by Terry Ward
Most families visiting Nassau, the Bahamas’ capital, like to stay at the enormous, activity-packed Atlantis resort on Paradise Island. If you’re looking for a totally relaxed, intimate setting, however, consider a stay at The British Colonial. Located across from the Paradise Island Bridge and near New Providence’s cruise port, The British Colonial is a bit of a grande dame, with some true British flair. The seven-story building underwent a $15-million renovation in 2009 and, as you’d expect, looks better than ever. The property fronts a pretty, if small stretch of beach adjacent to the cruise port (you practically swim in the shadow of the towering ships) and was used as a location for the filming of several James Bond movies. The elegant lobby, lounge area and restaurants carry an air of intrigue absent from the hotels across the bridge on Paradise Island. The high-ceiling marble lobby doesn’t feel overly Caribbean, but a short walk toward the ocean side of the property allows views of the tropical pool area and shimmering blue sea just beyond. More than 270 rooms and suites are embellished in a rather minimalist style with crisp white linens and duvets and beige walls and tiled floors accented with brightly colored prints of tropical scenes.
Families are likely to spend the bulk of their time outside enjoying the large free-form pool that’s surrounded with a nice grassy area, and plenty of big daybeds with shading that make for a very comfortable place to sun. The property’s small and private beach is sheltered inside the harbor from wave action, and accessed by a few stairs leading from the pool deck. There are plenty of lounge chairs to go around. The best perk of the beach is that kayaks are free for guests to use, as well as snorkel gear and a range of beach toys. Between the beach, pool and casual grill area just adjacent to it with ocean views, there’s a good chance you won’t feel like you’re missing out on the Atlantis experience at all. But since the mass resort is just a five-minute taxi ride across the Paradise Island bridge from the British Colonial Hilton and offers day passes, you can always spend an afternoon there riding the waterslides and checking out the impressive aquariums that are Atlantis’ biggest calling cards.
Our Editor Loves
- Calm, oceanfront swimming area and outdoor pool
- Walking distance to cruise port and downtown attractions
- Complimentary use of comfortable daybed areas for lounging
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
- Kids' Theme Meals
- Onsite Dining
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The hotel's 277 rooms and suites have more of a business feel than a tropical vacation ambience, and indeed, most of the Hilton's guests are professionals of the international banking variety. But the rooms are comfortable for family travel, too, despite the lack of rugs.
If you like the minimalist look, this is the spot! There's no carpeting in the rooms, just cool light-colored tiles paired with dark wood furnishings topped with white marble countertops and beds clad in all white linens. The mini fridges are larger than standard size and are empty, so you can fill them with bottles, juice boxes and snacks. There are single-cup coffee makers in the room, too, stocked with Lavazza coffee.
Smaller rooms have either two queen beds or two twin beds. One-bedroom suites each have separate bedrooms with king beds, and a large living room area with a double bed pull-out couch. Connecting rooms have the combination of one room with a queen bed connecting to another room with two double beds.
The bathrooms are very nice, with granite countertops and tiled shower-in-tub combos (some rooms have the showers and tubs separate). If you're working on vacation or simply want to upload some family photos on Facebook, you'll appreciate the desk and comfy high-backed office chair. Flat-screen TVs are standard in all rooms and DVD players can be rented at reception.
Everything about the hotel is first class, but not stuffy. The staff is warm and welcoming.
The beach is wonderful with lounge chairs and umbrellas. It's an ideal place to relax and enjoy the turquoise water.
The breakfast buffet has a nice variety, and the lunch was perfect near the pool.
Beautiful and relaxing day was spent on a day pass here with my husband and 2 kids . Very quiet. Beautiful beach for swimming . Restful day which was what I needed . Server was great and we didn’t even use the whole food credit
If your family is set on spending some time at the Aquaventure water park at nearby Atlantis, it's just a five-minute drive from the hotel and over the bridge to Paradise Island (day passes for non-guests are available for a fee). But for more low-key water fun, there's plenty to do onsite at the British Colonial Hilton.
The large free-form swimming pool fronting the ocean doesn't have a designated kids area, but a portion of it is just three feet. Lifeguards divide their time between the pool area and the beach, so consider yourself on your own as far as surveillance. The pool plunges to eight feet at its deepest.
Day beds with plush cushions set up around the perimeter of the pool and in a nearby grassy expanse are yours on a first-come, first-serve basis; the gauzy coverings provide some much-needed shade for an afternoon of poolside lounging.
The hotel's private beach is a soft crescent of white sand with comfortable lounge chairs and umbrellas and views of the massive looming cruise ships and nearby Paradise Island. The swimming area is cordoned off with buoys to keep boat traffic from entering, and it's a sizable enough space for a swim.
Guests are free to use the hotel's sea kayaks, but lifeguards make sure you stay inside the roped area -- it's not the largest space for a paddling adventure, but something fun to entertain the kids, for sure.
Near the lifeguard stand, you'll find a big selection of beach toys like badminton racquets and balls, pails, shovels, dump trucks and the like for a fun day of beach play, all free for guest use. There's also a beach volleyball court near the water's edge that just begs for a little family rivalry. And you can grab a basketball to shoot hoops at the hotel's outdoor basketball court, located just behind the pool.
There are lots of family activities beyond the hotel property, too, and the concierge can help you book snorkeling tours with Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas, Segway tours, visits to the Ardastra Gardens to see non-native flamingoes, and other excursions around the island. If you fancy a trip to one of the beaches on Paradise Island (Cabbage Beach is great for families and extremely beautiful to boot) or on the less populated western side of the island (Love Beach is the spot there), taxis are readily available to transport your entourage.
Onsite meal options aren't vast, but between the fancier-but-still-casual Aqua restaurant inside and the Patio Bar & Grille just next to pool, your family will find something to eat. Aqua is located right off the hotel lobby and has big round booths and high chairs available, making family dining easy and comfortable. Breakfast can be ordered as a hot or continental buffet, with all the usual options like cereals, an omelet station, fruit, juices, pancakes, waffles and more.
There's a buffet at Aqua with pastas, salads and other hot foods for lunch every day, too. Kids 5 and under eat free at the buffet, and it's half-price for children up to 12 years old. There's a dinner buffet on Friday and Saturday nights, and Friday is Caribbean night, when you'll get to try Bahamian dishes like conch salad, conch fritters and locally caught fish. Kids can also order from an a la carte kids menu that includes chicken fingers, mac and cheese, fish fingers and spaghetti and meatballs (all $10 each). If you're ordering a la carte for lunch or dinner, non-kid offerings include pork chops, salmon, pasta, the daily fresh catch (often mahi mahi or snapper) and the like. Just be prepared to pay -- most entrees cost around $30.
A cheaper alternative is to eat outside by the Patio Bar & Grille where the fare is more along the lines of fish sandwiches, burgers and salads. On a nice day, it's a great setting for lunch.
For dining offsite, it's worth the walk or short drive to the Fish Fry for a lively setting with local flair and good fried seafood. And several fast food restaurants, as well as the popular Senor Frogs, are also just a short walk from the hotel.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Babysitting services with trusted sitters from the area can be arranged through the hotel's reception desk.
Wireless Internet costs $10.99 per day in your room, but is available free of charge in the public areas.
There is dry cleaning available from the hotel, but no public laundry facilities onsite. If you need to do laundry, there are coin laundry services nearby, or Oriental Cleaners can do it for you.
There's a small fitness center on the hotel's ground floor with cardio equipment and weights, and you can also run along the sidewalk seaside promenade that leads from the hotel to the Fish Fry.
A small shop just off the hotel lobby sells milk, cookies, snacks (mostly of the unhealthy variety) and sunscreen and toiletries you may have forgotten from home.
The Art of Smart Timing
Outside of specific holiday periods (Christmas and New Years), room rates at the resort remain stable, which is not to say that the tourist crowds do likewise. Mid-January to mid-May is the busiest time on the island, and you'll find long waits at restaurants and attractions everywhere. The summer months, from June through August, are generally very slow despite the beautiful weather (yes, it's hot -- but the ocean always makes it bearable), and it's a good time to have the pool and beach mostly to your family. The bar and restaurant hop with excitement throughout the year, as they have a loyal following of locals and business travelers. Keep in mind that hurricane season in this part of the Caribbean runs from June to November. The ocean tends to be smooth as glass most of the winter months, when the water temperatures cool down, but is still comfortable enough for swimming.
Getting There and Around
Nassau's airport is serviced by nonstop flights from many cities in Florida, the Northeast and Canada, including Miami, Orlando, New York, Atlanta and Charlotte. There is also regular nonstop service to and from London with British Airways. Bahamas Air, the national carrier, operates from U.S. cities, and among the American airlines flying to Nassau are Jet Blue, Air Tran, US Airways and Spirit Airlines.
All of the major car rental companies have outposts at the airport, and $45 per day is about the norm. Taxi drivers will approach you looking for fares if you don't have a driver scheduled to pick you up.
When you depart from here for U.S. destinations, you'll clear U.S. customs right in the Nassau airport before boarding your flight. It's advised to arrive three hours before your flight home to allow ample time for the formalities, but that's a bit excessive during non-peak travel times.
Count on about 25 minutes to get from Nassau's international airport to the resort. You can either grab a taxi after you arrive just outside the terminal, or arrange ahead of time for the resort to send a shuttle to pick you up (you'll pay about $27 for a couple, and $3 extra for each additional person). The island's public busses (called jitneys) stop just outside the hotel and can take you around the island, from downtown Nassau and Paradise Island to the popular Fish Fry. Alternatively, renting a car makes sense, too, if you want to have the independence to come and go as you please (parking is $10 per day in a secure lot onsite). A stroller is a good idea if you plan to walk around downtown or spend a lot of time at the sprawling Atlantis resort.
For Mom and Dad
Thanks to the hotel's babysitting services, it's easy enough for parents to arrange a night away from the kids. Dining at the elegant and historic Graycliff Hotel (five minutes away, on foot) makes for a very unique Nassau experience. It's a fine bone china and champagne flute sort of affair, and the parlor just off the foyer is the epitome of an elegant setting for an aperitif before your meal or a cognac to finish the night. If you come earlier in the day, pop into the cigar shop to see workers, mostly from Cuba, rolling cigars the old fashioned way.
An adult night out at Atlantis is also fun, with celebrity chef restaurants like Nobu and Mesa by Bobby Flay. The massive nightclub, Aura, is right there off the casino floor, too, for late-night partying. For cheaper sushi that's just as good as Nobu in downtown Nassau, Seafront Sushi is always a winner, and the lively atmosphere feels way more urban than island-style.