After an ill-fated attempt at a vacation with Natalie when she turned 6 months old, Matt and I knew that we would be rewarding ourselves for sustaining life for one year by taking a trip just the two of us. The trick was to find some willing babysitters -- in the form of my parents -- and to find a long weekend that worked for Matt's work schedule and our willing babysitters' schedules. So the other week Matt and I flew away to Nassau in the Bahamas to enjoy five days and four nights of glorious, baby-free couples time.
We chose Nassau because it's one of few warm-weather destinations that has direct flights from either Reagan National or Dulles airports. We contemplated going to Jamaica, but we would have needed to fly out of Baltimore to snag a direct flight, and frankly it all just felt like too much effort with the possibility of unexpected traffic jams. For this vacation we were not OK with the thought of getting stuck on a layover in Chicago or a delay in Miami, so our direct-flight requirement quickly narrowed down our destination pool.
Choosing a destination, though, was only step one. I have only been to a handful of tropical destinations in my time, but this trip actually marked my second time in Nassau, the first having been a college spring break week getaway with my roommates. My spring break trip didn't do much to help me prepare for this trip a decade later. I couldn't remember where we stayed in college, and I had no idea where to start looking for a decent hotel. Matt and I are always weary of sites such as TripAdvisor where someone gives a hotel one star because she saw a fly in the pool. Still, we thought checking out CheapCaribbean.com would be a place to begin our search, knowing that the reviewers on there might have more reasonable expectations, what with the word "cheap" and all. Breezes Resort on Cable Beach in Nassau kept getting good reviews. We took the plunge.
Our resort experience was exactly as I imagined it would be. We'd been to another reasonably priced all-inclusive resort two years ago in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, so we had some sense of what to expect for an all-inclusive experience. Because I always want to know about people's expectations and demographics when they're reviewing a hotel, let me say that:
1) Our first priority for the hotel was cleanliness.
2) We only wanted to spend about $2,000 for the entire trip, including airfare, for two people for four nights. Remember, we're public school teachers, and I'm not working this year.
3) We don't expect amazing food at all-inclusive resorts, at least not the kind of resort we can afford.
So, if you are someone with lots of disposable income and high expectations, what I have to say about Breezes is likely irrelevant to you. For everyone else, let's press forward.
Our vacation was overwhelmingly positive, though there were a few things I would change if I could.
1) Breezes is clean! As we were got off the elevator heading toward our fifth-floor room I noted that the hallway smelled like flowers, though the floral smell was clearly from whatever cleaning products the housekeeping service uses. Employees were constantly cleaning guest rooms and common areas, and there are plenty of common areas to clean.
2) The beach is clean and expansive for a mid-sized hotel. Breezes is located at the end of Cable Beach, so there are no other hotels to the east of the hotel. To the west of the hotel are all the other large resorts, including a Wyndham and a Sheraton. Sandals, also located on Cable Beach, is even farther west. While we were visiting Baha Mar, a huge multi-building structure, was under construction next door, so Breezes guests may not be as happy when that resort opens and the beach potentially feels more crowded.
3) There are plenty of activities for guests each day. Guests can choose from both organized activities and any number of games available 24 hours a day. There are three pools, one that has a swim-up bar and another that has a volleyball net. There's also a large hot tub which we enjoyed each day. Near the beach there's a rock climbing wall, and on the beach there is a volleyball court and a flying trapeze (!). Near the hotel lobby there's a basketball court and tennis courts, and inside the main floor/lobby space there's a billiards room, a ping pong room, a gym, a board game space, and a bar and stage space for the evening entertainment. Matt and I love some ping pong, and my skills increased exponentially during our daily tournaments. At night there's a semi-hilarious "club" called Hurricane where Matt and I may have been two of only six or eight people dancing one night, but we still broke it down.
4) The resort employees are all super friendly, even as they attempt to get the uninterested guests to participate in beach games.
5) The resort is 14-and-over! I did not realize this when we booked the hotel, but this perk is amazing. Before having a baby I wouldn't think twice about being on vacation and being surrounded by someone else's kids. Kids, after all, are wonderful and adorable. But now that I have a baby to be around 24/7 (and lots of my old friends/new friends also have babies) I am always around babies. They're great and all, but it was amazing to only be surrounded by adults for a few days.
6) The alcohol was not only plentiful as expected, but the brand-name liquors were impressive. I'm not much of an alcohol snob, so I would have been happy with whatever, but a rail-drink-free vacation was nice.
7) The size of the resort is perfect. It's big enough to provide plenty of food and entertainment options in a party-like atmosphere, but it's small enough to not feel over run with guests.
8) We enjoyed lunches from the beach grill on the pool deck. Let me recommend the conch fritters.
1) This sounds like something I would shake my head at if I read it on someone's TripAdvisor review, so I'll give that disclaimer...BUT, both Matt and I noticed how in several places at the resort, including our bedroom, the seating area at the buffet, and the Italian restaurant the lighting was horrible. I'm a believer in environmentally friendly florescent lighting, but there was something about this particular type of florescent lighting that was an ambiance killer. This seems like a super-easy change for the resort management to make.
2) The buffet, where we mostly just ate breakfast, was fine. I wouldn't recommend the buffet for dinner. Instead, there are two restaurants on the site as part of the all-inclusive package that require reservations. The problem with the reservations is that they're supposed to be made 24 hours in advance, which is hard for many travelers. We got there Thursday afternoon and therefore technically couldn't make reservations for dinner until Saturday night. After eating the not-so-awesome buffet for Thursday's dinner Matt went to see if we could be stand-by for one of the restaurants, and because we were visiting Breezes during an off season the answer was fortunately yes. Each restaurant has a different theme; one is an Italian restaurant where the food is pretty decent (minus the entrees) but the ambiance is terrible. Then there's a modern American-ish restaurant called Garden of Eden with food that is only OK but the ambiance is quite nice, especially with the beautiful setting in the garden. The Italian restaurant's strength is in its antipasti buffet, which is reason enough to get a reservation there. If I could do it over I would just fill up on a couple plate fulls from that.The Garden of Eden has good appetizers and desserts and a menu with names that will make you laugh out loud if you enjoy some good biblical puns to accompany your food (there were references to Adam and Eve but also Cain and Lucifer). Both restaurants serve five courses, but again I'd recommend cutting out the middle part of that experience and just having the apps and desserts.
We decided to throw another $200 or so into our vacation and upgrade to an ocean-front room. I'm so glad we did this. It was perfect to just open the balcony door and listen to the waves. Most ocean-front rooms have king beds, ours included. Perhaps also by virtue of being at the end of the hallway on top of the ocean we also had a room that was significantly larger than the partial-ocean view/garden rooms we passed along the hallway.
This vacation was by no means a cultural excursion. Before arriving we had planned to stay on the resort the whole time, but we decided to try a half-day snorkeling trip with Stuart Cove's. We paid $70 each to get on a boat that made three snorkeling stops: one at an under-water plane wreck; one at a random reef; and one at a shark-infested zone (inhabited by the kinds of sharks that don't eat people). The extra $10 I paid to rent a wet suit was worth it as the water was rather chilly. Although the choppy waters made me feel a bit sea sick, especially on the ride back, I would do it again.
Although a quick weather map search will tell you the same thing, be advised that if you're looking for 80-degree temperatures in the Bahamas you'll need to wait for the spring. While we were in Nassau the typical daily high temp was 75, but the wind made it feel cooler. I did not pack appropriately enough. When the sun came out and stayed out and the wind died down it was comfortable on the beach in a swimsuit.
The low point of the trip happened moments after we arrived and tried to make it through immigration. About five planes landed all at once, right around lunch time, and apparently the immigration folks didn't get the memo because there were two people stationed at the desks to stamp everyone's passport when the airport needed about six times as many immigration workers in order to be semi-efficient. After lots of angst and some mutiny on the part of our fellow passengers, the line eventually started to move, but I've never waited so long to get through any country's immigration or customs. Once the line finally started to move we were only in it for about an hour or an hour and a half, so it could have been a lot worse and hopefully that was a random incident and not indicative of standard operating procedure at Nassau airport.
So, let me recommend Breezes in Nassau for a budget-friendly all-inclusive resort getaway. If you go, stay oceanfront. If you go in January/February, bring a jacket. And, whatever you do, leave the kids at home.