My family recently headed south for a long weekend in the winter to the Bahamas, and had tons of fun at the Atlantis waterpark as well as on the island in general. We did the whole trip on points, as described in this post, and found it to be a great destination for a family. Atlantis can be extremely expensive, but it can be much more affordable if you use miles and points to defray much of the cost of getting and staying there. We stayed at the Comfort Suites right next to Atlantis, and this hotel allows you to have a wristband to access the Atlantis facilities as an included perk. I have a full review of that hotel (complete with video) in the linked post above, and I encourage you to check it out if you are considering a trip to the Bahamas. In this post I am going to focus on the things our family did on the islands.
Having included access to Atlantis, and most importantly, the Atlantis water park, was a huge win for our family. Atlantis was about a 100 yard walk from our hotel, so we spent part of every day at that property. Keep in mind that Atlantis is huge. It isn’t Disney World huge, but it feels at least Disneyland huge. You will be doing a bunch of walking, even if you are staying in a room within Atlantis. Atlantis is home to a casino, many restaurants, a huge aquarium, movie theater, kid’s activities, snorkeling, a beach, a huge water park, and more.
We spent most of our time at Atlantis in the water park, but we also did check out a couple of restaurants, the beach, and the aquarium. On this particular trip we wanted to hang out together as a family the whole time, so we didn’t utilize the casino or the kid’s club type offerings. As you can probably guess, virtually everything at Atlantis from meals, to dolphin excursions, to locker rentals is expensive. We found one very fairly priced kid activity, but expect for everything that isn’t already included to be close to double what you would expect to pay back home in a city like Houston.
Atlantis Water Park:
The water park has thrill rides for adults, a very shallow kid’s play area for the little ones, and lots of stuff for those in-between. The thrill rides, such as the iconic “Leap of Faith” that goes almost straight down on the Mayan Temple, all have a minimum height of 48 inches. I would guess that most kids hit that height requirement between 6-8 years old. My 4 year old is pretty tall for her age, so she is just a few inches shy now, but she wouldn’t be ready for those rides quite yet even if she were tall enough. She was more than happy with the small slides and water play area in the kid section. I have been asked what is the best age to bring kids to Atlantis, and I really don’t think there is any bad age. However, I could see there being trouble if you had a kid who was physically and emotionally ready for the “big rides”, but not quite tall enough…especially if their older siblings are riding the “big rides”.
There were tons of lifeguards everywhere, though I would say a large chunk of them looked bored out of their mind. However, some of them were very on the ball and quite helpful when folks needed it. I will also add that when they were present you were not able to go down the little slides with your kid in your lap. They either had to do it by themselves, or not at all. This was a tad tricky since to get to the top of some of the little kid slides you had to totally lose sight of them if if you were going to be waiting at the bottom. Since you can’t go down the little kid slides as an adult this created a logistical challenge for kids that are ready for non-scary slides, but aren’t quite ready to be out of eyesight in a strange environment.
Our favorite thing at the water park was the “The Current” which we thought was a “Lazy River” that you ride around in tubes on. There is no minimum height requirement for this that I saw, but you do have to be able to support yourself in an inner tube. We used a double tube and had our daughter in the front hole. This means infants and toddlers will be too small for this ride. She had to wear a life vest on this ride. We thought that was over-kill until we did our first lap around the river.
This was not the lazy river, but instead it was a river ride that had some pretty big waves and “rapids” at certain parts of the ride. It was enough excitement that it kept our attention as adults, but it wasn’t too much for her to also enjoy. That said, we did see some folks hit the wall or get flipped by some of the large waves, so this won’t be for the kids that are easily scared or afraid of potentially getting flipped in the water. We loved it though and did the continuous loop many times.
Atlantis Little Squirts Program:
The best deal we found at Atlantis was the “Little Squirts” program that is for children ages 3-6. This was an educational and interactive program that lasted roughly an hour and cost $29. We booked it the day before on-site at Atlantis, though I believe you can also make advance reservations online. Parents attend with their child, but the child is the one involved in the action. The activity started with about 20 minutes in the “animal hospital” where they were raising baby sea turtles, caring for sick fish, and more. They let the kids hold a sea turtle, star fish, sea cucumber, and more. They were taught about the animals, and got some great hands-on time. After that you head outdoors and get to feed baby sharks and then baby sting rays.
They also give all the kids a swim shirt that is theirs to keep. That alone probably sells for over $20 in the gift shop! While our daughter was the one feeding and holding the animals, it was very interesting for us as well. This was a fantastic $29 spent, and we all really enjoyed it.
We ate two sit-down meals at Atlantis. The first was at Todd English’s Olives Restaurant. We really like the Vegas location of this restaurant, so tried it out on our first night when we were too tired to explore beyond Atlantis. We didn’t have a reservation and were seated in the bar/open kitchen area after just a 5 minute wait. There was a big menu of different types of pastas, pizzas, and similar. The three of us ate for about $100, which is honestly about as good as you are going to do in the Bahamas at a sit-down restaurant for a family.
The food and service was not great, but it was good enough. Expect things to go a little slow, and don’t be in a hurry. This is easier said than done with a tired and hungry kiddo. The restaurant is located in the casino portion of Atlantis (yes, kids can walk through the casino), so it was very easy to find. Many of the patrons at the restaurant had kids with them. Some were dressed up for a fancy dinner, and some were in much more casual attire (though no swim suits!).
We ate lunch one day at Virgil’s Real BBQ restaurant, which is considered one of their casual dining restaurants. We went during a break from the water park, so were seated in the outdoor patio since my daughter didn’t have a cover-up on. My grilled vegetable salad here was pretty mediocre, but the hush puppy appetizer was very good! Both of these restaurants had kid’s menus, and be aware that pretty much every restaurant in the Bahamas automatically adds gratuity, so don’t accidentally double tip. Even though my particular order wasn’t great at this restaurant, it was a good outdoor option that had a better variety than a snack bar. I think our lunch here came to about $60 for the three of us.
We also grabbed a quick lunch at Marina Pizzeria, which is located (not surprisingly) next to the marina at Atlantis. This is classified as one of the “Quick Eats” at Atlantis, and while it was quick, it wasn’t very good. I think our pizza and drinks were about $40+ here, but we didn’t eat half of what we ordered as it just tasted pretty old and stale. However, sitting outdoors next to the very expensive boats in the marina made for very good people watching. There is also a Quizno’s and Johnny Rockets near the pizzeria, but even I didn’t want to eat something that “boring”, though maybe we should have.
Da Fish Fry:
Thankfully, we got out of the Atlantis area for dinner one night and took a taxi to Da Fish Fry area on Nassau. It was about 10-15 minutes by car, and the cab the hotel secured not only drove us there, but walked us to the restaurant and waited for us while we ate. We didn’t ask for that, but he offered and didn’t charge extra for waiting. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip as Da Fish Fry is not just frequented by tourists, but also by locals. At night there were a few folks who had probably had a few too many drinks even at our early dinner time, and there were also folks trying to sell us things like cigars. Nothing major, but I hear it gets more “lively” as the night goes on, so families may do best eating earlier rather than later. The Bahamas does have their fair share of crime with a relatively high unemployment rate, so just be aware of your surroundings.
Da Fish Fry is not a particular restaurant, but rather refers to a collection of both open air trailers/stands that serve food, as well as actual restaurants. We went to the Twin Brothers restaurant at the recommendation of several people, but my hunch is some of the freshest food is actually at the stands and trailers. I have also (since) heard good things about Oh Andros, but we didn’t make it there this time.
We were able to walk right into Twin Brothers and were greeted right away, though food service was pretty slow. The conch salad had a great taste, but was a bit chewy for me…though that may be totally normal for conch salad as it was my first time eating it. The shrimp, rice, and plantains were very good. Our “smoothies” sadly did not taste like they were made from fresh fruit as we might have hoped, but they still tasted like sugary goodness. I think this meal came in at about $100 for the three of us, though I think we got tripped up by the double tip here so it likely should have been a bit less.
I would absolutely go back to Da Fish Fry area, but would likely try a different restaurant next time, or even better, try a variety of the food stands. The area had a great feel to it, and we had a fun time there even if we didn’t pick the absolutely best spot to eat.
While I may have mixed feelings about dolphins and other similar animals in captivity, we did decide to head to Blue Lagoon Island and participate in their dolphin encounter, as well as enjoy their private beach. Atlantis also has dolphin encounters, but they are priced higher and we wanted to get off of Paradise Island and see a little more of the surrounding area, so this option was a better fit for us. The price was $98 per adult and children 3 and under are free for the dolphin encounter. The dolphin swim is priced higher, but for young kids the encounter was the only option. You can also pay just for beach access and not do a dolphin activity.
The price includes the 15-20 minute boat ride that it takes to get to the private island. The dock is right next to Atlantis, and was an easy walking distance. The ride over to the island was beautiful!
The encounter itself was fun and you did get some hands-on time with the dolphins, but it did feel a little like one big photo opp to me. That said, we didn’t do it for me, we did it for our daughter and she loved every second. There is also a 10-15 minute educational talk about dolphins before the encounter.
After the encounter we headed over to the private beach and enjoyed the calm water, hammocks, and floats. There was a lifeguard on that beach. The private beach was virtually deserted in the morning during our visit, but got much busier around lunch when we were leaving. As you could guess, it is very very touristy, but that didn’t stop it from being fun for a couple hours.
The interaction with our dolphin, Salvador, was a big highlight of the trip for our little one. She brought pictures back to her school to show her friends. Two tips here are bring your own towels and make friends with another family in your encounter so you can take photos for each other instead of paying for the official ones the staff takes…though of course your quality of photos will vary.
Grand Hyatt Baha Mar Opening in Late 2014:
It is also worth a mention that there is a ton of construction going on at Baha Mar that is supposed to open late in 2014, including a Grand Hyatt Baha Mar. This will be a very interesting addition to the Bahamas, but from the looks of things, it will cater more to the adult golfing and gambling crew than families…though I could be wrong about that. The few locals we talked to about all the construction said they had mixed feelings, but said ultimately they are happy about it since it will provide lots of jobs to those who need them.
Overall Impressions of Atlantis and the Bahamas:
I really liked the Bahamas – more than I expected. Much of what we did was in very touristy areas, but this was the type of place where they have just made it easy for families to have fun. Going off the beaten path and exploring can be amazing, but with a young kid it can also turn into a not-very-good-idea quickly. This was dummy-proof fun and a fantastic way to spend miles and points in the winter. I would not hesitate to return here in the future, and think it is the perfect place to meet up with extended family members as there is a little bit of something for everyone. Like many islands, food, drinks, gas, etc., are all pretty pricey, but aside from the dolphin experience, all of our entertainment expenses were included since Atlantis and the beach were all we needed to stay quite happy.
If you have been before and have some tips to share, or want to point out some things we missed out on, please feel free!