Friday, May 8, 2015

Two tickets to Paradise...

That would be Paradise Island, on Nassau Harbor, where we spent the past two nights at the Atlantis Resort's marina (map). At $4 per foot, this is, bar none, the most expensive dockage we've had to date. However, it includes full access to the Atlantis property and amenities.

The sprawling Atlantis resort complex, from sea as we approached. The iconic towers are center, but everything in the photo is Atlantis.

Realizing that Blossom would likely shove off from Palm Cay on Thursday morning, taking advantage of extremely favorable weather, we opted to make the full journey from where we were anchored, in north Eleuthera, all the way to Nassau in a single day on Wednesday.

When I last posted here on Tuesday, we were hunkered down for a huge storm, with high winds, driving rain, and lightning all around us. At least we were protected from heavy seas, and our anchor was well dug-in. But by dinner time, the skies had cleared, the sun came out, and we even dined on the aft deck, although the chair cushions were just a bit damp.

The weather became so pleasant that we contemplated moving the boat to Current Island to get a head start toward Nassau, but with very settled weather forecast for Wednesday we decided it was not worth saving just an hour and a half. Instead we got an early morning start Wednesday, weighing anchor at 7am, with Louise spending just a few minutes on the bow looking for corals before we were in deep water.

We did pass a couple of thunderstorm cells close aboard after leaving Eleuthera.

We kept to the bank, which is deep in the bight of Eleuthera, all the way to Douglas Cut, where we went outside into the Northeast Providence Channel just to avoid having to keep a sharp watch for coral heads in the waters east of New Providence. That had us entering Nassau Harbor through the main ship channel, where we had to be cleared to pass by Harbor Control.

At Douglas Cut we found this sand barge awash. A tug, barge, and excavator were working on it.

As I have written here before, we actually enjoy the hustle and bustle of a busy commercial port, and we enjoyed cruising up the channel and past the cruise port, where three giant cruise liners were docked when we arrived. We made great time, turning in to the marina's channel just after 3pm. By 3:15 we were tied up alongside.

Coming into the harbor, with Royal Caribbean, Norweigan, and Carnival liners in port.

The long 8+ hour run gave us a chance to fully charge our battery bank and top up the water tank. While we would have done neither of those things en route to a US marina, here in the Bahamas both power, at $0.65/kWh, and water, at upwards of $0.10/gallon, are more expensive at marinas than when we make them ourselves. So coming in with full batteries and a full water tank was prudent, even though, ironically, this is the first power outlet (and water spigot) we've seen since Florida.

We also emptied our waste en route, when we were outside the 3-mile limit, but the marina offers pumpouts included in the slip fees, so we did that, too,  this morning, in the hopes that it might clear our partially obstructed vent. By the time we checked out mid-day, we had used just 20 kWh of power for a charge of $13, and never even connected a water hose.

After we got settled in at the marina, we dressed for dinner, shuttled over to the marina office, and got a taxi across the island to Palm Cay, where Martin and Steph hosted us for dinner aboard Blossom. Steph's mom arrived earlier in the day from Myrtle Beach, and the five of us had a nice meal and enjoyed catching up. It was hard to say goodbye at the end of the evening; we've been hanging out and/or cruising with them for over a year now, and we are now heading our separate ways. It is unlikely we will see Blossom again until after her seasonal layup.

Yesterday we had a fantastic day at Atlantis. It's hard to describe this over-the-top place, but a close approximation is a cross between Bellagio and Disney World. A huge portion of the grounds is dedicated to a water park, not unlike Disney's Blizzard Beach or maybe Schlitterbahn. Still more of the grounds are sprinkled with massive marine-life exhibits, sort of a Bahamian version of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, complete with Plexiglas pedestrian tunnels underwater, through which sharks and rays can be seen swimming above. In a bizarre intersection of these two worlds, there are even a couple of water slides that incorporate Plexiglas tunnels through shark-filled aquarium tanks.

Access to the water park and aquarium exhibits is complimentary for hotel and marina guests, but costs ~$125pp for others. Among the "others" would be hundreds of cruise-ship passengers, where a day at Atlantis is apparently one of the on-board tour options. Even with all the cruise guests, the resort is now so empty that we had no wait at any of the slides or other attractions.

We spent nearly the whole day at the water park and wandering the aquarium tanks. Besides the water features, we also swam in two of perhaps a dozen or more pools. I could see how it would be easy to spend a comfortable week here. We also briefly walked through the casino and looked at the dining and night life venues, and we'd partake of those on a longer stay as well.

Our slip fees would admit as many as eight to all of these attractions, and we noted that many boats in the marina had more guests aboard. This will be a great place to return when we have family or friends aboard, where the $200+ per night dockage is getting more people into the park.

We briefly contemplated extending our stay one night, but Louise had enough walking for a while just with the one day, and neither the casino nor the over-priced eateries call us that loudly, so we opted to shove off today. We did not even eat on-property last night, opting instead to walk across the street to Anthony's Grill in the small shopping plaza on the island. The shops include a small grocery and a liquor store.

I should mention here that we opted for the "cheap seats," a set of ten slips closest to the harbor entrance that sell for $4 per foot. These slips will accommodate boats up to 65' or so in length and 20' beam, with 50' long concrete finger piers. They are a loooong way from the office, the "marina village," and the rest of the resort, although marina staff are happy to come get you in a golf cart during office hours (7a-9p). A bit closer the slips go for $4.50 per foot and can fit some larger boats, and the closest slips, some of which can accommodate 200' megayachts, sell for $7 per foot.

We got a ride to the casino/water park in the morning from the marina staff in a golf cart. Getting back at the end of the day proved to be more of a challenge, and we gave up waiting for the cart in favor of getting on one of the resort's many shuttle buses, this one heading to the "Harbourside Resort." This part of the property happens to be adjacent to our slip, and it was a short walk from their lobby to our boat. When we got off the bus we noticed they had a "grocery shuttle" every morning at 10am.

The Harbourside is Atlantis' time-share property -- every unit has a full kitchen, and the only restaurant at this property is a casual-fare open-air operation just a few feet from our slip called "The Point." We had breakfast there both days -- it's on the master POS system and we could charge it to our "room" card. There's also a large pool, but our access to that was unclear. Knowing their guests are flying in, usually without groceries, they arranged with a local tour company for this daily grocery run.

We walked over this morning at 10am, and for $7 per person we got a round-trip ride to the shopping center across the harbor in Nassau, with the nicest grocery store in all the Bahamas. The selection and freshness rivaled, say, a Publix or a Safeway stateside, albeit about half the size or less of those stores. Still, it was nice to finally see a real supermarket after nearly three months, even if prices were generally treble what you'd find in the states.

Extending our trip is pushing us to the end of our beer supply, so I also walked across the parking lot to the liquor store for a case (24 cans) of Bahamian "Kalik" beer at $44. While that sounds like a lot for what amounts to Bahamian Budweiser, less than $2 per can is a bargain here, where we typically pay $5-$6 per can or bottle when we order one in a bar (and $7 apiece at Atlantis). While there I picked up another Bahamian rum, a coconut-flavored Ole Nassau, for $14 per liter, the only bargain in all the Bahamas (in Georgetown I bought the dark version, but we've gone through a half liter already).

Wait, what county am I in?

Wandering the parking lot I found a Dairy Queen, a Dominos, a CVS, and a Mailboxes Etc., all of which reinforce the notion that Nassau is not really in the Bahamas, but more an adjunct of South Florida. Certainly the pools, fountains, and other water features at Atlantis belie the fact that we are in a desert with no fresh water, and the hotel restaurants and shops, including the sundries, rival what you'd see at Bellagio or the Wynn in Las Vegas.

Could be our next address...

Not sure if the Bahamians shop here or not.

Official checkout is 11am, and I knew the shopping shuttle would get us back after that, so we asked for a late departure. They told us we needed to be out by 1pm or pay another half-day dockage. So after we returned from the store we prepped the boat and got under way, shoving off just after noon.

It's a six-hour trip from Nassau to Chub Cay, our next stop en route to Bimini, so we came just an hour or so west of Nassau Harbor to where we are tonight, Delaport Bay (map). This area is very exposed to the Northeast Providence Channel, and would be a poor anchorage in anything but settled weather, but today things are very calm here. A bit of swell rolled us gently most of the afternoon, but it is even calmer now, and we should be out of here before it picks up again tomorrow.

While the Atlantis marina and parts of the harbor were a bit murky, we are once again in crystal-clear water, and we can see every blade of grass on the bottom some 18' below us. After a nice dinner we both jumped in for a swim, sending the 3,000 minnows that had surrounded the boat scattering in every direction. We are the only boat here, in view of perhaps a dozen resort hotels, including the upscale Baha Mar casino/hotel/condo complex, and Sandals.

Tomorrow we will chug across the Tongue of the Ocean to Chub Cay, the southernmost of the Berry Islands. Beyond that, there is no plan other than to be in Bimini in another week. We have no other schedule, and are mostly now just looking forward to seeing our good friends Mary and Mark, who so graciously hosted us at their place three years ago. We've been looking for the opportunity to return the favor ever since.

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