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How’s this for timing? After a double renovation (thanks, Hurricane Matthew), Paradise Island’s One & Only Ocean Club will re-open on Valentine’s Day. That’s just one of the updates about the Bahamas I got from Joy Jibrilu, director general of the Ministry of Tourism, and other officials at last week’s Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association Marketplace. You may know some of the news, but here’s a handy bundle of updates all in one place:

Atlantis Paradise Island, Bahamas, where the meeting was held, is turning Beach Tower into an all-inclusive, and it’s renovating the Coral Towers with a clean, family-friendly redesign. And after that, what? A renovation of the Royal Towers? That’s just my guess, but almost anything’s possible with Atlantis’ new president and managing director, Howard Karawan. “The world changes, the consumer changes, so we’re in the midst of a transformation of Atlantis. We want to give guests a more authentic experience,” said Karawan of a resort that has hitherto offered fantasy, not authenticity. “Because we want guests to experience the warmth of Bahamians, we’re encouraging employees to be less formal, to be themselves, and to engage with the guests.

“Marina Village will become a Bahamian-style village with a conch salad stand, an authentic fish fry, and an arts festival every Saturday. Twice a week Royal Towers will host an immersive junkanoo festival. We’ll have bonfires and clam bakes on the beach. The aim is to offer good experiences that do not cost a lot of money. We’ll change the way we do the aquariums, too, making them more educational.” He added, “we are custodians of the earth.”

Baha Mar’s Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course opens in March, said Graeme Davis, new president of Baha Mar, and “on April 21st we will thoughtfully open 200 to 500 rooms.” Thoughtfully, because he wants no more false starts. The first rooms to open will be in the main tower, at Grand Hyatt. “The 100,000-sq.-ft. casino will rival anything in Las Vegas, and our show lake will rival the one at Bellagio,” he said. Noting that the Melia Nassau Beach is already open (an update on its renovations will appear in the March issue of Recommend), Davis promised when all 3,000 rooms, counting the Melia, SLS and Rosewood hotels, are open, Baha Mar will offer vacations at all price points.

The Verandah Terrace at Warwick Paradise Island Bahamas.
The Verandah Terrace at Warwick Paradise Island Bahamas.

Attending Marketplace presented an opportunity to visit the Warwick Paradise Island Bahamas, which opened in October as a 255-room, 4-star, adults-only all-inclusive. The conversion of what was once a rundown building into such a sleek, stylish showpiece is remarkable. The Warwick has a lovely spa, free-form pool, and even a small artificial beach facing the harbor; a real beach lies about half a mile away. Tip: “Water view” here means floors 8-12.

“100 rooms—mostly kings—are now open at the Courtyard Marriott Nassau Downtown/Junkanoo Beach, and family rooms will soon open.” said Fred Lounsberry, CEO of the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board. He expects an overpass walkway to the beach at some point, too. Next door to it, the Junkanoo Beach Hotel is being upgraded, and speaking of “point,” while construction continues on The Pointe hotel and residences, the completed parking garage is already bringing new energy to downtown Nassau. Lounsberry also reminded the press that Sandals Royal Bahamian took advantage of Hurricane Matthew to do some renovations.

As for the Out Islands, Jibrilu declared that Bimini Resorts World has been “transformative” for Bimini, adding, “in addition to attracting leisure travelers, it’s perfect for MICE.” Noting the growth of sports tourism, she said that Exuma and Abaco had just hosted three back-to-back PGA tournaments and an LPGA match, noting that TV broadcasts in the United States had sparked a surge in inquiries.

Grand Bahama Island was hit hardest by Hurricane Matthew, and Grand Lucayan remains closed, as does Memories, because, as Russell Miller, chair of Grand Bahama’s Tourism Board, explained, Sunwing will no longer be operating it. However, he said, there is also good news: “We have pre-clearance at the airport and daily flights from Miami and Fort Lauderdale, as well as service from Atlanta, Toronto, and Montreal. Vacation Express flies direct from 11 gateways, there’s ferry service from Fort Lauderdale, and cruise lines are bringing passengers in for 2-, 4-, and 6-night stayovers.

“Beach access to Lucayan Beach is open again,” said Miller, and there’s plenty of shopping at Freeport again. Resorts that are up and running include Lighthouse Point, Viva Wyndham (which just invested $4 million in renovations), Pelican Bay, Flamingo Bay, Island Seas Resort, Deepwater Cay, Sunrise Resort and Marina, and a favorite of mine, Old Bahama Bay. “Castaways Resort is finalizing repairs to the roof and will have all 118 rooms up in March,” said Miller, as he also expressed optimism that Memories will be back in business by the summer. In short, he concluded, “We are open. We are operational.”

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