Although totally unanticipated until three weeks ago, I am on Paradise Island of The Bahamas, which consists of about 700 islands and cayes. Commonwealth of The Bahamas is one of only two countries (The Gambia) that has the word “the” in its official name. Largely due to the luxury tourism industry, The Bahamas is the third richest country per capita in the Americas, in excess of $31,000.
Having been in Israel, it took three flights and more than 17 hours on an airplane to arrive here. I spent 11 days here exactly four years ago as a professional poker player. This month, I arrive here in a similar fashion, as the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure is running. The event is basically an international conference for poker players with many tournaments and cash games available in a hotel ballroom.
I am staying at The Cove Atlantis, the most opulent tower of the Atlantis Paradise Island resort and waterpark. In 2011, I spent nearly $5000 over my 11-day stay. I split a base room with one to four friends, depending on the day, and my share of the hotel costs were still usurious. At the time, the cheapest room in The Cove was $700. The non-discretionary gratuities and taxes are terrible. The daily housekeeping charge was $51. Such a high price obviated the courtesy to leave a few dollars on the pillow for the maid. A drink by the pool approaches $30. Water is at least $7. I could go forever. The tap water in The Bahamas is surprisingly bad tasting, although technically potable.
Via two bridges, Paradise Island is connected to New Providence island, which contains more than 70% of the country population of 319,000. Paradise Island is a captive island because the only lodging aavailable is affordable for rich people, and everyone is too lazy to take $11 taxicab rides to New Providence. The 30-minute taxicab ride from the airport to Atlantis is $40 each way. My first time here in 2011, I never got off the island except to go to and from Lynden Pindling International Airport (NAS), which is located in the capital city Nassau. I ate many of my meals at Johnny Rockets and Starbucks because they were the cheapest options at $10-$20. I also dined several times at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill because a $50 filet is tremendous value at Atlantis. A dessert at any normal restaurant on the property is about $14, a price the rest of the world reserves for high-end establishments.
I have definitely paid for plenty of luxury experiences. Usually, I justify them due to their unique nature or especially high quality and service. The problem with Atlantis Bahamas is that the costs are brutally and illogically high. The litany of charges is relentless. The prices are so astronomical, out of proportion to any pleasure you could possibly derive.
The fact that I am apportioning such a large portion of this post to prices is warranted and should not detract from the natural beauty of the islands of The Bahamas. Just do not stay at Atlantis. The best islands are the Abacos and the Exumas, not New Providence. You know the prices are high when even wealthy people are complaining. Many guests are paying $1000-$1200 for a standard room at The Cove, and I heard one yesterday complain on the basketball court that the staff could at least have bottled water in the room. He even joked that he was okay with paying $300 for his kids to touch dolphins at the in-house attraction.
Atlantis Paradise Island is a veritable mega-resort, containing more than 3000 guest rooms over six different tower brands, each catering to different price points and demographics. Still, the cheapest rooms are $350. Thankfully, there is not much segregation among the guests, as it is easy to navigate the entire property, as long as you have legs. I have been fortunate to stay at The Cove twice, which is the most luxurious property. One thing an unfamiliar visitor will observe quickly is the number of families on the resort. This fact surprised me, as I was solely calculating the crazy costs such a vacation must incur. I reckon the waterpark is an attractive family feature, but it comes at such an eye-watering price that I could think of at least twenty-four thousand better vacation ideas off the top of my head.
Having traveled for more than two months for less than $100 per day, including transportation expenses, I feel guilty for living a life of luxury at this resort. I am here with friends with some means. The first couple of nights, I had my own base room, which retails at $1000 per night. I told my buddy that I could just sleep on the couch. This friend had the Presidential Suite for his stay, which costs in excess of $6000 per night, although everything can be negotiated with the resort and associated casino.
The Presidential Suite is massive, more than 3000 square feet, with a small kitchen, a bar, wine refrigerator, a 10-person dining room with all utensils, and an incredible bathroom. A budget-conscious group could easily sleep 20 people in the space, but it was only the three of us. I switched into the second bedroom because I voluntarily switched and upgraded my room. The original guest of the second bedroom was bothered by the elevator noise so he did not care about dropping 13 floors into slightly less opulent conditions. It is a careless oversight that a $6000+ room is not totally soundproof from the elevator.
Although the staff are overpaid and mostly slow, which is typical of the Caribbean (my hotel alarm clock is set 19 minutes behind actual), they are extremely talkative and greet you at every opportunity, which can be tiresome if I just want to walk somewhere without having to exchange automatic desultory words. My friends and I have noticed how much more attentive the service is than the last time we were here. We have a dedicated butler in the Presidential Suite who is quick to execute even simple things like dinner reservations. For someone who books his own travel, I find some of the services excessive. I have never exchanged as many words with the housekeeping staff, extending to full conversations.
My last time here, the weather was unseasonably cold and windy so I did not entertain the legendary water slides here, but I had a good run in them this trip. I took plenty of walks along the beautiful beaches, most of which are private on Paradise Island. I have been told that as gorgeous as these white-sand beaches are, the ones on other nearby Bahamian islands are even better.
I have been eating lavishly here, due to the generosity of my friend benefactor. One day, I had my first ever yacht experience. I have been on a sailboat several times. Chartered luxury yachts are over-the-top, similar to private jets in the level of unnecessary comfort. The yacht we went on was 104 feet long. There were 11 of us and 5 crew with South African, English, and Australian accents. The crew consisted of a captain, a first mate, two cute women serving drinks and performing stewardess duties, and a cook. We spent seven hours on the boat, so I did not even see the bedrooms, although one of the passengers slept for a good chunk of it.
We motored to nearby Rose Island, which you can see on the map above. The yacht holds a couple of WaveRunners, a kayak, snorkeling equipement, a paddleboard, etc. There was some miscommunication so scuba diving and fishing gear were not loaded on the yacht. I jet-skied around a bit and went snorkeling. I also did several flips off the boat into the water. The yacht is tall enough that jumping from the top deck gave me a long moment of hesitation. The entire experience was lovely, and the weather cooperated fully. I was with several gamblers, so there was also wagering on NFL football, poker, and proposition bets as to the number of burpees one could do in an hour and swimming to another caye and back. I know some readers may be wondering, but I believe the yacht expense was $10,500-$13,000, less than what I would have expected and certainly manageable with enough rich passengers. Amusingly, there was a per-person charge beyond a certain number of $160 per head.
I flew from Israel to The Bahamas, but I return to the Middle East after this island detour.