These Four Hotels Made Me Fall in Love with the Bahamas - My Family Travels

Nassau and Paradise Island, among the beautiful Islands of the Bahamas not impacted by Hurricane Dorian, share a sparkling surf that melts from blue to green as it gently laps the sand. Served by short flights from major U.S. cities, they boast delicious local cuisine, nightlife, resorts for every budget, two world-class casinos and some of the most gracious locals you’ll ever meet. Nassau (capital of New Providence Island) and nearby Paradise Island are just perfect holiday destinations.

Champagne and strawberries welcome
Welcome to The Ocean Club, a Four Seasons Resort on Paradise Island.

On a recent trip we sampled four of the islands’ top resorts, as different as the guests they attract. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar and The Ocean Club, a Four Seasons Resort while touring both Graycliff Hotel & Restaurant and Sandals Royal Bahamian on Nassau. Each property was diverse, sophisticated, international and very welcoming, although the Sandals Royal Bahamian is only for adults.

Grand Hyatt Baha Mar

Thoughtful details abound at this huge 1,800-room resort complex, ranging from iPads with restaurant menus in each room to dancing fountains, 50+ pastel beach shacks with private toilets, poolside cabanas with rain shower curtain walls and a marine animal sanctuary with touch tank.

The Grand Hyatt Baha Mar is comprised of East and West Towers that meet at the sixth floor ESPA, a very impressive wellness facility with a fitness gym that pro athletes would approve. Room types include one-bedroom suites with butler service, king rooms with a soaking tub and a bathroom wall that slides open to face the sea, and large doubles with two queens and connecting doors to accommodate families.

Baha Mar has Something for Everyone

Nurse shark at The Sanctuary for marine animals
Nurse shark at The Sanctuary for marine animals in the Baha Mar complex.

The largest casino in the Caribbean, all 100,000 square feet of it, connects the towers to two other branded hotels. Together, they share 31 food and beverage outlets plus nine food trucks, ranging from Scoops Ice Cream in an Airstream trailer to Shuang Ba, an haute Chinese place with a nod to Baha Mar’s foreign ownership.

There are myriad upscale jewelry shops, a night club, 10 separate pools with different personalities, nine tennis courts and a par-72 Jack Nicklaus designed golf course. Families will appreciate the Explorers Kids Club for ages 3-14, the Current Art Gallery and painting studio, blazing pink Flamingo Cay and a tropical bird aviary, the long watersports pier and 1,000 acres of immaculate tropical landscaping to play in. Of course, Baha Mar (a play on the Spanish baja mar or low water which gave the country its name) has its own app to help you navigate.

We love Baha Mar because there’s variety and togetherness. Some may complain about the sheer scale of the 1,000-acre resort, yet it’s handicapped accessible and inclusive. The buzzy Grand Hyatt is great for families, reunions, gamblers and groups; the stylish, curvilinear SLS Baha Mar is designed for young couples and music buffs; the tranquil, clubby ambiance of the Rosewood Baha Mar attracts older affluent travelers accustomed to luxury. It’s easy to accommodate every taste and still meet for meals and playtime.

An Island Hideaway for the Rich and Famous

When Dr. Axel Wenner-Gren bought Hog Island in 1939, he built his own lavish Shangri-La to accommodate friends and family along the five-mile beach. In 1960 Huntington Hartford II, grandson of the A&P fortune, became owner and envisioned turning it into an exclusive retreat for the rich and famous. After petitioning the government to change the island’s name to Paradise, he began construction of The Ocean Club, his 52-room luxury hotel. In 1965, it starred in its first James Bond thriller, Thunderball.

Sol Kerzner, developer of Atlantis, took it over in 2000, restoring the original wing and adding more suites. (Although under different ownership, The Ocean Club’s guests still have complimentary access to the water parks and facilities at nearby Atlantis.) Under his masterful refresh, The Ocean Club was featured again in James Bond’s Casino Royale (2006).

The Ocean Club, Now a Four Seasons Resort

Under Four Seasons management for the past two years, The Ocean Club is even more glamorous – a very private yet welcoming retreat. Each of the 102 vast rooms and multi-bedroom residence villas has its own butler service, bar, workspace and balcony. The rich colonial minimalism style uses rattan and dark wood furnishings. Both two-story wings overlook the beach and infinity pool or lavish gardens. Statuesque palms and bougainvillea shade marble and bronze statues, fountains, spa villas for wellness treatments, tennis courts, gym, more pools and an 18-hole golf course. It’s all delightfully casual.

Dune is the delectable oceanfront eatery by Jean-Georges Vongerichten where fresh Bahamian seafood laced with Asian spices promises divine dining. Lighter fare is found at a few poolside cafés and the beachfront bar, whose louvered shutters let in the breeze. The famous Martini Bar favored by Nelson Mandela, Benny Goodman and VIPs whose portraits crowd the gleaming grand piano has been tended by Keith Cash since before the term ‘mixologist’ existed.

Out in the Versailles Gardens, a 12th-century Cloister brought over from France is the perfect backdrop for weddings. Honeymooners will swoon. Young children will love the lawn hammocks and beach, lagoon pool with waterfall, loaner bikes and Kids for all Seasons Club. Paradise. Enough said.

Grand Graycliff Hotel & Restaurant

The fossil-patterned limestone walls of historic Graycliff, a colonial mansion said to belong to a former pirate, enclose several interesting enterprises in downtown Nassau. Above the famous five-star Graycliff Restaurant are 20 rooms with 15-foot ceilings, a quarter-mile of drapery and enough four-poster beds to suit the Royals. (Lord and Lady Dudley, by the way, bought it in 1966.) Children are rarely seen or heard here but they are welcomed. There’s no beach either, but the hand-painted pool from the 1950’s — the first built in the Bahamas—is gorgeous.

Now run by the Italian Garzaoli family, Graycliff has become a model of sustainability, and a tourist attraction in its own right. Dozens of locals have been trained and are employed in a chocolate factory and cigar making plant where goods are produced while classes or family tours take place. The enlightening “Chocolate and Spirits Pairing” ($76) we experienced with guide Anastasia is popular with cruise ship day-trippers.

The other side of the street boasts the Graycliff-run Bahama Barrels Winery for wine tastings and a Heritage Museum full of local history. Perhaps most impressive is the award-winning Graycliff wine cellar, said to be the third largest in the world, nestled below the dining rooms in the dusty old, brick-floored pirate prison. Tour, dine, chat with the Cuban cigar rollers, shop a lot, ask Eric about the proprietary hot sauce served with conch chowder. It’s all good at Graycliff.

Royal Treatment at Sandals Royal Bahamian

Quiet pool at Sandals Royal Bahamian
Quiet pool at Sandals Royal Bahamian on Nassau.

Couples in love are catered to very, very well at Sandals’ adults-only resort on Nassau. And why not? Love Nest Suites are appropriately located on the grounds of the ca. 1946 Balmoral Club which belonged to Edward, Duke of Windsor, who famously abdicated the British throne to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee, and was later nominated Governor of the Bahamas. Don’t miss the piano bar filled with wonderful photos of local aristocracy and visiting Royals playing on the property.

The Royal legacy is not forgotten; within the gated all-inclusive resort are hints of British regalia:  a red phone booth and mailbox, afternoon High Tea, Greco-Roman colonnades around the pool, three classes of rooms including the highest level, Butler, with a 24/7 attendant, three spas and a tranquil pool with swim-up bar. Modern lovers will appreciate the second new wing, with its DJ-led Party Pool and entertainment center.

Loving Value at an All-Inclusive

As all Sandals’ properties, the Royal Bahamian is a classy affair, with 10 excellent buffet or a la carte dining options; a theatre for live shows; tour desk for outings; several bars and lounges with live music, premium liquor and great staff. There’s even ferry service to their private island, popular for spa treatments and beach outings, as part of the all-inclusive pricing.

Lovers take note: the romantic beachfront dinner ($199 premium) is priceless. As much as Sandals loves a destination wedding (takes only three days to get a license in the Bahamas), vow renewal or honeymoon, the stunning oceanview fitness center and complimentary watersports also make it a great resort for active friends and families with adult kids.

What does a Nassau or Paradise Island Vacation Cost?

Although pricing varies wildly, a search on Trivago for a double room the same November 2019 midweek dates provides comparables: the mega-resort Grand Hyatt Baha Mar was $180, the high-class Ocean Club, A Four Seasons Resort was $950, the charmingly eccentric Graycliff was $487 and the an all-inclusive Sandals Royal Bahamian was $646 per night including meals, beverages and activities. (Other resort fees may apply and booking direct on their sites may reveal sales!)

With such fine choices, you know why they say “it’s better in the Bahamas.” And as other islands recover from the devastation of Hurricane Dorian, The Bahamas will be better than ever.

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