Located just over a narrow waterway from Nassau, Paradise Island offers the best of the Caribbean—sun, sand, pampering resorts—but in a small, easy-to-explore package. Even better, a wide range of properties let you choose the experience that suits your personality.
Small Resort: The Four Seasons Ocean Club
It’s just about 5:00 pm when I hear an unexpected knock at my door. Peering through the peephole, I see what must be a mirage: a tuxedoed waiter holding a tray containing two flutes of sparkling wine and a plate of chocolate covered strawberries. Turns out it’s not my imagination: each evening, at sunset, Champagne and chocolate are delivered to every room, along with a smile and wish for a lovely night. As the light deepens, I stand on my balcony, listening to the chorus of ringing crystal flutes from guests in nearby room and their quiet murmurs as they discuss their evening plans. Many will choose to stay on property for dinner at Dune, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s French-Asian restaurant. If you can, reserve a table next to the tall windows, which offer uninterrupted views of the ocean.
Open since 1962, this historic resort has, over the years, hosted A-listers ranging from Frank Sinatra and Daniel Craig to Beyonce and Jay-Z; Kerry Washington, Angela Bassett and Cindy Crawford. Rebranded in early 2018 as a Four Seasons, the resort’s classic Caribbean style remains. Broad green lawns dappled with hammocks, tall palms and Adirondack chairs overlook a wide, empty beach that fronts the electric blue Caribbean. Walking paths wind through the lush 36 acre estate and lead to the elegant colonial-style lobby building, where you can sip a martini at the same bar where James Bond ordered his in the 2006 movie Casino Royale. Be sure to make time for the tennis center and spa, which is comprised of individual treatment villas set within its own private walled garden. Three pools—including one set up for kids and one just for adults–mean you’ll never have to get up at dawn to save your chaise lounge with a paperback and a bottle of sunscreen. Both the Four Seasons and Atlantis offer access to the Ocean Club Golf Course, which was designed by Tom Weiskopf and features several ocean-view holes.
The resort is also home to one of the island’s unique features: the ruins of a 12th-century Augustinian cloister that the original owner had taken apart, crated and shipped from France. It was reassembled, piece by piece, and stands on a sloping hillside overlooking the resort’s tiered Versailles-inspired garden, a dreamy space filled with koi ponds, marble statuary, hidden reflection gardens and emerald-green lawns. It’s a lovely spot for a picnic…or a wedding. Like the rest of the resort, it exudes a sense of peace and space, inviting guests to pause and enjoy their surroundings.
Most of the 107 rooms and suites have ocean views; all have private terraces and oversized marble bathrooms with double sinks. Comprising part of the original club, the Hartford Wing has a nautical theme with a bright, tropical vibe. Rooms in the newer Crescent Wing are decorated with traditional deep mahogany furnishings and rattan touches.
Big Resort: Atlantis
I was nervous about my stay at Atlantis. As a rule, I’ll choose intimate over sprawling every time. My first pleasant surprise arrived moments after my arrival. Assuming that my mid-morning arrival would mean that my room wouldn’t be ready, I’d booked a treatment at the spa, where I could hang out (and shower) before checking in. Although the spa was busy, I was welcomed warmly and led to a massive waiting area filled with magazines and comfy couches. I also had access to the hydrotherapy area, where I could indulge in a steam, a mineral bath or a sauna while I waited. And while the facilities were lovely, it was the staff that made a difference, providing an abundance of products for me to use when I realized I’d forgotten my own.
So what exactly is Atlantis? In a nutshell, it’s a 171-acre megaresort—3,000 guest rooms fill five hotels, each with their own personality–arranged around a water park featuring 18 water slides, two mile-long river rides, 20 swimming areas and 11 swimming pools. I didn’t expect to try any of the water features, but peer pressure won out and, after grabbing an inner tube, I spent 30 exhilarating minutes whooshing through rapids surrounded by families too busy laughing to even think about their phones. The open-air, ocean-fed marine habitat is the largest in the world; underground viewing areas transform parts into a giant aquarium, complete with scheduled feedings and opportunities for interaction, like snorkeling. An early morning run through the property turned out to be the best way to take in the mesmerizing exhibits: not only was the area deserted, but the cool tunnels provided a shady respite from the sun. It was impressive, too, filled with elegant manta rays, sneering Moray eels, ethereal jellyfish and otherworldly hammerhead sharks and sawfish.
Beyond offering a wealth of typical vacation diversions—shopping, gambling, sunning—the resort is surprisingly rich in cultural experiences as well. At the newly-opened Fish by Jose Andres, diners can taste (and learn about) lionfish, a predatory species that is decimating reefs throughout the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. The ice-cream bar at the recently-renovated Coral Hotel celebrates traditional Bahamian desserts like Guava Duff and ingredients such as sea grapes, watermelon jam and allspice. There are also outposts of beloved Bahamian restaurants where guests can try traditional dishes and drinks, craft shops selling only items made in the Bahamas and a Bahamian story hour for kids. The most recent cultural addition is Sacred Space, a sculpture series featuring seven dancing women that was created by Antonius Roberts, a renowned Bahamian artist and sculptor. The piece was made withlocal Madeira wood and represents the intention of triumph, hope and determination and a vision to help conserve Bahamian heritage.