Nassau, the capital of the 700-island chain of the Bahamas, is a popular port of call on Caribbean and Bahamas cruise itineraries departing from Florida ports. It is easily explored independently on foot or via horse-drawn carriage tours, as the cruise ship pier, Prince George Wharf, is steps from downtown and the starting point of the horse drawn carriages.
Situated on New Providence Island, Nassau has been luring visitors with its sheltered harbor for centuries. Ever since Columbus stumbled upon nearby San Salvador in 1492, there have been visitors from all walks of life: from pirates and buccaneers in the 17th century, to blockade runners from the Confederacy during the American Civil War. In more recent times, Nassau's charms have beckoned the rich and famous--including royalty like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in the 1940s and Anna Nicole Smith in 2006.
Modern-day cruise ship passengers--more than one million cruisers come to Nassau each year--find pink, colonial style government buildings; the duty-free shops of Bay Street, Nassau's main street, selling British woolens and china, Irish linens, and other imported goods, including watches, designer bags crystal, cameras and perfume; a colorful straw market for local souvenirs (also on Bay Street). Other attractions include fortresses; casinos and particularly spectacular white-sand beaches with clear, aquamarine waters on Paradise Island and Cable Beach, among others--all a big part of Nassau's allure.
A good place to start sightseeing in Nassau is Rawson Square, a shady, pleasant plaza just a short stroll from Prince George Wharf, in the heart of the city's commercial section. Must-sees include the Queen's Staircase with 66 limestone steps, commemorating the years of Queen Victoria's reign and Fort Fincastle, near the top of the Queen's Staircase. Shaped like the bow of a ship, this 18th century fort offers great views of the island and sea. Government House, a pink and white mansion on Duke and George Streets, is the residence of the governors of the Bahamas, representatives of the queen since 1801. Parliament Square, on Bay Street, is another point of interest, with a statue of Queen Victoria and pink, colonnaded 18th century government buildings including the Bahamian Parliament.
The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas on West and West Hill Streets, features the works of local artists; the Junkanoo Expo, on Prince George Wharf displays hand-crafted costumes and floats used in the annual Junkanoo Celebration (on Boxing Day, Dec. 26); and Pirates of Nassau, on George and King Streets, is an interactive museum offering the opportunity to board a pirate ship and view dioramas of famous pirates, like Blackbeard, who played a role in Nassau's past.
Popular shore excursions sold onboard ships include day privileges at the Atlantis mega-resort on Paradise Island, across the bridge from Nassau. The resort offers a 141-acre water park featuring more than 20 million gallons of water, with multiple slides, a mile-long river ride with rapids and waves, a kids' water play fort and more.
Enjoying local flavors perhaps a lunch, snack or dinner, if the ship stays in port into the evening--is another popular pastime enjoyed by cruise passengers visiting Nassau. Fresh fish and seafood (including conch, snapper and grouper) are excellent. A variety of restaurants is available serving continental cuisine and ethnic specialties including Chinese. Indian, French, Greek, and of course, Bahamian.
Would-be cruise passengers contemplating a voyage to Nassau have many lines to choose from including Celebration, Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Disney, Holland America, MSC, Norwegian, Princess, Regent Seven Seas and Royal Caribbean.
IF YOU GO: For additional information on Nassau, visit www.bahamas.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun