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3 places to enjoy a summer vacation in Bahamas

Sun, sand and a clear, inviting sea — that’s what beach lovers dream of in a summer getaway, and if the Bahamas is their destination of choice, a sun-kissed, palm-studded paradise is only a short, two-hour flight away. Numerous luxury resorts with different “personalities” cater to a wide range of travelers, so whether they’re seeking cultural immersion, the ultimate family fun or romance, the Bahamas has got it covered.

Baha Mar is a $4.2 billion mega-resort that opened last year in Nassau. CONTRIBUTED BY WESLEY K.H. TEO (For the AJC)

Baha Mar: Art Central

The big news now is Baha Mar in Nassau, one of the most ambitious resorts ever built in the Bahamas. The $4.2 billion mega-resort opened last year just steps from the powder-white sand and alluring turquoise water of Cable Beach, widely considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Baha Mar encompasses three hotel brands: Grand Hyatt, SLS Hotels and Rosewood Hotels & Resorts.

This sprawling tropical playground includes the biggest casino in the Caribbean, a luxurious spa, nine tennis courts, seven pools and an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus golf course, all the expected amenities, but what makes this resort such a standout is an extensive art program that provides insight into Bahamian culture. Thousands of contemporary paintings and sculptures by accomplished and emerging artists are displayed in virtually every public space.

The Current is an art gallery at Baha Mar resort that exhibits Bahamian art. CONTRIBUTED BY WESLEY K.H. TEO (For the AJC)

Creative Arts Director John Cox, a Bahamas native, curated the 2,500-piece collection, one of the most challenging and rewarding undertakings of his career.

Cox embraced the opportunity to showcase the Bahamian narrative through art. Cox said that like many countries with a tourism-dependent economy, it’s all too easy for locals to adapt to the expectations of visitors at the expense of their own identity. Those in the hospitality industry, as many Bahamians are, may feel the need to suppress traditional customs, but, according to Cox, the reality is that today’s intelligent traveler has an appreciation for not only the natural beauty of a destination, but for the culture of the people that inhabit it.

“This art gives us a chance to redefine who we (Bahamians) are to the public,” Cox said. “Since independence (from British rule) in the ‘70s, we’ve sold ourselves as a sun, sand and sea destination, which has had a lot of positives, but we don’t just serve drinks by the pool. Aspects of our culture are complex and engaging, and I want guests to take away a sense of our history and culture when they leave.”

John Cox is creative art director at the Current, an art gallery at Baha Mar resort in Nassau. CONTRIBUTED BY WESLEY K.H. TEO (For the AJC)

The Current, an on-site art gallery, is tucked away on the backside of the property, but finding it is worth the effort. It’s more than a place to peruse exhibits; step behind the scenes and engage with artists at work. These “young creatives,” as Cox calls them, are brimming with potential and enthusiasm, and they welcome the opportunity to discuss current projects.

Create your own masterpiece in a hands-on workshop led by a local artist. You’ll go home with a souvenir that’s far more enduring than a suntan.

Baha Mar Boulevard, Nassau, Bahamas. 242-788-8000, bahamar.com.

The Serenity Snorkel with Dolphins program at Atlantis Paradise Island allows resort guests to interact with dolphins. CONTRIBUTED BY ATLANTIS PARADISE ISLAND (For the AJC)

Atlantis Paradise Island: A Family Affair

At Dolphin Cay, a 14-acre, man-made marine habitat at Atlantis Paradise Island, a 10-year-old girl opens her eyes wide behind her snorkeling mask when an impish bottlenose dolphin swims within inches of her face, welcoming her to his home. She waves to her mom as if to say, “Did you see that?” Mom gives her the thumbs-up, and they swim off together to see if the other dolphins will be as gregarious. It’s all part of Serenity Snorkel with Dolphins, one of four dolphin interaction programs launched at the resort last year.

Known as the “Katrina dolphins” because they were rescued after the notorious 2005 hurricane destroyed their Mississippi habitat, they have become celebrities of sorts, but Dolphin Cay is not an entertainment facility. It exists to provide an oasis for the once-stranded animals and focuses on conservation and education, but the capricious marine mammals like company, and guests are delighted to visit.

The Leap of Faith waterslide at Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas has a 60-foot drop. CONTRIBUTED BY ATLANTIS PARADISE ISLAND (For the AJC)

Aquaventure, the resort’s sprawling water park, offers a different kind of soaked-to-the-skin fun. Kids scream all the way down the Leap of Faith, a waterslide with a stomach-roiling, 60-foot drop from the top of a Mayan temple replica that ends in shark-infested waters. Well, the live sharks are on the other side of a clear tunnel, but it’s thrilling all the same.

That’s only one of 18 waterslides at the park, so everybody in the family is sure to find a level of excitement that’s right for them.

The resort offers a variety of accommodations, but the Coral, a newly renovated beachfront hotel, is designed with families in mind. A swim-up bar with frozen pops at the new pool is a big hit with kids.

1 Casino Drive, Paradise Island, Bahamas. 1-800-Atlantis, atlantisbahamas.com.

The Ocean Club, a Four Seasons Resort: Romantic Retreat

At the luxurious Ocean Club on Paradise Island, a sunset stroll through the Versailles Gardens is an evening ritual for many couples. A softly glowing sun lingering in a dramatically colored sky mottled with shades of purple, orange and yellow is reason enough for a pre-dinner walk, but pair that natural beauty with the man-made beauty of a garden adorned with graceful classical statues and tiered stone walls that climb toward a cloister from a 12th-century French monastery, and you have an experience like no other.

The garden feels like it’s part of a wealthy, private estate, and once it was. It belonged to A&P supermarket heir Huntington Hartford, and he’s the reason visitors can say they are vacationing on Paradise Island instead of Hog Island. He petitioned to have it renamed when he built his secluded oasis in the 1960s.

Many couples follow that sunset promenade with a quiet dinner at Dune, the resort’s fine dining restaurant perched on a bluff overlooking the beach. French-Asian seafood dishes prepared by Michelin starred-chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten can be a bit of an aphrodisiac, setting the stage for romance.

1 Ocean Drive, Paradise Island, Bahamas. 242-363-2501, fourseasons.com/oceanclub/.

IN OTHER TRAVEL NEWS:

Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres, Mexico Bavaro Beach, Dominican Republic Seven Mile Beach, Negril, Jamaica Clearwater Beach, Florida La Concha Beach, Donostia, Spain Seven Mile Beach, Cayman Islands Eagle Beach, Aruba Varadero Beach, Cuba Baia do Sancho, Fernando de Noronha, Brazil Grace Bay, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

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