Friday 18 September 2015

The Bahamas here we come!

In my last post, Trav and I had visited Miami over Memorial Weekend, traveled down to the Florida Keys by Greyhound Bus, celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary, and flown from Key West to New Orleans.

It had been something of an impromptu trip, to leave our Caribbean island home earlier than planned and travel to the USA, and we knew we still had almost four weeks to go before we met with our flight out of Houston Texas to Glasgow Scotland.

We now had a luxury of choice whether to go back to the Caribbean or to continue travelling in search of a new adventure. Either way, we would still have to find somewhere to rent for almost a month.

Sitting in our hotel room in New Orleans, over a glass of wine for me and a glass of bourbon for Trav, we discussed what to do next. We explored the possibility of taking another Greyhound Bus and traveling up through Memphis and onto Nashville. Or doing the ‘Bourbon Trail’ in Louisiana – which was certainly high up on our bucket-to-do-list. But, actually, what we really needed at that time was somewhere to relax and kick back for a while. Somewhere with a nice climate, lovely beaches, with diving for Trav and where I could catch up with my writing commitments.

On the internet, I found a lovely looking beach cottage for a reasonable rent on Saunders Beach, Nassau, Bahamas, courtesy of Airbnb website. We had never been to the Bahamas before and it certainly ticket all the boxes on our current wish list. The accommodation was available for the three weeks plus that we needed it for and the airfare costs using United Airlines seemed very reasonable.

The cottage was being advertised by a guy called Stuart, a retired university professor, who had annexed off a porch area and the side of his traditional style clapper-board Bahamian home as a rental. The photographs looked very appealing and there were lots of reference reviews by others who had stayed there – all saying wonderful things about the cottage, the location, and about Stuart himself. So I sent an email to Stuart, apologising for the short notice, asking if we could come and stay the very next day. He agreed and the deal was done!

On arrival at Nassau airport, we soon realised that this time it was my turn to have a suitcase go missing. In my last post, I’d explained that Trav’s bag, with all his dive gear, had gone missing from our flight from Key West to New Orleans and had later been found in New York! I was assured that my bag, wherever it had gone without me, would be found within 24 hours. Of course, it was Sod’s Law that this was the one and only time that I had packed my carry-on bag in a rush, which turned out to contain lots of tops but no bottoms!

Our host, Stuart, greeted us as planned in arrivals and when we explained about my lost luggage, he insisted on speaking with the luggage official, whom it turned out was a friend of his. He also kindly said that it would be no trouble for him to drive me back to the airport as soon as we had the phone call that my luggage was there to collect. Then Stuart drove us to our new accommodation, giving us a wonderful guided tour along the way, pointing out where the ‘stars’ lived (lots, but the ones I remember were the BeeGees, the Rolling Stones, and UK rock group Iron Maiden). Then we stopping at a big supermarket so that we could stock up our newly acquired fridge with both the basics and the essentials.

Somewhere to hang our 'Trav and Janice's Hoose' sign for a while !

Stuart’s home was a traditional colonial style Bahamian house set back from Saunders Beach, Nassau. Nassau is the capital of The Bahamas and is located on the twenty-one mile long island of New Providence. Nassau’s main harbour is protected by Paradise Island. The harbour attracted settlers in the early days, particularly pirates and traders, these days it is mostly tourists and cruise ships.

Our home for almost a month - a traditional Bahamian beach house
The open screened porch/sitting area and bedroom beyond

Saunders Beach
Along the coastal road were lots of restaurants and bars and handy stores in case we needed something quickly (like a bottle of wine) and didn’t want to go to the supermarket. In the other direction, towards the world famous Cable Beach, was some of the world’s top hotels, golf courses, and homes of the rich and famous. I felt we had chosen a great destination in which to spend the next few weeks!

Over the next few weeks, Trav and I explored the island by public buses called ‘jinties’. Only we preferred to call them the ‘rasta-buses’ as they were always blasting reggae music, driven by dreadlocked drivers and filled to capacity with larger than life local characters and bewildered tourist. You could also travel anywhere you wanted on them for one very low price. We often went into Nassau (just 20 mins away by bus) and to the Mall. On rainy days (there were a few when we first arrived) we went to the cinema.

From ‘our’ beach we could see cruise ships coming in each morning and we could also see Paradise Island, where there were some seriously impressive hotels. One of them, Atlantis, is the famous original hotel and water park. (Its newer twin resides in Dubai). Checking out Atlantis online, we realised that Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett were doing a one-night only ‘intimate’ concert there the very next weekend. Feeling excited, we booked into the hotel for the weekend and secured tickets for the concert. Our Bahamas adventure was looking even better!

The poster for the Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett concert at Atlantis!

We also found out that it was possible to buy day passes into some of the exclusive 5* All-Inclusive hotels on Cable Beach and on Paradise Island. The cost of the passes seemed entirely reasonable to us, when we considered that we could arrive in time for breakfast, have both lunch and dinner, use the beautiful pools and beach etc, and have full-on all-day access to the swim up bars and as much champagne or premium drinks that we could reasonable quaff. (And if you know Trav and I then you’ll know we can quaff rather a lot!) 

We decided, early on one incredibly hot morning, to try out the Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort. It was the nearest resort to us, just a five minute ride up the road in a rasta-bus. There we were welcomed, paid our dues, and immediately went in search of breakfast. And oh, how I had missed dining on the best smoked salmon and drinking bucks-fizz for breakfast. (Yeah, right!)

Bucks Fizz for breakfast at Sandals Bahamian Resort

We sunbathed. We swam. We got a little tipsy. At lunchtime, we took the complimentary boat over the Sandal’s private island (all included in the all-inclusive day ticket price) for an exquisite seafood lunch in a restaurant called 'Stewfish' - which was all washed down with a very good bottle of wine. Later in the afternoon, when we returned to the main beach and pool, we managed to make some lovely new friends at the swim up bar.

We enjoyed ourselves so much that Trav and I visited the Sandals Resort several times during our time in The Bahamas and, after being welcomed back by the lovely reception staff after our first visit, we were offered a very nice discount on all our subsequent passes. Yay!

Top Tip: So, my top tip for if you fancy trying out an exclusive 5 Star resort but like us are managing on a 3 Star budget – why not think about renting an affordable place just outside and pay for daily access into the resort? Evening passes are also available in many resorts. In fact, why limit yourself to one resort when you could try several and also get the chance to island hop to some of the amazingly gorgeous outer islands (The Bahamas are a chain of around 700 islands) this is something we didn't do this time but do plan for another time.

I do believe that this economy driven tact, should you also be able to get some good-priced flights, could save you thousands of pounds/dollars - but, to be sure, do your own research before you travel - always check online or phone the resorts to find out what passes are available and when, to familiarise yourself with the rules of access, and at what cost.

Atlantis: We were really excited about the Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett concert. We packed a small bag each and set off by rasta-bus to Nassau town, where we then took a taxi over the big arched bridge to Paradise Island. The hotel was amazing and we wasted no time checking into our gorgeous room and then checking out the famous waterpark.

The park was huge: there were walkways and rope bridges connected swimming pools and man-made beaches, lagoons filled with eagle rays, hammerhead sharks and dolphins. There were water rides and slides that took you through see-though tunnels and a tank infested with sharks. It was all very well designed, but I must admit that I’m still not altogether comfortable with animals that belong in the open seas being kept in such confinement.

If you look into the shark tank you can see people in the flume!

Just one of the pools in the Atlantis water park

Trav and I spent five hours on a twin inflatable lounger on the ‘lazy river’ which was, in parts, not so lazy, as there were many off-shoots from the ‘river’ that took you into wild water, onto watery conveyors that lifted you up and then swept you down into tubes of darkness at scary speeds. It was all such fun!

Time to leave: When it came time to leave the Bahamas, to meet with our flight back to the UK, we had decided that we would forfeit the first booked leg of our journey (Roatan, an island in the Caribbean close to Honduras) to meet up with the second leg of our journey – Houston to Frankfurt – from where we would catch our third flight back to Glasgow. With just a few days to go, we contacted the booking agent we had used to make sure this was going to be okay. It wasn’t.

Apparently, if we had booked with the airline directly it would have been okay, but because we used a booking agent they would not change our itinerary. We were told we would have to make our first flight or the whole trip would be cancelled and we would be classed as a ‘no show’.

This seriously sucked because we already had a flight booked from Bahamas to Houston, where we planned to spend a couple of days, which we now had to abandon. We also now had to get on the internet quickly and book ourselves at short notice onto a flight out of Bahamas to Roatan. We managed it but had to buy Business Class tickets – leaving us suddenly and unexpectedly out of pocket by around $1000.

We also now had a couple of days extra to spend in Nassau, but Stuart’s beach house had been rented out during this time. Trav and I decided, albeit still stinging from the extra expenses, that if we were in for a penny then we may as well be in for a pound – so we checked ourselves into a very nice hotel for two nights. Not quite Sandals Royal Bahamian but not too shabby either!

Our last day in the Bahamas at Melia Nassau Resort

In my next post, we are back in Scotland and I’ll be sharing photos of a friend’s wedding that we attended in St. Andrews at the end of June.

Before the month’s end however- after hiring a car and visiting our lovely and much-missed family all around the UK - Trav and I realised that we still had two whole weeks between the St. Andrews wedding and our next big trip - flying with our other two sons to visit our son, his wife and our wee grandson and his lovely family, over in South Korea at the end of the month (the day after the St Andrews wedding actually).

What were we to do? We had no home anymore, having sold up everything we owned in favour of just two suitcases. We knew we had kind invitations from family or friends to come and stay anytime, but we had just seen and caught up with them all. Suddenly, like fate, we received an email notification from Emirate Airlines that they were having a ‘24 hour flash sale’ selling cut price seats on last-minute flights to far-flung destinations out of Glasgow.

To Trav and I, it seemed that some of our farther afield bucket-list destinations might be reasonably affordable if we booked the flight in the next few hours with Emirates and then organised our accommodation ourselves once we arrived. It didn’t take us long to agree and press a few buttons.

Two weeks island hopping in the Seychelles here we come!