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‘The Commonwealth of The Bahamas’ is a tiny tropical paradise set in the picturesque Caribbean. It is no surprise therefore, to find that Tourism is the country’s main source of revenue followed by Offshore Banking.
The Caribbean immediately brings to mind Pirates, and the Bahamas was indeed home to the notorious pirate Blackbeard in the 18th century. The locals still tell stories of hordes of undiscovered treasure buried in the now bat-filled caves along the shore.
Visitors are greeted with a native drummer and band at Nassau airport. The rhythmic beat of the drums quickens the senses and sets the mood for the journey ahead.
The turquoise ocean and dazzling coral sands of the Bahamas are undoubtedly hypnotic in their grace. Can one ever really ever get tired of the melody of the sea? And what can be more refreshing to the soul than the lapping of gentle waves over eager toes. The water was just the perfect temperature and the coarse white coral sands crunched comfortably under my feet. The best part was that, there really was no dearth of stunning beaches – after all we were on an island.
We were headed to the Atlantis Royal Towers on Paradise Island. Atlantis was designed and built to replicate the lost sunken legendary city of Atlantis. Careful and meticulous planning had gone into designing the look and feel of a sunken underwater civilization. Relics and artifacts were created new and artificially aged to look ancient! An ‘Atlantian Alphabet’ was created based on the Egyptian system of hieroglyphics. A 15 room archeological “Dig Site” (open to visitors) houses artifacts that had been recovered from the Atlantian city. The enormous Ruins Lagoon, visible all along the hotel lobby, is filled with Altantian ruins and almost 20,000 sea creatures. One simply has to admire the grand vision and imagination of the minds that created such a marvel.
The lobby of the hotel is laced with ornate fountains – a few that were particularly eye catching were the one shaped like an oyster and the flying Pegasus at the entrance. The main dome in the center was ringed with colorful murals of Atlantian life and carvings.
Atlantis boasts of the world’s largest open air marine aquarium with some 11 lagoons housing over 50,000 species from hammerhead sharks to turtles to the tiny shrimps and sea spiders.
It was a delight to see the ever graceful giant manta rays glide through the water of the lagoons effortlessly. One could even see them clearly from our room on the 16th floor. And we even witnessed a feeding session of the rays. A giant ray literally filled the entire side of the floor-to-ceiling glass wall at the Cave-In Restaurant. We watched, as it deftly maneuvered a fish from the feeder’s hand into its mouth. You simply can’t forget a sight like that. You can also go snorkeling and view the rays and the ruins close at hand.
The shallow water interaction with Dolphins was a definite highlight of the trip. There is a full fledged Sea Lion and Dolphin program, and many of the dolphins stranded after Hurricane Katrina were sent there. Dolphins are just so lovable and so eager to show off, that it’s a pleasure just watching them and touching them. And to see them arc in the air, shake their tail flukes and show off – all just an arms length away, is an incredible experience. It was interesting to learn that the shape of its dorsal fin is like its fingerprint – its unique for each dolphin.
Atlantis also is an enormous waterpark with a waterscape of slides, rides and pools to please all ages. The Mayan Temple structure houses the Serpentine Ride – a ride down from the top through twisting water slide on tubes. The ride leads you to a gentle rock through the middle of the lagoon in a clear tunnel. As you ride through this tunnel, you witness nurse sharks, silky sharks and reef sharks swimming all around you. What a rush! Its just a long walk up the Mayan Temple with your tube for each ride though!
The other ride I enjoyed, was the 35-minute, mile-long Rapids and Currents. Waves propel tubes along the river and the journey is interspersed with rapids and currents. The best part is that, you don’t have to get off – you can just continue for rounds 2 and 3 and 4… And what’s better that riding on waves for as long as you want?
There was a gentler 15-min version called Lazy River Ride. But once you go on the Rapids and Current, you’re pretty much hooked.
The eleven or so swimming pools on the grounds had exotic names like the Mayan Pool and the Royal Baths Pool - many with their own pool slides and little grottos filled with bubbling warm water. There were enough loungers for all who wanted to sunbathe or simply relax while sipping cool pineapple and watermelon drinks.
And who can forget the towel-huts, which satisfied a very essential need! Where there is water, there needs to be an endless supply of towels.
An island means beaches and Atlantis itself was home to two of them – Atlantis Beach and Cove Beach. While their Paradise Lagoon offered non-motorized water rides like kayaks and pedalboats, the beaches offered opportunities to JetSki, ParaSail, Catamarans, Power Boats, Fishing and Island tours by boat. Jet skiing was total exhilaration and fun – slicing through the choppy waves at sea, the wind whipping in your face. We went all the way to the distant rocks nearly a mile out to sea.
Our room on the 16th floor of the Atlantis Royal Towers offered panoramic views of the park and dazzling ocean. The magnificent hotel room views added extra flavor to the ambience of the vacation. The sounds of the ocean and the band that played on the beach carried into our room late at night.
There is just so much to do in Atlantis itself that its hard to venture out and see the local sites. Straw Market was an interesting such stop, in Nassau. There are narrow rows of stalls packed with shops selling everything from t-shirts to wind-chimes to jewelry made of seashells. Along the sides were some wood carvers, chiseling away at the pieces they were carving – be they face masks or turtles. A drummer dressed in a colorful local costume stood by for a photo opportunity. The harbor had 3 cruise boats docked that day and the place was bustling with tourists.
The local women were dressed in brilliant colors, which was a nice change from the dull pastels found in the US. Colors really do lighten and brighten up our lives.
Lots of our famous celebrities own homes in The Bahamas. The cab driver drove us past the adjacent homes of Eddie Murphy, Oprah Winfrey and Stevie Wonder. While parts of Nassau looked affluent and well maintained, other parts looked equally rundown.
Cricket is played there but the sport that is well followed is Basketball. The waiter informed us that the majority of Bahamians are LA Laker fans. Rick Fox is a Bahamian and Magic Johnson was a frequent visitor to The Bahamas.
What an absolute, fun-packed, fantastic vacation!