A Bahamas vacation is shorthand for non-stop fun in the sun. Opportunities for water play abound, from the main attractions of swimming and snorkeling at hotels to speed demon waterslides, encounters with creatures of the sea, power boat trips, and swim-up movies. Out-of-water activities are no less enticing— kids will revel in up-close visits with flamingos, lorikeets, and jaguars; marvel at the fascinating histories of the islands' forts (to say nothing of the awe-inspiring views); enthusiastically participate in poolside dance contests; and best of all, simply soak in the welcoming, festive culture of these gorgeous islands.
Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is located at one end of New Providence Island, which is located in the north-central Bahamas. The Bahamas are made up of more than 700 separate islands strung along a shallow coral reef. The population of all the islands together is slightly more than 300,000 people, and more than half of them live on New Providence. None of the islands achieves an elevation of more than a few hundred feet above sea level. They are all solid limestone (also called calcium carbonate), with shallow water tables and no rivers at all (which is why Bahamian waters are so famously clear—there's no silt to wash into the sea). Bays are called Cays and pronounced "Keys."
Thanks to breezes known as trade winds, the Bahamas have an unusually temperate climate, though you may want to avoid the hottest months of June through August, when the combination of 80-plus degree temperatures and high humidity can wilt you almost as soon as you step outside. September through May, daytime temperatures average 70 to 80 degrees; at night, ocean breezes bring the temperature down a pleasant 5 to 10 degrees.
May through October is considered the rainy season, though this is also when temperatures are hottest. A typical weather pattern is to have a period of sun and clear skies followed by gathering clouds, a quick squall or thunderstorm, and then clear skies.
June to November is hurricane season, so if you're planning a trip during this time, check for hurricane warnings before you go.
Passports are required for the Bahamas, which is an independent country that's part of the British Commonwealth. Direct flights leave from Miami and take just 45 minutes to arrive on New Providence.
New Providence, the island on which Nassau is located, is a long, narrow island that's easy to navigate because there's just one main road, Bay Street, that runs end to end. Local buses known as jitneys make the run up and down Bay Street all day, stopping every few blocks at 15-minute intervals. Taxies are metered, but it's smart to haggle for a set fare before getting in. Rental cars are available on the island, but keep in mind that you will need to drive British-style (on the other side of the road), yet most vehicles are American-style left-hand drive, making for a unique spatial challenge. Traffic on Bay Street can be terrible, so unless you need to reach out-of-the way locations, having a car may be more trouble than it's worth.
The main festival of the Bahamas is Junkanoo, held every December 26th (Boxing Day in Britain) and New Year's Day. The highlight is a Mardi Gras-style parade featuring elaborate floats and costumes and captivating drum-fueled music that doesn't start until midnight and continues until the wee hours of the morning. Like Carnival in Rio, this is a very rowdy party, featuring raucous music and dancing and lots of rum and local Kalik beer.
There is also now a "Junkanoo in June" summer festival that features music and dance as well as food and other cultural activities. It's a tamer version, cleaned up for tourists, that's very family friendly.
While the big resorts such as Sheraton Cable Beach, Atlantis, and others may sound pricey when you look at their standard rates, it's possible to pay much less. Scout websites carefully for all-inclusive package deals that offer deep discounts on room rates and may include airfare or reduced rates for activities. Special family packages often include discounts on the major attractions and tours that appeal to kids.
Head to NewOrleansOnline.com for various services (dining, attractions, hotels, etc.) around the city. Click to open, then print the coupons.