Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is popular with cruise lines, offering a bit of island sun and bargain shopping close to Florida. But even popular ports bring in first-time visitors, who need to figure out what are the must-see attractions and how to go about getting to them without sweating through their new logo tees.
For many, a highlights tour is a good bet. In an effort to gain an overview of what the port has to offer, we booked "Nassau Shore Excursion: Island Highlights Sightseeing Tour" through Viator, an affiliate of Cruise Critic and also owned by TripAdvisor. We wanted to see how the excursion stacked up in terms of time, cost and experience. Read our findings beow.
Viator handles the excursion booking, but our tour was handled by local operator Tyrone Wilson Tours. When our cruise line made the decision to switch the days for port calls, we were able to contact the operator and reschedule without a problem.
On the morning we pulled into Nassau, we exited the terminal, walked through the straw market and crossed the street to our predetermined meeting point at an easy-to-spot fountain (with a sandwich board sign). A representative for the tour was waiting for us, and it was the owner's daughter, Nicki, who chatted with us until our driver and guide arrived in a 10-passenger van.
Our tour group consisted of six people -- a young family of four and two adults. We're told that the tour runs with nearly any amount, but prefers a minimum of four people and works with large groups (with advance notice).
The excursion lasts about 2.5 hours, costs $35 per adult (excluding tips) and stops at six sites: Bahamas Rum Cake Factory, Atlantis Resort, Queen's Staircase, Graycliff Chocolate Company, Bahama Barrels by Graycliff (winery) and John Watling's rum distillery.
In terms of experience, you have just enough time to taste cake at the factory and buy a souvenir pastry to bring home, if desired. Atlantis is a short 30-minute visit to the lobby, while at the Queen's Staircase, there is time to walk the semi-steep stairs with a little bit of integral information about the slaves who built it.
The Graycliff chocolatier and the winery are across the street from one another, and while the chocolate shop is lovely, if you're not buying anything, there isn't much else to be done. The winery is small, so tastings are a bit cramped. We actually enjoyed being on the street outside, which had a lovely art installation of colorful umbrellas overhead.
The rum distillery is a tour within a tour; the grounds are interesting and though you are given a quick taste of the rum in a welcome drink, the rest comes at a price at the end of the tour when you are dropped at the bar. Tips are welcome for the tour guide of the distillery.
While you're transferring between attractions, your guide will provide you with facts about the island and information about the sights you pass along the way, answering any questions you might have.
At the end of the day, tour-takers have the choice to return to their ship or be dropped off at the nearby Junkanoo Beach for some sand and surf.
If this is your first time on the island, the Nassau Highlights tour is a comfortable (air-conditioned) way to navigate around Nassau for an overview of some must-see -- and taste -- attractions. However, if you've been to Nassau before, consider a more immersive activity. Apart from Atlantis, which requires a short ride to cross a bridge to Paradise Island, many of these locations are accessible on your own, if you were interested in doing so, and it would allow more time for exploration. Time at each stop is relatively short -- 20 minutes here and there -- providing a glimpse of each attraction but not spending long in each place.
Note that while the stop at Atlantis does provide a peek of the grounds, access to the resort is limited. You essentially have a half-hour to walk around the lobby and into the casino. We arrived in the morning, and most of the stores weren't even open, so shopping opportunities at the designer boutiques were limited.
The very young children on our tour were well behaved and didn't seem to mind the stops from place to place, but we imagine older kids and teens would be bored. There isn't a ton to do. After sampling a piece of rum cake, they can't participate in the casino, the wine tasting or the rum tasting.
A Nassau Highlights excursion is an efficient way for first-timers (or less mobile folks) to see key attractions around the port. Repeat visitors or families with antsy kids might want to skip.