Updated: May 21, 2015
Nassau Bahamas Day Trip - Power Boat Adventures ReviewComments, pictures, and video from our 2011 visit to Paradise Island, Atlantis...
If you travel all the way to the Bahamas, a land of 700+ islands and incredible water, beaches, and ocean life, promise me you won't spend the entire week sitting in the artificial, pampered environs of your resort. Part of the real memorable joy of a vacation like this is getting out into the natural environment that makes this area so special - the ocean, the reefs, the beaches, the tiny islands, the wildlife. You won't remember that 6th day spent by the pool, but you will sure remember and savor the highlights of a special outing. We took a trip to Atlantis in the Bahamas in Spring of 2011. We spent 6 days and seven nights there, unlike many of the day trippers that come in on cruise ships. Our big all-day excursion was a boat trip with Powerboat Adventures, which we had researched and reserved ahead of time. It goes from about 9AM to 4:30PM, taking you out to Exuma Cay, a group of small islands about an hour (38 miles) south of Nassau. Let's start with the cost - $199 for adults, $140 for kids aged 3-12. Yes, it's kind of expensive. Advanced reservations are necessary - we booked on their website (www.powerboatadventures.com - where you save 10%), but you can also book by phone. For those worried about making international calls, the Bahamas is super easy. Just dial 1, then the area code and number, just like calling anywhere else in the US (1-242-363-2265 - reservation desk 7AM-5PM Bahama time, same as EST). You will need to have a credit card to make your reservation, but your card will NOT be charged until the day of the trip (so be sure to bring your credit card on the day of the trip), and you can cancel up to 24 hours prior to your trip. As of 2011, they run 2 boats depending on number of bookings, a 60' boat that can hold up to 58 passengers, and a 40' boat than can hold 24 passengers.
What to bring: sunscreen, hat (hang onto it on boat or it will fly off!), sunglasses, towel(s), swimsuit, camera (underwater camera even better). All snorkel gear is provided, and all the food and drink. Full details of our trip below..
Starting Your Day - Power Boat AdventuresYou will be picked up at your hotel by one of the local shuttle services - they will tell you who to look for and at what time. We were picked up by the Dan Knowles van (about 10 minutes late) which dropped us off at the marina on Paradise Island, located at the base of the 2 bridges heading back to Nassau (about a 3 minute drive from the Reef Tower at Atlantis). There is a sign-in table there where you pay and get a wristband, then you get in line to get on the boat. You choose your seats on the boat first come, first serve. The rear area is covered and less bumpy, probably the preferred seating area, but we ended up sitting in the front, and apart from the wind, it wasn't too bad - just hang on to your hat and glasses.
The first stop, an island preserve in Allen's Cay, takes about 1 hour to get to. There is not a whole lot to see on the way there - mostly open water, bring a book if you get bored easily.. The boat anchors near the shore and you descend a ladder into the water -- anywhere from shin-deep to waist-deep. Going ashore is optional, but that's the only way you get to see the island's main inhabitants up close -- wild iguanas. The term "wild" is used pretty loosely, as these mellow critters come walking right up to looking for grapes (grab a handful as you leave the boat) to snack on. WARNING: iguanas have poor eyesight and grasping teeth, so follow directions and put your grape on the end of a small stick before waving it in front of the face of an iguana! The iguanas are about the size of your forearm, and while brave, they aren't aggressive. We had 10 year-old girls in tow that fed them with no problem. Anyways, stroll the beach for 15-20 minutes, snap some photos of these island lizards, then back on the boat for the main destination, a private island about 10 minutes away called Ship Channel Cay. The ride there is a little more exciting - thumping music and some slalom boating that these powerboats are famous for, gliding past a few more little islands amid the crystal blue water.
Powerboat Adventure Tour - Ship Channel Cay Private IslandShip Channel Cay is 2 miles long and half a mile wide. It's exposed, with lots of sun and not much shade other than a few thatch umbrellas along the beach and the main open fishing cottage connected to the dock where you'll find the bar and some picnic tables and benches. Bathrooms are located behind and up the hill to the left behind the cottage. There used to be a wild/tame boar that roamed the island and often appeared on the beach, but our guides said he hadn't been seen since Dec. 2010, and they think old age might have taken him. On arrival, most guests get the first of many free drinks from the bar (local beer or mixed drinks) and grab a snack before heading out to the beach to relax. However, you might consider staying nearby to enjoy the arrival of the other "locals" - sharks and rays that show up when the fresh fish for your lunch meal starts getting cut up (see photo below, right). Standing knee deep in the water near the dock, one employee braves 3 foot diameter rays and 5-8 foot lemon, nurse, and reef sharks that appear as if on cue, looking for fish scraps. It's a good introduction to the show to come, and the only time I've ever seen wild creatures like that so up close -- really fascinating.
After 20-30 minutes, they will call everyone over who wants to do stingray petting and feeding. You line up side to side in the water, sitting up tall on your knees, basically forming a human wall parallel to the beach -- this will allow the rays to swim along in front of you and not get in behind anyone. These are wild rays that come in off the reef, so they have an intact stinger barb in their tails which you DO NOT want to experience. In theory, they only strike when frightened, so you don't want to step on them, fall over and trap them with a hand, etc. So it is a danger, but they claim no one has ever been stung. Anyways, you line up like that, they will give you some raw fish that you hold between your fingers (top of your hand) with your palm flat on the sand, and the rays will swim past you, brushing up against you, and suck the fish out of your fingers -- little strange sensation but how often do you get to do this! You can also gently touch them on their back as they go by. I will say I was a little nervous with a wild stingray swimming right past my crotch, but I fed them 3 times, and pretty much everyone in the group participated except for a handful. Overall they were very docile creatures, and just a wonder to experience in the crystal clear waters of a remote Bahamian beach. After the rays, the guides will attract the sharks again, this time by slapping the water with a fish head tied to a rope -- and here they come! One uses a pole to fend off any aggressive moves with a simple poke - the other guide tries to engage the sharks in a tug of war, pulling at them, bringing them in close, pulling them slightly out of the water. All the while you are there standing in the water or as close as you dare, very thrilling to watch. I personally had never stood in the ocean with sharks swimming 10 feet away - but now I have! Lot of fun. Here's a video clip of what the shark action looks like:
Exploring the Island during your Bahamas Boat Day TripAfter that, you have time for more drinks, relax on the beach for a bit, until the call for drift snorkeling. The way the island is situated (see photo at right from their website - the bottom island is where you will be, along that sandy beach on the left tip of it), the ocean current comes in from one side and flows past the front of the beach almost like a river. So you walk up to one end of the island past the huts, get into the water and swim out into the current, and then just float along as the undersea reef world is revealed below you. It's like being on a water conveyor belt. They provide all the snorkel gear you need and help get you properly fitted. Everyone wears an inflated life vest for safety. Two guides go into the water with you, one in front, one at the rear, everyone else stays in a group. There is also a small boat that goes alongside in case there are any problems or someone needs help. They throw some bread in the water to attract the reef fish - stay close to the first guide if you want to see the most fish. There was some beautiful fan coral, nice colors, colorful fish, and just perfectly clear water. The drift lasts only a few minutes, then you swim sideways out of the current back to the island and walk back to the starting place and do it again if you want. I've snorkeled in Tahiti, Hawaii, and many other places, but this drift experience was something new and I enjoyed it.
Pretty much right after the snorkel it is time for: Lunch - all you can eat served buffet style. Grouper and mahi-mahi were the fresh grilled fresh, plus steak, hotdogs, pasta, salad, fresh fruits and vegetables, garlic bread, etc. And of course the bar is still open with beer, water, soda, and mixed drinks, again all you can drink all day while you are there. You figure $7.50 for a beer by the pool at Atlantis, you could easily drink $50 worth here over the several hours you spend.. if you try! Everyone in our group enjoyed the food, I thought it was great and went back for seconds on the fish, and even had a hot dog to boot. After lunch you have maybe 90 minutes to hang out, swim, sunbathe, whatever. The only other scheduled event was a short nature hike around part of the island. I instead opted to explore the coastline a bit, walking up along the beach away from the huts -- after just a few minutes, you have the place to yourself and feel like you are on your own deserted island (rocky coastline eventually gives way to beach if you walk far enough). If you are there with a loved one, take off after lunch and enjoy 30 minutes of peace and solitude in your own little Bahama paradise. Just make sure you are back before the boat leaves!
Powerboat Adventures Reviews - Ending the DayThe return trip feels long and hot after a long day - bottled water was available from a cooler at the back of the boat, but no other snacks or beverages, so maybe grab an extra can of beer from the bar before you leave. After the long day, we dozed off for a good portion of the trip back, so I can't say I remember it all, though it took the full hour. Back at the dock, you'll pass a table where you can pay $10 for a photo print of your boarding group on the cover of a phony "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" - not a bad souvenir. Then back to the parking area to either meet or wait for your shuttle back to your hotel -- it seems like a number of boats returned all at the same time, so it was a little crazy, just remember which bus/shuttle you came on and get back on the same one.
On TripAdvisor.com, Powerboat Adventures rates a 4.5 out of 5, from over 125 reviews. Nearly every review had very positive comments. We checked all the negative comments there (there weren't many) and they fell into 3 categories -
- 1. rough seas and trip got cancelled
- 2. rough seas, boat ride was bumpy and/or it was too sunny(!)
- 3. and I've been to remote little islands in the Caribbean before, seen wild iguanas, fed sharks and stingrays, snorkeled over pristine reefs, lounged on the beach with all the food and drink I could handle - why did I pay to do this?
Here's another YouTube video that shows about 10 minutes of highlights from another trip (not ours, but looks pretty similar):