Bahamas Boom is On in Nassau as Recovery Continues in Sister Islands
Atlantis and Baha Mar, the two megaresorts in Nassau,
Bahamas, have been heated rivals since the latter, a multibillion-dollar resort, opened in 2017. Newer, with trendier hotel brands (Grand Hyatt, SLS, Rosewood), and a larger casino, Baha Mar quickly became the hottest destination in the Bahamas, but Atlantis retained a few trump cards of its own, notably the family friendly attraction of Aquaventure, the finest and largest water park in the Caribbean.
But maybe not for much longer.
Baha Mar recently announced that it will add new waterpark, Baha Mar Bay, slated for a soft opening in March 2020 and to be fully operational in 2021. Rising along the beachfront on the western end of the resort property, the Baha Mar Bay park will feature a dozen water slides, a lazy river ride, and a surfing attraction; already open is the companion Baha Bay Beach Club, anchored by the open-air 25° North restaurant along with infinity pools, lounge areas, hammocks, daybeds, and cabanas.
Also underway as part of an announced $300-million renovation project is a major upgrade of the Melia Nassau Beach resort, which when completed in 2022 will allow the Melia to be marketed alongside the complex’s other three hotel properties.
Baha Mar is spending $18 million to convert Long Key, just offshore of Nassau Beach, into a private day club for resort guests – a project expected to be completed later this year. The resort, already home to celebrity chef restaurants like butcher Dario Cecchini’s Carna steakhouse, master sushi chef Katsuya Uechi’s Katsuya, and Marcus Samuelsson’s Streetbird, will also host the inaugural Bahamas Culinary & Arts Festival from April 30-May 3, 2020, featuring these and other top chefs.
Major Improvements Coming to Nassau’s Downtown and Port
And that’s just one resort: Nassau as a whole is poised for a major rejuvenation, with the opening of a new Margaritaville Beach Resort slated to open at the mixed-use Pointe development downtown this year, and a redevelopment of the Port of Nassau, a $250-million project slated for completion in 2022. The latter will include a new cruise port, a museum highlighting the cultural history of the Bahamas’ annual Junkanoo celebration, a tram system to transport cruise passengers from the docks to town, and new berths to accommodate the largest class of cruise ships now at sea.
Currently a port where cruise passengers are sometimes advised to remain onboard, Nassau “will be one of the most incredible destinations of any Caribbean port,” said Joy Jibrilu, director general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, at the Caribbean Travel Marketplace meeting held in January 2020 at Baha Mar.
Among those enjoying the new port facilities will be passengers aboard the two ships operated by the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, which last fall launched two, four, and six-night Cruise and Stay programs on cruises from West Palm Beach, Florida, to Grand Bahama Island and Nassau. Participating resorts include the Atlantis, SLS Baha Mar, Melia Nassau Beach, the Comfort Suites Paradise Island, and the Wyndham Fortuna Beach, Grand Lucayan, Pelican Bay, and Taino Beach Resort on Grand Bahama.
Bruised But Not Broken, the Bahamas are “Still Rockin”
At the Caribbean Travel Marketplace meeting, Bahamian tourism officials unveiled a new brand campaign, ”Still Rockin,” featuring musician Lenny Kravitz and a nod to the country’s recovery from the devastation wrought on several Bahamian islands by 2019’s Hurricane Dorian.
The powerful storm caused major damage to the Abaco islands and Grand Bahama, although it left most of the far-flung Bahamas archipelago unscathed. Four months after sustaining a direct hit from the most powerful hurricane ever to hit the Bahamas, most of the hotels and restaurants on Grand Bahama Island have reopened, as has the island’s cruise port, although significant damage remains on the island’s east end.
As for the Abacos, only South Abaco has recovered enough to reliably welcome visitors, whereas Marsh Harbour and the island of Great Abaco sustained an estimated $4 billion (and many lives lost) in the storm. “The Abacos continue to be a sad story, and it’s a long road ahead,” acknowledged Jibrilu.
Despite a drop-off in visitor arrivals and forward bookings in the wake of the storm – fed in part by inaccurate reports that the entirety of the Bahamas had been devastated by Dorian – the destination still managed to have the highest number of stopover visitors ever in 2019, welcoming a total of 1.78 million people to the islands of the Bahamas.
“We were on course for a record-breaking year before Dorian, and while the storm dealt us a blow it didn’t knock us out,” said Jibrilu. Total visitors to the Bahamas, including cruise passengers, exceeded 7 million for the first time in 2019, reported Bahamas Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.
“This is a tremendous accomplishment, particularly in light of the challenging year we, as a country, just endured,” he said.
Bahamian tourism officials remain optimistic that those numbers will continue to rise with the new hotel product coming online in 2020 as well as an increase in Nassau-bound airlift that includes a second daily JetBlue flight from Boston, new Southwest flights from Houston, and a new United Airlines nonstop from Denver, the latter two operating weekly on Saturdays. “This opens up the West Coast of the U.S. to the Bahamas,” said Jibrilu.