Exciting and affordable meeting options abound amid these Caribbean islands
Ask anyone who has spent time in The Bahamas, and they’ll tell you that the Caribbean country’s credo, “It’s Better in The Bahamas,” is exceptionally apropos.
With crystalline blue waters, shimmering white-sand beaches, endless options for outdoor activities and a host of exotic resorts to fit every budget, the Islands of The Bahamas are a paradise-lover’s dream. For these reasons and more, they are also ideal for planners looking to offer attendees an affordable, exotic escape, where state-of-the-art sites for business building are matched by boundless beaches and beautiful settings.
“The Islands of The Bahamas offer excellent value for the money,” says Bradley Bosfield, regional marketing manager for groups for The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. “From a wide and diverse offering of hotels and resorts and attractions, there is something that’s bound to capture the fantasy of the individual traveler as well as the imagination of the meeting group and incentive travelers. There are resorts and hotels to match every price range and group size, from the standard value services to the ultimate in luxury accommodations and expectations.”
According to Bosfield, there are a variety of elements that set The Bahamas apart from other meetings, conventions and incentive destinations. First, this collection of islands off the southern coast of Florida is easily accessible from the U.S. and is, in fact, the closest international destination to the Southeast. “Due to the close proximity to the U.S., it gives us access,” he says. “Airlift frequency and seat availability make it increasingly easier for meeting professionals to choose and book The Islands of The Bahamas.” Plus, English is the official language, and the U.S. dollar is both an accepted and interchangeable currency with the Bahamian dollar, which helps both planners and meeting-goers navigate the country with ease.
Paradise Found at Atlantis
One of the most comprehensive sites for Bahamas meetings and events can be found at Atlantis Paradise Island, Bahamas. This sizeable luxury resort, on famed Paradise Island, just off shore from the city of Nassau, is easily distinguishable by its majestic pink towers, domes and spires designed to emulate the mythical undersea city for which it was named. It opened in 1998 with 1,200 rooms; a multimillion-dollar collection of artwork; the largest casino in the Caribbean and the world’s largest open-air marine environment. It also encompasses the Mayan Temple waterslide complex, six swimming areas and a $15-million marina.
The property underwent a $1-billion expansion in 2007 that included The Cove Atlantis, a 600-room resort within the resort; The Reef Atlantis, a 497-room condo-hotel; Dolphin Cay, a 14-acre dolphin habitat and education center; a 63-acre addition to the waterscape, now called Aquaventure; and a 30,000-square-foot flagship Mandara Spa. The expansion also added approximately 100,000 sq. ft. of new conference facilities, for a total of more than 500,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor space, making it the largest conference space in the Caribbean. The expanded meetings facility features the 50,000-square-foot Imperial Ballroom, with more than 30,000 sq. ft. of prefunction space. The conference center’s 30 breakout rooms, three boardrooms, a large staging area, and a banquet kitchen with additional pantries can accommodate the needs of up to 5,000 guests. (Its resort-within-a-resort, the sophisticated Cove Atlantis, features two executive boardrooms.)
“There is no singular resort in the world that offers what Atlantis offers,” says Gus Tejeda, vice president of group sales. Among these features are five levels of accommodations, world-class restaurants, numerous recreational activities and a championship golf course. “Meeting planners comment on how their event can be contained at Atlantis, allowing the meeting professional to work with one team and save transportation costs,” he says.
Sandals Royal Bahamian Spa Resort & Offshore Island.
Atlantis works to make planning easy with its Simple Rewards Meeting package. Meeting space starts at $109 per person, per day for groups of 10 or more (that doesn’t include the guest-room rate). The package includes bottled water in the meeting room, guest room Internet, an LCD projector and screen, continental breakfast, a mid-morning break, lunch and an afternoon break. Additional amenities can be added on an à la carte basis to further customize to your group’s needs.
Nassau & Providence Island
Expanding your Bahamas search beyond Atlantis, there are several noteworthy meeting properties in Nassau, on nearby New Providence Island and connected to Paradise Island by two bridges. As the capital city of The Bahamas, Nassau is often a top pick for meetings due to a variety of off-site options: most notably, historic Bay Street. This lively street is where visitors can enjoy a collection of charming shops, pubs and cafes, and the famed Straw Market, offering baskets, bags, and dolls created locally with hand-dried palm and sisal plant leaves. Additionally, conch is a local culinary specialty, be it cracked conch, conch fritters, conch salad or other options. Another fun excursion for visitors to Nassau is the village of Arawak Cay—known by locals as the Fish Fry—for fresh conch and a Kalik beer (which is brewed on New Providence Island) at one of the conch shacks.
Just a few miles west of Nassau is Cable Beach, a two-and-a-half-mile stretch of land that’s known for its spectacular shores. The locale got its name in 1907 when it became the landing point for the Trans-Atlantic cable, which stretched from here to connect The Bahamas to mainland America at Jupiter, Fla. Because of its picturesque beauty, the area has been called the Bahamian Riviera and is home to the Cable Beach Golf Club, a variety of nightclubs and several hotels with meeting facilities, including the Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort, which can accommodate groups of 10 to 1,200 guests; and the newly renovated Wyndham Nassau Resort and Crystal Palace Casino, which welcomes groups of up to 1,750. Another popular hotel with meeting facilities is the all-inclusive Sandals Royal Bahamian Spa Resort & Offshore Island, with a water-sports complex, a spa, 10 on-site restaurants and eight pools, as well as 10,700 sq. ft. of meeting space. The property also features a private island that can be accessed by launch, sailboat or kayak. It encompasses two secluded beaches—one for relaxing and snorkeling and the other for water sports.
Grand Bahama Island
For planners working with clients who enjoy more active pursuits but still desire the amenities of large-scale resorts, Grand Bahama Island is an ideal choice. It has one of the world’s largest underwater cave systems, three national parks, endless beaches and crisp blue water with enchanting marine life. Because of this, all types of water sports, from snorkeling and scuba diving to sport fishing and boating, make for enjoyable team-building options. Hikes through the five-mile Heritage Trail and Lucayan National Park are also fun, as is an excursion with Grand Bahama Nature Tours, a leading eco-tour operator that offers guided kayaking, snorkeling, biking, hiking, jeep and bird-watching options.
Animal lovers can also experience UNEXSO, the Underwater Explorers Society located on the Port Lucaya Marina. The organization offers a wide variety of diving and dolphin experiences, including popular dolphin swims in a protected lagoon, and Pinetree Stables, the biggest stable in The Bahamas. It also offers two-hour, guided horseback trail rides that take visitors through endangered pine forests, past orange groves, along the beach and into the ocean—The Bahamas of picture postcards.
Meeting-goers with a penchant for shopping will also enjoy Grand Bahama Island. Port Lucaya Marina & Marketplace is a complex on the harbor filled with shops, restaurants and bars, as well as nightly live entertainment. Named after the famous jazz performer, Count Basie Square lies in the center of Port Lucaya’s entertainment district. The square’s busy event calendar includes parades, festivals, calypso and limbo dancing.
The island’s largest meeting facility can be found at Radisson Our Lucaya Resort and Our Lucaya Reef Village, a more affordable, family-friendly option that is part of the Our Lucaya complex. The properties are located steps from Port Lucaya Marketplace & Marina and six miles from Grand Bahama International Airport in Freeport. They also share 90,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space, making them ideal for a variety of group sizes.
Another great option for groups is Pelican Bay at Lucaya Hotel, one of Grand Bahama’s newest boutique hotels. The property features 30,680 sq. ft. of meeting space in its newly opened, $9-million Canal House, which is a five-story site for corporate meetings and events.
The Out Islands
In addition to New Providence Island and Grand Bahama Island, there are 698 other islands that make up The Islands of The Bahamas. For smaller meetings—and to discover some of the world’s top beaches, dive sites and fishing sites—The Bahamas also offer an exciting array of options in the Out Islands of The Bahamas. These include Acklins/Crooked Island, Andros, The Berry Islands, Bimini, Cat Island, Eleuthera/Harbour Island, The Exumas, Inagua, Long Island, Mayaguana and Rum Cay/San Salvador. “The resorts there are small boutique hotels, and these hotels are ideal for pre- and post-meeting trips, board of directors meetings, executive retreats and team building,” Bosfield says. Although indoor meeting space is limited, there’s plenty of flexible outdoor space.
For the most part, Out Island hotels feature just 20–35 rooms, with the exception of a few properties, one of which is Sandals Emerald Bay Beach Resort & Spa, Great Exuma. It has 183 guest rooms, suites and villas, as well as 13,000 sq. ft. of flexible indoor and outdoor meeting space. There’s also a one-acre pool with a fire pit right in the middle, a Red Lane Spa, a comprehensive scuba program and a signature Greg Norman-designed golf course. Other Out Island properties that are ideal for small groups include Grand Isle Resort & Spa and Palm Bay Beach Club & Spa in Great Exuma; Abaco Beach Resort at Boat Harbour and Treasure Cay Hotel Resort & Marina in The Abacos; and Bimini Bay Resort & Marina in Bimini.
“The Out Islands offer an experience of unspoiled nature, crystal-clear waters with powdery white-sand beaches, lively folk music and friendly people,” Bosfield says. “They offer island life and the opportunity to reconnect with yourself. There are no cruise ships or high-rise hotels, and no crowds. It is different.”
Set Sea for Fun
As the Islands of the Bahamas are known for their gorgeous, clear waters—they boast a visibility of up to 200 feet in most places—you and your meeting-goers can easily spot dolphins, explore shipwrecks and coral reefs, and be amazed by schools of colorful fish. Whether your group is into boating, sailing, diving, snorkeling, fishing or kayaking, there is something for everyone. Icing on the cake is a mild climate that offers temperatures averaging 80 degrees year-round.
Snorkeling in the islands' crystal-clear waters.
No matter which of the 700 Bahamas islands you choose to host your next event, Bosfield says you are sure to discover that meeting is, indeed, better in The Bahamas. “Each of these islands is diverse and uniquely different, which represents choice for the planner,” he says. “Clients love the overall atmosphere of our resorts. The energy, service, food quality and entertainment keep clients coming back for many years.”
If possible, consider hosting a Bahamas event that runs in conjunction with its Junkanoo Festival, which occurs in many towns across The Bahamas. Celebrated on Dec. 26 and Jan. 1, it is a spectacular event commemorating freedom from slavery that is one of the cores of Bahamian culture. The biggest festival occurs in Nassau, but there are smaller versions/representations of the parade held during the summer and throughout the year. “Bahamians dress up in very colorful themed costumes made of crepe paper and cardboard shaped to many figures and objects, and parade the streets dancing and making jolly,” says Bradley Bosfield, of The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. “The musical instruments include goat-skin drums, horns and cowbells. With its vibrant and the uniquely Bahamian ‘Junkanoo Rush-out,’ this is a great way to start or end your program.”
The Islands of The Bahamas are served by air carriers from major U.S. cities, with daily nonstop and one-stop service to many islands. Only a 35-minute flight from Miami, most flights from the East Coast are less than 3 hours. Additionally, The Bahamas are one of the few Caribbean destinations that provide pre-clearance for U.S. Customs and Immigration Services, allowing flights from Lynden Pindling International Airport in Nassau and Grand Bahama International Airport, a private airport in Freeport, to enter the U.S. as domestic flights and bypass the normal U.S. Customs and Immigration clearance encountered on most returns from an international destination.