Interested in a tropical island for a multigenerational vacation? Whatever is on your family’s must-do list, Nassau/Paradise Island in the Bahamas will deliver. Nassau, with its iconic pink buildings, is the busy capital; Paradise Island, just across the bridge, is where everyone goes to play. And then there are fun excursions to the Out Islands. Have you ever seen swimming pigs? Had stingrays nibble from your hands? Let the grandkids help plan the itinerary and they are guaranteed to lead you in some memorable and unexpected directions.
Here are great options guaranteed to please the whole family.
Nonstop fun for kids: Atlantis
Take your pick of blockbuster experiences at Atlantis Paradise Island Bahamas Resort (day passes are available), starting with interactions with sea lions, stingrays and dolphins, or snorkeling amid the sunken ruins of the recreated lost city of Atlantis. Aquaventure, the resort’s 141-acre waterpark, features high-speed waterslides, a mile-long river ride, 20 swimming areas, 11 pools and a terrific kids water-play fort. The “ruins” showcase a giant marine habitat with more than 50,000 aquatic animals — everything from sharks to eels to barracuda. There are also organized kids’ and teen activities, including cooking classes and a teen-only nightclub. In other words, kids nirvana.
A tip: You may score a good deal by getting a room for your stay or a day at the Comfort Suites next door, as it offers full use of Atlantis facilities.
For chocolate and cigar lovers
At the historic Graycliff Hotel in old Nassau, once a colonial mansion famous for its tropical gardens, learn to make your own chocolates from a master chocolatier after seeing the process from cocoa bean to chocolate at the Graycliff: The Art of Chocolate and Factory Tour. The adults in your group may enjoy taking a cigar-rolling lesson with the master rollers at the Graycliff Cigar Company, a cooking class with the executive chef, wine tasting in Graycliff’s extensive, award-winning wine cellar or a five-star Bahamian dinner.
Take selfies with dancing flamingos
Watch pink flamingos march in sequence — yes, really! — at the Ardastra Gardens, Zoo & Conservation Centre. The Bahamas has the largest breeding population of West Indian flamingos in the world. You can also enter the lory parrot exhibit during feeding times and let them eat an apple piece from your hand. There are green iguanas, tortoises, snakes and more.
A history lesson the kids will love
At Nassau’s historic 18th-century forts, the sea views can’t be beat. Kids can climb on old cannons or walk into a dungeon. Fort Charlotte, a short walk from downtown Nassau and the cruise ship terminal, is the largest of the three forts, complete with drawbridge, dry moat and historic reenactments with cannon firings that typically are held Mondays and Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. If you’re game, you can climb the 66-step Queen’s Staircase carved by slaves to Fort Fincastle at the top of Bennet’s Hill, the highest point in Nassau. The oldest fort, Fort Montagu, is most famous for being the place where the U.S. Marine Corps first saw action: In 1776 they were sent to capture British gunpowder. Though the gunpowder was elsewhere, the Americans captured the fort. With the backdrop of Nassau Harbour, this is a great spot for that family holiday photo. Tours are available at both Fincastle and Montagu.
Time travel back to 1716 during the Golden Age of Piracy at the Pirates of Nassau museum. Nassau was headquarters and home to the most infamous pirates of that era. There are interactive exhibits on everything from women pirates to Blackbeard. Ask the kids to imagine what they would do when their embattled ship was boarded on the high seas. Snap their picture in the stocks. Before you leave, check out the outdoor conch salad stand where you can watch the chef slice and dice.
Get ready to bargain
The famous Straw Market in the middle of Nassau’s Bay Street is the place to find everything from straw purses that can be embroidered on the spot with your granddaughter’s name to baskets, hats, shell necklaces, wood carvings, local hot sauce and more. Originally, the baskets were used to carry fruit and fishing traps; when tourists began to visit after World War II, the Straw Market became the go-to place for souvenirs. You’ll also find craft markets elsewhere, including the Bahamas Craft Centre on Paradise Island where, if you are lucky, you can watch artisans at work. At the Straw Market, it’s fine to bargain, but bring cash — no credit cards are accepted.
Explore Bahamian culture through local eats
Ready for some fried fish? Arawak Cay, famous for its traditional fish fry, is the place to sample local foods with vendors selling everything from conch chowder, fritters and salad to Bahamian fried snapper, grouper fingers, peas 'n’ rice, fried plantains and more. Encourage the kids to try something new. Come on Sunday nights when locals go for music as well as food. Another option with junior gourmands is to take a tour with a company like Tru Bahamian Food Tours, which takes you off the tourist track in downtown Nassau as you sample authentic local eats and learn some history — one bite at a time.
Commune with the fish
If scuba diving is on your bucket list, the Bahamas is an excellent bet. Family members can complete a PADI course before leaving home (kids can get certified at age 10) and do their certifying dives in the warm Caribbean waters with a professional dive shop like Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahama. You can sign on for a Discover Scuba lesson to see if the sport is for you. On the outer Abaco Island of Green Turtle Cay (30 minutes by flight from Nassau), Brendal’s Dive Center has been teaching vacationers to dive since 1985. Snorkeling more your speed? There are varieties of trips, whether you want to explore a coral reef or a sunken wreck or just swim among a kaleidoscope of tropical fish.
Your own island escape
Take a day trip to Blue Lagoon Island, just three miles from Paradise Island, where you can kayak, snorkel, swim with sea lions and dolphins, and revel in the white-sand beach. Take the ferry to uninhabited Rose Island, 15 minutes from Nassau, and spend the day at Sandy Toes, a gorgeous private beach. Splurge on a powerboat trip with Exuma Escapes to a private island in the Exuma chain or spend the day island hopping, shelling on one beautiful beach, swimming with wild pigs or feeding stingrays on others. Kids can snorkel or take a walk in knee-deep sand bars, where they’ll see live conch, starfish, sand dollars and more. Companies like Bahamas Adventure Tours offer many options: Rent your own boat or arrange for a charter captain to show your family some of his favorite spots to fish, snorkel and have a beach picnic.