Beach Biz in the Bahamas

The term “Junkanoo” is the name for the celebratory Bahamian parade dating back to the days of European colonization, somewhat similar to Mardi Gras or Carnival. When I and 13 other meeting planners arrived into Nassau International Airport, colorful Junkanoo dancers regaled in masks and elaborate feathered costumes danced to the thumping beat of their goatskin drums, cowbells, conch shell horns and whistles.

This is how the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board welcomes groups into The Bahamas. From there, DMC Bahamas handled logistics, with over 50 years of experience in group, meeting and event management, catering and convention management, hotel operations and destination administration.

Our group’s homebase was the 403-room, all-inclusive Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort, which brought all of our group attendees from the airport in either a private Mercedes Benz or Rolls Royce. The luxe living continued as we parked our bags in the oceanview Royal Ultra Suites, with private butler service, concierge service and 24-hour room service, among other niceties. Attendees in this room category are personally welcomed by a butler whose seemingly sole mission in life is to familiarize himself with his designated guests’ tastes, preferences and whims.

While Sandals properties typically cater to newly-wedded lovebirds, about 10-15% of room nights are reserved for group business, supported by 10,000 sf of meeting space. And just 10 minutes offshore via ferry, Sandals Cay is a private island where our group lounged on the powder white sand beaches while attendees with accompanying guests relaxed on wicker lounge beds for two. Sandals Cay offers a permanent full-service bar and Bahamian restaurant, with beach banquet capacity for 500 pax.

BRITISH COLONIAL HILTON The 288-room British Colonial Hilton is rich in island colonial history, perfectly situated beachside within walking distance to all of downtown Nassau’s restaurants, shopping in the Straw Market and historic cultural attractions. The hotel has the only private beach in downtown Nassau.

I had actually stayed at the British Colonial two years ago before renovations had begun and was very impressed with the new fresh look and upgrades. The property went from a traditional, conservative and Old World colonial look to a more updated yet classic and elegant style characterized by warm burgundy, soft green, yellow and dark wood furniture, giving each room a bright and clean look. The marble-tiled lobby is grand and impressive with a mural depicting Bahamian history.

The planners in our group liked the spacious size and tasteful décor of the guest rooms. All rooms have either harbor or island views and include all of the standard, updated amenities you would find in any recently renovated big city American hotel. And many in the group said the British Colonial was one of their favorite Hiltons ever, especially with the reasonable rates.

One-bedroom suites offer a separate living area, and the two junior suites and Prime Minister suite are equipped with Jacuzzi bathtubs and a private rooftop terrace overlooking the harbor. The Executive Floor rooms offer additional features and services such as separate registration area and the Executive Lounge where complimentary breakfast and refreshments are served throughout the day and evening. The hotel also refurbished its 007 suite, inspired by the hotel’s connection to the 007 movies like Thunderball that were filmed here.

For dining options, Portofino is a fun, casual restaurant serving international favorites with a Caribbean flair, or guests may enjoy cocktails at the recently renovated Bullion Bar, a relaxing elegant lounge with an impressive bar. Our group had a lavish dinner in one of the ballrooms which included a 5-course meal, giving us an lovely sampling of the hotel’s banquet food. The meeting space includes 11 meeting rooms and over 10,000 sf of flexible space for up to 400 people.

THE COVE AT ATLANTIS RESORT Another favorite site visit was The Cove at Atlantis Resort across the water on Paradise Island, just a couple minutes from downtown. One of the most distinctive of the Atlantis towers, this 600-room hotel features spacious suites characterized by contemporary sleek designs and natural woods, giving each room a warm and relaxing feel. All guestrooms have a beach view and are decorated in warm, earth-tone colors against a white background. Room types include ocean and deluxe ocean suites with king beds and French or full balcony. Spacious bathrooms with marble floors and twin granite vanities and comfortable work space give guests the feeling of a luxury high-rise apartment and are “not cookie-cutter at all in look or feel,” as stated by many of the planners in the group. All rooms also include WiFi, flat screen HDTVs, Bose 321 systems and a universal docking station for iPODs, MP3 players and laptops.

We visited the onsite Dolphins Cay, a 14-acre dolphin habitat that’s home to a playful pod of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins rescued after Hurricane Katrina. The Cove Pool and Cabana Club allow guests to further relax at the adult-only pool and beach club, which includes bar service, beach concierge and plush daybeds. We lunched at Mosaic, a buffet-style restaurant offering Mediterranean-influenced cuisine, featuring action-cooking stations preparing dishes on demand from fresh fish to churassco. There was a great variety of food and all selections were very tasty and presented artistically.

Also recommended by the group, Dolphin Encounters operates 100-pax catamaran sailboat trips out to Blue Lagoon Island for educational interaction programs with dolphins. This is the oldest such facility in The Bahamas and it’s owned by a local family, so it feels like a true blue Bahamian experience.