Away Game: Bahamas
Las Vegas East
Paradise Island's Cove at Atlantis has the sun and scene
The enduring allure of a place like the Bahamas is that it offers you a vacation from yourself.
It's just as true when you fly commercial and drop $600 a night at the plush Cove Atlantis on Paradise Island as it is when Tiger Woods floats in on a 150-foot yacht and parks it in front of his villa at Albany outside of Nassau.
The Cove is the sybaritic all-suite flagship of the 171-acre Atlantis property. While checking in at one of the private alcoves off the open-air lobby, you're issued a wristband that gives you exclusive access to Cain at the Cove—the adults-only "ultra-pool" that features bottle service, a rotating squad of DJs spinning pulsating house music and the finest people-watching in the Caribbean. Guests at the neighboring Royal Towers can only peek past the gate guards enviously as you embrace your inner Kanye.
The vast Atlantis complex is a small city—it employs more than 5,000 people—and the Cove is its Rodeo Drive. The prices are eye-wateringly gougey, even for an island resort. Straight ginger ale is $6 a can at Cain, and a basic chicken entrée at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill is $40. But there is no better place to disconnect from real life and baste yourself in vitamin D. On our trip, the boy band The Wanted was filming an episode of its reality show in a poolside cabana.
Booking a room at the more economical Royal Towers ($325 per night) or Coral Towers ($275) is hardly like being sent to the penalty box. All Atlantis guests get free access to the 140-acre Aquaventure water park and its massive water slides and mile-long river ride. Buses connect all the towers and the clutch of restaurants down by the marina. Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill, Nobu sushi and Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Dune are the headliners, but we had our most satisfying meal at Carmine's, an outpost related to the New York City group of Italian restaurants. Thanks to the expertly prepared family-style entrées, our group of 12 enjoyed dinner and wine for about $50 a person.
Golf takes up a relatively small footprint at Atlantis, but its lone 18-hole course, the Ocean Club, is a place you shouldn't miss. It started as a Dick Wilson design in 1962, though it wasn't much more than a charming diversion for the rich and famous staying at the adjacent hotel—and a safety buffer for Paradise Island's old airstrip. The current iteration of the course is the same in name only. Tom Weiskopf started with a blank piece of paper, and he devised a new routing for his 7,159-yard tropical challenge.
Weiskopf made almost Scottish use of the prevailing winds to build the oceanfront holes so that they play mostly into the breeze, making them wonderful to walk but torturous to play. The bent hairpin combination of Nos. 4-6 is the most entertaining and picturesque. The fourth is a 410-yard monster that plays straight toward the beach—into the wind but downhill. Use one club too much and you're literally out to sea. The fifth plays virtually the same distance, but the comma-shape fairway prevents you from taking much advantage of the helping wind. The tee box on the par-5 sixth feels like an isthmus in the middle of the ocean. The beach runs down the right side, and an evil pond runs the first 200 yards down the left side to swallow any feeble ocean-avoiders.
Don't miss long on the Ocean Club's fourth.
The view from oceanfront holes reinforces the Bahamas' evident hideaway charms. It has miles of pristine beaches, legalized gambling, favorable tax laws and cheap and plentiful security. It's also less than 200 miles from Miami—a one-hour jet ride or a day's boat trip. (Freeport, the Bahamas' other major town, is on another island 130 miles away. Don't fly to the wrong place.)
Woods, Ernie Els and Isleworth developers of the Tavistock Group went in together on the Albany development, a few miles west of the Nassau airport. Els designed the course—which opened in 2010. The golfers—Woods, Els, Adam Scott, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose have homes there—can sequester themselves in complete tropical privacy and head over to the Cove for blackjack at $200 a hand with Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
By late next year, you'll have more choices—for rooms and golf. The $3.5 billion Baha Mar resort is going in 10 minutes away from the Nassau airport and across the bridge from Atlantis. The property will feature a Jack Nicklaus signature course, a casino and hotel options, including a Mondrian and a Grand Hyatt.
With the two competing properties scheduled to go head-to-head in December 2014, escapism probably just got a little less expensive.
If you're on a budget, stay in Nassau instead of Paradise Island. The British Colonial Hilton ($209 a night) is between the Ocean Club and the airport, has a private beach and is close to Nassau landmarks like the Queen's Staircase (built in honor of Queen Victoria's role in abolishing slavery in the Bahamas). You can even catch a bus to the Atlantis casinos for a day trip.
If you take a cab from the airport to Atlantis, your driver will try to sign you up for a guided tour. Pass on that, but take him up on the offer to ferry you back and forth to the Fish Fry—a collection of beachside shacks serving up authentic Bahamian cuisine. The conch at Oh Andros might be the best thing you eat on your trip—and it costs less than a virgin strawberry daiquiri at the Cove.
SHAKEN, NOT STIRRED
Four James Bond movies have been shot around Nassau: two with Sean Connery ("Thunderball," "Never Say Never Again"), one with Roger Moore ("The Spy Who Loved Me") and one with Daniel Craig ("Casino Royale"). Craig's Bond wins the keys to a 1965 Aston Martin DB5 in a poker game that was filmed at the Ocean Club on Paradise Island.
Cove guests get exclusive access to the Cain beach club.