We were on a mission to find a family destination that suited our family’s quest for sugar-sand beaches and turquoise waters, our 10 year-old’s desire for an experience to rival Disneyland, and one that provided a glimpse into another culture, yet didn’t require days to recover from jet lag.

On Paradise Island and Nassau in the Bahamas, the Caribbean’s spectrum of resorts range from family friendly to ultra exclusive. Here’s a look at the soul-satisfying activities we discovered on our 4-day excursion to paradise. For the record, both hurricanes Irma and Maria missed the Bahamas.

1. Wake up with dolphins and other marine life
Our adventure to Dolphin Cay at the Atlantis Resort began with 14 acres of world-class dolphin habitats to explore at sunrise on a private beach. We met dolphins rescued from Katrina, gleefully raced with one in shallow depths and had a water fight with three more who soaked us with their tail slaps then swam circles around us before posing with us nose to bottle nose as we immersed ourselves in their world. For the all-in excursion, become a Trainer for a Day and join our staff to train, feed and care for dolphins as you dive in and explore their world, just as they would.

2. Water slides to rival the Magic Kingdom
The adventurous water slides of Atlantis’ Aquaventure and its lazy river ride carry you over twenty million gallons of water between the 20 swimming areas and 11 pools, delivering an aqua adventure like no other. The mind-bending water slides from Atlantis-themed towers plunge the daring through shark-filled lagoons and twisting surges of tunnels, satisfying thrill-seekers of all ages. To chill the adrenaline rush, relax on the lazy river as it winds through the tropical gardens and the offer tubers a mile-long ride of wave surges, rapids and other surprises. A walk around the grounds is aw-inspiring with the biggest collection of open-air aquariums and pools and wildlife in the Caribbean.

3. Island cuisine to make you reconsider chick nuggetsforever
Our first lunch was an open-air island buffet of conch served a variety of ways from ceviche to fried fritters, to islanders’ favorite pineapple-mango-red chile flake salsa and conch chowder that would relieve a Bostonian’s cravings.

4. Luxury in an ecotourism environment
A day later we explored Nassau’s Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, an engaging new ecotourism luxury hotel where we lounged poolside for the morning before wandering to the waterfront’s outdoor classroom. Kneeling to feed lettuce to sea turtles and pet manta rays that rubbed against us like affectionate pussycats, we absorbed the guide’s detail on habitats for these mesmerizing creatures.

Meanwhile docile sharks swam in the adjacent pool within an arm’s reach, but not yet ready for swimmers to engage. In the candy-colored cabanas, we changed into pool attire and cooled off in the hotel’s blue hole complete with two-story-high rocks from which to launch into a pool adjacent to waterfalls and an underwater aquarium.

5. Nothing beats traditional chocolate making—well, maybe eating it
After a poolside lunch under the misting cabanas of the Baha Mar, we headed to town to learn the tradition of making custom chocolate bars at the Graycliff Chocolatier. An interactive experience, we donned gloves and head covers to learn the technique of blending chocolates and customizing bars to our individual delight, which were presented to us gift boxed and (almost) too good to eat.

6. A touch of old school elegance
Next door to the chocolatier is the romantic Graycliff Hotel. Here is an oasis of tranquil elegance and unique accommodations once occupied by Churchill, The Beatles and Beyoncé. Graycliff’s lush gardens surround a serene, tile-adorned pool with fountains and private lounging in this old-world enclave with charming porches while ceiling fans turn slowly, adding ambiance to the island breeze.

7. Bahamian history in the Golden Age of Piracy
The Pirate Museum of Nassau is a blast to the past. The Golden Age of Piracy lasted 30 years (from 1690 to 1720) and Nassau was home to thousands of pirates during that time. Board a replica of a pirate ship and feel what it was like to live amongst the pirate community. Test your knowledge with an engaging quiz to see how you view the pirates’ way. It’s a quick study for kids and the pirate ship quarters will leave you hunting for the perfect treasure after posing in the guillotine and beside real-looking pirates.

8. The sites and sounds of the islands through Junkanoo
The Royal Towers of Atlantis on Paradise Island comes alive with this 500-year old tradition, Junkanoo, the soul of Bahamian culture. Authentic music, entertainment, food, crafts, face painting, costume creation and dance lessons are open to all to join in the festivities of this entertaining and heart thumping event.

9. Sugar-sand beaches for miles…
And miles. The gorgeous beaches of Paradise Island coupled with turquoise waters will have you questioning whether to ever go home.  With the water slide adventures just steps away, the tranquility of the beaches is the magic escape from city or suburban life.  You’ll still get your steps in, just in your bathing suit and sunscreen.

10. Shark sightings
Whether you are tubing through a shark tank, touring the secret underground aquarium, or diving in the shark pool, there are many ways to get up close and personal with sharks without risking life and limb.

WHERE TO STAY

Atlantis Resort
One Casino Drive Paradise Island, Bahamas
from $199 per night

Grand Hyatt Baha Mar,
One Baha Mar Boulevard, PO Box SP-64254, Nassau, The Bahamas
from $192 per night

Comfort Suites Paradise Island
Paradise Island Dr., Nassau, SS 6202, BS (across from Atlantis)
from $120 per night

 

— Gretchen Richardson

All images by Gretchen Richardson unless noted otherwise.

This trip was paid for by Nassau Paradise Island Tourism Board but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.