Agents plan for sun and fun during Nassau's winter season

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Associate editor Kimberly Scholz visited Nassau, Bahamas, in late summer. In late September, she spoke with several certified Bahamas Specialists who were confident that Nassau would sell well this winter, despite the tragic events in the U.S. Her report follows:

assau, the centerpiece and linchpin of a successful destination, has consistently ranked high with agents as a hot seller for both package and independent travel.

Although the pace of bookings throughout the Caribbean region slowed after Sept. 11, several agents voiced confidence that Nassau business will rebound to former levels.

They cited Nassau's proximity to the U.S. mainland, airlift capacity, attractions, hotels, shopping and water sports as reasons for optimism for the winter season.

Vivian Rollins of State Road Travel in Parma, Ohio, reported no cancellations for the Bahamas. "Nassau is definitely OK," she said. "We continue to recommend it to our clients, and they continue to book it."

Although the agency had domestic cancellations following the attacks, "we didn't lose our Bahamas business."

At Independence Travel in Cleveland, Stephanie Duran reported that "Clevelanders love Nassau."

Exhibits at the Pirates of Nassau museum trace the history of piracy in the region. "Several nonstop charter flights to the Bahamas operate from here. My clients can be on the beach in three hours or in the shops or restaurants. That's what they want, that's what they book and are booking," Duran said.

Penobscot Travel in Detroit had a number of domestic and international cancellations after the attacks, according to Larassie Britton.

However, bucking this trend were inquiries for the Bahamas and Mexico as winter destinations.

"I think Nassau and Cancun will do well this winter," Britton said. "There's plenty of scheduled and charter airlift. When the apprehension about travel quiets down, these destinations will sell," Britton said.

What do agents recommend their clients see and do in Nassau?

Here are their answers, which corresponded to several of my activities during my visit.

Ardastra Gardens. (See sidebar below.)

• Changing of the Guard at Government House. The stars of this pageant are the members of the Royal Bahamas Police Force band, decked out in starched white tunics and red-striped navy pants.

The ceremony is performed every other Saturday morning at 10 a.m.

• Dolphin Encounters. I sampled the Close Encounter program run by Dolphin Encounters and it was a highlight of my Nassau visit.

I got a kiss, a hug and a dance performance from Shawn, a descendant of one of the dolphins who played Flipper in the movies.

Shawn, a comedian as well as a Romeo (he spit at the men and kissed the women), is one of 16 Atlantic bottlenose dolphins at Dolphin Encounters' facility on Blue Lagoon Island, about a 30-minute boat ride from the Paradise Island ferry terminal.

• Pirates of Nassau Museum. The facility was an easy walk from the British Colonial Hilton.

The museum, which opened in 1998, traces the history of piracy in Nassau.

Led by a costumed guide, my group meandered along the docks of 17th century Nassau harbor to a replica of the pirate sloop Revenge.

We boarded the sloop and climbed down into the dungeons of convicted pirates awaiting their fate.

After the 45-minute tour, we headed for Plunders, the gift shop, and the Pirate Pub, site of happy hour from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. every afternoon.

• The Queen's Staircase and Fort Fincastle. Each of the 65 limestone steps leading up to Fort Fincastle represents one year of Queen Victoria's reign.

A walkway at the top of the stairs leads to the bow-shaped fort, which offers a panoramic island view.

• Shopping. Bay Street, the Rodeo Drive of Nassau, is an attraction of its own.

Numerous shops sell everything from jewelry to hand-made goods.

Although a fire destroyed the Straw Market on Bay Street last month, vendors have relocated to a temporary tented structure about one block from the original site and are eager to make deals.

The government plans to rebuild the market.

• Stuart Cove's Sub Excursion. To view marine life up close and personal, this excursion fits the bill.

Participants wear a large breathing helmet that resembles a glass bubble and descend 20 feet. The helmet is attached to underwater scooters that help them maneuver close to the reef.

My group was split in their reactions to this experience.

Some found the scooter difficult to steer and the air bubbles a source of distraction.

Others described the 40-minute trip an "awesome experience and a perfect combination of a snorkel trip and a dive without the bulk of a heavy air tank."

For details on the attractions and activities, call (800) BAHAMAS or log on to www.bahamas.com.

Flamingos leave guests tickled pink

NASSAU, Bahamas -- They march with military precision, jockeying for position at the head of the line.

They sport black-tipped beaks and bright pink feathers.

No, they aren't members of the Royal Bahamas Police Force marching band, but a troupe of 20 Caribbean flamingos that are a popular attraction at Nassau's Ardastra Gardens, Zoo & Conservation Centre.

The birds follow commands such as "parade," "muster" and "about turn," bobbing their heads in unison during live shows performed three times a day.

Ardastra Gardens, a five-acre park in west Nassau, also is home to other bird species, reptiles, monkeys and tigers.

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