Greetings! I had another whirlwind week of travel. The highlight was spending the weekend in the Bahamas.
No, I wasnít with Charlie Sheen, but I was treated like a movie star as I attended the opening gala of Nassauís new $180 million international terminal,
where they had Lenny Kravitz perform a surprise private concert. It was insane.
CHEAPEST BOTTLED WATER AT LAX
There are no nonstop commercial flights from Los Angeles to the Bahamas, but there are a few different one-stop routes to choose from. I took Delta via Atlanta. Since I had important meetings during the day, I was forced to take the dreaded red eye, which was scheduled to depart LAX at 11:55 p.m. While roaming terminal 5--I obviously got there too early--I discovered a new vending machine by gate 51 that sells bottled water for $1.50. Thatís about half the price charged by all the terminalís stores and restaurants.
LAX DELTA SNAFU
After the first 40 or so of us passengers boarded the plane (first class and Zone 1), a strange thing happened. First of all, I shouldíve known something was up when I noticed upon boarding that the gate agent had difficulty scanning passes. She kept bouncing back to her main computer. Then boarding stopped, with about a quarter of the passengers on board, and we sat patiently for 20 minutes wondering where everyone else was, since they had earlier announced it was an oversold flight. The captain tried to throw us a curveball when he said that everything was all set in the cockpit and we would be pushing back on time, if not early. We just all looked at each other with facial expressions that said, Yeah, right--what little world is he in? A few minutes later, the gate agent got on the P.A. and said there was a problem. You think? It turns out the aircraft type had been switched and the computers weren't updated, so everyone had to get off the plane and get re-checked in since seat assignments didnít match up. They told us to leave our belongings on the plane while we got new boarding passes. It was weird. The 24-year veteran flight attendant and I both agreed we have never witnessed this before. But I was one of the lucky ones, since I didn't have to give up my exit-row aisle--some passengers had to switch to less desirable seats, and a few first-class passengers got their upgrades revoked. Ouch! Now that hurts.
The snafu wasnít a big deal for me because we were just delayed an hour and thanks to strong tail winds our flight time was just 3 hours and 25 minutes, so we made up some of the delay. When I landed, delirious from not sleeping, I hustled over from Terminal T to Terminal A (they are right next to each other). Along the way I made a pit stop at Paschalís for some good olí southern cooking. I love their offerings and the friendliness of their workers. Actually, pretty much everyone I encounter in ATL is always super friendly, and they really give a taste of southern hospitality to those passing through.
I grabbed a biscuit with ham to go ($2.15) and I was on my way. Itís a good thing I grabbed food, because first-class passengers werenít served a meal on the 90-minute flight to Nassau, although the gate agent said we would be. Yes, I did get upgraded on this leg, thanks to my elite status. Besides a bigger seat, we were offered a basket of chips, candy, and other snacks.
MR. GODFREY SIMMS
I was in Nassau as a guest of Bahamas Tourism, and they arranged a driver for me and the other writers not only to get to/from the airport but for the whole weekend. Godfrey A. Simms, or Mr. Simms as we called him, was simply amazing. He was always on time and embodied the essence of Bahamian warmth and hospitality that you can find from many locals. His smile alone said it all. BTW: The normal taxi price between the airport and my hotel (the Sheraton), which was 10 minutes away, is $18 for the first two passengers and $3 for each additional. Mr. Simms drives a van (it has a "God Bless YouĒ sticker on the windshield) that costs $35. If you are ever in Nassau and need a driver and/or tour guide, I highly recommend Mr. Simms. He charges $70 an hour and caters to a lot of cruise passengers. Mr. Simms, Tel.: 242-324-5050, U.S. Tel.: 954-703-5018; email: T516simms@yahoo.com.
SHERATON NASSAU BEACH RESORT
We were put up at the Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort on Cable Beach. It was a bit of a shock at first thanks to my recent trip to Asia. There was no bellman to open my taxi door and greet me. Then I had to open the hotel front door myself. No doorman?! Then I realized I wasnít in Asia anymore, so it was back to reality. Once I snapped out of it, things got better. There was no line at check-in and the clerks were friendly, even though they said my room wasnít ready yet. I asked how long it would be, thinking I would just chill for a few minutes, but then she said the guests havenít checked out yet and they donít have to for another hour. It was 11 a.m. and I was like, WHAT?! I then said with a smile, I havenít slept since Los Angeles or showered since Bangkok--a white lie that made the happy couple next to me sidestep a few feet farther away. But it worked, and the agent found me a room. So I had to settle for one with two full-size beds instead of one king. Big deal--at least I got to shower and, more importantly, sleep.
The Sheraton has 694 guest rooms and suites spread out through nine floors. I opened the door to room 702 and was greeted to that room smell you always find in the Caribbean. FYI: I know the Bahamas arenít technically in the Caribbean, but they are marketed like they are. The rooms were recently renovated, and they did a really nice job with them. They all have Sheratonís Sweet Sleeper Bed, with its plush mattress and feather-down pillows (though my pillows were a tad bulky and felt old), 32-inch flat-screen LCD TV, dual-line phones, a workspace, and free high-speed Internet. The Internet, which is free, can only be accessed using an Ethernet cord in the room or wirelessly in the lobby. The highlight is that all rooms have a private balcony or patio with a view of the gardens, pool, or Atlantic Ocean.
The bathroom was comfortable as well, but once I couldnít get hot water at peak time (6:50 p.m. on Saturday night). The tap water is said to be safe to drink, but instead of risking it or paying high hotel prices for bottled water in the room, go to the nearby store and stock up.
Unfortunately, I was there for work and didnít have much time to go to the beach except for five minutes. On the way down I passed by the hotelís seven acres of waterscape which includes three freshwater pools, a swim-up bar, and oversized whirlpools. Itís a party/family atmosphere, which seems to work. When I first arrived, I could vaguely hear the pool DJ through my door while taking a much-needed nap. But when I went down for five minutes at 5 p.m. on my last day, there was no sign of him. However, I did see a ping-pong table, volleyball court, and an inflatable slide for kids to fly right into the ocean. Other hotel hot spots include the casino (Crystal Palace), fitness center, and Kids Club.
The hotel has a couple bars and restaurants. The lobby bar had an awesome band each night we visited after dinner, but the hotelís breakfast buffet in Bimini Market needs some help, especially at peak times. To enter, you have to pay $21, which can be charged to your room. The cashier was super slow, so the line was out the door. The waitress who was assigned to my table the first day was even slower, and not friendly, which is a really bad combo. Although the buffet offers a bunch of food stations and choices, the quality is mediocre. The kicker was they serve three kinds of juices--cranberry, apple, and orange--and there was nothing fresh about them. The other let down were the hotel elevators. They are super SLOW during peak times and stop at every floor.
The first day for lunch we went to one of the islandís two Poop Deck restaurants (website). We went to the one near our hotel in Sandy Port (a seven-minute drive); the other one is in Yacht Haven Marina. Both offer casual waterfront dining and fresh seafood. Of course, I tried their famous Conch Fritters ($7.75), which are a Bahamian favorite with chunks of conch mixed with island herbs and spices, fried in a fritter batter and served with homemade Island Calypso Sauce. Everyone raved about their seafood, and I enjoyed my BBQ chicken with fried plantains, rice with peas, coleslaw, and a Miami Vice mocktail. And of course I appreciated the friendly, attentive service.
LYNDEN PINDLING AIRPORT TERMINAL
The sole reason I was in Nassau was to attend the Lynden Pindling Airport International Terminal gala opening. The newly completed project, which is only for departing flights to America, is set to open March 16, and is the first of three stages in the $409.5 million investment. From my brief preview, it looks like a winner. Stage two will begin next month and will consist of the complete renovation of the current U.S terminal, to serve as the new U.S. and international arrivals terminal. Stage 3 will be the construction of a new 112,000-square-foot domestic arrivals and departures terminal, as well as an international departures terminal at the location of the existing international arrivals hall. When itís all done, the airport will be able to double its capacity and serve more than five million passengers annually.
DID YOU KNOW: The name of the airport is in honor of The Right Honorable Sir Lynden Oscar Pindling (March 22, 1930, to August 25, 2000), the first Prime Minister of The Commonwealth of the Bahamas.
AIRPORT GRAND OPENINNG GALA
The new airport is the work of YVR Airport Services Ltd. They are the Vancouver-based company responsible for the Vancouver Airport (YVR) and were hired to manage, operate, and redevelop the new Nassau (NAS) airport. If you have been to YVR, then you know how fantastic that airport is, and this one appears to be following suit. The cocktail portion was in the check-in area and it was quite dark to give it a party atmosphere, so I couldnít get a feel or any good photos. However, after the speeches by the VIPs, including the prime minister, all 1,500 guests were invited upstairs to the departure area, which was amazing. Itís a hundred times better than Nassauís current airport, and there will be plenty of places for passengers to shop, eat, drink, and pass time.
While hitting one of the food stations near a JetBlue gate, I spotted Dave Barger, the airlineís CEO. How fitting. So of course, I went over to talk to him and his colleagues. Heís a friendly guy and very approachable. When I told him I just came in from L.A., he asked what I thought about JetBlue having a nonstop flight from LAX to Nassau. I said it wouldíve made my trip a lot easier and quicker, but I donít think it could sustain itself unless Nassau developed more Caribbean flights to make it a jumping-off point. Or the island needs to start offering cruises to begin and end in Nassau; right now they just have Bahamas-only cruises that originate and terminate in Florida.
LENNY KRAVITZ CONCERT
The highlight of the night, besides being one of the first people to see the new terminal, was to be treated to a private and surprise concert by Lenny Kravitz. Lenny lives in the Bahamas (on Eleuthera) and his appearance was kept quiet to surprise the crowd. What was nice about is that most guests had left by the time he went on (11:15), so probably only a fifth of them were still there. Yeah, I bet the ones who left were bummed. I couldíve gotten closer, but I stayed about ten feet away to get some great photos. One thing is for sure: Lenny Kravitz is a cool dude and a great performer.
The following day, while most people were lying on a beach, I was sitting in a board room learning about Baha Mar. I thought it was going to be torture until I realized what a huge development this is. In fact, itís a $3.4 billion investment thanks to the Chinese. The 1,000-acre project began last month and it will include a collection of renowned brands offering high levels of luxury, amenities, and service. Baha Mar will have a total of 2,250 new rooms within four new hotels. So far they have Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, Morgans Hotel Group, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, and are currently looking for a world-class casino hotel partner since Harrahís pulled out. Baha Mar will also have the largest convention center in the Bahamas, with 200,000 square feet of space, which will also double as a world-class entertainment venue and sports arena. The Baha Marís casino will be 100,000 square feet, making it the largest in the Caribbean. They will also have a 50,000-square-foot retail village with upscale shopping, Bahamian arts and crafts, and chef-branded restaurants. They also are putting in a 20-acre eco water park; three spas, including the largest spa in the Caribbean; and finally an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Course. The whole thing is slated to open in late 2014. For more info, including the number of jobs created, see BahaMar.com.
NASSAU DOWNTOWN REVITILIZATION
The other major project on Nassau is the Downtown Nassau Partnership. Itís looking to re-create the whole downtown experience and bring in boutique hotels, retailers, restaurants, and also have residential areas. For more see DowntownNassau.org
Since it opened in 1998, Iíve always wanted to go to Atlantis, a resort on Paradise Island featuring a 200-million-gallon water park. I really wanted to go down one of the four waterslides, but it wasnít going to happen this trip. The closest I got was touring around the lobby. To get there requires crossing a bridge either by foot or car ($2 toll). I must say, in my brief and limited time there, I was heavily disappointed. I felt like I was in a cheesy Las Vegas. Maybe itís because I didnít get to see all of it, but who knows. TIP: I learned a great money-saving tip from Mr. Simms. If you donít want to pay the high price of Atlantisís hotel rooms or buy a day pass to the water park for $150, stay at the nearby and significantly cheaper Comfort Suites, which grants guests all access.
DID YOU KNOW: It's illegal for locals and residents to gamble in the Bahamas.
The most relaxing
thing we did for our 48 hours in the Bahamas was go out on a chartered
for a three-hour tour. Our hosts rented the boat Equinox,
(website) one of the many multimillion-dollar yachts available for rent. The Equinox goes for about $6 million new. It has three bedrooms and bathrooms, a living room, kitchen, a bar . . . They normally charter it for a full day, which goes for $5,000 to $6,000 but includes gas, food, drink, and Jet Skis for up to 15 people. We had an amazing time and lunch was delicious (surf and turf). Besides the delicious food, we had a friendly crew and, most of all, incredible views.
BACK TO THE AIRPORT
My flight to Fort Lauderdale was on JetBlue and scheduled for 9:05 a.m. Mr. Simms picked me up at 7, and 10 minutes later I was back at NAS. I was bummed that the new terminal wasnít open, because the old one is in dire straits. The good news is it wasnít busy, with just two people in front of me at the JetBlue ticket counter. There was also no wait at security, which might be why the screener was literally sleeping on the job, but somehow he still flagged my bag as suspicious for all of its electronics. By the way, they have the same security rules as America--no shoes, jackets, or liquids, and computers have to come out. Whatís really nice is that the United States offers pre-clearance in Nassau (and Freeport), so when you arrive in the United States you are treated like a domestic passenger. There was no line for DHS, and the agents behind the glass walls were friendly, as were some of the airport concession-stand workers I talked to, who all canít wait for the new terminal to open. Me, too.
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