Friday, August 13, 2004

(Nassau, Oddly Enough)

As I am sure that everyone knows by now, there was a pretty big hurricane threat by the time that we left Miami this week. Now, we only go to Cozumel every other week, there is less than a month 'till the Imagination goes to dry dock, I only get Cozumel every other time, and the last Cozumel we were too busy for either of us to go. So, of course, this week we are going to the Bahamas instead.

On one hand, it is a bummer for the guests, as they were all expecting to go to Cozumel and Key West. However since Key West is undergoing repairs on their pier right now, they would have missed it anyway, and honestly none of the guests really wanted to see a hurricane from the ship (although I did). This way they were going to get to have two stops, as the Bahamas are only 50 miles from Miami. We were going to go to Nassau and Freeport.

There is something that I really don't understand. I can't for the life of me figure out why we didn't have late nights both nights. Our first night was in Nassau, and we were there 'till ten. To be honest, the islands are so close together we could have left at 2 and still made Freeport before 6 am, but that isn't that unusual. What was weird to me was that they made everyone come back to the boat by 5 in Freeport. There is a complete full day of sailing between there and Miami, and it can't possibly be over 70 miles. We were at sea for 36 hours, which means that we were averaging less than 2 miles per hour on the way back. I realize that we save a lot of fuel this way, but it seems to me that we could have left at 10 and still averaged under 3 miles per hour and saved a lot of gas (particularly over sailing to Cozumel and back). It was funny, there was no wake, it looked like we were sitting still for a day. But I digress . . .

I felt really bad for the shore excursion manager. The switch to the Bahamas was (of course) completely last-second, and she had gigantic amounts of paperwork to fill out before the next day, and tours to line up, and they try to set up in time for the guests to buy them. I decided not to bother her about a tour for me, and I headed off on my own.

I decided to head over to Paradise Island and see the Atlantis hotel and casino. I have heard that it is spectacular, and there was a ferry boat right outside the ship to take me there. Before I got off the boat, I had lunch and took a couple of pictures of the Disney boat, which was next to us. It has a very interesting bow on it, pretty . . . but an almost ridiculously opulent waste of space. Over half of the front bow is unusable, but it has a pretty pool. I don't know if the front deck is for the employees like ours, but I seriously doubt it by the looks of it. :) I also got a quick picture of them lowering a lifeboat, and one of some close-by beaches. They were completely empty, even though it was after 10 am.

As the ferry pulled away, I got a great view of all of the cruise ships (three were Carnival, as you can tell by the tails) parked there in a row. I thought that it was nice of them to let us park there, since we normally never go to the Bahamas. I could also see the Atlantis Resort from here, as well as from the boat. The island we were going to is called Paradise Island. It used to be called Hog Island, but it was deemed later to not be as conducive to tourism as Paradise Island is. I personally feel, after spending some time there, that they might as well call it Atlantis Island. Here it is again as we got closer. The kind of sky bridge between two of the towers as a gigantic suite in it, and the boat driver said that it is around $25,000 a night to stay there. He was a bit hard to hear, so he might have said $2,500, but I don't think so. Either way, it is a bit more costly than a Ramada, although the lower-priced rooms are priced around what a Holiday Inn would be.

We pulled in and docked, which pretty much consisted of dancing around a dozen other ferry boats and backing up to the pier until the back end hit it. The driver was pretty skillful at it, but should be as he does it about fifty times a day. As I was getting off, I saw a sailboat type that I have read about, but hadn't seen in person before. I think that it is called a gaff-rigged sail, but I'm not sure.

I got off and headed toward Atlantis. While it was an interesting walk, my one-word description of it would be "big." Yes, it has lots of cool things and such, but you really can't have a competitive resort of this side without that. It isn't that everything was incredibly beautiful (although some parts were), it is that everything is incredibly large. Here is the entranceway sculpture, taken at a long distance away so that I could get it in the shot. There is a waterway entrance next to the casino, where there were gigantic and excruciatingly expensive yachts parked. The entrance doors were made to look like palace doors, a couple of feet thick and over twenty feet high. You walk into a foyer that is probably 4 or 5 stories high, the vaulted round ceiling ending in a small hole painted to look like you are looking at the sky. There are HUGE thrones and glass crystal-looking sculptures, and lots of very expensive shops.

I honestly wasn't that impressed with the casino, partially because (I think) it had been really built up by descriptions I had heard of it. To be honest, it was just a sea of identical-looking slot machines in long rows. I realize that slots are the bread and butter of a casino, and that they don't make that much off the tables. However, I still carry this romantic notion that a really up-scale casino should be a bunch of gorgeous tables and roulette wheels and such. Again, size (more than beauty) dominated the casino room. There was a big ball, made up of what looked like melted globs of colored glass, at the end of the room. It was big (there easily could have been a large Chevy conversion van inside and you'd never know it), and supposedly cost over a million dollars. I am assuming that they bought it by the pound.

I decided to walk the entire hotel and grounds, which took me a little over two hours. The theme (as I am sure that you surmised by the name) is an Atlantis/ruins/water theme. There is a restaurant, as well as long sections of walkways, that are under ground level so that you can look right into the water that surrounds the buildings everywhere. There are tons of fish, and sting rays seem to be a theme here. They also have what is supposedly the only manta ray in captivity. It was so big that I couldn't ever seem to capture a picture of the whole thing. There are lots of underwater ruins, and a long walk just called "The Dig." All of this can be seen from above also, when you are walking around the hotel, but it is tough to get a picture through the glare of the water. Here is one of many shallow ray-ponds, they raise sting rays from babies and have them everywhere. I walked past one pond with huge sucker-type fish. I realize that it doesn't look that big, but if you look closely between it and the rock there is a needle-fish. The needle-fish is longer than my arm, the big fish is significantly longer than I am.

As you walk around, there are fountains, bridges, and pretty nice scenery overall. You often walk down to a lower level and realize that you are back to looking into the water that you were seeing above. In one of them, there was not only a medium-sized shark, but a gigantic fish of a type I am not sure of. There unfortunately isn't anything of scale around it, but if you look to the lower-right you will see (much closer to me) my tank-bag. Now it is big enough for my laptop, and this fish's head is the size or bigger than the bag. Its eyes were the size of plums, and the most impressive thing was how thick it was. You can't tell in the picture, but it was over a foot thick, not a thin wispy fish like most others. One pool was even filled with small hammerhead sharks.

I really didn't think that these pictures would turn out (I am constantly amazed at this camera), so I didn't even attempt to take a couple of pictures that I now wish that I had missed (I have no idea why, since I have unlimited film). They have a huge waterslide and a wandering inner-tube creek that both run THROUGH the lakes. You can see people drifting along, with sharks all around them and even resting on top of the glass tube they are in. I'm sure that it is modeled off of a similar one in Vegas that I have heard about. It was just funny, looking through glass at people inside a tube inside the water, looking back at you.

This is a view when I got a ways away, looking back at the hotel. In between (and out in the water in a large swimming area) there is a round, outdoor restaurant that you can't see. I later wished that I had taken a picture of it, as it had a feature not immediately noticeable from anywhere other than inside. I happened to be walking along these underground areas with the water all around (where the shark was, and often the glass went all the way overhead so you could look up at the water) and happened upon a very large spiral staircase. When I went up, I found myself right in the middle of the restaurant. The tunnels actually led under the lakes to end up there, the restaurant was really just an outside ring, the center was the large staircase.

As I walked along the beach (the hotel has three MILES of beach frontage), there was what they called an "adventure trail." It was cute, with lots of waterfalls and nice scenery, including a rope bridge that crossed some of the pond and waterfalls. After this I walked back into the hotel on the other end. It is made up of three towers, that all connect at the bottom (and two of them with the really expensive room at the top).

I spent just over two hours total, walking all of the grounds. In the connecting areas between the towers, they had shopping. Expensive, Gucci, Armani, Versace, etc. I walked past the Versace store three times before I finally gave up and went inside. They had two silk shirts in the window (I am a sucker for black silk shirts), and I was curious just how much they were ($600 or so). I saw a Versace t-shirt that I REALLY liked, so I thought that I would check how much it was. I decided that REALLY liking it was relative, as I didn't particularly like it enough to pay $280 for it . . .

I thought that I'd walk around Paradise island a bit more, but it seemed to pretty much just be dominated by the Atlantis. There were some shops and such, and several people offered me drugs, and I left. It turns out that there is a bit more to the island, that I would have had to walk the other way quite a ways, but I didn't know that at the time.

As a side note, why the heck does everyone offer me drugs? Do I REALLY look like a druggie? I am telling you, the do NOT offer them to everyone. They will go by a string of people, stop at me, and ask me if I want drugs. It has happened to me over a dozen times in the past four months, each time they would only ask me . . . even with a bunch of other people around. One guy here even stopped his car in the middle of the road (after passing over 50 other people walking on the sidewalk) and thought that I looked like the most prospective customer. I wish that I lived there and was assured that the cops weren't in on it, I'd volunteer to be bait. I'd be happy to turn each one of these guys in personally.

I walked part-way up one of the bridges that lead to the island just to get a better view and to look at the pirate-dinner ships below. I happened to notice that they were each a Viking-style ship, with a large mast in the center. The mast actually did nothing, as all of the ropes were tied to it rather than using pulleys or blocks, the mast was just for looks. :(

When I took the next ferry back, I noticed it was for sale. I asked the guy if business wasn't that great, and he replied to say that business was so good that he had just bought a bigger and faster boat, and was wanting to get rid of this one. I got a bit irritated with another passenger. The guy was walking the last of us to get on to his boat, and the guy starts walking past it towards some of the empty boats. He got upset when he found out that we were getting on the boat the guy had (and the only one currently leaving), and asked the driver if he expected him to "pile" in to the boat. Now, the boat had chairs everywhere, around 15 of which were still empty. He wasn't asking him to stand shoulder-to-shoulder or sit on someone's lap, and the guy pointed out that there were several empty seats, enough together that he could have sat by himself with a couple of seats on each side. The guy got on, but when the driver walked away he got really pissy and grumbled and complained about how incredibly "overcrowded" the boat was. Apparently he only wants to ride on boats that are at half-capacity, and expects each guy to leave when the boat is only half-empty. After all, every other seat there is just for looks, right? What a jerk.