Extending over 100,000 square miles of sea, the Bahamas is a tropical oasis of lush greens palms, clear turquoise seas and pearly white smiles on the faces of nearly everyone you encounter. In Nassau, the country’s capital, visitors and locals alike encompass the cool, laid back attitude that the islands are known for. Both Nassau and Paradise Island, located on New Providence, the eleventh largest of the 700 islands that make up the Bahamas, are renowned for their white beaches and gorgeous accommodations that meet any traveler’s budget and vacation style. After a barely three-hour flight from Newark, New Jersey, I felt the change in the air as I eased into island time. I breezed through customs, shed my winter layers and, following a short drive, found myself walking through an ivy-covered archway and up the path to a 300-year-old mansion known as Graycliff.
The Graycliff Hotel: 300 Years of Bahamian History
The landmark hotel sits on land that was originally the site of the first church in Nassau, which was subsequently destroyed by the Spanish in 1703. Thirty-three years later, the notorious pirate, Captain John Howard Graysmith, built the mansion that we know today to be the main building of the historical Graycliff Hotel. While guests can stay in the main building, my travel companions and I were led through the back gardens and the casual Humidor Churrascaria restaurant and up a winding staircase to a second building where we’d be staying for the night. Between the kindness of the hotel’s owners, Enrico and Anna Maria Garzaroli, and the unique decor in each of the hotel’s 20 rooms, it’s hard to feel as though you aren’t just a well-loved house guest at a friend’s beautiful home. I entered my room, appropriately named “Pirate,” after one of the hotel’s best-selling cigars and its original inhabitants, and promptly changed into more temperature-appropriate attire (the Bahamas in January feels like New York in late spring; in other words, blissfully warm and inviting without the humidity that plagues a good blow-out!)
Guests can enjoy spa services provided by the British Colonial Hilton across the street from Graycliff, but the hotel itself offers an abundance of enjoyable amenities, starting with the first pool in the Bahamas! The pool’s hand-painted mosaic design gives passersby pause as they enjoy the sheer beauty and alluring call of the water. Guests can relish in a delicious dinner at the Graycliff Restaurant, the first five-star restaurant in the Caribbean, which features an enormous, 300,000-bottle wine cellar underneath. The wine cellar is the third-largest private collection in the world and has won the prestigious Wine Spectator’s Grand Award each year since 1988. Mr. Garzaroli has spent years perfecting his impressive collection, which includes owning one of the oldest and most expensive bottles around: the 1727 Rudesheimer Apostelwein from Bremen Ratskeller in the “Rheinghau” region, priced at a mere $200,000. The bottle is just part of the impressive company Graycliff has played host to over the years ─ from the Beatles to Winston Churchill to Al Capone, there is no end to the history housed in the mansion. Just ask its resident ghost!
One Love, One Heart. Let’s Get Together and Feel Alright at Marley Resort & Spa
The next morning we promptly checked out and were taken on a short drive to the Cable Beach oceanfront Marley Resort & Spa. As a huge Bob Marley fan, I could barely contain my excitement when, upon entering, I was met with a gallery of the most exquisite collection of photographs of the iconic reggae star. Mitzy Evans, a longtime employee of the Marley family, gave us a tour of the resort, which includes two free-form pools overlooking the ocean, mosaic tiles, limestone walls, the holistic Natural Mystic Spa, Simmer Down Gourmet Caribbean Restaurant (where I had the greatest conch fritters and curried chicken skewers!) and the Stir It Up bar. The main house of the resort was once a governor’s mansion until it became the Marley family vacation home in 1982; in 2004, Rita Marley, Bob’s wife, decided the retreat should be turned from a home to a resort for all to enjoy. Sixteen uniquely appointed rooms are named after Marley songs and come complete with hand carvings on the doors to depict the name. My favorite was the One Love honeymoon suite, perfectly appointed for lovers with a king-size bed, in-room whirlpool dual tub and a balcony with gorgeous turquoise water views
The Natural Mystic Spa, collaboratively designed by Rita and renowned spa consultant Linda Hall, is housed in the west wing of the main home. After walking through the blue-stained glass door to the spa’s reception area, you cannot help but feel Rita’s holistic inspiration for the spa: A rustic staircase made from one of the property’s trees leads guests up to the second floor loft, where they can enjoy manicures and pedicures with an ocean view. The two single treatment rooms and couple’s spa suite are situated on the ground floor along a stone floor hallway, with greenery planted along one wall and waterfall panels installed along the other, evoking a very earthy feel. The spa also features a Wata Passage hydrotherapy patio with hot tub, cold plunge and personalized herbal baths, and is the only spa in the Caribbean to offer Africology products during its Afro-Caribbean and Asian technique services. Sister Iyata, a woman who provided spiritual and physical care for Marley’s mother, comes sporadically to the spa to ensure the philosophy of holistic wellness and Jamaican warmth are a part of every visit. While we were at lunch with Mitzy, we learned that guests of the hotel shouldn’t be surprised if they encounter the family during their stay since they still consider the resort their Bahamian home away from home.
A Romantic Couples Oasis at Sandals Royal Bahamian
After lunch, the group took a short walk to Sandals, and once again we were met with a completely different vibe and atmosphere, proving there really is something for everyone in the Bahamas. From the moment we walked up the cobblestone drive and through the tall white pillars of Sandals Royal Bahamian, you could feel the love in the air. The resort used to be home to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s Balmoral Club in the 1940s, and the resort prides itself on continuing that high society tradition and treating each and every guest as though they are a royal. The resort gives guests two experiences in one – perfect for couples who are looking for a beach getaway, seclusion and pampering, and equally ideal for duos who crave activities, adventure and nonstop entertainment!
We were quickly whisked away by boat to the resort’s private island, where we enjoyed a poolside drink at one of the resort’s swim-up pool bars before we were taken to the amazing Red Lane Spa for an exceptional 80-minute ocean-side Tropical Bliss Massage. Performed in a private treatment hut, with the ocean breeze and the sounds of the waves as my ambiance, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the overall experience and found myself wishing that, like all the guests at the resort, I too could be enjoying this with my special someone (note to couples: while at Sandals, an ocean-side massage on the private island is a must!). Following dinner at Gordon’s on the Pier, we experienced how lively the resort can be ─ as well as how you can be at the resort yet be having a completely different vacation from other guests. As we left the quiet and serene dock on our way to the main pool, passing couples enjoying their private beach-side dinners (swoon!), we were received with the gradual beating of drums. The pool area was set up for a street party, with booths and dancers dressed to the nines in Caribbean flair. As I sipped on delicious “Sky Juice” (a blend of coconut milk, coconut water and gin), I watched all the happy couples thoroughly enjoying the party atmosphere and again realized how much love is in the air at a Sandals resort.
Aquatic Adventures at Atlantis
After the party, we headed to Paradise Island for our two-night stay at The Cove tower at The Atlantis Resort and Casino;, the closer we got, the more excited I became. This was the destination I was most looking forward to, and boy, did it exceed my expectations. As we walked into the check-in lounge, I felt as though I was walking through a dream. Ponds and streams full of fish rolled all around us as we made our way through the lush open-air passageways to the tower’s elevators. When I opened the door to my room, my jaw hit the floor. My suite was complete with a sunken living room, private balcony overlooking the ocean and the grandeur of The Atlantis Resort and Casino, a plush king-size bed and a bathroom with a large soaking tub. The exquisiteness didn’t end there: The Cove’s private adults-only pool allows guests of The Cove towers to enjoy poolside gambling, drinks in one of 20 private cabanas and fun in the sun while lounging on the red daybeds surrounding the 9,000-square-foot pool.
From the largest open-air aquarium in the world and the outrageous waterslides through the shark tanks, to the 14-acre Dolphin Cay and the luxurious restaurants, nightclubs and casino, you could easily walk around for an entire day and not even begin to experience all Atlantis has to offer! The expansive and luxurious Mandara Spa covers 30,000 square feet, features 32 private treatment rooms, two couples’ villas and two couples’ spa suites with private bathing amenities. The women’s area features a private locker room, steam and sauna rooms, warm and cold plunge pools and the relaxing aromatherapy room. My facial was superb, and I left looking and feeling refreshed and ready for some free time to hit the beach before our final stop: dinner at One&Only Ocean Club.
The “Oohs” and “Ahhs” of One&Only Ocean Club
With each and every place we visited over the course of our time in Nassau, we were met with an even more luxurious site. To say it simply, One&Only Ocean Club is nothing but perfection. As you enter the main building, you feel as though you’ve entered a country club for the elite; walk toward the back and enjoy a lush, manicured green lawn with towering palm trees and views of the turquoise water below. The plantation-like setup of the 34-acre resort rings true as you walk through the lush garden pathways; the gardens offer a taste of Versailles, where guests can view a 12th-centuy Augustinian cloister, which was shipped piece by piece from France. Resort guests can enjoy water sports, lounging by the resort’s two pools and golf on the 18-hole Tom Weiskopf-designed course, as well as all of the amenities at nearby Atlantis.
Best of all, One&Only Ocean Club guests can experience the One&Only Spa: I was blown away by the spa’s eight tranquil, ivy-covered private villas, all furnished with teak massage tables, a waterfall shower, day bed and jetted tub in a private open-air garden, as well as its spa treatments, a blend of traditional Asian techniques and natural Bahamian spices, fruits and minerals. Following each treatment, guests enjoy herbal teas and fresh fruit, which are presented in a Japanese Tea Ceremony.Following our spa tour, we walked over to the resort’s Dune restaurant, owned by world renowned restaurateur, Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. As we approached Dune, we noticed the fresh herb garden out front, a wonderful homegrown touch. From start to finish, Dune pleased all of my culinary senses, and I left with a feeling of utter satisfaction and knowing I would be craving a repeat for some time!