Since the days of American Prohibition in the
1920s, the Bahamas have been a favourite getaway for those looking to kick
back, relax and have some offshore fun, far from heavy-handed US laws.
These days, this often means gambling the night
away at one of the glittering casinos found on the small island of Grand Bahama
or in the capital of Nassau on the island of New Providence. Or, if you really
want to amp up the action, take yourself on an island- and casino-hopping tour
of the region that leaves directly from US shores.
Start your sailing adventure on Celebration
Cruise lines’ one-night Bahamas
Cruise, which departs from Palm Beach, Florida every other day with a
casino full of craps, roulette and 127 slot machines. As you roll the dice, get
in a tropical mood with a fruity Bahama Mama (dark and light rum, plus a liquor
cabinet’s worth of fruit juices and liqueurs).
The next morning, hop ship in Freeport, Grand
Bahama’s main city instead of returning to Palm Beach. In the 1950s, this was
the go-to destination for Rat Pack party boys like Frank Sinatra and Sammy
Davis Jr, who turned the town into their own private playground of jazz, cigars
and card games.
Today, most of the action is in the seaside
settlement of Lucaya, a tropical-coloured village of hotels, bars, boutiques
and – most importantly – the Treasure Bay Casino at
the enormous Grand Lucayan Resort; get there by taxi from the cruise boat
harbour west of town. The casino features some 3,250sqm of slot machines, craps
tables, blackjack, roulette, poker and more. You can even catch a Vegas-style
dinner show on Thursday nights, or hang out in the cabaret lounge with the
other high rollers. Once you are done at the tables, slip out back for a bowl
of tangy conch salad at Billy
Joe’s on the Beach, eaten at a waterfront picnic table while digging your
toes in the sand and sipping a cold local Kalik beer. Spend the night in one of
the hotel’s luxe guest
From Freeport, a 45-minute morning flight will
get you to Nassau, the Bahamas’ fast-living capital, in time for breakfast at Café Skans, a local
favourite (order the fish stew and johnny cake, a sort of corn bread, if you
want to eat like a Bahamian). Grab a taxi to the Crystal Palace Casino in
the retro-futuristic Wyndham Nassau Resort;
the black-and-gold decorated casino rings with the sound of lucky slot machines
morning and night. Play the ponies, try your hand at roulette or bet it all on
blackjack. If you get tired – or, heaven forbid, run out of cash – head out
back to lie in the powdery sand of Cable Beach.
If you win big, take your bounty to the
duty-free shops on Bay Street in downtown Nassau. An island-made batik shirt – or perhaps an
emerald ring -- could make for a fitting souvenir. When hunger strikes, head directly
Cay (known locally as “the fish fry”), a colourful outdoor village of
painted shacks where tourists and locals alike mix it up over plates of hot
“cracked” (deep-fried) conch and plastic cups of “sky juice”, a high-octane mix
of gin, coconut water and nutmeg.
For the grand finale, hop a five-minute water
taxi across the bay to Paradise Island, home to the Atlantis Resort, a massive hotel, casino,
restaurant and entertainment complex that looks like a cross between Disney
World and Ancient Rome. Inside the resort's signature-pink 23-storey Royal
Towers, the vast casino on the ground floor is the beating heart of the entire
Atlantis operation. All 80 game tables and 850 slot machines form a kind of
orbit around a multi-story glass sun by American artist Dale Chihuly, around
which swarm scantily-clad resort guests, crisply-attired croupiers and more
than a few celebrities (rumoured recent sightings include Kim Kardashian and
Justin Bieber). Repair to the Baccarat Lounge for a round (or 20), or, if poker
is more your flavour, choose between the Let It Ride and Caribbean Stud tables.
Giant international tournaments are held here, so keep your eyes peeled for
your favourite poker geniuses. This being the Bahamas, you can go as casual or
as glam as you like – James Bond style tuxes and Hawaiian shirts mingle at the
blackjack tables 24 hours a day.
At Atlantis, there is just as much action
outside the casino as in. When dinnertime rolls around, head to one of the
resort’s ultra-styled celebrity chef restaurants. For southwestern on speed,
try Bobby Flay’s Mesa
Grill, complete with cow hide chairs and a stadium-sized open kitchen dishing
up spice-rubbed pork or ancho chilli-glazed salmon. Or hit up Nobu,
one of the many outposts of the famed sushi dynasty, where Russian models and Armani-clad
businessmen dine on slabs of rich fatty tuna sashimi at a long stone bar.
Afterward, the resort’s much-hyped Aura
nightclub is the place to see, be seen and drink expensive vodka. On high
season weekends it can be almost impossible to get in – look out for special
promotional deals on slightly less busy weekdays.
Oh, and when you have hit the jackpot, book
yourself into Atlantis’s $25,000 a night Bridge
Suite, in the sky-high archway connecting the two towers. May luck be a
lady for you!