Comparing Attractions in Bahamas, Key West

Article excerpt

Q. I'm interested in what information you might have about Key West and Nassau/Paradise Island, Bahamas. I will be traveling by air and would appreciate your advice on rates, hotels and so on.

A. Both Key West and Nassau/Paradise Island are touristy places with plenty of good hotels, motels, restaurants and shops. Both are on islands, but they are more different than alike.

Nassau, the British-flavored Bahamas capital, is on New Providence Island, linked by a toll bridge with Paradise Island. Summer through fall is low season, with hotels offering the year's best prices.

Gambling is a big attraction, with casinos on Paradise Island and in the Cable Beach area of Nassau. The Paradise operation has three hotels and offers packages that include airfare.

On Cable Beach, Carnival Corp.'s Crystal Palace Hotel and Casino offers packages with charter flights on its own airline which flies to Nassau from many northeastern cities as well as from Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Radisson also offers gambling in its Cable Beach Casino and Golf Resort. Travel agents have details on these.

Nassau/Paradise has more elaborate nightlife than Key West, with Vegas-style revues at the casinos and a number of Bahamian-style clubs with goombay music and limbo dancing.

Instead of flying to Nassau, many visitors take three- or four-day cruises out of South Florida that dock in Nassau and sometimes call at Grand Bahama island or at Out Island. The downtown docks are near Nassau's outdoor straw market (souvenir carvings, straw bags and hats) and the Bay Street shops. Travel agents have details on the cruises, which generally sail on Fridays and Mondays from Port of Miami or Port Everglades.

Beaches are nice, although many of the good ones are reserved for hotel guests. And cruises around the area, including one in a glass-bottom boat, are available.

Nassau/Paradise Island is not a bargain place. Prices are generally higher than anywhere in the United States, and taxi drivers make out like bandits. The Bahamian dollar is pegged to the U.S. dollar (in fact, most places accept U.S. dollars). Americans need no passport or visa for a visit, but proof of citizenship is required.

For literature, contact the Bahamas Tourist Office, 255 Alhambra Circle, Suite 414, Coral Gables, Fla. 33134; (305) 932-0051.

Key West is at the end of the Overseas Highway, which starts south of Miami and island hops across bridges, down the string of Keys. It is closer to Havana (90 miles) than to Miami (150).

Besides lolling on the beaches and gathering at Mallory Square to see the sunset, visitors spend time at the Hemingway House, where Ernest lived; the Audubon House, where the painter-ornithologist worked; and the Mel Fisher museum full of doubloons, gold and silver bars, jewelry and other loot that Fisher's expeditions brought up from 17th century Spanish treasure galleons that sank off the Keys. Also, look for the recently restored Little White House, where Harry Truman spent vacations when he was president; an aquarium; restored lighthouse; and museum. …