Maybe the Bahamas aren't paradise. But with weather this great, beaches, fishing, casinos, resorts and golf courses on Nassau, Paradise Island and Great Exuma, it's pretty darn close.
NASSAU, Bahamas - Experienced travelers who come to the islands of the Bahamas for the first time - especially those who've been to other ocean golf hot spots like Hawaii and Cabo - might start to wonder what the big lure is after a few days.
After all, the golf isn't nearly as good as it is in Cabo, and the beaches aren't nearly as stunning as the ones in Hawaii.
"It's nice, but it's not quite the paradise I thought," vacationer Ray Evers said, shrugging. "I guess this is paradise for people who haven't been a lot of places."
Don't be so quick to dismiss. The Bahamas can sneak up on you like a sixth-round draft pick who turns into a Super Bowl MVP.
No need to overanalyze. Just feel the winter sun beating down on your skin and head to the Las Vegas want-to-be casino in the Atlantis resort. This is why the Bahamas draws so many American tourists - especially East Coast ones.
You can't get to winter weather this good - when the highs were in the low 60s and the lows downright frigid for Phoenix-Scottsdale Super Bowl week, temperatures danced in the low 80s in Nassau - this close to the East Coast's major cities and many other places. It's a three-hour plane ride from New York to Nassau, Bahamas, with direct flights on major carriers readily available.
For many, the weather wouldn't mean much without the casinos, though. Bahamas' legalized gambling (including sports books on all the major U.S. leagues) helps bring in a heavy celebrity quotient. Why do you think Michael Jordan has a plush estate on Paradise Island (connected to Nassau by a short, slim bridge) and holds his annual celebrity golf tournament here?
Where else could His Airness get great weather and the high-stakes games he enjoys only two hours flight from Charlotte, N.C., where he's allegedly running the Bobcats? Atlantic City can be harder to get to from Charlotte and you're not hitting the beach in Atlantic City in February unless you're with the Polar Bears Club.
"I think more and more people are realizing how easy the Bahamas is to get to from the Eastern seaboard," said Gene Fraser, president of the South Ocean Development Company, a group with Canadian and New York backing that's undertaking a massive development project on the Bahamas' biggest island. "You don't necessarily have to come for a week. You can stay for a few days and have a great getaway."
James Bond certainly agrees. Sean Connery - who might as well go by the name "The Real James Bond" - uses the Bahamas as his primary residence (even as he travels around the world).
Connery's curious enough about golf on New Providence (which includes Nassau and Paradise Island) to have done a site tour of the new Blue Shark Golf Club, which will not open to the public until around June. One of the centerpieces of the new South Ocean development, Blue Shark is geared to compete with the Ocean Club Golf Course - a showy Tom Weiskopf design on Paradise Island heavy on the postcard views.
When there are only four golf courses on the entire island, even Bond wants to see what's new.
"Sean Connery was interested to see the course come together," said Mark Young, a Canadian real estate facilitator who assisted the developers in the Blue Shark project. "He talked about what impressed him, in colorful language."
Every new golf course opening is bound to bring curiosity (celebrity and otherwise) in the Bahamas. The Bahamas encompasses 700 islands, with 300,000 people spread among those islands. But there are fewer than 30 golf courses in this entire area.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing for a visitor. If you stay on one island - like the most populated by far, New Providence - you don't feel pressure to work in a round at a new course every day. It can elevate any golf-rush stress and allow you to just enjoy the sunshine more.
On the other hand, the scarcity of golf can also encourage island hopping. If you really want to experience the Bahamas, you need to island hop. Luckily, it's much easier than you might imagine.
Looking for spectacular golf? It's a quick plane ride or an eight-hour adventure of a ferry ride (where you snooze on the deck in a sleeping bag) from Nassau to Great Exuma. Here, you'll find a plush Four Seasons Resort and a Greg Norman course (Four Seasons Golf Club Great Exuma at Emerald Bay) that carries more word-of-mouth buzz than any other course in the islands.
Just as importantly, you'll find a stretch of islands that are much more remote and unspoiled than population center Nassau. Exuma boasts some of the best scuba diving spots in the world and can be a fisherman's wet dream.
You can even rent a houseboat (in practically all the colors in the Crayola box) in Exuma and sleep where you fish.
This takes you from the casino lifestyle that many of the celebrities love, but the winter sun's just as nice. In fact, a few days into your Bahamas trip, you may start wondering why you're in such a good mood.
Sunshine my friend, sunshine.
"I've been a huge fan of the Bahamas for 25 years," Norman said. "Now you're seeing the influx of not just U.S. dollars but European dollars."
Paradise? Maybe not. Tourists don't want to walk around large parts of downtown Nassau at night. And Paradise Island, where you can walk anywhere, can grow staler than stale with its cookie-cutter American chain stores. So paradise, no.
But it's still pretty darn nice.
February 13, 2008
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