The Bahamas: An ultra-popular destination for travelers seeking sun, sand and sea. This is (partially) why two girlfriends and I decided to head here for a long weekend in late February to celebrate someone’s 30th.
I promise that headline wasn’t clickbait. I’ve got words for The Bahamas. I–nor the friends I went with–never feel the need to return to this, frankly lackluster, destination.
If it weren’t for the fabulous girlfriends I went with, I would have changed my flight to return home the next day.
Yes, it was that bad.
If you’re wanting all the things The Bahamas are famous for: Sun, sand and sea… Let me assure you, there are many destinations that will provide a better experience for less…. Less hassle, less stress, less money…. Or at least, far better value for your money.
The goal of this blog is to help you avoid the travel mistakes I make. I want to inspire you to travel, get uncomfortable, go outside your comfort zone, explore this big, beautiful world.
While I won’t say visiting The Bahamas itself was a mistake, it certainly wasn’t our first (nor second, third, fourth, or even fifth) choice and we decided to go here simply because the airfare rates were so much lower than anywhere else in the Caribbean.
That was our first mistake: We should’ve waited to go somewhere we really wanted to, or just spent more on the airfare. The Bahamas is not cheap and it’s not like we really saved that much money after all we had to spend on everything else!
Many of these poor experiences were anticipated but The Bahamas still managed to disappoint us.
I’ll share with you the brutal truth and what no one tells you about The Bahamas. But don’t worry, it won’t all be dreary. I’ll also share our highlights of our trip and what we did enjoy, because it certainly wasn’t all bad!
A weekend in The Bahamas can easily cost as much as a weekend in New York City.
Yes, you read that right!
The destination being expensive wasn’t a surprise to me in and of itself.
I’m sure most readers can agree with me in having no problem paying more for better services, products or an incredibly beautiful destination.
After all, it is an island, meaning nearly everything needs to be imported.
It’s also an extremely popular tourist destination which means price gouging.
What I was shocked by was the value. You’re paying more for poor service, and mediocre product(s) at best.
Here’s what they don’t tell you: The VAT (value added tax–a whopping 12%) AND 15% gratuity is included on every bill you receive. Moreover, the VAT is in your subtotal. Meaning the 15% gratuity is including that VAT as part of your total. This cost seriously adds up especially when purchasing food & drink.
But no matter how hard we tried, how nice we were, or how far off the beaten path we tried to go, the service was rude, slow and inattentive and the drinks/food were mediocre at best.
To save on costs, I’d recommend booking an AirBNB and grocery shopping so you can cook as many meals as possible. If you aren’t comfortable with an AirBNB, definitely make sure your hotel includes free breakfast. The cost of 3 meals a day here can be staggering–and that’s coming from a city girl!
Here are some examples of what you should expect to pay for certain items:
- Cocktail: $12-$25
- Large bottle of water: $7
- Lunch: $25-$35
- Taxi: $15 & up (we were charged $15 for a 1 mile ride & that was after haggling)
Some of those seem reasonable right? Don’t forget: That’s before the VAT & 15% gratuity!
You will also need to pay for water basically everywhere you go. The tap water is “safe” but after trying to fill my own bottle, I noticed lots of nasty things floating in it and it tasted awful. We realized we’re just going to have to pay for it. Our hotel also conveniently forgot to provide the bottles that should have already been in our room. Our first example of the poor service we would experience the entire trip.
Forget about trying to get a waiter to fill your bottle with the filtered water. Customer service is almost nonexistent here it seems.
The bottom line: A weekend in The Bahamas, can easily cost hundreds or thousands of dollars–depending on where you stay–and your experience will likely be subpar.
What surprised me the most about The Bahamas was the general rudeness and lack of hospitality.
I love the Caribbean for many reasons; Warm waters, pristine beaches, excellent weather, and the kindest, warmest, most hospitable people I’ve met.
The Bahamas is definitely the exception to this.
Most people in the service industry here were rude and/or inattentive. Even if our restaurant or bar was nearly empty, it would take an hour sometimes for waiters to return to our table. Items would be forgotten, we’d be charged for other people’s tabs, the list could go on and on, but I’ll spare you.
It’s understandable that mistakes happen, but the way these mistakes were handled were appalling. Rarely would anyone apologize. If we asked for anything, even just another drink, we were treated as if we hadn’t asked for a drink, but instead their first born child.
I will be fair in saying, this wasn’t everyone we encountered. Our shuttle company was amazing; Punctual, kind and safe! If you do go to Nassau, I can’t recommend this gentleman’s company enough. He’s a small operation and everyone on his team is so passionate about their country. The price is also outstanding! By far, one of the best values for a round trip airport shuttle I’ve ever used in any country I’ve been to.
The snorkeling company we toured with–Stuart’s Cove–was also outstanding. One of the guides on this tour, Brittany, was particularly lovely and I discuss her more below.
Aside from those exceptions, the experience with service people and the locals in general, was quite sour.
We were harassed and yelled at walking down the street. Local men made crude remarks as we walked by, and street vendors harangued us to buy their hokey souvenirs. When we kept walking and ignored them, we’d be cussed at.
By the time we got to our final day, we were exhausted and highly irritated with the experience. We were actually thankful we had only booked 3 nights here, rather than a longer stay.
Being seasoned travelers, the ladies and I all anticipated many of the above complaints… Though not to the extent they actually turned out to be.
We thought since we were just coming for a shameless beach vacay, we could deal.
Luckily for us, not only did our hotel have its own, private beach… We were also located directly next to Junkanoo Beach… one of “the best beaches in The Bahamas,” according to several online articles.
I’ll just say, if this was one of the best beaches The Bahamas has to offer, I’m concerned about the others.
I’ll be brief with this: It’s not even safe to walk on this beach because there’s so much broken glass and garbage in the sand.
… But it does make for a great Instagram spot if you get creative.
It’s a fun place to go for your gratuitous touristy cocktails in pineapples or coconuts and a quick bite to eat.
Just remember that here you’ll also experience extremely slow and inattentive service except with the added bonus of deafening club music bumping from several speakers as well as cigarette and cigar smoke no matter where you sit.
Our saving grace was the private beach at our hotel; The British Colonial Hilton.
Even though the view from our beach wasn’t the best (the hotel is located next to a cruise ship port), the beach was lovely, clean and we didn’t have to pay to use the loungers or cabanas (unlike all the public beaches where those same luxuries run upwards of $30).
One thing I will say, however: The water is as beautiful as we imagined. So many glorious shades of blue & turquoise, you’d think it was fake!
While these experiences left a sour taste in my mouth, it certainly wasn’t ALL bad. There were a few highlights from our trip that we absolutely did not regret…
This point is actually a little bit of a highlight and a disappointment. It very much depends on where you go.
The food at our hotel was disappointing and overpriced for the most part (except for the breakfast). When we ordered the happy hour “nachos,” we were served tortilla chips out of a bag and microwaved cheese to dip them in.
But the FRIES! Let me tell you about the fries…
The Bahamas is famous for many things, and french fries honest-to-god needs to be one of them!
Not only our hotel, but every single place we went served the most perfectly cooked, hot ‘n ready fries. At a certain point, we just started ordering fries everywhere we went.
We even stopped by McDonald’s on the last day to see if their fries were just as good and yes, yes they were!
I can’t believe it didn’t cross my mind to take pictures to share but honestly, they were inhaled as soon as they touched our table.
Trust me, when in The Bahamas, ORDER THE FRIES!
Of course, when in The Bahamas you should also order seafood. Our best meal was at a place called Fish Central at the Fish Fry.
The Fish Fry is a long cluster of restaurants and bars along the beach at Arawak Cay. We wandered over here after visiting the Ardastra Zoo & Conservation Centre.
A gentleman from Fish Central enticed us with free Wi-Fi & Bahama Mama cocktails. (1st is free, only).
While the service here was lackluster, the food was divine. We ordered 2 lunch platters to share; One with a whole snapper & fried shrimp, the other with jerk chicken. Wow, it was delicious! Our plates were nearly cleaned.
We also found it to be an excellent value since each platter could easily feed 2 people and they were priced around $25. Additional cocktails were $8 (some of the cheapest we found).
Aside from these, the common theme of our food was: Overcooked and uninspired.
For our last dinner, we picked a (more expensive) Italian restaurant called Luciano’s and boy, did this disappoint!
We ordered the fettuccine alfredo ($22), cheese ravioli ($28) and steak ($32). For a starter, we ordered the Tuscan White Bean & Proscuitto Bruschetta ($15).
While the pastas were okay, the steak (ordered medium) came out very well done and the Bruschetta was literally beans from a can and bacon bits thrown on some bread, sans sauce.
Much to our surprise, the restaurant actually provided a complimentary dessert for our friend Anna’s birthday.
We fully expected to be charged for this. Yes, the service and price gouging was *that* bad.
The cost for a taxi to and from this restaurant that was 1 mile from our hotel: $15 there and $17 back! The cherry on top, our returning taxi driver had an open wine bottle with him in the front seat, was on the phone and when he dropped the phone, started swerving erratically as he attempted to search for it.
Originally, we had not planned to visit the Ardastra Gardens, Zoo & Conservation Centre where these beauties roam but we decided to after the most significant bummer of our trip: the cancellation of our day trip to Rose Island with Harbour Safaris.
The company was really nice & has excellent customer service. If you’re ever in Nassau, I can’t recommend them highly enough. Unfortunately, the waters just weren’t safe and no one was going anywhere that day.
So with a full day and no plans, we began our Google frenzy over breakfast and decided to start at the Ardastra Conservation Centre. The entree fee is $16, which is high but worth it for the experience to get up close with these animals.
This may have been one of our favorite parts of the entire trip. We arrived at around 10:15 in order to be able to see their march of the Flamingos at 10:30 and feeding the Lory Birds at 11:00.
The Flamingos are stunning in person and oh-so entertaining. They have been trained to follow military commands such as standing attention, right and left face, and forward march. It’s utterly fascinating to watch.
I promise there’s no cruelty involved. The history behind it is quite intriguing and they tell you all about it while there but here’s what they have to say on their TripAdvisor page:
The Ardastra Gardens & Wildlife Conservation Centre is a peaceful 80 year-old retreat spread over 4 acres of lush tropical gardens. Ardastra specializes in bird rescue & rehabilitation, education, preservation of history and conservation of natural resources. Ardastra is home to many native species of plants and animals – including the Bahamas National Bird, the beautiful and exotic Caribbean Flamingo. We are well-known for our animal encounters that allow visitors to get “up close “with some of our residents…. To maximize enjoyment, we also encourage our guests to schedule their visits around our daily Signature Showtimes: 10:30am, 1:30pm or 3:30pm.Source
Once we finished the show, we meandered around a bit waiting for the Lory Bird feeding and were delightfully surprised that the Flamingos roam freely on the zoo grounds. So don’t worry if you’re unable to get there for a marching time!
Along with the Flamingos is a bashful albino Peacock and several other types of fowl. There’s also turtles, raccoons, pigs, capybaras and more!
The staff at Ardastra were entertaining, kind people who really enjoyed what they did. Theirs was more along the lines of the attitudes I’d experienced in other Caribbean destinations: A pride in their culture and local flora, fauna and animals, as well as an eagerness to share that with others.
While The Bahamas certainly isn’t the best snorkeling I’ve ever experienced, it did hold its own.
Unfortunately our highly anticipated day trip to Rose Island was cancelled so we didn’t get to experience snorkeling there, but we were lucky enough to enjoy our tour with Stuart’s Cove which included 3 separate snorkeling stops.
The water was choppy and cold which did introduce some murkiness but the views were still pretty spectacular.
Our first stop was The Sir Nicholas Nuttall Coral Reef Sculpture Garden.
Large underwater sculptures were commissioned here to create a new environmentally friendly tourist attraction in hopes to alleviate stresses on other natural reefs which were suffering due to environmentally damaging tourism.
The statues are breathtaking in person and the fish seem to love them!
Our second stop was to another shallow reef which was said to home several schools of Blue Tangs. Unfortunately, this stop was lackluster and the water was too cold and choppy to stay in longer than 10 minutes.
Our final stop was a complete surprise to us… Swimming with Sharks!
This was a surprise simply because we didn’t thoroughly read the tour description. Whoopsie!
A bait box is dangled below the boat while you and your fellow tour mates hang on to a rope and watch from above.
This is not something I–nor my friends–would have knowingly paid for. We do not agree with feeding wildlife or with the practice of baiting/chumming Shark-infested water.
While the shark diving is not an experience in and of itself I would recommend, we all enjoyed ourselves, and I would recommend the company we went with.
The price simply couldn’t be beat and included hotel transfer. Our boat captain and tour guides were absolutely amazing. They were funny and helpful.
When our friend Anna was trying to muster the courage to jump from the top deck of the boat, our guide Brittany showed her the ropes. She also offered to take my GoPro further down to the sharks and got some incredible footage for me.
I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that I do not recommend The Bahamas if you’re looking for sun, sand and sea.
The Bahamas, and Providence Island/Nassau in particular–are seemingly geared towards families.
But even with children, there are certainly better places you can go for the same cost, if not less.
We were often asked by locals if we had, or planned to, visit Atlantis. The answer was a firm “no.” We were not seeking a resort experience and given that none of us have children, we had no interest in visiting.
The locals were so proud of it and the other resorts though, talking about how big the casinos were, how many pools they had, how large the grounds were, etc. None of which are selling points to us. But if you’re the kind of person that does appeal to, this might be a great destination for you, considering the Baha Mar has the largest casino in all of the Caribbean!
While I truly hoped the title of this article would have been, “How One Weekend Changed My Mind About The Bahamas,” unfortunately, this trip only affirmed my suspicions and even threw me some (not-so-pleasant) surprises!
If you’re looking for a getaway, I have several recommendations depending on your specific wants & needs….
“The Northernmost Caribbean City,” this town is all about FUN and has great weather to boot. While you certainly won’t get your beach and snorkeling fix here, it makes a great place for a girls weekend or a quick, solo jaunt.
Related Article: 3 Day New Orleans Itinerary
Whether you’re traveling with kids, looking for an uber-romantic holiday, or seeking some solo adventure, Hawaii is an excellent destination. Those traveling with a family will particularly enjoy this destination, and if you have the budget for The Bahamas, you probably have the budget for Hawaii.
The best snorkeling in the Caribbean, bar none. Unbelievably cheap (though getting more expensive each year), incredibly friendly locals and divine weather await budget-minded travelers seeking adventure. Added bonus: Similar to The Bahamas, it is a short flight time, if traveling from most US airports.
If you only have a few days, head straight to Caye Caulker and do a snorkeling day trip to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and the Blue Hole.
While I haven’t personally been, friends and coworkers have said they truly enjoyed their time here but never really felt like they were in a foreign land. For some, this is a pro, for others, it’s a con. You’ll find resorts and amazing waters for snorkeling here as well.
If you want bang for your buck, the DR is an excellent (half) island. Another place I haven’t been to myself but a friend that was in The Bahamas with said she really enjoyed her time there and it was everything she wished The Bahamas were: Beautiful waters, warm beaches, great food and excellent service.
San Blas Islands
I’ve got to include this. If you’ve spent any time on my blog, you know I love Central America, and particularly; Panama. These idyllic islands are surely a bit farther and more difficult to get to than The Bahamas, I can assure you, they’re absolutely worth it. After the journey, you arrive to totally pristine beaches, deserted islands and deliriously warm waters. It’s an experience everyone should enjoy at least once.
While it’s not ideal for a weekend getaway, it’s something you should absolutely make time for sooner, rather than later.
If you or someone you know is considering a trip to The Bahamas, pin this for later!