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Bahamas' Cable Beach chills out as Nassau's counter to Paradise Island's casino glitz blitz

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Cable Beach might be overshadowed by nearby Paradise Island but it shines in its own right. With a laid-back atmosphere and cheaper prices - not to mention Cable Beach Golf Club - Cable Beach is great Bahamas vacation option.

Cable Beach
Cable Beach brings a beach volleyball kind of vibe to the Bahamas.
Cable BeachCable Beach - Casino PoolAtlantis CasinoCable Beach Golf Club

NASSAU, Bahamas - A volleyball flies through the air, and sun-drenched bodies dive across the sand. Giggles come as often as shouts of triumph.

No, this isn't a replay of that unfortunate beach volleyball scene in "Top Gun," the one in which Iceman made everyone wonder about what team he was on. It's just another day on Cable Beach, a long stretch of hotel resort sand on the Bahamas' biggest island New Providence (which also includes well-known Nassau and Paradise Island).

This volleyball game is being contested by a bunch of college coeds in bikinis enjoying an early winter break. Not far away, couples lounge on the pool deck. Just up the path, a few guys in Bermuda shorts and flip flops play pool, the sun beating down on their heads too.

For this island, it's a tranquil, laid-back scene.

Nobody seems to be stressing anything - including that hand in poker that would have turned out so differently if that fool hadn't thrown back a face card. The staff might be on island time, but that's all right on a day like this. Everything is, as a matter of fact.

You'd never know that a casino stood a very short stroll away.

And that's the charm of Cable Beach.

If you want in-your-face excitement, people scurrying here and there, noise, flashing lights and shops with names that can intimidate before you ever step in and see the prices, you stay on Paradise Island. Anchored by the mammoth fantasyland Atlantis Casino Resort and boasting a marina full of docked luxury yachts, including a few that could compete with Tiger Woods' boat, Paradise Island is unquestionably the Bahamas' high-intensity zone.

Then there's Cable Beach, on the complete other side of downtown Nassau and as different in vibe as Bob Marley is from Bill Gates.

Some people still refer to Cable Beach as hotel row, because there are a number of resorts right after one another. This is an outdated moniker though. The newest resorts are almost all on Paradise Island or being built in the new South Ocean community that will be anchored by Greg Norman's Blue Shark Golf Club.

Cable Beach has an upscale Sandals resort, a Sheraton, a Wyndham, Breezes Bahamas, a few lesser known hotels and not a Gucci boutique in sight.

Staying here gives you something of a sense that you're in a different country. At Paradise Island, you might as well be in Miami - except that you can legally gamble.

Cable Beach's non-Paradise Island gambling & golf

You can gamble in Cable Beach too - at the Crystal Palace Casino, which is connected to the Wyndham and next door to the Sheraton. It's such a low-key casino compared to Atlantis' monstrous beast that it's not likely to dominate your trip or pull you away from the beach/pool scene during daylight hours.

How low key?

The sports book appears to be open about four hours a day. I went over there at 1 in the afternoon before a round of golf, and the odds hadn't even been posted yet for that night's NBA games, and no one was manning the windows. That same night, it was shuttered by 10 p.m. There is also only one roulette table (compared to a half dozen at Atlantis). And rather than have a poker room (or three) like most new casinos, Crystal Palace simply offers Texas Hold 'Em at those little gaming tables in the middle of the floor, like Blackjack.

This all gives you free license to grab a few lounge chairs and chill until sunset.

"I like Cable Beach, because it's a lot more relaxed than Paradise Island," said Keisha Powers, a Philadelphian on a Bahamas trip with her friend. "You don't have to walk all around to get to the beach. It's a short walk from your room. It just seems more like a vacation.

"At least, that's what I tell myself. Because I can't afford to stay on Paradise Island anyway."

There is that. Atlantis' rooms pretty much start at $495 in the winter and go up from there (rapidly) without any hope of a discount. Even in the off-season when the climate in the Bahamas can be downright stifling, you'll rarely get an Atlantis stay for less than $380 per night.

In Cable Beach, on the other hand, you can find rates at the nice Sheraton Cable Beach Hotel for $170-$200 a night in the Bahamas beautiful winter with a little work and online research. During my January stay, I saw rooms at the Wyndham being offered for as low as $115 per night, a virtually unheard of bargain for a country that often seems to think Americans spit out $20 bills.

Even the golf's more chilled and much less expensive in Cable Beach. Here, the easiest course to get to (with many hotels offering complimentary shuttles) is Cable Beach Golf Club, a near must-play for the $35 after 3 p.m. twilight rate - compared to Paradise Island's $190 Ocean Club course.

"I played Ocean Club once," said frequent Bahamas visitor Mike Dougman. "But I play Cable Beach in the afternoon every single time I get to Nassau. My wife told me she'd kill me if I kept playing Ocean Club."

Dougman laughs. Cable Beach tends to attract a sensible breed.

It all could be changing though. There are massive luxury development plans for Cable Beach. The Starwood hotel chain (which includes Westin and Sheraton brands) is going to put in two of its highest-end brands with a new W hotel and St. Regis. Caesars Palace is pushing a new mammoth casino that will be Las Vegas-like and geared toward competing with Paradise Island's glitz, though this still hasn't left the planning stages yet.

Many of the existing hotels are gearing up for massive revamps.

"You won't recognize this place in two years," a local longtime bartender at the casino told me. "Three, tops."

You can lounge easy in it now. Most developers think a stroke of genius comes in stuff like massive entranceways or deep marble bathtubs. Cable Beach's moment of genius? It might just be putting its pool tables and table tennis sets outside, right in the sun, at hotels like the Sheraton.

"Now that's cool," 19-year-old visitor Rick Sherman said.

That's Cable Beach.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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