Lifestyle

EXPLORING THE BAHAMAS WITH VIRGIN HOLIDAYS

Picture this; we’re standing knee-deep in the crystal clear turquoise blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean with a handful of carrots. Yes carrots. Shoulder to shoulder we’re facing the picture-perfect white sandy beach across the shore. There is an air of excitement and anticipation and as we ready our camera phones the call is made; “release the pigs”. It takes a moment but then blurry shapes waddle closer, we can make out a snout, some short legs trotting along, and there they are, and they are massive. It’s a surreal sight but there are five pigs dipping their trotters in the water heading our way, one of which we’re told weighs close to 500 pounds. Now surrounded, the trick is to point the carrot at the pig who is well rehearsed in what to do next. Have you ever fist-pumped a pig? Well, here it happens using the command ‘DAP’ where you’ll get a happy pig snout bump on the knuckles of your hand. Incredible. Not sure if that will work at our next visit to Hackney City Farm, but we can try.

Getting to hang with the pigs required getting to the Bahamas, which we did on the brand new Virgin Atlantic route from London Heathrow to Nassau, departing twice a week with return fares from £612 per person, including complimentary food, drink and in-flight entertainment. The Bahamas is a unique place made up of over 700 islands and cays just 50 miles off the coast of Florida. Besides the miles of pristine waters and incredible beaches, it’s where adventure is moments away with world-class diving, boating,fishing, birdwatching and nature-based activities on offer.

Nassau is an island metropolis and the gateway to the Bahamas where the two islands it’s connected to, New Providence and Paradise Island, are home to history, art, nightlife, and culture aplenty. Checking into The Cove Atlantis, a luxurious 600-room resort within Atlantis Paradise Island, we got our first proper look at the place from the floor-to-ceiling windows leading out to the balcony of a truly impressive deluxe ocean-view suite. Palm trees gently moving in the breeze, ripples atop the surface of a pool, a huge white stretch of white sandy beach and of course, the invitingturquoise waters that turn a rich dark blue merging with the sky, way in the distance where it hits the horizon.

Rooms were more than comfortable, impressive in size, the bathrooms especially; separate sinks, walk-in shower, room to swing a 500-pound pig, check on all accounts. With one outrageously king-sized bed, a cosy lounge area, soft pastel colours and wood panelling throughout the contemporary design it’s very easy on the eye. There’s a walk-in closet to keep that unsightly mess of clothes spilling from an open suitcase out of view too (just us?). The in-room services caught our attention on the huge plasma TV and we ordered in breakfast for the following morning; light creamy scrambled eggs, crunchy warm hash browns, chicken apple sausage and sourdough toast. Life is good in the Bahamas. Dining options are pretty insane with 24 restaurants on-site, ranging from casual quick bites to fine dining with notable places like Fish from Master Chef José Andrés, Nobu, and their new plant-forward menu at Cafe Martinique to name a few.

So what to do at Atlantis? Well, we just love river rides, water slides and pools, pools, pools and it just so happens Atlantis Paradise Island’s water park, Aquaventure, has them all across its 141 acres. It’s everything you could want from a water park and is perfect for both thrill-seekers and those who just want to float in a pool. Their lazy river is a mile-long journey through waves, rapids, tunnels and won’t fail to put a smile on your face. There’s the best water slides in the Caribbean with their iconic Mayan Temple and the pulse-pounding Power Tower – not for the faint-hearted.

We found complete relaxation at The Cove in one of their beachfront cabanas with food and drink simply a request away. Taking in the sun, a modest 27 degrees (in December) was a reminder of just how good getting away can feel, especially when you get away to paradise. Seven nights at The Cove at Atlantis starts at £2106 per person.

One of the best experiences on this trip was visiting The Exumas, a chain of 365 islands and home to those pigs you’ve heard so much about. It’s a pretty special place, where nature outnumbers man and where the private beaches and deserted cays are highly sought after. Here we not only got up close and personal with the pigs but also learned about and fed stingrays, who are extremely curious and quite comfortable with you passing them fish as they swim over your hand. There were also quite a few species of shark swimming freely in the water, some small and some big enough to keep you on the beach, but a truly epic experience nonetheless. Swimming in the ocean, therefore, is interesting, especially when you hear shouts of ‘Shark on your left, pig on your right’. We even got to feed iguanas on a private island, which is done by placing grapes on the end of a stick and laying it on the ground for them to run up to. Sticks are used as the iguanas will bite, due to their bad eyesight rather than wanting to cause you harm. To reachThe Exumas, you need to take a speedboat – a round trip that includes a full island lunch, open bar, pigs, sharks, and stingrays start at $260 for adults and $160 for children. Check out powerboatadventures for more info.

Moving on to a second resort, we checked in for one night at Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, another spectacularly impressive resort with 1,800 guestrooms, including 230 suites, a Jack Nicklaus Signature designed golf course, ESPA spa, pools, restaurants, bars, and much more. Rooms are modern and bright with lavish bathrooms and incredible views from the floor-to-ceiling windows and Juliet balconies. With over 40 dining options, there is quite the choice for any appetite. Our shouts outs go to Shuang Ba, a fine-dining Chinese restaurant that does great dim sum, and Costa, a Mexican with a Latin American twist in a courtyard of communal cabanas, which is truly beautiful, especially at night. Seven nights at the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar starts at £1410 per person.

Sipping on a cocktail while the bright red sun sinks into the ocean far beyond the horizon, a feeling of complete relaxation (something that’s been difficult to find over the last year or so) washed over us, confirming that things are for sure better in the Bahamas. Fancy the trip of a lifetime? Find out more at Virgin Holidays.

virginholidays.co.uk