Pier in Nassau, Bahamas (Hisham Ibrahim/Photodisc)

Lighthouse on Paradise Island, Nassau,Bahamas (Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty)

Coastline of Nassau, Bahamas (PhotoDisc)

Scuba diving in Nassau, Bahamas (Darryl Leniuk/Photographer's Choice)

The Cloisters, Nassau, Bahamas (Bahamas Ministry of Tourism)

Boat and lighthouse in Nassau, Bahamas (Bahamas Ministry of Tourism)

Cruise ship in New Providence, Nassau, Bahamas (Go Caribbean/Digital Vision)

Horse drawn carriage in New Providence, Nassau, Bahamas (Go Caribbean/Digital Vision)

Coastline of Paradise Island, Nassau, Bahamas (Hemera/Thinkstock)

Coastline of Paradise Island, Nassau, Bahamas (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

Lighthouse on Paradise Island-Nassau, Bahamas, Caribbean (photodisc)

Tropical Palm Tree Sunset Nassau (iStockphoto)

Government House (Parliament), Rawson Square Nassau (iStockphoto)

Swimming pool in Nassau (iStockphoto)

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What to do in Nassau

The Bahamas, a chain of more than 700 islands and cays (small islands) stretches for 500 miles in the Atlantic. Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is located on New Providence Island, which connects by bridge to Paradise Island, home to the mega-property, Atlantis Resort.

The Atlantis Resort (www.atlantis.com) bills itself as having the world's largest outdoor aquarium, a 34-acre marine habitat where 11 exhibit lagoons and pools home 250 species. The marine facility houses lobsters, scores of piranha, groupers, balloon-like jellyfish, regal lionfish, green eels, and a touch tank, and opens its doors to non-guests for a fee. The waterslides and pools are not open to day guests, but visitors may use the beach. Walk through the shark habitat by means of an acrylic tunnel. Look up and see these toothy critters slithering above you. The resort recently renovated its waterscape, adding a dolphin encounter program.

A three-mile trip from Nassau to Blue Lagoon Island takes visitors to experience bottlenose beauties at Dolphin Encounters. Swim with them, get kissed in shallow water, or watch from the dock. On Blue Lagoon Island you can also swim, snorkel, dance to island bands, and pet stingrays. The beach gets crowded, particularly on cruise ship days.

In Nassau, take young kids to Ardastra Gardens, where five tropical acres showcase macaws, peacocks, capuchin monkeys, parrots, and other critters, but the stars are the flock of pink flamingos. Three times a day these graceful birds enter an arena and march in formation, responding to a drillmaster's commands. It's quite a sight.

The Pirates of Nassau Museum tends to appeal to children. Pirates poured into Nassau from 1690 to 1720. From the harbors, too shallow for the large man-of-war ships, pirates sailed their smaller, faster vessels, boarding and looting the merchant fleet. Visitors walk through a pirate ship, "meet" pistol toting rogues, and see dioramas of peg-leg privateers plotting. It's not subtle, but that's why young gradeschoolers like the place.

The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, a cultural gem on a hillside just a few blocks from the bustle of Nassau's Bay Street, definitely warrants a visit. The museum portrays the evolution of island art from its beginnings in 17th-century colonial portraits through mid-20th-century images of palm trees and marketplaces to diverse contemporary works that frequently feature social conflicts.

Nassau is also known for its shopping. The Bay Street area features a mix of upscale stores offering jewelry, crystal, china, leather goods, and watches, along with T-shirt and other souvenir shops. Browse the Straw Market for baskets, placemats, hand-crafted dolls, more T-shirts, and other items.

Tip: With the People-to-People program, the Ministry of Tourism arranges meetings for visitors with like-minded locals. Depending on your interests, you and your family might be invited for a traditional dinner of peas 'n' rice and fried fish or enjoy a fishing outing to the secret spots only islanders know about. The hosts volunteer so there's no fee for the program.
(www.bahamas.com; 800.BAHAMAS)

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