Money & Tipping
The official currency of the Bahamas is the Bahamian Dollar. However, if you're coming from the USA, you're in luck because USD is accepted everywhere. The exchange rate is 1 for 1, but if you have Bahamian dollars, I highly suggest you change them back to USD before returning to the USA. You won't get a fair exchange rate here. Payment by credit card is widely accepted, although I found it easier to use cash with taxis because most don't take cards, and if they do, there may be a hidden fee. Restaurants and bars usually include a standard 15% tip on the bill, so make sure you check your receipt at the end to avoid double tipping. You can, of course, leave more than 15%.
Taxis – Taxis are readily available all over Nassau. They generally come in the form of a grey or white minivan with the word “taxi” inscribed on the side, in Old English font. I suggest that you ask the driver for the fare upfront before getting in; since the taxis generally aren’t metered, it is a good way to avoid the shock of an expensive charge upon arrival at your destination. You can also try to barter with the cabbie before agreeing to the rate. Because the taxi drivers name their price, they generally don't expect you to tip, but I always tipped a few dollars anyway.
Jitney – Two days into my trip, I learned how to ride the jitney. This ended up saving me around $50 to $75 in taxi fare for the remainder of my trip. The jitney costs $1.25 and can get you all over the island. Many of them will say where they stop, for example "Cable Beach" will be written on the side of the bus. The locals are very friendly and helpful, so just ask someone what bus number to take to your destination. And when you're ready to get off, just yell "bus stop", and the drive will pull over for you. Easy!
Ferry – The most enjoyable way to get from downtown Nassau to Atlantis or Paradise Island by far is by ferry. It comes every 30 minutes, and docks right across from Sharkeez. It's only $4 per person, and takes about 10 minutes to get to Paradise Island. You'll arrive with windswept, beach hair - an added bonus.
The native Bahamian people are generally friendly. Whenever we needed a recommendation or needed to ask directions, people seemed willing to assist us. A lot of them were curious to know where I was from, how I was liking the Bahamas and what I wanted to do while here.
I want to preface this segment by saying that, as a Manhattanite, I am extremely spoiled when it comes to nightlife of any sort. The options in New York City are endless, and bars and clubs are always crawling with people, whether it is Tuesday or Saturday.
The nightlife in Nassau was relatively quiet. I arrived there on Saturday night with high hopes of hitting up a busy club or bar. Many of the tourists that come through Nassau are day tourists; their ships dock in the morning, they get off, walk around, eat, drink, shop, etc. Then around 5 in the afternoon, they've cleared out, are back on the ship and have set sail for their next destination. This means that, unless a ship is docked over night, you'll see a lot more locals or permanent, and semi-permanent residents out at the bars.
I went to the club called Aura, at Atlantis, around 10:30 on Saturday night. They were asking $25 cover charge, which I refused to pay until we got to see inside the club. There were a handful of people inside. I went back downtown and headed for Sharkeez. It was empty. Then I walked over to Senor Frogs, a popular restaurant & bar chain in the Caribbean. It was poppin'. The largest concentration of people drinking and dancing was here. It's not a place I would normally want to visit by any means, but there were people. I ended up having a great time, and making new friends, so you just have to follow the crowd when it comes to nightlife in Nassau.
The following night, I ended up at Tropicana, which is an upstairs deck bar that is across the street from Senor Frogs. I ended up making friends with a group of guys from the United Kingdom. Some had lived in Nassau for over 20 years and worked for Atlantis, and some were here for a few months on a work assignment. I didn't spot many Bahamian locals there though. During the day, Tropicana is a really nice place to sit, soak up the breeze, sip a fruity cocktail, and look out over the beautiful, aquamarine sea.
Junkanoo Beach is closest to downtown Nassau, where cruise ships dock for the day. Due to its proximity to downtown, it is a busy, bustling, touristy beach. You'll hear loud music with questionable taste from the Tiki Bikini Hut. For $10 you can get 4 shots and 4 beers, and they'll try to hustle you some beach chaise longues for a rental fee. I personally prefer laying out on the sand. Despite the fact that it is a "bottle free zone", the beach is littered with broken glass, so be careful when walking barefoot. Although this beach gets crowded during the early hours, it clears out in the late afternoon. The day tourists go back to their boats to prepare for departure. I had the beach completely to myself by 4 in the afternoon one day, and even the Tiki Bikini Hut had died down, and put away their beach chairs.
Cable Beach is the place to go if you're looking to get away from the tourists and noise. It is a bit farther away from downtown, but easy to get to, and worth the trek if you're looking for some peace and quiet. This beach was near deserted when I arrived at in the early afternoon; it may as well have been a private beach. There was a lot less garbage, and no broken glass that I could see. If you take the jitney from downtown, it's about 10 to 15 minutes depending on traffic. Walking up and down Cable Beach, you may spot some jet skis for rent. They charge quite a hefty rental fee, but you can likely barter down the price.
One of the most popular foods in the Bahamas is conch; you'll see the shells for sale everywhere. You can eat conch raw or cooked; conch fritters, conch salad, conch deep fried calamari style - all delicious. Lobster is also very popular, and while it may be a luxurious food in some parts of the world, it is quite common in the Bahamas. If you love seafood, you'll definitely have to try the Bahamian conch and lobster. Beware that conch, like oysters, can only be consumed raw when fresh, or you'll likely get ill. Make sure you're getting your conch salad from restaurants that have good reviews and appear to be clean.
One of my favorite Caribbean staples is jerk chicken. It is often served with a side of plantains, peas and rice, coleslaw and macaroni and cheese. I think I had macaroni and cheese as a side at least three times while I was there; it is a Carribean favorite! Jerk chicken tends to be a bit on the spicy side,, so prepare yourself if you're not used to eating spicy foods.
Oxtail. Yes, you heard that right. A literal oxtail. It was delicious. Served with coleslaw and rice, I was surprised at how meaty it was! The taste and consistency is similar to lamb. This was probably the heaviest dish I had on my trip, and it took a while to digest. When cooked right, the meat becomes very tender and slides off the bone easily. It is served up in a sauce, curry-like in consistency, but is not spicy.
The Bahamian Club - If you're looking for a ritzy night out with a higher price tag, check out the Bahamian Club. The restaurant is marketed as a traditional steakhouse, with dark, masculine décor and dim lighting. The wine list is extensive, and prices per bottle range from $45 to $4000 USD. I went all out and ordered myself the surf and turf, which included a massive lobster tail and a 6 oz. filet mignon, plantains, salad and peas and rice. It was amazing. I ordered crème brulee for dessert, but I could've skipped it, since it wasn't very brulee'd and lacked pretty much all crunch.
Tapas - This place has a huge menu. I had trouble deciding what to eat here, but finally settled on the seafood paella. Paella is a traditional Spanish dish, usually made with seafood. Generally, it is a huge pan over an open fire, but at Tapas, they do a personal paella. They have a cute patio out front where you can enjoy the meal and the sea breeze at the same time. This restaurant is right downtown, a few doors down from Senor Frogs.
Exagon - Right next door to Tapas, you can get yourself personal pizza or some pasta. I went with Italian comfort food and ordered myself the chicken pasta, which was basic, but delicious. Don't forget to try the Appletinis here!
Sharkeez - This place had a couple pros and cons for me. The food was delicious. I had lobster poppers, and conch curry soup. The soup tasted like it was made from scratch, a little spicy, and so delicious. They have an outdoor, upstairs patio where you can soak in the sun while you're eating and drinking. The cons - it's a bit of a tourist trap in terms of drinks. Whenever you order a drink, it comes with these plastic cups, or shot glasses that are souvenirs for you to take home. Unfortunately, there is no way of opting out of these cheesy Sharkeez cups, so you end up paying a little extra for a cup you didn't really want in the first place.