Two things always push the price tag over the planned budget: food and hotel. While packing I say to myself, “This is crazy! The cost of this trip is insane! What am I doing? “ Then I start whispering to myself, “OK, I just won’t eat breakfast or lunch while there and will pick off the kids’ plates. We’ll have a late breakfast, skip lunch, only drink water and have two meals a day.” This isn’t starting to sound like a fun vacation after all!
I was invited, along with 10 other families, by the Paradise Island Tourism Development Association to visit and stay at the Comfort Suites in Paradise Island, Bahamas. Since this was a two-day visit to Paradise, I decided to take my nine-year old daughter Skylar (aka Sky) along for the trip. Our adventure began early Friday morning when Sky and I hopped on a plane from Boston to Nassau, Bahamas with a connecting flight in Charlotte, North Carolina. While in Charlotte, we had the absolute pleasure of meeting Adam Binder. Adam works with Paradise Island Tourism and treated Sky and I like we were family from the onset. He greeted us with a big smile and started the trip by giving Skylar a stuffed fish. Adam accompanied us the entire time we were traveling both in the air and throughout the weekend.
Atlantis Hotel, Paradise Island, Bahamas
You may or may not of heard the buzz over the years about the Atlantis Hotel, Paradise Island, Bahamas. This is an extraordinary hotel which accommodates the smallest of kids to the young at heart. With 20 pool areas, 11 distinctive pools, 8+ water slides, rapids, a lazy river, water playground and restaurant options that vary from Virgils BBQ of NY and Nobu to the World Market Buffet, as well as small finger food cafes along side the pools, here is definitely fun and food to accommodate all ages – from the pickiest of eaters to the most sophisticated palates.
The Marina is part of the Atlantis and is between the Comfort Suites and the Atlantis hotel. The Marina is really nice to walk around, especially at night. The lights from the hotel and yachts docked is a sight to behold. The Marina is where you will find a mixture of touristy type stores and restaurants such as Johnny Rocket’s, Carmines Italian of NY, Murrays Deli, Bimini Road Café and Ben & Jerry’s.
Skylar drinking her kid-friendly strawberry daiquiri from the Marina.
Friday evening we were invited to dinner at the Bimini Road Café which is one of the non-themed restaurants on the Marina. The menu offers both kid friendly meals as well as casual dining for the adults. Skylar and I shared a Surf and Turf. We were a rather large party and the staff handled it with professionalism and smiles.
We entered the restaurant while it was still daylight. By the time all 36 of us were finished eating it was dark out. The Marina was well lit with a fun musical vibe. The reflection of the lights from the Atlantis and yachts were most impressive
Marina at night – Atlantis lit up and yacht in the water.
Skylar and her new friend, Sawyer on Friday night.
Saving Money by Staying at the Comfort Suites Paradise Island
However kid friendly the Atlantis may be, staying at the Atlantis can be a hit to your vacation budget. Yes, they may have the Awesome World Market breakfast buffet (approximately $30 per person, so $120 for a family of four for just breakfast). And depending on the tower you stay in, a typical night for a family of four can run anywhere from $175 to $500 per night. Larger families will need an additional room, which in turn means doubling the price of your lodging stay – OUCH! And wifi will run you an additional $20 per day. The rooms are typical one and two bed rooms with nowhere to sit other than on your bed, too.
To me, spending a ton of money on a hotel room while on vacation drives me crazy. I can never validate spending a couple hundred per night when you are literally in your room just to sleep and shower since the amount of time we actually spend in our room is so minimal. I would much rather spend the money on the vacation itself. This is where my secret is revealed. The Comfort Suites Paradise Island is a smaller hotel located approximately 150 yards across the way from the Atlantis. The Comfort Suites has 229 rooms and has recently gone through a $5 million renovation, including upgrades to the bedding and room décor as well as the lobby area. In addition, all of the rooms are suites, which are ideal for parents needing a little privacy from the kids at the end of the day. Each room has either a king or two double beds as well as a clearly separated living room with a pull out couch and FREE wifi.
Standard room with two double beds.
Sitting area with pull out couch.
Room with king bed.
Shan Sands runs the show at the Comfort Suites and has for years. She‘s funny, smart, professional and LOVES her guests.
The smile on her face is big every time you see her. Shan strives for 100% satisfaction from her staff 100% of the time.
The Comfort Suites has a restaurant, bar/lounge and a pool with a swim-up bar.
Pool with swim up bar.
Crystal has been working the pool bar for the past 22 years – and she’s still smiling!
At the Comfort Suites, breakfast is also included in your stay and offers all you need without feeling guilty that you are paying $10 for a bowl of cereal or $5 for a piece of toast. My kids usually pour a bowl of cereal, take two spoonfuls, then run back for a muffin that they decided they didn’t like or a plate full of scrambled eggs. This is what I call guilt-free breakfast.
Breakfast at the Comfort Suites restaurant.
Skylar and Sawyer – these smiles were on their faces the entire trip.
Full Access Pass to the Atlantis
And if this all isn’t enough, the Comfort Suites is the only hotel located on both Paradise Island and Nassau that allows you full access to the Atlantis at no additional charge! Just show your pink room card when at the Atlantis hotel and you are able to get a wristband which allows you full access to Water Adventure, pools, slides, restaurants, etc. It’s like being an overnight guest at the hotel – only you aren’t! A typical day pass for someone to visit the Atlantis is $149/person. However, this fee does not include the excursions (Dolphin, Sea Lion, Stingray, etc.) The excursions are additional charges whether a guest at the Atlantis or a guest for the day. For guests at the Comfort Suites the fee to use the facilities at the Atlantis is ZERO. Yes, it’s totally FREE!
On Saturday morning we were invited to visit Dolphin Cay. Dolphin Cay is located at the end of the Atlantis property and is home to 40 dolphins and sea lions. Visiting the Dolphin Encounter there was a highlight for us. Not only did we get to go in the water and see these amazing creatures, we each got to hug, kiss and pet these incredible mammals. I don’t know who was more excited about this, Skylar or myself. The team at Dolphin Cay were professional and very informative. What amazed us as much as the dolphins was their background story. Dolphin Cay is home to the 40 dolphins that were rescued from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. You are able to see the scars and war wounds on each and every one of them, and the pure sense of happiness they have for being rescued and reunited with their “family.” We are so thankful for the team at the Atlantis for saving them and for allowing the guests to get a small glimpse into the life of this incredible species.
The wet suits we needed to wear for our dolphin encounter.
Us at Dolphin Encounter!
After the Dolphin Encounter, Sky and I spent the day at the Atlantis Waterpark tubing through the rapids and going down a majority of the water slides. We still can’t decide if our favorite one is the Serpent Slide, a ride through a plastic tube through the massive shark tank, or the Falls and Drop Water Slides that are located in the Mayan Temple at the end of the raging rapids.
Atlantis Kids Adventures
Atlantis Kids Adventures is a KIDS ONLY location within the Atlantis! Parents are not allowed to enter. The only time parents can see this area is with a scheduled tour that is offered one time per day at 5:15pm. Parents can drop off their kids ranging in ages from 3-12, for a few hours each day. There are two drop off sessions: a three-hour session in the morning or a four-hour session in the afternoon. Parents can feel comfortable leaving their kids knowing that they will be well taken of and entertained for hours.
Arts and crafts, cooking, imaginative play, and computer lab (no internet access for the kids) are just some of the fun things keeping the kids busy while you are out at the casino or enjoying a meal. There is also a special room that I’m not allowed to mention. All I will say is, “Willy Wonka!” The cost for one child to enter is $45 for the morning session and $60 for the afternoon session.
Imaginative play area.
Kitchen cooking area.
Kids having a blast!
Mac computer lab.
We were fortunate enough to have been here on a Saturday night and able to enjoy the Junkanoo Parade. This parade is a weekly event and takes place in the evening on the Marina. The best I can describe it is as the Bahamas version of Mardi Gras, without the beads. The music is so upbeat and the costumes look like something off of a Las Vegas stage. The participants of the parade are so warm and friendly and welcome photos with both children and adults alike, watching in awe from the side.
Sky and dancer at the Junkanoo Parade.
Encounter with the Stingrays
Our visit to Paradise was coming to a near end the next morning but there was just one thing left on our itinerary. You see, Skylar’s new friend Sawyer was a 1/2 inch too short to ride the waterslides. Adam Binder did all he could to get Sawyer on the slides but had little success. Adam decided that he was going to do something special for Sawyer. Since Skylar and Sawyer were pretty much inseparable, Adam invited us to join in this next venture, “Encounter with the Stingrays.” Now, my initial reaction was, “This is SO cool”! Let’s be honest, how often can one get in the water with the stingrays?
We walked the Stingray Lagoon earlier that night just to see what we were in store for on Sunday. Adam made the mistake of mentioning that there were sharks in the water swimming along with the Stingrays. This put an instant fear in Skylar and she decided immediately that she would just watch on Sunday and not participate. In my mind I figured that she will end up doing it because it is pretty much a once in a lifetime opportunity, she has pet stingrays at the aquarium before and they are harmless.
Sunday morning came and we met with Adam, Sawyer and Hollie (Sawyer’s Mom) down at breakfast. Our flight was scheduled to leave a bit later than the rest so while the most of the team ventured back to their rooms to finish packing and head for the airport, the five of us walked across to the Atlantis for the Stingray Encounter. We arrive at the Stingray location and we were greeted with the “Stingray Team of Two.” I didn’t realize that the four of us were to be doing this so I came in my shorts and T-shirt. I thought this was just for the kids. Needless to say it wasn’t and I braved the water fully dressed.
To better understand what happens next let me start of by saying that no one else was in the lagoon. It was just the four of us heading in. Hollie and I were handed a glove and a bucket of shrimp and octopus. We were told to shuffle our feet and not to run or walk quickly. The moment we stepped into the lagoon we were swarmed by 80 stingrays – EIGHTY!!!! I have never felt so stuck and claustrophobic. Imagine 80 bat-like creatures flapping their wings, and creating a piled up circle around you. While scratching you with their wings except it feels like sandpaper! There are no words to describe what it felt like.
After a few moments I chickened out and met Skylar at the rocks on the side. Hollie remained in the water, and Sawyer soon joined her. After Hollie and Sawyer fed the stingrays, I felt it safe enough to venture back in. I took Skylar’s hand and we shuffled our way across the stingray and shark infested lagoon to see the green sea turtle. Sawyer braved the stingrays and sharks and snorkeled his way over with us.
Snorkling over to pet the turtle.
Waterfall at end of Stingray Lagoon.
Skylar and Sawyer even found a starfish.
Shark swimming in the Stingray waters with us.
We made our way back to the entrance of the lagoon and Skylar decided to stay in the water, close to the edge, to pet the stingrays. Even though I didn’t brave my way through the wall of stingrays that surrounded me the way ants surround a crumb on the floor, I’m proud of both Skylar and myself for braving the shark infested waters and going out of our comfort zone.
Skylar decided to jump in the pool at the Comfort Suites one more time before heading to the airport!
The entire weekend was an incredible opportunity and experience that will last us a lifetime. Next time I plan a vacation I know where I am headed – directly to the Comfort Suites, Paradise Island. This is a place where everyone’s frowns are always turned upside down!
You can enter to win a free trip to Paradise on Facebook in the Picture Yourself in Paradise Contest.
Written By: Cindy Corbett