With soft sand beaches and turquoise blue waters so clear you can see the bottom, it is no wonder that Nassau and Paradise Island, Bahamas are top family travel destinations. Whether you visit for a day from your cruise ship or fly in for a longer trip, stop first here for the complete Bahamas guide for first-time visitors. We’ve got everything from where to stay, what to buy, how to get around and a list of the best things to do in the Bahamas with kids (many of them free).
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Visiting the Bahamas
I have visited the Bahamas twice. The first was on a cruise excursion with my family. I was nervous traveling to another country with my kids, and all we did is go on a semi-sub boat and return to the cruise ship.
I recently took a second Bahamas trip by myself and stayed at the Comfort Suites Paradise Island for three nights. My previous fears were unfounded. The Bahamians are warm and friendly, and Nassau and Paradise Island have many activities for families to enjoy.
I look forward to my next trip when I can share the islands with my family and explore all the things I haven’t seen.
Nassau and Paradise Island, Bahamas
Just 179 miles southeast of Florida, Nassau is the capital city of the Bahamas and a favorite stop for cruise lines. Paradise Island is located across the harbor from Nassau and is home to the famous Atlantis Resort.
Things You Need to Know
- Bahamians speak English and are easy to understand.
- Only use official taxis identified by their yellow license plates.
- US currency is accepted everywhere, but you may receive coin change in Bahamian currency.
- Travel with cash and a major credit card. Taxis are cash only, but some hotel bars and snack spots only accept cards or room charges.
- In tourist areas, if someone helps you out – guides you to your location, takes your picture for you, etc. – they will expect a tip.
- Cars drive on the left side of the road. Remember this when you are crossing a street, so you don’t step in front of traffic.
- The Bahamas are pedestrian friendly, and drivers will often stop to yield the right of way to pedestrians.
- Bahamians are friendly and welcoming! Everyone I encountered was happy to engage in conversation and tell me more about their country.
- Many excursions have pickup points both at the cruise terminal and on Paradise Island.
How to Get There
By Cruise Ship
Up to seven cruise ships can dock at Prince George Wharf, which makes it a favorite stop for the major cruise lines. The port does not require tendering, so you will be able to walk off the ship directly onto the dock.
TravelingMom Tip: You will need a passport or ID as well as your cruise ID to return to your cruise ship
Air travelers arrive via the Lynden Pindling International Airport in Nassau. Immigration and customs are quick and easy, but make sure and keep your passport handy for both.
When you exit the airport, there will be taxis ready to take you to your hotel. Taxi drivers don’t use the meters, so ask them to quote the fare to your destination. It should cost about $27 to downtown Nassau and $34 to Paradise Island. Official taxis have yellow license plates.
Where to Stay In the Bahamas
As a top tourist destination, Nassau and Paradise Island have every hotel chain imaginable. Look for hotels that provide amenities for families like free breakfast, suites, pools with a lifeguard, onsite restaurant, etc.
I stayed at the Comfort Suites Paradise Island hotel compliments of Choice Hotels. It was conveniently located to all the tourist activities but also relaxed and away from the hubbub of downtown Nassau. Read Hotel Review: Comfort Suites Paradise Island Hotel to learn more reasons why I recommend this hotel.
Transportation in the Bahamas
The best transportation options are taxis and your feet. Have your taxi drop you off at a centrally-located tourist spot and explore the area by foot.
Renting a car can be a challenge since Bahamians drive on the left side of the road. Also with limited parking, it is easier to take a taxi.
Things to do with Kids on Nassau and Paradise Island
I was in the Bahamas for three nights and the better part of four days. I feel like I barely scratched the surface of all the activities available.
Ardastra Gardens and Zoo
Ardastra Garden, Zoo and Conservation Center is best for families with young children. The biggest attraction is the marching flamingos that perform three times a day. Also, at appointed times guests are allowed to feed apples to the Lory parrots. Mindful TravelingMom Robin Hutson wrote a full review at Indulge in an Unhurried Day in Nassau at Ardastra Gardens and Zoo.
Starting Cost: $18/adult, $9/kids 4-12, Free/kids under 3
Amenities: The zoo has a souvenir shop, restrooms, and limited snacks and drinks. Transportation not included.
Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island is home to 18 water slides, two river rides, eleven pools, and four beach areas. There are also dolphin, sea lion and stingray encounters, snorkeling, and many marine habitats and aquariums. Not to mention that the resort has a spa, live entertainment, and a casino.
Cost: Atlantis day passes start a $125/person depending on the season. Transportation is included if booked as a cruise excursion.
TravelingMom Tip: Guests at the Comfort Suites Paradise Island receive free access to Atlantis.
Popular Nassau and Paradise Island Beaches
Make sure to include beach time in your itinerary. The sand is so soft, and the ocean is a beautiful turquoise color that is so clear you can see to the bottom.
The Atlantis Day Pass includes access to four beach areas. The calm waters and gently sloping shoreline make Paradise Lagoon Beach the best choice for families with small children. I would avoid taking children to the Atlantis Beach. The shoreline is steep, and the water gets waist deep only a few feet from shore.
Starting Cost: Atlantis day passes start a $125/person depending on the season. Transportation is included if booked as a cruise excursion.
Amenities: Day passes include easy access to food and drink, towels, locker rentals, easy access to restrooms, snorkeling equipment rentals, paddle boat rentals.
Blue Lagoon Island is a popular shore excursion located a 30-minute boat ride away from Nassau. A lifeguard is on duty at the lagoon. That makes this beach a safe spot for families with young children. The Beach Day Package includes round-trip boat transportation from either the cruise dock or Paradise Island.
Starting Cost: Beach Day Package $69/adult and $45/child
Amenities: Blue Lagoon has restrooms, changing rooms, showers, a gift shop, and easy access to food and drink. Boat transportation, lunch, unlimited use of noodles and inner tubes, hammocks, beach chairs, and picnic tables included in admission. Snorkeling equipment, paddle boats, and kayaks available for an additional fee. Towels are not provided on the island; bring them from your hotel.
Cable Beach is a short taxi ride west of downtown Nassau. A small area of Cable Beach is accessible to the public, but access the best areas via the hotels lining the Nassau shore. Day passes are available from both the British Colonial Hilton and the Meliá hotels.
Starting Cost: $45/adult $25/child
Amenities: Food and drink are available at the hotels as well as public restrooms. Amenities vary by hotel and may include snorkel gear, towels, lounge chairs, umbrellas, basketball and volleyball courts, and pool access.
Cabbage Beach is considered one of the most beautiful beaches on Paradise Island. However, since it is a public beach, you will encounter many locals trying to sell you food, drinks, beach chairs, etc. The surf has a strong undertow, so this is not a good beach for children.
Amenities: The closest public restrooms are a 10-minute walk away. Food and drink is dependent on locals selling along the beach.
Junkanoo Beach is located near downtown Nassau and is a short walk from the cruise dock and many hotels. Both tourists and locals use this crowded beach, and it is a favorite among spring breakers.
Amenities: Huts line the beach offering food, drink, hair braiding, massages, and souvenirs. Public restrooms are available, and you can rent beach chairs and umbrellas.
Sailboats, airboats, jet boats, glass bottom boats, and semi-subs — the Bahamas has them all. You can go on group excursions or charter a private tour to fish, snorkel, water ski, party, or view the marine life while staying dry.
Semi-subs and glass bottom boats are good options for families with small children. They only last a few hours, and little walking is required. On both, It’s easy to see the Bahamas’ marine life while staying dry inside the boat. We took our kids on a semi-sub during our first trip to the Bahamas. Our tour guide made sure we saw lots of fish, but we didn’t see the colorful corals and technicolor fish of Finding Nemo.
Starting Cost: $58/adult, $33/children
There is no shortage of tour companies driving around Nassau and Paradise Island. Read the tour descriptions closely for the highlighted tourist and historic spots. Not all tours include stops where you can get out and walk around. I highly recommend the Nassau City and Country Tour booked through Viator. What sets this tour apart is the chance to see the “real” Nassau. Tour guide Dudley drove me through several neighborhoods while giving a Nassau history lesson. I learned things you can’t find in a tour guide, and Dudley was happy to answer all of my questions.
Marine Life Encounters
Both Blue Lagoon Island and Atlantis Resort offer dolphin, sea lion, and stingray encounters. Marine Life Encounters are a controversial topic, and Tripadvisor recently announced it would no longer allow bookings on their site. To decide if an animal encounter is right for your family, I recommend reading TripAdvisor Says No to Swimming with Dolphins.
Blue Lagoon Marine Life Encounter Amenities: Price includes transportation to/from the cruise dock or Paradise Island and beach access. Blue Lagoon has restrooms, changing rooms, showers, gift shop, easy access to food and drink. Towels are not provided on the island. Photos and video are available for an additional fee.
Atlantis Marine Life Encounter Amenities: Transportation only included for cruise guests. Atlantis provides towels and access to Dolphin Cay Beach. Photos and video are available for an additional fee.
Did you know that dolphin’s skin feels like rubber? Neither did I until I participated in a shallow water dolphin encounter at Blue Lagoon. Not only did I touch a dolphin’s skin, but I also felt his teeth and tongue. And of course, I got a dolphin hug and kiss.
Blue Lagoon Starting Cost in late 2016:
Shallow Water Encounter (all ages) $115/person
Dolphin Swim (age 6+) $185/person
Trainer for the Day (age 13+) $350/person
Jr. Trainer for the Day (age 13-17) $275/person
Atlantis Starting Cost:
Shallow Water Encounter (all ages) $135/person
Dolphin Swim (age 6+) $199/person
Trainer for the Day (age 10+) $441/person
Jr. Trainer for the Day (age 6-10) $292/person
Sea Lion Encounters
Sea lions are just as playful and cute as you imagine. I hugged and kissed a sea lion on land, and then had a chance to pet one in shallow water. If I had to choose, I would pick the sea lions over dolphins for my family.
Blue Lagoon Starting Cost:
Sea Lion Encounter (all ages) $109/person
Atlantis Starting Cost:
Sea Lion Encounter and Aquaventure Admission (all ages) $258/person
Pet the gentle stingrays from a shallow platform then interact with the stingrays while snorkeling. For ages 4+ at Blue Lagoon and 5+ at Atlantis.
Blue Lagoon Starting Cost:
Stingray Encounter (age 4+) $59/person
Atlantis Starting Cost:
Stingray Encounter (age 5+) $95.50/person
Pirate of Nassau Museum
Learn about the real Pirates of the Caribbean at this fun museum located walking distance from downtown and the cruise docks. I suggest pre-reading the display exhibits before reading them to your small children. Some of the descriptions are gruesome.
Starting Cost: $13.50/adult and $6.50/child
There are many shipwrecks to explore off New Providence Island including the Will Laurie Wreck and the wrecks used in the James Bond movies Thunderball and Never Say Never Again. Shark Wall off of the southwest coast offers the best coral and colorful fish.
Nassau Scuba Dive and Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas are the leading scuba excursion companies serving Nassau and Paradise Island. Both companies offer reef and shark dives, and Nassau Scuba Dive has classes for beginners.
Starting Cost: $79/person
If you would like to snorkel from the shore, Cable Beach is your best option for seeing marine life. Bring your gear, or buy from street vendors at the beach.
The Atlantis Resort offers snorkeling in their marine habitats and lagoon, and Blue Lagoon Island offers snorkel equipment as an add-on to their excursions.
The best snorkeling by boat is at Exumas Cays Land and Sea Park, Rose Island Reef, Gambier Deep Reef, and Goulding Cay Reef.
Starting Cost: $85/person
Nassau Historical Sites
The Balcony House is believed to be the oldest standing residence in Nassau. It is now a fully restored period museum located within walking distance of downtown Nassau and the cruise ship terminal.
Cost: Free but donations appreciated
Lord Dunmore built Fort Charlotte in 1788. It is the largest fort on the island and has a moat, dungeons, and 44 canons. Tour guides work for tips. Located within walking distance of downtown Nassau and the cruise ship terminal.
Starting Cost: $5/adult, $2/children under 12, and $3/seniors
Seated next to the top of the Queen’s Staircase, Fort Fincastle offers panoramic views of Nassau. You will need to take a taxi to the fort and visit as part of a tour.
Cost: Small donation requested
Architecture fans will love the Georgian Colonial building that now serves as the official residence of the Governor General of The Bahamas. Visitors are not allowed inside the building. Located within walking distance of downtown Nassau and the cruise ship terminal.
Legend says that Caribbean pirate Captain John Howard Graysmith built Graycliff Mansion. Today it is a hotel with a Heritage Museum, Art Studio, Chocolatier, Cigar Company, and Culinary Experience. There’s a chocolate making tour that’s fun for families.
Starting Cost: Varies by activity. The Art of Chocolate Making Tour is 54/person
Nassau Public Library
The octagonal shaped Nassau Public Library started life as a jail and was the first building constructed on Parliament Square. Pictures are not allowed in the building.
The flamingo-pink government buildings house the Bahamian Government offices. Take a walk around the square to check out the Bahamian architecture. The square is across Bay Street from the cruise line terminal.
Pompey Museum of Slavery and Emancipation
The Pompey Museum explores the history of slavery and emancipation in the Bahamas. The museum is in Vendue House a former marketplace where traders sold slaves. The museum is on Bay Street near the Straw Market.
Starting Cost: 3/adults, $1/children, $2/seniors
The top of Queen’s Staircase sits next to Fort Fincastle. Slaves hand-carved the staircase out of solid limestone using pick axes and hand tools. The staircase sits next to a waterfall and is hidden by tall trees.
Best Shopping Areas in Nassau
Bay Street Shops
Located steps away from the cruise dock on Bay Street, you will find shops with everything from souvenir t-shirts to high-end perfume. Luxury items such as jewelry, watches, and cameras are duty-free and a bargain compared to prices in the United States. Stores with the pink flamingo decal have met government guidelines and only carry authentic brands.
Cruise passengers must pass through the shopping center to get to downtown Nassau or return to their ship. Festival Place is the only spot where I encountered insistent taxi drivers, shop owners, and hair braiders. I recommend skipping Festival Place for the Straw Market and Bay Street shops.
The Straw Market
Individual shops fill the Straw Market selling everything from handmade to mass-produced goods. Don’t let the beckoning calls of the shopkeepers turn you off. Bahamians are friendly people, and a simple “no thank you” will do the job if you aren’t interested. The Straw Market is a great place for kids to find inexpensive toys and trinkets made of seashells.
What to Eat in the Bahamas
Nassau and Paradise Island are home to everything from street food at the Fish Fry to fine dining by Chef Todd English at Olives in the Atlantis Resort. Here are some of the places I tried during my trip.
Bahamian Home Cooking
I tried my first Conch Fritters, a Bahamian specialty, at this restaurant located a few blocks from downtown Nassau. A food tour was at the restaurant during my meal, so you know it is a great place for authentic Bahamian cuisine.
Crusoe’s Restaurant at the Comfort Suite Paradise Island hotel has the most delightful staff, and they kept me entertained while I dined alone during my stay at the hotel. I don’t eat seafood, so I sampled the West Indian Grilled Chicken, Herb Roasted Rack of Lamb, and Grilled Sirloin.
Jimmy Buffet’s restaurant is a short walk from the Comfort Suites Paradise Island Hotel and Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island. What could be better than eating a literal Cheeseburger in Paradise? Pairing it with a yummy margarita, of course.
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Does your family have plans to visit Nassau or Paradise Island in the Bahamas? How about another island in the Caribbean? Choice Hotels Caribbean has great, affordable hotel options for exploring new and exciting destinations.
Disclosure: I was paid by Choice Hotels to write a Bahamas Guide. However, opinions are my own.