A popular spot, in eight hours or less

Ports of Call Nassau

September 30, 2007|By Arline Bleecker and Sam Bleecker

Already the cabdrivers line the cruise ship piers in Nassau plugging tours to Anna Nicole Smith's home and gravesite. Just as it did elsewhere, the Smith circus pushed everything else off the front page in this capital city of the Bahamas, a chain of islands 179 miles southeast of Florida.

It's not as if Nassau needed Smith to draw tourists. It has been a perennially popular port for cruise ships for eons. At some time or other, virtually every line schedules stops there.

But there's more to Nassau (known to residents as New Providence Island) and its neighbor Paradise Island than Smith. There's so much, in fact, that even an eager visitor could hardly see all of it.

In some ways, Nassau is a step back in time. The city boasts a past that includes a roster of 17th- and 18th-century pirates who called the 21-mile-long island home. (Modern-day gambling types won't languish, either, in the city's lavish Vegas-style casinos.) You'll see policemen in starched white jackets and colorful pith helmets, and catch the clip-clop of horse-drawn surreys along streets studded with candy-colored houses.

With so many choices, what can you do there in eight hours or less?

For starters, we suggest bypassing the straw markets near the pier that sell trinkets. Instead, consider the beaches and cozy coves that dot the shoreline.

We hear Smugglers Beach is the most intimate. Because it's on the remote easternmost end of Paradise Island, expect to have the powder-white sand all to yourself.

If you want to go nose-to-nose with fish but not get your feet wet, head for the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island. The resort's $700-million waterscape comprises 11 million gallons of fresh and saltwater and its 11 exhibit lagoons hold more than 50,000 sea creatures representing more than 250 species.

Should all that water viewing tempt you to dip into a pool or loll at a beach, Atlantis offers lagoons and adrenaline-pumping water slides, one 68 feet high.

Even though you've probably gorged yourself on your cruise ship's cuisine, you still might be starving for something special on shore.

Graycliff, which serves both Continental and Bahamian cuisine, is the Caribbean's first five-star restaurant. Its expansive wine cellar holds some 180,000 bottles.

Described by the tourist board as a one-of-a-kind restaurant, Indigo Cafe dishes up an eclectic menu and a colorful Bahamian atmosphere augmented by an impressive collection of artwork.

If it's your mind that needs satisfying, step into the Pirates of Nassau Museum. The museum, just a block away from the famous Bay Street, lets "visitors listen to pirates reveling and preparing for sea, they smell the salt air of the docks and step aboard the 75-foot pirate ship Revenge," the museum's materials note.

Those who prefer to visit Nassau's well-trod but nonetheless intriguing sites can join a walking tour or amble on their own to several. A former residence of England's Duke of Windsor is off Parliament Street. On George Street, Christ Church Cathedral is renowned for its stained-glass windows, impressive organ and mahogany ceiling.

You can attempt to climb Queens Staircase, 65 carved limestone steps to Fort Fincastle. From the summit of the fort's 126-foot Water Tower - the island's highest point, some 330 feet above sea level - you can see exceptional views of the city.

For nature lovers, consider the Retreat and Versailles Gardens, two botanical wonders.

At the 11-acre garden of the Retreat, a national park and headquarters of the Bahamas National Trust, you can see the world's largest collections of rare and exotic palms or stroll through gardens with native orchids, bright red ginger and graceful green ferns.

Versailles Gardens offers a bit more opulence. A popular spot for weddings, these gardens brim with bronze and marble statues, fountains, reflecting pools and waterfalls.

And by the time your ship slips from Nassau, you'll probably have a list of things you'll want to see on your next visit.

Arline Bleecker and Sam Bleecker write for the Chicago Tribune.

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