Gambling and Gamboling in Nassau

Gambling and Gamboling in Nassau photo

Image courtesy of Tourist Maker.

"Different strokes for different folks." So goes the lyric made famous by Sly and the Family Stone back in the 1960s. Today, it applies to Nassau and Paradise Island, a duo of Bahamian resorts with enough diversions to satisfy even the most jaded beach aficionado. Slick and commercial, they cater to the quick getaway and weekend crowd who who are always on the lookout for the latest last minute deals.

Along with the colonial charm of this Bahamian island comes the tinkling of coins in its hundreds of slot machines mixed with the laughter of those seeking the sun-sand-and-sea for which the Bahamas has long been famous. Here, old world charm mixes with sleek glamour and glitz. Ultra-modern resorts line long stretches of beach in Nassau and Paradise Island while Nassau's stately colonial buildings, monuments and homes add an historic, British ambiance. Although best known for its casinos, nightlife and sporting activities, you can also find secluded beaches and quiet hideaways.

During and after World War II, Nassau welcomed the rich and famous under the leadership of the Duke of Windsor. Now the island welcomes all who seek a brief respite from everyday stress and whose needs can be satisfied by a cool Goombay Special and a chaise by the pool. But if you want more, Nassau and Paradise Island have it.

Just in front of Bay Street is Prince George Wharf, where sleek cruise ships dock almost daily. Hop aboard a glass-bottom boat for a fascinating harbor cruise or sign on for a romantic moonlit sail. In addition, there are lots of catamaran cruises offered to hideaway beaches.

On your stroll through town, be sure to stop by Rawson Square, a favorite of Nassau residents, who gather for quiet conversation under the welcome shade of giant fig trees. Hire a horse-drawn surrey for a relaxing, clip-clop tour of Nassau. Your driver will regale you with stories of Nassau's history in a rich, lilting accent.

Shopping is a real treat along Bay Street in Nassau, the city's bustling main thoroughfare running parallel to the ocean. Lined with pastel-colored shops and restaurants, Bay Street features especially good buys on local liquors, linens, crystal, and perfumes. Stores are competitive, so shopping around is recommended. Also, be sure to check out the shops located on the second floors, where prices are often a bit lower.

No trip to Nassau is complete without a jaunt through the famous Straw Market, located just a few blocks from Rawson Square on Bay Street. A teeming, semi-enclosed marketplace, you'll find just about everything crafted from straw here. Wander the aisles of the market and inspect the colorful costume jewelry crafted from sea and coconut shells. Need a T-shirt? You'll find a wide array here. Don't be shy about haggling over prices--it's expected.

If you're a history buff, you'll find lots here to strike your fancy. Begin at Fort Charlotte with a brief guided tour, including a spooky walk through the dungeon where unfortunate prisoners of long ago were interrogated. Built in 1786, it's the largest and best-preserved of Nassau's four forts.

From here it's just a short walk to Fort Fincastle, a fortress shaped like a ship and ringed with black cannons. Just behind the fort is the 216-foot-high Water Tower, the highest point on the island. For a small fee, you can ride to the top for a gorgeous view. But you might prefer to walk to the top and save the money. On second thought, you're probably better off saving your climbing energy for the Queen's Staircase, a flight of 65 steps hewn into the limestone just beyond the Water Tower.

The lush vegetation of New Providence Island is showcased in two lovely tropical gardens: Ardastra Gardens, where pink flamingos, the national bird, are trained to march in precision; and the nearby Nassau Botanical Gardens, where lily ponds and exotic fish add to the tropical atmosphere. Both are near Fort Charlotte.

And for a touch of London, watch the British-style changing of the guard every other Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m. sharp in front of Government House, at the top of George Street. Standing guard at the top of a long flight of white steps is a larger- than-life size, 12-foot-high statue of Christopher Columbus. In historic downtown Nassau, you can admire stately pink and white government buildings--the Court House and Parliament--and the statue of Queen Victoria.

If all the activity gives you hunger pangs, stop over to Potters' Cay, under the Paradise Island bridge to sample some fresh conch salad, conch fritters, and other Bahamian seafood delicacies at the fish market.