another hotel or resort; it is a fully themed entertainment mecca, boasting a number of fascinating activities that make this incarnation just as celebrated as the original lost city.
Atlantis’ most popular attraction is Aquaventure, deemed one of the world’s largest water parks. With more than 20 million gallons of water constantly flowing into dozens of slides, lazy rivers, currents, and rapids, the fun never stops. A day at Atlantis, Paradise Island is not complete without zooming down the slides within the faux ancient Mayan temple or down the thrilling Leap of Faith, a near-vertical 60-foot drop through a clear tunnel submerged in a shark-filled lagoon. Aquaventure’s sophisticated conveyer system means that there’s no need to get out of the water to climb the steps—just float on back to the top in an inner tube.
The Marine Habitat at Atlantis, Paradise Island is the world’s largest open-air aquarium. It’s home to more than 50,000 marine animals, with tropical fish of every color, iridescent jellyfish, and six-foot-long moray eels. Among the few different underwater exhibitions is The Dig, a replica of the 11,000-year-old lost continent. The Predator Lagoon is exciting thanks to the schools of shark and barracuda. And Hibiscus Lagoon is a playground for sea turtles.
For up-close-and-personal interactions with the marine life, stop by Atlantis’ Dolphin Cay, with its 14 acres and more than six million gallons of seawater. Play with dolphins or sea lions in shallow or deep water, spend a day with a dolphin trainer, and partake in behind-the-scenes tours of the facility. There’s also the opportunity to snorkel in the Ruins Lagoon alongside giant rays, sleek sharks, and tropical fish in a variety of brilliant hues.