Marsh Harbour , Great Abaco Island
Tel: 888 303 2765 (toll-free)
The double-crescent beach, over two miles long, is breathtaking. Ditto the crystalline water. Ditto the golf course, with hardly a blade of grass out of place (it gets only a handful of rounds on an average day). The Abaco Club stays gloriously serene because the 534-acre private peninsula is indeed a club (created by Peter de Savary, the English entrepreneur, sportsman, and visionary). Nonmembers can stay in their choice of 20 octagonal "cottages" (650-square-foot one-room cabanas), each beautifully furnished and richly appointed with a marble-top wet bar, 42-inch flat-screen TV, Italian linens, and a terrace with hammocks secluded behind a bank of shrubbery. In addition to golf, sports-loving guests can indulge in tennis, a fitness center and spa, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, bonefishing, and deep-sea fishing. The catch to all this: Nonmembers can stay only once, but for as long as they like. Good—how about forever?
Tel: 888 528 7155 (toll-free)
Tel: 242 363 3000
Representing the opposite of the barefoot Bahamas experience, this megaresort on Paradise Island belongs to South African billionaire developer Sol Kerzner, a man responsible in his youth for the egregious Sun City, South Africa, and now tending the meticulous and deluxe One&Only resorts—one of which lies down the beach from here. With Atlantis, Kerzner has spawned a unique creature, a veritable Vegas-on-the-Sea. Consisting of three massive towers as well as the Cove (a resort within the resort), Atlantis has 3,300 rooms and countless bars, clubs, and restaurants, such as Nobu. If you wrest your eyes upward from the slots and Caribbean stud poker in the huge casino, you'll see multimillion-dollar Dale Chihuly glass installations; if you get overheated walking from one end of the resort to the other (it takes a good ten minutes), take refuge underground, where vast vitrines reveal an aquarium theme walk with small sharks and large rays twisting in and out of chunks of the Lost City of Atlantis "excavation." If you tire of that, head to the gigantic beachside ziggurat, a collection of thrilling extreme "Mayan" waterslides. It's all completely tasteless in a rather fabulous way.
West Bay Street
Nassau , New Providence Island
Tel: 242 327 4500
You see pictures of this friendly little inn all over the place—its playful, polychromatic facades have become almost a surrogate logo for the Bahamas. Each of the 18 dainty one- and two-story dollhouse huts is painted in one of eight playful colors; the pathways are lined with tropical blossoms; the restaurant is decorated in yellow augmented by a palette of oranges. The interiors of the huts, though, have been toned down from their original carnival of colors and now come with white walls to offset the chocolate-colored ceilings and wood trim. Air-conditioning units back up the ceiling fans; the bathrooms (showers only) come with Aveda toiletries but are a little tight for vigorous toweling; the skimpy closets can handle only a limited wardrobe—but then, who's bringing bags of clothes to a place where the daily round involves walking from the pool to Love Beach to the bar? The 150-seat restaurant (a charmer, indoors and out) is a no-fuss retreat. Try the pan-fried fillet of Nassau grouper topped with sautéed almonds and butter-lemon sauce. There's a small spa and a computer room, but the bedside reading leaves something to be desired (Economics in One Lesson, anyone?).
Tel: 242 333 2350
Harbour Island—or "Briland," the most chic Out Island off North Eleuthera—is where you'll find the first capital of the Bahamas, 300-year-old Dunmore Town. Harbour Island is also the home of this much-improved resort. The 37-year-old hotel, named for the famous pink beach, has entered a whole new level of luxe since Jacques and Pamela Brouchier took over management in 2002 and oversaw a total renovation, roping in Barbara Hulanicki (of Biba fame) to apply an appropriately English colonial look. The 36 rooms (plus one beach house and one four-bedroom villa) feature dark wood floors, white louvered shutters, teak beds, white wainscoting, and walls the color of sand (not pink), with matching tonal beiges, creams, and taupes in the upholstery and pillows—all very refreshing and understated. The loft room, with its private ocean-facing terrace, is the best, but even the most budget-friendly rooms are fine, set back from the ocean with views of hibiscus, jasmine, and bougainvillea in the eight-acre gardens. Details are good: a freshwater lagoon pool; no extra charge for tennis or beach toys (kayaks, boogie boards, snorkeling gear, shady palapas); L'Occitane products in the bathrooms; revamped menus at the Terrace restaurant; and best of all, come sundown, the island's top bar.
Closed August 28 to October 8.
Casino Drive West
Tel: 242 363 6900
This romantic addition to the Atlantis complex has 600 suites and few of the design flourishes (at least indoors) of its sister hotels. The interiors (by Jeffrey Beers and David Rockwell) have replaced glitz with elegance and refinement. The breezy reception lobby and wide corridors create a sense of space, while a subtle use of sand and sea colors, conjure a sense of the tropics. The suites are high-style but comfortable and lavishly equipped, some with 42-inch high-definition flat-screen TVs, freestanding bathtubs beside floor-to-ceiling windows, steam showers, Bose 3-2-1 entertainment systems, and headboard reading lamps. The Caribbean version of Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill sports handsome Rockwell-designed Tex-Mex decor and an eye-catching showcase kitchen. If the interiors are restrained, excess takes over outdoors, where you'll find an "ultra pool" (adults only), with chaises in the water and an island of persimmon daybeds. There are also 20 private pool cabanas that look more like teakwood cottages, complete with flat-screen TVs and Internet access (and daily rental rates pricier than most hotel rooms). And as if that's not enough pampering, there's the 30,000-square-foot Mandara Spa.
Great Exuma Island
Tel: 877 839 4253
Grand Exuma, with its isolated white-sand beaches and super-friendly locals, has a legendary castaway vibe, but in terms of elegant, upscale hotels, you're out of luck. Enter February Point, an 80-acre property that rents villas by the week or night. The pastel-colored houses, in styles ranging from colonial to cutting-edge modern, are loaded with high-end amenities, such as plasma TVs, granite kitchens, Jacuzzis, and rain showers. The result: You feel as if you're staying in a luxury home in Miami. There are private docks, tennis courts, playgrounds, all kinds of water equipment, and a few small beaches nearby (larger ones are a short drive away). There's also a relaxed waterfront restaurant at the marina that packs in a crowd on Tuesday nights for fish tacos and live rake-and-scrape bands.—Leigh Newman
Stocking Island, The Exumas
Tel: 242 357 0008
Ever dream of ditching your life to run a tiny resort on a deserted island? Meet David and Carol Higgins, a quirky, energetic couple who did just that. Opened in 1992, their eco-friendly charmer is on Stocking Island, a ten-minute boat ride from Great Exuma. There are five basic but comfortable cottages—each with a kitchenette and a made-for-the-sunset deck—sandwiched between a quiet lagoon and a tiny private beach. Throughout the island, the gardens have been meticulously cultivated and labeled (see if you can spot all five of the wild orchid species). To tread lightly among all this beauty, water is recycled, solar panels provide the energy, and all waste is composted. During the day, you can sail, snorkel, kayak, or hike; at night, Carol whips up four-course feasts that might start with lobster bruschetta and end with peanut butter chiffon pie. Those who love Higgins Landing really love it and come back frequently; be prepared to make reservations far in advance.—Leigh Newman
Tel: 242 368 6281
Off the northeast coast of Andros, the biggest (though paradoxically most unspoiled) Bahamian island, is this idyllic 96-acre private island, which has been made into one of the most laid-back resorts in the entire Caribbean by its Jamaican owners, Brian and Jennifer Hew. Rooms, mostly huge, are in a collection of 19 villas and cottages scattered among the sea grapes and palms. Some are beachfront, others set back a ways, and all have verandas, fans, AC, and CD players. Decor ranges from soaring wooden cathedral ceilings, exposed stone walls, and Turkish rugs in some rooms to all boudoir white in others; the biggest have kitchenettes—though these seem de trop if you choose the "Guest of House" option, in which all food and drink (apart from Champagne) is included. Everyone gets free use of kayaks, Windsurfers, snorkeling gear, bicycles, and tennis equipment. Dinners can be served à deux on the beach; lunches on an uninhabited islet; and, though there's a spa, a massage will come to you if requested. Cookies, still warm from the oven, are left in your room every afternoon—one of the small things that make people remember this place most fondly. That and the Saturday night jump-up barbecue.
Dunmore Town , Harbour Island
Tel: 242 333 2707
This is the place that put Harbour Island in every single glossy mag on the planet, thanks in part to former shareholders India Hicks (the granddaughter of Queen Victoria's great-grandson, one of Princess Di's bridesmaids, and, crucially—for the sake of the linens and to explain the Bruce Weber shots in the parlor—former Ralph Lauren model) and her boyfriend, designer David Flint Wood, who were responsible for the elegant interiors. Given all that, further description seems redundant: There are all the crisp white linens on mahogany four-posters, waxed wood floors, white shutters, and colonial cane chairs you'd expect in the 7 bedrooms. There's also a fine contemporary restaurant with a chef from Sydney (try the roast lobster), a library, and a fine wine and spirits shop featuring specially selected rum from the Caribbean and Cuba and the best selection of Bordeaux in the Bahamas (as well as a house rum and wine label, called Afro Head). In case you're too tired to make the five-minute walk to the beach, there's also a palm-shaded lap pool for swimming and lounging outside in the garden.
Grand Bahama Island
Tel: 877 220 0737
Nandana, a five-bedroom mansion on Grand Bahama's laid-back West End, is emblematic of an accommodation style that has become trendy in the Bahamas recently: private villas that function like tiny high-end resorts. Nandana is run by former Amanresorts staffers and is built in the style of an Asian beach house—the main pavilion is essentially an open-air cathedral of teak, with massive stone fireplaces and exquisite statues from Cambodia. The house chef, flown in from Miami, serves elegant meals on a large Indonesian dining table by the infinity pool. Two master bedrooms (both with outdoor showers, one with a plunge pool) have sea views; two other bedrooms overlook the gardens. The real showstopper, however, is the 2,000-square-foot canvas tent done up like an Out of Africa fantasy suite, with a claw-foot tub and telescope. The don't-misses here? A sunset cruise on the villa's 45-foot yacht, and bicycling to the tiny conch shacks down the road for fritters of freshly caught seafood. Rates start at $800 per person per night and include access to the golf course, pool, and marina of a neighboring resort.—Leigh Newman
Paradise Island Drive
Tel: 242 363 2501
The original Ocean Club, with its terraced Versailles Gardens and 12th-century cloister, is what gave Paradise Island its classy reputation back in the Sixties. Then the plaything of A&P heir Huntington Hartford, the resort is once more owned by a megabucks mogul, Sol Kerzner of Atlantis fame, who has pumped millions into upgrading the estate. The lavish care shows the minute you enter the gates and drive past the impeccable gardens, the handiwork of the resort's 30 gardeners. The 20 original 350-square-foot garden rooms and two suites are twice as sumptuous as in the old days (Frette linens, toiletries in flagons rather than minibottles); the ten new oceanfront suites and 40 new rooms are among the most stylish on the islands, complete with circular soaking tubs with views of the sea. The three new oceanfront villas with private infinity pools give A-listers all the privacy they need. Choice is the name of the game here: There are lots of dining options, such as Vongerichten's Dune, dinner alfresco in the Versailles Garden or the original garden courtyard. There's also a family pool and a kids' club, spa treatments in wonderfully serene private "temples," 18 holes of championship golf, and six tennis courts. Guests have access to Atlantis's facilities, but note that it's not necessarily reciprocal: Atlantis guests must organize an invite to One&Only through the general manager.
One Casino Drive
Tel: 242 363 3000
A stay at this tower within Atlantis is "like living in your own paradisiacal apartment" with a kitchen, living space, and ocean views. Marble floors, sleek sofas, and chandeliers fill public spaces. Atlantis's 40 restaurants include several focusing on seafood: Try ancho chilerubbed salmon at Mesa, conch fritters at Bimini Road. Swimming with dolphins is one of the perfect-scoring activities.
Bay and Hill streets
Tel: 242 333 2053
The opening of this ten-room boutique hotel in 2003 heralded the next wave in the St. Barths-ization of once-sleepy Harbour Island. The work of Miami developer J. Wallace Tutt III, who did Villa Versace, and his partner Don Purdy, it has fast Internet, cable TV, VCRs, and CDs. There are also English country armchairs, vases of hothouse-looking flowers, chandeliers, Modigliani drawings, and Picasso lithographs. Service is personal and aiming for psychic; there's a gym, two restaurants (the main one duly attracting the local glitterati on a regular basis), and a martini bar beside the pool, which—going one step too far in the extra-amenities department—is heated. Note that this property is a five-minute walk from the nearest beach.
South Andros Island
Tel: 242 369 2330
Surrounded by 125 acres of preserved mangroves and white-sand beaches, tiny Tiamo makes you feel as if you've landed—plop—on an island in the South Pacific, instead of the Caribbean. An extensive renovation, completed in 2010, transformed the resort from eco-friendly to eco-luxurious: The canvas tents have been replaced by 11 downright decadent solar-powered cottages built with reclaimed driftwood and glass. Not that they look it. Expect modern island design, including a South Beach–style outdoor lounge right on the sand, where you can sip rum punch made with organic fruit grown on the property (the restaurant is likewise stocked by the hotel's garden). In keeping with the stewards-of-the-island theme, a "nature concierge" leads guests on snorkeling adventures and kayak trips to learn about the plant, animal, and marine ecosystems of Tiamo. Bonefishing and diving trips are also available. But for the most part, this is a place where couples come to lounge around in stylish, uninterrupted privacy.—Leigh Newman
Closed August and September.