Escape from Paradise with Ingrid Lemme-Chalut

Embarking on a Bahamian Adventure in Nassau!

To our new readers curious about my choice of titling the travel segment as “Escape ‘from’ Paradise” rather than the expected Escape ‘to’ Paradise, allow me to explain. For those who are residing in idyllic Montauk, situated at the eastern tip of Long Island, one could say I’m already in paradise. Yet, even in such bliss, the urge to explore beyond our shores arises, particularly during the quieter seasons. As the tech-savvy half of our duo, I enjoy the privilege of orchestrating our travel escapades.

With Valentine’s Day on the approach, I sought a destination that promised both proximity and festivity. As semi-nomadic retirees, we luxuriate in intermittent Floridian winters in the tranquil Palm Coast. It was here I discovered that Carnival Cruise Line sets sail from nearby Jacksonville, a mere hour’s drive north, renowned for their ‘spirited’ voyages. Intrigued by their vow renewal promotion, we, as long-time Holland America Line enthusiasts, impulsively reserved a 5-day Valentine’s cruise. A last-minute deal secured us an ocean-view cabin at an unbeatable rate. For New Yorkers, direct flights to Jacksonville abound.

Departing from Jacksonville port is a spectacle in itself, with ships navigating beneath the iconic Dames Point bridge, soaring across the St John’s River. The bridge’s height limitations permit only more modestly-sized vessels to dock at JAXPORT, ensuring a more intimate cruise experience. The Carnival Elation, with a cozy 2,400-passenger capacity, currently calls this port home. Norwegian Cruise Line has also announced that the Norwegian Gem will join Jacksonville’s fleet in November 2025.

Nassau offers the quintessential Bahamian experience, complete with stunning beaches and a myriad of activities. Despite cautionary advice regarding independent exploration due to safety concerns, we embarked on a self-conducted tour of Nassau’s historic core. The colonial charm and cultural vibrancy of this renowned Caribbean hub introduced us to some truly remarkable locals.

Nestled in old Nassau, adjacent to the Government House and a stone’s throw from the beaches and cruise port, lies the storied Graycliff Hotel and Restaurant. The mansion’s origins trace back to 1740, constructed by the infamous pirate Captain John Howard Graysmith, whose maritime exploits aboard the Graywolf made him a legend. By 1844, Graycliff opened its doors as Nassau’s inaugural inn, welcoming guests with authentic Caribbean warmth.

Throughout the American Civil War, it served as a mess for the West Indian Regiment, its walls privy to untold tales and revelries. Acquired by British nobility in 1966, Graycliff played host to esteemed figures, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Sir Winston Churchill. The Garzaroli family, current custodians since 1973, transformed Graycliff into the distinguished hotel and restaurant we see today, also founding the esteemed Graycliff Cigar Company. Our lunch there was a serene retreat, shared with fellow patrons relishing in the establishment’s grandeur.

On our return to the vessel, we stopped by Christ Church Cathedral. Established in 1670, it’s the site of the first church in The Islands Of The Bahamas, with the current edifice dating back to 1841. The church’s history is etched into its walls, and a curious British carpenter’s signature—a minute church mouse—adorns the baptismal font. The cathedral’s beauty was amplified by the German-imported organ’s melodies, creating a tranquil, reflective atmosphere at no cost.

Downtown Nassau is a tapestry of old and new, where historic colonial structures stand shoulder-to-shoulder with contemporary boutiques. Our leisurely promenade through the vibrant streets, flanked by time-honored edifices, was a fitting end to our day before reboarding our floating home away from home. Awaiting us were a glamorous evening and the amiable reception of Maitre’d Sanya and her wonderful team.

In keeping with Carnival cruise line’s beloved tradition, the crew put on a show during the evening meal, inviting passengers to join them in dance. Among them, my husband stood out as a dedicated dancer, earning the admiration and chuckles of onlookers.

That night, Zack, the lively and charming cruise director, took center stage to welcome the distinguished officers of the Carnival Elation. One by one, he introduced them on the majestic staircase, the sense of expectancy growing with each introduction, culminating in the captain’s festive champagne salute.

Until next month from another interesting location.

— Yours in travel, Ingrid

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