Nassau, the capital of the 700-plus Bahamian Islands, is one of the most popular ports in the Caribbean and welcomed 3,627,823 cruise visitors in 2015. By Jeannine Williamson
The legacy of British rule from 1718 to 1973, along with piracy, shapes what cruise visitors see when they arrive in Nassau, on 21-mile-long New Providence, one of 30 inhabited islands in the Bahamas. Islanders drive on the left and familiar red letter boxes are dotted around the streets, while police officers in spotless white uniforms and pith helmets are happy to pose for photographs. Ships dock in the central Prince George Wharf, which can accommodate up to seven vessels and saw 3,627,823 cruise visitors in 2015. It is within easy walking distance of the bustling shops of Bay Street and the Straw Market, and sights including the cathedral, main square and museums. The landmark British Colonial Hilton hotel, which has the only private beach on New Providence, and resorts including Sandals and Atlantis, offer day passes to cruise passengers. Typically, ships are in port for eight to 10 hours and some vessels overnight in Nassau.
TOP SIGHTS & ATTRACTIONS
Pirates of Nassau: This swashbuckling family attraction tells the tale of when pirates such as the notorious Blackbeard lived in Nassau and ruled the Bahamian waves.
Parliament Square: The pastel pink buildings are fronted by a stern statue of Queen Victoria.
Pompey Museum of Slavery & Emancipation: Recently renovated, the museum housed in an 18th century building tells the sobering story of the island’s slave trade.
Junkanoo Beach: This laid-back beach is lined with friendly bars selling beer and snacks against a backdrop of the toe-tapping music of the same name.
Queen’s Staircase: The 65 steps spanning 102ft were carved out of solid limestone by slaves.
WHERE TO SHOP
Bay Street: A glittering magnet for cruise passengers, the main street is lined with tax-free jewellery shops and other gems such as old – fashioned clothes shop A. Baker & Sons, which opened in 1894.
Straw Market: Jam-packed with stalls piled high with hand -woven straw hats, bags, mats, dolls, conch shell jewellery and wood carvings, it’s a great place to pick up presents and souvenirs. Be prepared to bargain!
Bahama Handprints: Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and one of only two Bahamian fabric manufacturers, it’s worth the trip to the outskirts of town to buy simple, beautifully made clothes and meet the designer, cutter and seamstresses in the adjoining factory.
Discover Nassau’s forts, historic architecture and colonial history on a three- hour island tour. Take the plunge with a day pass for the123-acre waterpark at Atlantis on Paradise Island, reached via a bridge or water taxi. There are giant slides, flumes and a gentle, lazy river. Enjoy a close-up encounter with dolphins and sea lions or simply laze in a hammock on the beautiful beach at Blue Lagoon Island, reached by boat. Savour the real taste of Nassau with Tru Bahamian Food Tours, a three-hour walking tour with plenty of stops along the way to sample conch fritters, rum cake, beer, locally made chocolate and other treats. The clear warm waters and reefs, filled with colourful tropical fish, provide perfect conditions for a snorkelling or diving trip.
Try conch fritters and fresh spicy conch salad, fried grouper fish, peas, and rice with side orders of coleslaw and macaroni cheese. Wash them down with a Bahama Mama cocktail or new craft beers from the Pirate Brewery.
The Junkanoo Festival is on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, while the Junkanoo Carnival, featuring live music and colourful costumes, runs from May 5-7, 2016.
Downtown Nassau is very walkable. The cruise terminal is next to the main waterfront area leading to the Straw Market and Bay Street.
Licensed taxis, identifiable by their yellow NP number plates, can be found outside the port’s Welcome Centre. A five-mile ride is around $12 (£8.50).
Horse-drawn carriage rides are also available from outside the terminal and cost $10 (£7) for adults and $5 (£3.50) for children for a 30-minute sightseeing tour. Horses are rested from 1pm to 3pm, May to October, and 1pm to 2pm, November to April.
The Nassau Water Taxi runs between Prince George Dock and Paradise Island every half hour from 9am to 6pm, costing $4 one way and $6 return. It’s a great way to cross the harbour but comes with an obligatory commentary from the operator, who expects a tip. Small local buses, or jitneys, offer an authentic and fun way to get around. Fares are $0.50 (35p) and $1 (70p) for children, $0.75 for seniors and $1.75 for “everyone else”.
The number 10 to Cable Beach provides an inexpensive sightseeing tour, passing Christ Church Cathedral, Government House, the Christopher Columbus statue and Fort Charlotte.
WHERE TO STAY
While most cruises to the Bahamas depart from Florida and call at Nassau, some ships overnight in port. Passengers who want a change of scene can check into the historic British Colonial Hilton, built on the site of a 17th century fort next to the cruise terminal. High rollers can splash out and book the Royal Towers’ Bridge Suite at the Atlantis resort. Costing around $25,000 ( £17,500) a night and one of the world’s most expensive hotel rooms.
WHERE TO EAT
Bahamian Cookin’ in Trinity Place is a local institution run by three generations of the Wallace family and famous for its conch fritters. Bay Street’s Athena Cafe serves imaginative Greek Food (much more than moussaka) and has a lovely terrace overlooking the bustling street scene. Frankie Gone Bananas is a casual ‘fish fry’ restaurant on Arawak Cay serving giant seafood platters with traditional accompaniments such as fried plantain and macaroni cheese. If you’re overnighting on a Friday, join the locals at the happy hour at Giotto pizzeria, Graycliff, where a pizza big enough to share and three beers cost around £13.
Offering five to 14-night cruises, MSC DIVINA is now based year-round in Miami and will call at Nassau 41 times in 2016. Departing on June 11, a 14-night sailing with two days in Nassau costs fro £1,499 including flights to Miami and transfers. 0203 426 3010 msccruises.co.uk
Norwegian Breakaway, Escape, Gem, Sky and Spirit will visit Nassau this year. A nine-night Bahamas & Florida itinerary on Norwegian Gem, departing from Port Canaveral on 29 April, is from £1,440 including flights. 0845 201 8900 ncl.co.uk
The following lines will also visit Nassau in 2016: Carnival, Celebrity Cruises, Costa Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, Princess Cruises, Regent Cruises and Royal Caribbean.