World Ocean Month: Manta Rays and Sunken Ruins at Paradise Island, Bahamas

As our part of the world continues to open up, travel is back on the global agenda…and as if overnight, airports are back to being the crowded, frustrating instigators of family squabbles and emotional meltdowns they had always been, except now with the added fun of having to wear masks. Add to that the fact that many flights aren’t serving booze and it’s a miracle anyone is even leaving the house.  

Yet there we were, up and out at 6am for our flight to Nassau, Bahamas, our first international excursion in eighteen months (and yes, our lovely Delta seats did come with adult libations). As we were not quite ready yet for long hauls to Moscow or The Maldives, our destination was tiny Paradise Island (just a 2.5 hour flight from NYC), where we had been invited to report back on any misconceptions about the most famous resort in the Caribbean.

We checked in to our magnificent room at The Cove, and the sprawling Atlantis filled the entire view from our 17th floor balcony. It’s enormous, with six huge properties surrounding a massive water park and multiple pools, all within a conch shell’s throw of pristine beaches. And those beaches immediately beckoned.

For almost two decades the buzzy Sip Sip was the go-to restaurant on neighboring Harbour Island, and in 2017 they opened an outpost in The Cove. With the original still closed due to the pandemic, the Atlantis location has become the only place to indulge in chef Julie Lightbourn’s signature Bahamian menu – so we started there with a lunch of cult classic lobster quesadilla, and spicy conch chili, washed down with a strong rum punch. We were officially on island time, something we’d been fantasizing about whilst staring at our same four walls for over a year.

The rest of the afternoon was given to lounging on one of the Cove’s two beaches under the shade of a palm tree, while taking and posting pix for soon to be envious friends. We quickly discerned we could get used to this, despite having long tended towards smaller, more private destinations. For dinner that night we decided to hit the casino at the neighboring Royal, which was stocked with bars, restaurants, and the world largest saltwater aquarium – where they have all manner of sharks and manta rays that somehow looked beautiful and frightening at once. Which is maybe why they’re behind two-and-a-half-feet of glass – haha.

Now admit it, your favorite beach resort doesn’t have a sunken ruins marine habitat, does it? But it turns out there really is a Lost Continent – and it’s now billed as The Dig, and makes for a fascinatingly escapist afternoon. But it turns out we couldn’t totally escape New York, as we found ourselves suppering later at an outpost of Todd English’s Olives. We absolutely recommend the seared tuna.

The next day, after breakfast at the Cove’s low-key Mosaic, we were booked to snorkel the ruins at the Royal’s 2.7-million-gallon marine exhibit. Under the watchful eye of our friendly guide Tina, we glided through the waters, coming face to gill with an abundance of exotic marine life, including one of those nine-feet-wide manta rays.

Notably, considering the escalating plastifying of our oceans, the Atlantis is actually very active in marine preservation, and runs a non-profit, the ABPF, which fosters conservation, harvests coral to restore reefs, and saves rare and endangered species and their habitats. Our visit was especially timely as June is World Ocean Month – and ongoing were Behind-the-Blue Tours, which educationally focused on the Blue Project Foundation’s work to preserve our oceans; a Great Hall of Waters Exhibit, allowing guests an exclusive peek into Paradise Island’s wide-ranging marine life, including their history of rescued Katrina Dolphins; and mangrove planting in a designated wetlands restoration area.

Later strolling through Marina Village, we got an eyeful of landbound conspicuous consumption – posh boutiques included Gucci, YSL, Stella McCartney, Balenciaga – though we escaped with nary a hit to our net worth. Rather we dropped our dosh at the stylish surf and turf mecca Seafire – where we splurged on lobster tail and scallops and a bottle of Cali Zin, and received the royal treatment from doting staff.

The next day we ventured out to check out a couple of other Nassau highlights, including the British Colonial Hilton, the almost 100-year old grand dame of the island, which had a starring role in Sean Connery’s last Bond film Never Say Never Again. From there we drove west to Compass Point, famous for the recording studio of the same name where AC/DC’s Black In Black and Talking Heads’ Remain in Light – amongst so many other legendary albums – were recorded. We had drinks at Island Records founder Chris Blackwell’s Compass Point Beach Resort and fresh conch salads at a sidewalk stand, before heading back and hitting up Atlantis’ Mandara Spa, a Balinese inspired oasis of minimalism, complete with steam room, sauna, cold plunge pools and a relaxing aromatherapy room.

But feeling a bit 007 after our visit to the Hilton, we couldn’t resist another whirl through the casino, where we mercifully broke even.

Being surrounded by the sea, we naturally had to have our final dinner at Nobu – also in the Royal – and it was as sublime as one has very much come to expect from the exalted luxury sushi group. We drank a fair bit of sake, and let the manager make our choices for us, something that we highly recommend.

No we being we, obviously we can’t wait to be back in London, Paris or even Montreal. But for our first (almost) post-pandemic trip out of the country, we couldn’t have hoped for better than all the sybaritic indulgence and oceanic enlightenment that Paradise Island had to offer. And we’ll never forget those manta rays.

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