Nassau is a frequently visited port on many Bahamas travel routes, but some travelers may feel uneasy about the busy atmosphere and the persistent vendors.
As a result, some individuals who have visited before may opt to remain onboard the ship rather than explore the beaches, shopping, and water-based activities available in the area.
However, with careful preparation, having a wonderful day while the ship is docked in Nassau is possible, making it a shame to miss out on all the excitement.
Follow these 11 tips for navigating Nassau to make the most of your day in the Bahamas:
Get off the ship early
Chances are your ship will arrive in the Bahamas right around sunrise. Wake up early and hit the top decks for a great photo op. The channel leading into Nassau is downright beautiful, with a lighthouse at the tip of a peninsula. Once the ship has docked, disembark as soon as possible.
Nassau is a very popular port and often has as many as five ships visiting daily. That means 20,000 passengers or more will be hitting the island simultaneously. Get out early to beat the crowds to the beach and shops. Plus, you’ll feel less stressed and more relaxed without some of the congestion.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate
An army of tour vendors will await you at the pier, hustling for your business. They have a lot of competition, which makes it a buyer’s market.
Don’t like the price they’re asking? Walk away. Chances are good they’ll follow with a lower offer. And if not, someone else will. I once watched a family of five negotiate an island tour from $200 to $125. Don’t feel bad for the vendor when you agree on a lower price. Trust me: He’s making money.
Read More: Breezes Bahamas Day Pass Review
Walk along the pier to snap great photos
Don’t lie: You want to make all the people back home jealous of your awesome vacation. Heck, isn’t that the whole reason Facebook exists?
Fortunately, you don’t have to go far from Nassau’s pier to snap the perfect photo. You can get great shots of the ship, the colorful shops, and the waterfront from the pier. Or walk into town to find more opportunities to clog your Instagram feed, think: Señor Frogs and other local eateries and shops.
Never pay full price in shops
In the same way you negotiated with vendors trying to sell you on a land tour, you’ll want to haggle for the best price in Nassau’s shops.
The merchants expect it, and set their prices accordingly. Sure, they hope that naive tourists will walk in and simply plop down their money, but they know that most people will try to get a bargain.
If someone offers you a t-shirt for $15, ask if they’ll take $20 for two. The worst thing that can happen is they say no, and you go make the same deal at the next shop.
Take the water taxi to Atlantis
Want to take a cheap tour of the island? When you leave the cruise terminal area, turn right and head to the water taxi pier. A ride-on-the-water taxi can be a mini-excursion that helps you avoid paying inflated cruise ship excursion prices.
A boat will take you on a 20-minute narrated ride to Atlantis Bahamas, an expansive high-end resort on its island. The tour guide will hit you up for tips on the way out, but I think the trip is well worth the cost.
Once at Atlantis, you have a choice of activities and price points. You can pay a ton to hit the waterpark, beach, and aquarium; explore the hotel’s restaurants and casino; or check out the gorgeous lobby for free.
Eat lunch on the ship
You already paid for the food on your cruise, so eating overpriced burgers in Nassau makes no sense when you get one for free onboard. On one visit, we paid $13 for a beer and almost $20 for a burger at Atlantis. Never again.
That said, if you want to try some of the local fare, several fantastic joints are serving up conch fritters, many with outdoor seating. Twin Brothers is a popular spot for local seafood and conch, or you can ask a local for where to get the best Bahamian fare for the lowest price.
Take the bus
If you’re considering visiting Baha Mar, a resort on New Providence Island’s popular Cable Beach, or simply don’t feel like walking down to the Fish Fry, skip the taxi.
For $1.25, you can catch the local bus to numerous stops along the waterfront. The bus service is laid back, so you can ask the driver to stop if you want to stop somewhere. Take the #10 bus, which heads down Bay Street along the coast.
Don’t rent a scooter
The Bahamian locals have a saying about visitors who rent scooters: They come as passengers and leave as cargo.
Translation: Many people who rent scooters on the island wind up hurt. The traffic flow in Nassau can be downright terrifying, and this leads to a lot of accidents. Save the $50 it costs to rent a scooter (and potentially your life) by taking a cab or bus instead.
Don’t limit yourself to excursions offered by the ship
Yes, there are valid reasons for taking shore excursions booked through the ship, especially if you’re a first-time visitor. You don’t want to get lost and be left behind when the ship leaves port. But you pay dearly for that peace of mind. In the Bahamas, plenty of reputable vendors sell Nassau shore excursions at far better prices than you’ll get if you book through the cruise line.
If you want to visit a resort, you don’t need to book a tour; websites like Resort For a Day and Trip Advisor can give great suggestions.
READ MORE: Cruises From Nassau: What You Need To Know
Plan an easy beach day at Junkanoo Beach
Want to hit a beach but don’t feel like taking a cab or booking an excursion? Junkanoo Beach is an easy 15-minute walk from the cruise pier. It’s located just past the Colonial Hilton. You may have to kindly but firmly reject a few pushy vendors, but that’s true everywhere in Nassau (outside of the high-end resorts).
If you’d like to stop for a drink after your day on Junkanoo, the wildly popular Señor Frogs is located directly on your route back to your ship from the beach.
Look for port-day specials
If you decide to stay on the ship, check the daily program left in your cabin for port-day specials. Maybe you can get a relaxing massage at the spa for 25 percent off or a discounted day pass to the thermal suite. Look for fun onboard events designed for cruisers who stay on the ship, or enjoy the lack of crowds by the pool or on the water slide. Sometimes, when ships stay in port into the evening or overnight, they offer dining specials to encourage people to spend their money on board instead of in port.
(This article was updated in September 2023)
Video: 5 Tips for Navigating Nassau, Bahamas
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