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When It Really Is Better in the Bahamas

The Bahamas

By Colin F. Boyle

You've heard it before: "It's better in the Bahamas!"

Well, it's true. Sort of.

It is often better in the Bahamas, better than anywhere you can imagine. But the Bahamas--especially Nassau--can sometimes seem more like small islands filled with seedy neighborhoods and suspicious-looking men than a tropical paradise.

Most Bahamians are very friendly folks, much nicer to strangers than Americans are. But there are also a few natives who try to get a little too friendly, especially to tourists who flash their cash. Be careful with your money in the Bahamas and try not to go anywhere by yourself at night.

If you can manage that, nothing should get in the way of a perfect spring break vacation.

Nassau has everything you could possibly want for a post-midterm break: scuba diving, windsurfing, parasailing, day-long cruises, casinos, nightclubs, shopping...which is why it also has many thousand of spring breakers from schools across the United States.

Despite the crowds, the Bahamas still have more than enough hidden shoreline for you to find a sunny place to cast your blanket. The beaches downtown are a little more crowded, but they are also within walking distance of stores, hotels and restaurants.

If you want to get away from the beer-guzzling mobs dancing in the sand to Hot, Hot, Hot, a 10-minute bus ride west will bring you to the cable Beach. And if you're willing to brave the crowds, try a short ride and bridge crossing to Paradise Island. No doubt the prettiest spot on the island, it is aptly named: once you get there, you will never want to leave.

The sun's rays are much stronger in the Bahamas, so make sure you bring the right kind of suntan lotion. It is probably a good idea to bring your lotion with you from the U.S., since suntan lotion is VERY expensive in the Bahamas.

In fact, most things are VERY, VERY expensive in the Bahamas. Food. Clothing. Liquor. Luckily, bartering is a common practice, and you can get just about anything you want for less than the written price, with just a little effort.

If you want to hone those bargaining skills, take a trip to the straw market, a two-story open market building in downtown Nassau. There, dozens of Bahamian natives will talk sweetly to you while they braid your hair Bo Derek-style and sell you lots of little straw and wood gadgets that you don't need. At the very least, you'll have fun picking up souvenirs for friends and family back home.

For those who prefer a more glitzy setting, the Bahamas also feature two prominent casinos: one in Cable Beach and one on Paradise Island, both of which will be more than happy to take your money. The Cable Beach casino has $2 blackjack tables in the afternoon, and the Paradise Island casino imports dealers from the British Isles who smile and chat nicely when they give you 21. It doesn't feel so bad to lose money in such pleasant company.

After you tire of the casinos, you'll want to get to the popular nightclubs, and Nassau at night is a wild thing to behold.

In addition to several clubs in the downtown area, Club Waterloo, the most popular night spot, is a 15-minute ride away. Waterloo is an old mansion whose spacious grounds become transformed into possibly the largest singles' bar in the Carribean each evening. The specialty there is the Hurricane, a sweet-tasting drink with a kick stronger than Mr. Ed.

While Nassau's nightlife is legendary, its food is generally nothing to write home about (just try to name a Bahamian culinary specialty.) That's why most spring breakers--afraid of sampling the native fare--will eat exclusively at the local outposts of some more familiar institutions: Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds and, yes, Taco Bell.

The Bahamas do have some good cuisine, though. Ask your cabdrivers about their favorite restaurants, and they'll gladly take you there, and even recommend entrees. Try it, you'll like it.

One last thing to keep in mind. Life in the Bahamas is easy, so the service in stores and restaurants will seem excruciatingly slow at first. As your spring break goes on, however, you will be Bahamianized, and the delay won't seem so bad.

After all, there's no need to rush when you're on vacation in a tropical paradise.

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