The grounds of the Baha Mar, Nassau’s newest resort, are sprawling and grand, the finely manicured landscape of evenly sized green-leafed palms cut with dollops of azure — the 11 pools. From above, in your plane landing at the nearby Lynden Pindling International Airport or on a high floor of any of the three hotel complexes surrounding the 1,000-acre grounds, the resort shines like a brochure-ready paradise. This is the Bahamas that Americans expect, a bright dream of sunshine and clean water, where a white towel and a pina colada are always on hand, the whole place easily and conveniently categorized: the kids pool, the touch tank, the party pool with bumping techno, the golf course, the beach, and, in a location that is almost impossible to avoid when going anywhere else, the casino.
At the Baha Mar, as long as you are not expecting a truly luxurious experience, there are few serious complaints. It is a place to drink copiously in your swimsuit, to gamble, to eat good, overpriced food, to drink some more, and flail at the club or in the casino, even when the junkanoo, a boisterous Mardi Gras-esque procession of drummers, brass players, and flamboyant dancers, materializes in the hallway. (Not including the local artwork on the walls, that’s about all of Bahamian culture you will glimpse at the Baha Mar.) Just remember that it pays not to think too much or ask too many questions, inquiries such as: Why is my water bottle so much? Should I really be betting another $100? Is it annoying that breakfast is not included with the suite? Is it ironic that the cafe uses paper straws alongside plastic-wrapped plastic utensils? Try to silence your mind, if you can: You are here, you are spending too much, you are enjoying yourself.
In October, I spent three nights at the Baha Mar SLS, one of the three hotels that make up the mega-resort, for my brother’s bachelor party (the Grand Hyatt and the Rosewood are the others on-site). There were more than a dozen of us divided among three rooms. It was the premier venue for such an event, a self-contained party universe: nowhere to get lost or run into trouble, a strong drink always on hand, 24-hour room service for 3 a.m. chicken sandwich orders and, of course, the casino. Heading in, we figured no one was going to ask us to quiet down at the Baha Mar, and no one did.
For the first day, we had planned on renting a private cabana in the party pool, which is sectioned off with a wall of vegetation. But when we arrived, there was hardly anyone around. Skipping the three-grand cabana, we instead opted for the $500 regular access fee (drinks not included). There were minor inconveniences: a lethargic waitstaff, a strangely hostile bouncer, a poorly planned building on-site that blocked out the sun by three o’clock. But the basic necessities were well provided for: a clean pool, ample lounging space, loud music, palm trees, and warm sea air. That night we ate at the Katsuya Japanese restaurant in the casino, which was exquisite, especially the crispy-rice spicy tuna starters and the wagyu gyoza. And the Bond Club was visited each night, a deafening, modestly sized venue with flashy lights and drunken adolescents mixed alongside tipsy locals.
For our party, the ocean served more as a tool for hangover recovery than a site of real recreation. No snorkeling or jet skiing or parasailing was attempted, though all is on offer at the Baha Mar. There was only a queasy walk through the casino and out toward the beach, a stop by Daq’s cabana bar for a hair-of-the-dog daiquiri, then a plop into the waves with a warm, friendly sun renewing our spirits and preparing us for more — the ocean as a charging outlet.
We lodged in the “superior two bedroom suite” for about $800 a night. Nearly everything in it was cloud-white. There was a spacious kitchen meagerly stocked with supplies, two bathrooms equipped with soft robes, and three beds with plenty of space for four men, (I slept on a cot in the living room). The mini bar went well used, with the running joke, “There goes $20” quipped with every opened nip. Still, we were happy to be adding money into the local economy: Though Nassau was spared Hurricane Dorian’s wrath, much of the Bahamas was devastated. Baha Mar says that it has donated over $2 million to the relief efforts.
We were occupying one of the higher floors, the view never got old. I liked gazing down and taking in the workings of the resort. The guests were a mix of young families, couples, and wedding parties like our own. The sea breeze was constant, and in the distance, almost like a threat, loomed Atlantis, the veteran mega-resort in these parts.
I did not gamble a cent but among the other guys, the casino went well used. The largest casino in the Caribbean, it was not overcrowded and seemed well-managed, staffed with jovial Bahamians. Still, one could sense they were a bit green. When a Chinese high-roller dropped chips equating to $50,000 or so on our craps table, they had to pause the game for a long while to make the correct calculations. But we had become used to such minor inconveniences, the expected hiccups of a young resort targeting the masses. One couldn’t expect perfection at the Baha Mar, only a good time.