Paradise Island - Nassau
Another Side of Paradise
by Hal Peat
While most travelers to the Bahamas nowadays associate the name of Paradise Island with the enormous presence of the Atlantis Resort, in fact there is much else in the way of activities and points of interest around the island that are lower-key and easy to explore or access - both man-made and a natural asset. Lying just across from the urban sprawl of the Bahamian capital of Nassau and surrounding shoreline packed with resorts and vacation developments, Paradise Island is a smaller island neighborhood measuring just 686 acres, or about four miles long and just half a mile wide. Once upon a time, it was known as Hog Island but with the arrival of the Seventies, it reinvented itself thanks to the vision of A&P heir and major landholder Huntington Hartford, becoming Paradise Island and in the years since expanding into a major location for hotel, resort and casino operation in the Bahamas.
What to Do, Where to Do It
The most prominent natural attractions of Paradise Island remain its two principal north coast beaches of Cabbage Beach and Paradise Beach. These long and wide swathes of powdery white sand facing the Atlantic bring out the visitors from the major resorts and various independent concessions that rent out everything from jetskis to hobie cats and kayaks. The trade winds along these two northern stretches of beach make them idyllic for just lazing and sunning, allowing you to stay cool with the help of a beach umbrella and the waves just a few feet away, but the same winds also serve to propel more action-oriented types who may be up for trying out the parasailing, sailboat or other water sport opportunities just offshore. Cabbage Beach is about three miles in length of pretty pale pinkish sand; to its east, you pass a small headland before coming across Snorkeler's Cove Beach, an even more peaceful inlet where you can indeed do some snorkeling. To the west of Cabbage Beach, as you arrive into what becomes Paradise Beach, development becomes denser on the waterfront and there are vendors and operators along the sands hawking everything from water and beverages to equipment for water sport activity.
Put on your sun block and take a leisurely east/west or west/east stroll along one of the island's two inner main roads. Paradise Island Drive runs eastward from the huge main roundabout towards the One and Only Ocean Club, plus some other hotels and restaurants and a golf course. Along the way, you can stop to look around The Cloister, reconstructed from the original masonry of a medieval French abbey, with views across the bay. The property belongs to the Ocean Club, but is open to visitors. A short way further on the other side of the street, you come across another grand European recreation owned by the hotel, in the form of Versailles Gardens. Here, you walk gradually down a series of tiered formal lawns, ponds and gardens that are modeled after the original royal grounds at the palace of Versailles outside Paris. Alternatively, you can walk westward by taking the other main artery of Paradise Beach Drive which runs west from the roundabout and reach sites such as Pirate's Cove Beach, a secluded, windswept shore, and again come into two-mile long Paradise Beach.
When you want to get away completely from the confines of Paradise Island or Nassau and out into the surrounding waters to reach the best spots for diving or snorkeling, one of the most experienced outfitters to there is Stuart's Cove, which has an extensive menu of snorkeling and diving excursions. The waters off of New Providence have their spots where nurse sharks and schools of bright Caribbean marine life swarm in abundance, but getting there is easiest done with the expertise of a major operator with all the right equipment and craft like Stuart's Cove
Where to Stay, How to Enjoy It
You can certainly find the best of all worlds of Paradise Island at Riu Palace Paradise Island. You step into the lobby here and for an instant it feels like piece of Europe transported to the tropics, much like The Cloister or Versailles Gardens, with elaborate art, marble and faux 19th century furnishings and gilt mirrors that evoke the interior of a grande classe hotel in Spain or Italy, but everything else is totally contemporary and efficient in accommodations and amenities. The Riu manages to combine its Euro quality style with many of the all-inclusive features that younger travelers and families seek in a tropical getaway resort, so you have for instance a wide selection of dining and entertainment options onsite -- five restaurants (including Atlantic, Bahamas, Krystal) featuring various ethnic cuisines, plus four bar areas -- but you can still get away into Nassau or local dining to check out the island-style seafood specialties when the urge takes you. Be sure to try and get an ocean-fronting room here, which will allow you a fantastic vista of the waves breaking right below you and the Atlantic ahead of you dotted by some more offshore islets.
There are outdoor and indoor facilities at Riu to keep you occupied, but without making you feel busy every minute. Thus you can take advantage of the outdoor pool and bar area, or find a more solitary spot two minutes away down on Paradise Beach. Or, you can work out at the hotel fitness center, then wind down with a choice of massages or treatments at the onsite Renova Spa. The hotel was recently renovated in 2009 and the rooms are all sleekly refurbished in striking dual tones, have private balconies and feature the unique Riu drinks selection.
For those who come to Paradise Island seeking ultra-chic exclusivity, at the high-end budget there is the landmark One and Only Ocean Club. This former Georgian-style private estate now offers luxury seclusion with access to its own golf course, tennis courts, and an onsite restaurant at the highly-rated Dune featuring an Asian-French-Bahamian fusion menu.
Fusing Past and Present on Paradise
What would Paradise Island's sometimes eccentric founding fathers like Huntington Hartford think of the transformed island today? Whatever their vision of the future may have been for this present-day world-class destination, they would probably be pleased by the enduring natural beauty of the oceanfront, places to wind down away from the crowds, ease of access beyond its shores, and how different worlds still come together to give Paradise Island another side to savor and enjoy.