Visiting the Bahamas for the first time exceeded my expectations, even in the middle of a pandemic. Between the rich culture, flavorful foods, rhythmic music and beautiful beaches, this Caribbean paradise has so much to offer for all types of travelers. I stayed in Nassau, which is the capital of the Bahamas and one of the most popular island ports for cruises. Tourism accounts for more than 50 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GPD) and employs almost half of the Bahamian workforce, so spending my money directly on the island was important to me.
I felt a warm welcome from every single Bahamian I came across for the entirety of my trip, which made me feel more at home than on vacation. So let's get to where to stay, what to eat, and all the fun things to do in and around Nassau so you can start planning your trip now!
Things To Know About The Bahamas Before You Travel
Traveling during a global pandemic means an added layer of research and additional steps to take in making sure you are prepared to travel to your destination. This destination requires you to apply on their website for a Bahamas Health Travel Visa, and the application takes about 5 minutes to complete. There's also a $40 fee.
According to the most recent regulations, all travelers to the Bahamas must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 5 days before arrival. I was approved within 24 hours of completing my application and uploading my documents, so it's a super-quick process, but you'll want to get your approval ahead of your trip. (And be sure to check the travel visa website closer to the date of your trip, as regulations are subject to change.)
Once approved, you receive a QR code to present at the airport before passing through security. Try to arrive early to ensure you have enough time to get your documents checked because you don't want to get left behind because you don't have all your ducks in a row.
Where To Stay In The Bahamas
Airbnb: Thirty Six
For some destinations, I prefer to skip the resorts and go for a more local accommodation like an Airbnb. After doing lots of research, I decided to stay at Thirty|Six Condominiums, a luxury condo on Paradise Island.
When I say that it's a newer, luxury condo, I mean it. In the taxi ride from the airport, our driver joked that we must be celebrities because only famous people stay there.
The one-bedroom condo had one full bathroom and one half bathroom, a walk-in closet, a washer and dryer, a large wrap-around balcony, and a completely renovated kitchen. I truly felt like I was living a fabulous life in such a beautiful space.
The property had a 24-hour security booth, parking, a gym, and a beautiful infinity pool where we could lounge all day long. The security guards were great for helping us get a taxi or giving restaurant recommendations. I would for sure stay there again next time.
Hotel: Atlantis Paradise Island
Chances are if you start to research anything related to the Bahamas, you've heard of Atlantis" target="_blank">Atlantis has shown up. Located on Paradise Island, it is one of the top rated hotels in all of the Bahamas. Now just know, if you want to stay at Atlantis, you are going to be paying a pretty penny, but it's full of delicious restaurants, a beautiful beach, a water park, a rooftop bar, a casino, and so much more. If luxury is your thing—or just having everything right there—you definitely want to consider paying the extra money for the convenience of Atlantis.
Where To Eat
The Bahamas was filled with so many delicious restaurants, it was truly hard to narrow it down to just a few. As with most islands, the seafood was super-fresh and the hospitality was pleasant.
Conch is a true Bahamian specialty, so be sure to try conch fritters and conch salad everywhere. I honestly had conch fritters every day.
And of course, rum is the true star of any island vacation so I recommend a Bahama Mama or rum punch for lunch and dinner. Everywhere that I ate was spectacular, but here are some of my favorite must-try places for good eats.
Viola's Bar and Grill
Multiple people suggested eating at Viola's, and it did not disappoint. Located in walking distance to most hotels on Paradise Island, Viola's is the perfect spot to grab lunch or dinner. Outside of the delicious Bahamian food, Viola's also has great entertainment like karaoke nights. Don't miss trying the conch fritters (duh!) and the shrimp mac-and-cheese which can be made spicy. Also, ask about the super-sized drink upgrades, because why not?
This spot is located right on the harbor, so it serves up delicious eats with fantastic views. The service was great and the drinks had me whining in my chair to the reggae music.
If there is just one thing you follow through with after reading this guide, let it be a visit to Sonia's Jerk Hut on the beach. Located right on the beach, this cute little spot serves all of your Caribbean favorites, and the owner Sonia is super sweet. The restaurant prides itself as the "best jerk on the island," and I did not see the lie. The jerk chicken was thebomb.com. Oh, and don't sleep on her spicy sauce because it packs a punch! Another great thing is that the food comes in to-go containers so if her tables are full, just grab your food and eat it right there on the beach.
Latitudes is where you go when you want to dress up and spend a little more for dinner. Their menu is a fusion of different cuisines that includes sushi, pizza, steak, and noodle bowls. Dinner can fill up quickly so be sure to make a reservation.
Arawak Cay Fish Fry
Fish Fry is not a specific restaurant but a designated strip of different restaurants serving up fresh and delicious seafood. There isn't one specific place I can recommend because I tried so many that were good, so I suggest you treat it like a bar-hop. Stop at one place for the conch fritters, then go a few doors down for some fried snapper, and then try the rum punch and shrimp at another spot.
Later in the evening, this area is vibrant, with music playing and lots of locals and tourists wandering around looking for their next spot to eat. I visited twice and had some of the best conch fritters and rum punch at one of the smaller spots.
What To Do In The Bahamas
When on vacation, it's not always necessary to have a full itinerary. Sometimes you just gotta relax and go with the flow. The Bahamas is great for both travelers who want to lounge on the beach with a cocktail all day and those who are looking for adventure. If you want to make the most of your time, here are some suggestions for things to do and places to visit to get the authentic Bahamian experience.
Located just minutes away from downtown Nassau, Junkanoo Beach was the best beach for hanging out and enjoying the crystal blue water. I found the water to be calmer and more shallow, which is perfect for those who just want to enjoy the water without going out too deep or worrying about large waves. There's also a strip of bars and restaurants right along the beach (including Sonia's Jerk Hut), so you can easily spend a day here just relaxing and catching vibes. Take a walk a little further down and you'll end up right at the start of the Fish Fry. Win-Win!
Snorkeling Boat Cruise
What is vacation if you don't find yourself on a boat at least once? The water surrounding the Bahamas is just too beautiful not to see up-close and personal. There are a number of boat cruises that will take you to different islands and some trips include stops for snorkeling and lunch. The cruise I took included snorkeling near green turtles, bottomless rum punch, and a stop at a restaurant on Rose island, complete with a DJ and time for ordering food. Need I say more?
John Watling Distillery
When in Rome, or in this case the Bahamas, do a rum tasting! This historic distillery has been pushing out hand-crafted Bahamian rum since 1789 and is worth the visit. Stop by for rum tastings or a free daily tour, and grab a bottle (or two) to bring back to the states.
Hideaway Floating Bar
A floating bar in the middle of the ocean with good drinks and vibes? Sign me up! Hideaway is literally a floating bar and grill located in the water near Athol Island, which is just off of Paradise Island. Open on weekends only, catch an hourly speedboat out to the bar and spend the day hanging out by the bar or lounging with your feet in the water as you take in the views. Be sure to go early, because once it fills up, you have to wait until people leave to go over.
I know everyone has seen the photos of folks visiting the Bahamas and being on an island full of large pigs called Exuma. There you can visit the pigs, swim with sharks, and just enjoy the beautiful views. It's a separate island from the one Nassua is located on, so if you want to swim with the pigs you will have to book a flight which takes about 40 mins or book a boat tour which can be around 3 to 4 hours via speedboat. It's a long journey, but worth the Instagrammable photos with a piglet and his family.
Cacique Bar and Lounge
If you're like me, then you enjoy venturing out to experience nightlife when visiting new places. The Bahamas did not let me down when it came to having fun, and Cacique was one of those places that I wanted to go back to every night if I could. Located not too far from Junkanoo Beach, it's an outdoor spot that has all the vibes. I'm talking about good food, strong and cheap drinks (hello $10 top shelf), hookah, and a DJ playing everything from soca to hip-hop. Do yourself a favor and plan at least one fun night out to dance and have fun at Cacique, and depending on the day you might find yourself enjoying karaoke, paint and sip, or Ladies Night.
For more travel stories, tips and tricks, check out the xoNecole travel section here.
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Robin D. Thomas is a brunch loving, Brooklyn born and raised Licensed Social Worker currently working in the Bronx. When she's not writing about all things wellness, entertainment and love, you can find her eating her way through different cities and tending to her plants. Connect with her on IG and Twitter at @_MissRobin or on her Instagram wellness page @thisnoirethat.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Introducing Chief Mom Officer: Where Working Moms Come First
xoNecole's Chief Mom Officer explores the 18-month post-pregnancy journey through the lens of our very own Chief Mom Officer, Shakyna Bolden. The series will serve as an inspirational and resourceful guide to help get through the early days of new motherhood as working moms knowing they are not alone in the hardships.
“I want to build my work around my life, and not my life around my work.”
I typed these words in my iPhone Notes as I fed my newborn daughter one morning during the first few weeks of having her earthside. I didn’t have much time for page-filled journal entries as my days were filled with nonstop feedings, soothing, and recovery…but I knew I needed to give those words space and life.
Prior to my maternity leave, I, like most working moms, was burning fumes juggling work and life. Since 2019, I’ve been running revenue operations here at this really cool company you may have heard of called xoNecole (hehe). I’ve been behind the scenes building our brand partnerships and negotiating deals with companies such as Ulta Beauty, Toyota, Target, Spotify, SheaMoisture, etc.
Courtesy of Shakyna Bolden
I’ve co-produced our signature events like ElevateHER and Pajamas & Lipstick while conceptualizing, selling, building, and distributing our original video and podcast content and podcast. The list goes on and on. I’ve helped build this small but brilliant company into what it is today, all while running my own small family. And that is not an easy feat.
In all truth, trying to be the best mom and partner I can be while also leading in my job has felt at times like a whirlwind where the rest of my life is passing me by. I don’t quite know where or when it happened, but I swear somebody pushed the fast-forward button in life, and I’m losing my edges trying to keep up.
My mind and body get so preoccupied with the management of life that my soul sits on the sidelines, waiting to take the reins and intentionally live it.
So many facets of my life, from my health and well-being to my hobbies and passions, have been placed on the back burner while tending to my young family and growing in my career has taken center stage. And for the longest time, I’ve wanted to flip the switch, but the pace of life just hasn’t let me restack my priorities.
That is, until now.
Courtesy of Shakyna Bolden
When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter last year, I couldn’t imagine adding more to my already full plate. Simultaneously, I was also relieved to know that my upcoming maternity leave would force me to press pause and catch my breath. Her birth in January 2023 was a much-needed reset, to say the least.
My maternity leave was the first time since 2019 that I had a second for dreams that were buried in the back of my heart to bubble up to the surface of my reality. I got a taste of what it was like to solely focus on my well-being and my home life. And I liked it a lot. My healing. My recovery. Sitting and really taking quiet time with God to search the unattended areas in the garden of my life.
I was cooking homemade meals on the regular and actually sitting down with my family at the table to eat. As grueling as those first newborn weeks can be, I was enjoying the long-awaited shift in my priorities; and I wanted that shift to stick. I didn’t want it to fade away after my maternity leave.
I want to build my work around my life and not my life around my work.
As a leader of an organization that speaks to millions of women every day about their well-being (and also in leading a team of majority women), I feel it’s my responsibility to carry this shift forward boldly. This is why I’m launching a new column here at xoNecole: Chief Mom Officer!
As I return to work full-time this month from my maternity leave, I want to regularly share my experience of trying to harmonize work and life. As an audience, you all share your raw, unfiltered journeys with us. For years, they’ve undoubtedly inspired me. I want to show up and do the same because I know this shift in my life will be quite the journey.
So for all my Chief Mom Officers—those of us who are constantly merging the imperfect and chaotic worlds of leadership in the office and wearing our crowns at home—I invite you to come on this journey with me and celebrate the ebbs and flows in how we show up for each.
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Featured image courtesy of Shakyna Bolden