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Sailing with the Disney Cruise Line
Touring 'Round Nassau Town
Remember the Sloop John B?
by Dave Marx, Guest Columnist
This article appeared in the June 24, 2003 Issue #196 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the sixth in an ongoing series of ALL EARS® articles on cruising with Disney. This week, ALL EARS® welcomes the contributions of PassPorter WDW Author Dave Marx, who shares his insights on the Nassau Port of Call. Other articles in the series can be found on our cruise pages at: http://allears.net/cruise/cruise.htm
Two-thirds of all Disney cruisers (the three-night and four-night cruises) pay a visit to one of the Caribbean's least favorite ports of call, Nassau in the Bahamas. It's not our favorite, either, but it's beginning to grow on me (my partner Jennifer doesn't share my feelings). In mid-September 2002, a three-night cruise on the Wonder brought us 'round Nassau town, where we did roam for the third time.
Many cruisers feel uncomfortable walking around Nassau's wharf area, where they're likely to encounter aggressive, enterprising locals intent on getting their piece of the tourist pie. Hair wrappers, cab drivers, souvenir vendors, pamphleteers, and tour hawkers swarm the seedy wharf and nearby areas. This is hardly the squeaky-clean welcome Disney crowds crave. But there's a large, attractive island boasting a long, British colonial heritage and attractive aquatic life awaiting travelers willing to take an excursion or strike out on their own. We took one official shore excursion, and created one of our own.
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The tall pink towers of the Atlantis Hotel and Casino dominate the horizon, about a mile from the pier. Several tours offer a chance to visit its glittering facilities, or simply lounge on its antiseptic beach. We opted for the Discover Atlantis Tour, which provides boat transportation to and from the resort, followed by a walking tour through its remarkable aquarium, casino, and lobby (you don't get swimming privileges with this tour). The aquarium is a tourist attraction in its own right, with an endless maze of glass walled underground passageways revealing the "ruins" of submerged Atlantis. The sea life viewing is quite captivating, but there's not a single interpretive sign to be found -- if you don't have the help of a tour guide you may not know what in Atlantis you're looking at. While the walking tour lasts perhaps 90 minutes, you do have free access to the aquarium for as long as you care to stay. The rest of the tour does a nice job of showing off this very impressive hotel, from its luxuriously decorated lobbies and public spaces to the attractive casino. Tour guests walk about a quarter-mile from the dock to the hotel (and back) in the bright, midday sun. Once the guided tour is done you're free to stay to dine, drink, and gamble your life savings away. The shuttle boats operate on a regular schedule throughout the afternoon, and a taxi ride isn't too expensive, if you're stranded after hours. As long as you can control your urge to gamble, this excursion is very safe and secure. If you want to save a little money, get your own ride from the cruise pier (either taxi or water taxi) and pay directly for the tour in the hotel lobby.
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DAVE'S WALKING TOUR
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While it doesn't exactly qualify as "adventure travel," a two-hour self-guided walking tour around Nassau will be a break from the ordinary. Several guidebooks suggest similar walks, but I was blissfully unaware of this fact when I decided on a whim to "roll my own." I simply grabbed one of the free tourist maps being distributed on the wharf, played connect-the-dots with a bunch of the highlighted sights, and followed a rectangular route around the perimeter of the downtown district. So can you!
My route took me counterclockwise around town, but clockwise would work just as nicely. If you're new to "adventure" travel, please note that there were few pedestrians in sight for much of the stroll. If you're uncomfortable in strange cities you may feel safer bringing your own crowd. Gather a few companions, get a few of those free maps, and make your own adventure. Start your trek by 2 p.m. and you'll be able to hit all the sights I describe before they close and the rest of the tourists retreat to their vessels. Happy trekking!
If you'd like to follow my footsteps, read on!
Leaving Prince George Dock and the Wonder behind me, I headed one block inland to Bay Street, the port's tourist shopping street (Fifth Avenue it ain't). I turned right on Bay and made a nonstop dash past the jewelry and T-shirt shops to the first two landmarks on my map, the Pompey Museum and Straw Market (about four blocks distant near the corner of Bay and Market Streets). More accurately, I viewed the former site of the legendary Straw Market, which was too flammable for its own good, and the boarded-up Pompey Museum, which was probably too close to the Straw Market for its own good.
Denied my first two sights, I crossed the street and headed uphill on George Street, past handsome Christ Church (looking veddy English in neat, grey stone and rich stained-glass). Onward and upward, past the Pirate Museum and Pub (Yo ho!), various picturesque buildings, and finally reaching the top of the hill, where George St. empties into Duke (be careful, the intersection is not pedestrian-friendly). Across the intersection, sequestered behind tall, locked gates and high walls, surrounded by attractive gardens, and at the top of a long, broad flight of stairs, stands imposingly pink Government House, the seat of Her Majesty's representative to the Bahamas. A grand, white statue of Christopher Columbus stares back towards the port from the middle of the staircase, gazing at cruise ships that could float the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria in their kiddie pools.
Turn left again and follow Duke Street one block to Market Street. Look right to see Market St. tunnel through the crest of the hill, just to the left of Government House (Oooh! Ahhh!). Cross Market St., cross Duke St., and make your way up narrow Peck's Slope, an unmarked lane that winds its way to the top of the hill. OK, you've reached East Hill Street. Catch your breath, dig the scenery, and note the banking institutions that can afford this prime location. Now bear left and follow East Hill St. toward the 126 ft. stone water tower that dominates the horizon. (If you're arrested at the gatehouse of Government House, you've gone the wrong way.)
Keep looking over your left shoulder as you walk. Picturesque stairways connect Frederick and Charlotte Streets with the crest of the hill. Enjoy the handsome view of the town and the port beyond. You'll also pass the large, high rise Post Office building, totally uninspiring in its 20th Century utilitarianism. A variety of far more attractive government buildings can be seen to your left, then East Hill St. dead ends at the intersection of East Street. Here is where I made my only significant navigational error, by deciding to take a right onto East and an immediate left onto Sands Road. Sands just isn't a good choice for pedestrians. I suggest you continue another block along East St. to Prison Lane -- but either route brings you to the neighborhood of the Water Tower and Fort Fincastle.
My brief walk along Sands Road brought me to a large parking lot, and beyond it, the heights commanded by old Fort Fincastle (circa 1793) and the Water Tower (circa 1928). Before I could cross the lot to reach the path to the fort, I was intercepted by one of the freelance cultural representatives (panhandlers) who were hanging out in the parking lot. I smiled, he smiled. He then launched into a 10-minute, breathless recitation of the history, geography, economy, and culture of Nassau and the Bahamas. I was quite impressed. He just as breathlessly hinted that it's customary to pay for the service just rendered. I smiled and gave him the smallest bill I had (a U.S. $20). He returned the "only" bill he had (a Bahamian $5). (Be sure you're carrying smaller bills!) I courteously dashed up the path before he could launch into an equally profitable report on some of the out islands (Maui, Hokkaido, Britain, and Manhattan, no doubt).
Whew! I was king of the hill! The lichen-encrusted stone battlements of the fort tempted the Peter Pan in me, so I slipped inside its narrow entry, clambered up to the battlements, checked the aim of the cannon (dead-center on the cruise ships "blockading" the port), and beat a hasty retreat. Now, the only thing standing between me and the water tower (216 ft. above sea level) was a cadre of entrepreneurs hawking native goods from makeshift kiosks. "Sir? The tower closed at five o'clock!" Here it was, 5:05 p.m. The merchants were shuttering their shacks, their dogs were sniffing around for leftovers, and I was the only tourist in sight. I paused to read the inscription at the bottom of the padlocked tower, wondered whether the view from the top of the tower would have been worth the climb, and headed down the path a few yards to my next destination.
The Queen's Staircase, named in honor of Queen Victoria but located at the south end of Elizabeth Avenue (logical), is especially interesting. My guide said the staircase is notable because the steps were cut out of stone by slave labor. From what I could see, that was the least of it. The 66 steps of the staircase are at the end of a 100-plus yard long, 25 foot wide, and 60 foot deep slot quarried out of the hillside, presumably by the same slave labor that cut the steps. I suppose the stones they cut are now Fort Fincastle. The slaves' legacy is breathtaking, regardless. Sheer rock walls rise to either side. The gorge is shaded far above by overhanging foliage, lush palm trees grow from the floor of the quarry, and at the far end, alongside the steps, is a beautiful, man-made waterfall. You'll also find a few locals selling knickknacks from makeshift booths, but they've gotta make a living, don't they?
I headed downhill on Elizabeth and turned left once again onto Shirley Street. (Queen Shirley?) I was back into the bustle of downtown Nassau. Handsome, historic buildings line the streets. If you've got the time, just take a small detour wherever you please. After several blocks I reached Parliament Street. I turned right towards the harbor and spent the next 15 minutes admiring many grand governmental buildings, and the famous statue of Queen Victoria in Rawson Square. Now I was just two blocks from Prince George Wharf and the welcoming embrace of the Disney Wonder, just in time for Happy Hour. Bidding the hair braiders a silent adieu, I flashed my passport and strolled back to my titanic, floating home.
Dave Marx is co-author (with Jennifer Watson and his daughter Allie) of the PassPorter Walt Disney World guidebook, and is also co-author (with Jennifer Watson and Mickey Morgan) of the PassPorter's Field Guide to the Disney Cruise Line and its Caribbean Ports of Call. He can often be found at: http://www.passporter.com
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.