In May 2016, I signed up for Founderscard and detailed my experience here. One of the benefits of Founderscard is Total Rewards Diamond status, which is useful for people who go to Vegas and Atlantic City. I enjoyed the benefits of TR Diamond in my last 2 trips to Vegas since receiving the status, and recently booked my free 4 night stay at the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. I had first heard about this benefit via TPG’s post, and originally people were skeptical about it and thought there would be some gambling requirement, etc. I thought I would write a post today for anyone who is planning to go. For the current benefit, the trip must be booked before Jan 31, 2017, with travel before the end of Feb.
My friend Michael (not my co-blogger) had gone at the end of September (during hurricane season, no less) and provided a lot of the tips and advice I will be describing in this post. He was essential in my preparation for this trip. Thanks, Michael!!
Making The Reservation
I made the reservation in November by contacting Atlantis Casino VIP Services and got a bunch of my TR Diamond friends to join in. In all, we booked 5 rooms for 8 people for mid-January. There are two packages available for the benefit:
The Daily Resort Fee is $49.95 + $3.75 VAT for a total of $53.70 per room per night or $214.80 for all 4 nights. Unless you want to gamble on turning your $100 free slot play into $200+, I would recommend selecting the Beach Towers, which is connected to the Coral Towers and is less than a 5 minute walk away through a beautiful hallway adorned with dolphin fountains.
I should also note that you still have to pay the VAT on the room rate and resort fees even though the room is complimentary, and there is also a mandatory gratuity. In all, expect to pay $6.99 (room charge) + $4.88 (VAT) + $10 (gratuity) + $3.74 (resort fee VAT) = $25.61 per room per night for couples or $102.44 for all 4 nights. For guests staying alone in the room, it would be $6.99 (room charge) + $4.88 (VAT) + $5.00 (gratuity) + $3.74 (resort fee VAT) = $20.61 or $82.44 for all 4 nights.
Jetblue was the best option in terms of timing for flying to NAS. I booked my flights SFO-FLL-NAS roundtrip with those Jetblue PointsMatch points for a total of 47,600 points and $214.38 taxes for two people. The cash equivalent of the flights was $954.00 for a cpp of 1.38. In hindsight, due to those taxes, it may have been better to book with Chase Sapphire Reserve at 1.5 cpp, but oh well.
Besides your usual beach gear, like swimsuits (I recommend bringing 2, since it takes a long time to dry due to the humidity), sunglasses, hat, sunblock, chargers, action cameras, water shoes, sandals, etc, here are a few things I’d recommend adding to your packing list:
- Loads of snacks — resort food is not very good and expensive (and by expensive I mean more expensive than even American resorts…like a small pizza would cost $36), so if you want to save money, bring your own granola bars etc, so that you won’t need to order as much food.
- Alternatively, you can bring a small George Foreman grill or Instant Pot and some basic ingredients. I almost brought my sous vide, but opted not to, because I looked up some prices at nearby grocery stores and the meats were still expensive. I’ll explain meals later.
- Mosquito repellent – in the winter, there were basically no mosquitoes. However, I brought a small tube just in case, since the Bahamas is in the Zika-affected region.
- Cash – although Atlantis is a cash-less resort (everything is charged to your room key), you will still need cash to pay the taxis, and if you eat at some off-site restaurants.
- Jacket – in January, outside temperatures were generally 70-80F, but indoors it could get really chilly due to the A/C. Alternatively, you could just wrap yourself in a towel!
- Waterproof bags – I brought a waterproof bag for my phone, a waterproof case for my GoPro (actually, a Xiaomi Yi), and a 10L dry bag for other things I wanted to keep dry such as the room key. These were totally essential and I ended up carrying a lot of other people’s things since I was the only one who had dry bags.
- I packed my own snorkel (I’m a yuuuuge fan of the full-face snorkel) for the Exuma day trip. Very glad I did.
- Bahamians speak English.
- The Bahamian Dollar is pegged to the US Dollar at 1:1. Everyone accepts USD. Try to pay exact change so that you won’t need to get change back. Even if you do, you can often ask if they have USD to give back to you.
- The Bahamas is on T-Mobile’s free international roaming data list. It works on the BTC network and I had very strong coverage throughout and even while out on the waters on a speedboat.
- Google Fi also works flawlessly on BTC (my husband used it on his iPhone). My work phone is Verizon and I found that it also connects to BTC but often had network issues while roaming.
- They use the same electrical outlets as the US, so no travel adapters needed!
- Download the Atlantis app (iOS, Android) for real-time chat with a concierge, messaging your friends, making dinner and activity reservations, etc. The app also has a great guide on all the awesome features of the resort, such as all the aquariums and lagoons you can go to (for free!), and a map of the resort to make it easy to get around.
- There were no mosquitoes during our time, and most importantly, no bed bugs. However, check your bed carefully for signs of bed bugs, and bring mosquito repellent just in case, since the Bahamas is in a Zika zone.
Taxi Adventures – Do Your Own Math
Sadly, the Bahamas does not have Uber, so we arrived at NAS and found a sea of taxis. They stated that the fare was $32 for the first 2 people, $3 per person thereafter, $2 for the bridge toll to Paradise Island (entering the island only), and $1 per piece of luggage.We told them we had 5 people and they piled us into a van and said it would be $32+$3×9+$2+$1+$1+$1=$49 (we had 3 pieces of carryon luggage). I later found out that the sign on the taxi stand says each person is entitled to 1 bag and 1 carryon, and the $1 is only for additional bags, so we were overcharged $3. Oh well. Here is the price list for your future reference:
The ride is about 20-25 min for about 10 miles.
Our van looked like it was about to fall apart, and at one point halfway, it started smelling like gas and the driver slowed down to a crawl and told us his engine was overheating. We managed to roll into a gas station and the driver “fixed” his car there. This was actually a welcome opportunity for us to buy some gas station fried chicken. We bought about 10 small pieces for $20. This was one of the cheaper foods we’d find on this island… When we finally arrived at the resort, the driver opened the door to let us out and the handle fell off. #facepalm
We took the taxi to/from the airport 3 more times after this since we flew out of NAS to go to Exuma on our last full day. We noticed that all three times, the taxi drivers tried to charge us more than what was posted (one driver wanted to charge $10 PER PERSON!). We had to hold our ground firmly on the posted price and they did not fight back too much. I told one taxi driver that the price should be $46, and he said, “Well you pay the toll then.” And I said, “Okay, I’ll pay you $44 then.” 🤣
The moral of the story here is: DO YOUR OWN CALCULATIONS.
We arrived around 11 pm. The check in for the Beach Towers is at Coral Towers (so this is where you tell the taxi driver drop you off). As we walked through the building on the Wednesday evening, it was clear that the hotel was very empty. Many more guests arrived on Friday and the weekend, and even locals come to hang out at Atlantis on the weekends.
Atlantis is part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, so put your rewards number in at the front desk. Platinum Elite gets a choice between a half bottle of wine and a snack OR 500 points. I took the points. I put my SPG credit card on the reservation for 2X SPG points at Marriott properties.
Before the trip, I tried to email for a possible upgrade to a different type of room since we had so many people, but was denied. If you check on the Atlantis website, you will see they have a variety of buildings on the expansive property of all different types ranging from mini apartments with kitchens next to the yacht dock to luxury suites. The Beach Tower is the cheapest and least luxurious of them all, but hopefully you won’t be spending much time in your room anyways.
Upon check-in, we were given the crappiest rooms in the Beach Towers by a receptionist who I wouldn’t exactly describe as friendly. When we got up to our room, the view was of a large flat roof.
After the first night, I asked for a room on the other side of the hotel facing the pools/ocean since the hotel was not full by any means, and was approved for a room change. The new room view was wonderful! It was definitely worth the move.
All of the rooms have balconies, which was really nice. The bathtubs have a clothesline, but I wouldn’t recommend hang-drying anything in there since it’s rather humid. Even the carpet felt like it was always slightly damp. I dried everything on the balcony instead, and even then it would take 2 full days to dry.
The rooms and the building were definitely showing their age and there were multiple maintenance issues. For example, in one of our rooms, the soap dish, hair dryer, and clothesline were all broken. On our 3rd night, there was a power outage in the middle of the night, which caused some people’s TVs to start screeching for over half an hour until they could figure out how to turn it off. On our last morning, the wi-fi and TV were down for over an hour, which made it hard for us to coordinate (we mostly were using Facebook Messenger). I reported all of these to Atlantis.
|Wi-Fi in guest rooms and lobby areas for up four (4) devices||For one of my friends, the previous guest’s devices were still connected, so it required IT to reset his room’s connection to free up the device slots.|
|Access to Aquaventure, a one-of-a-kind 141 acre waterscape||This is definitely the highlight of the resort. You get a wristband at one of the huts at Aquaventure (centrally located in the resort) and you can go on all the rides, use the River Rapids, etc. Plan to spend most of your days here! More on this below.|
|Access to the Fitness Center: Up to 2 persons per day per room||This is really far away from the Beach Towers, about a 15 min walk. It’s very nice though. From the site: Fitness center access entitles guests to complimentary use of the cardio studio, universal and free weights only. Tennis, fitness classes and personal training sessions are not included.|
|Two (2) 20 oz. bottles of water daily per room||Don’t touch the water bottles in the room…they cost $7 each. You get 4 water passes as part of your resort fee, each pass gets you 2 x 20 oz bottles of water at any food and beverage establishment. For us, 8 bottles was definitely enough for the 4 nights.|
|Unlimited local phone calls||We used this to call each other quickly and also to make arrangements for our day tour of Exuma (non-Atlantis).|
|Access to the Atlantis Movie Theater||The movie theater is between the Coral and Beach Towers. We didn’t watch any movies but they had daily showings of movies like The Secret Life of Pets.|
|Resort Shuttle Service||Honestly, we never saw the resort shuttles, and never used them.|
|In-Room Coffee and Tea||They use Starbucks coffee and Tazo tea.|
|Casino Lessons||We did not check this out.|
Casino Experience Pass Review (“C-Pass”)
You may pick up your C-Pass at the rewards desk in the Casino during their open hours. DO NOT LOSE IT, since it cannot be replaced. When redeeming experiences on the pass, you must present both the pass and your room key.
|One shallow water dolphin interaction for one person per room||$150||
Make your reservations first thing after checking in (call the Dolphin Cay from your room during their open hours and make a reservation). Wetsuits are provided. No cameras allowed whatsoever. No jewelry allowed.
The experience is approximately 1 hour and consists of a short orientation (i.e. never touch the dolphin’s face, they don’t like it), and then you split up into ~5 groups. Each group has a trainer and a dolphin, and the trainer will have the dolphin do a few tricks, and then each person gets photos with the dolphin — kissing, high-fiving, and feeding, and then a pose behind the dolphin. Basically, there is a LOT of waiting around while each person takes photos.
Warning: the official photographers are not very good and many of our photos came out focused on the wrong thing. Also, the photos are expensive. We purchased our group photo for $30 (an 8×10). The digital photos cost $149, even if you only want ONE photo, it doesn’t matter. It’s really a shame you can’t bring a GoPro or something.
Since this free interaction is only for one person per room, your companions can watch from a viewing deck that is pretty far away (basically, they can’t really see much and they can’t talk to you). There is an option to watch from the little beach but it would cost them $33 for that privilege.
|One round of golf||$275-295||Can’t be booked for play prior to noon on Friday or Saturday. Does not include rental clubs ($75 per person).|
|One Sushi and Sake Sampler at Nobu (6 pieces of sushi and 2 shots of sake)||$35 + $8 gratuity/VAT||Nobu is a fine-dining Japanese restaurant located in the Casino. The sampler was delicious, but extremely small. It’s more like a snack. The sake tasted like Sho Chiku Bai. VAT and gratuity are also complimentary (covered by the pass).|
|Two cocktails at Olives||~$30 + $7 gratuity/VAT||Olives is a restaurant/bar located in the Casino. The service at the bar is horrendously slow (took 20-30 minutes to take our orders, then another 10-20 minutes to make the drinks), and the glasses were often not fully washed. We opted for disposable plastic to-go cups. VAT and gratuity are also complimentary (covered by the pass).|
|Two cocktails at Seafire Steakhouse||$25 + $5.63 gratuity/VAT||Seafire Steakhouse is located in Marina Village (a short walk from the Casino) and has very limited hours. I think their hours are 5-11 pm and they’re not open every day. One of the members in our group basically forfeited this item on their C-Pass because the hours were not convenient for him. The service is also very slow here but slightly faster than at Olives. VAT and gratuity are also complimentary (covered by the pass).|
Note: You will MOST LIKELY see some or all of these charges show up on your final hotel bill, so be sure to read it carefully. I had the Nobu, Olives, and Seafire Steakhouse charges show up on my bill. The front desk quickly took it off after confirming that I had a C-Pass, so I am glad we looked at our bills carefully.
The Casino is not part of the Total Rewards or Caesars network, as I erroneously believed in the beginning. So, your Diamond card is useless here, no special lines for you or anything. You can get a specific Atlantis player’s card, or your room key also works as a player’s card.
No, you cannot charge bets to your room and cash out; i.e. this casino is not MS-able in that way. 😉
Written by Michael:
Compared to Atlantic City or Vegas casinos, this one is small, but they have all the standard games. (note from Esther: They do NOT have poker, pai gow, or baccarat, but there is video poker)
They have free slot play tournaments Sunday – Thursday at 11:00am, 11:30am, 8:00pm, and 8:30pm. Friday – Saturday 11:00am and 11:30am. The tournament contains a maximum of 20 people. You hit a button as fast as you can for five minutes and the one with the most points at the end wins. (from Esther: the game is completely based on pure luck, but in the 11:00 am tournament on Thursday that we played in, two of my friends earned 2nd and 3rd place!)
You can only participate in one tournament a week. The week resets on Monday. 1st place gets $100 free slot play, 2nd place gets $50 free slot play, 3rd place gets $25 free slot play, and all other players get $10 free slot play. The promo credit shows up on your player’s card/room key in about 20 minutes since they have to manually enter it.
Tip: If you plan your stay to cross a Sun-Mon you can play the slot tournament twice. Aim for the 11:30am slot tournament Monday – Thursday. Fewer people show up to these.
What To Eat
As expected, resort food is very expensive. For example, a plate of spaghetti with a couple meatballs cost $16 before 7.5% VAT and mandatory 15% tip. I wasn’t even full afterwards. A slice of pizza may cost $7.60…
To save money on food, here are a few options (thanks to Michael for researching the first 3 points):
- Make your own food:
- There is a local grocery store called Super Value about a mile away from the resort, or one in the little plaza across from Marina Village.
- Your room will have a mini-fridge and you can bring a small cooking appliance (grill, sous vide, Instant Pot, etc) or cook on your hotel iron (I am sure Atlantis would not be happy about that though :P).
- Order delivery from a local grocery store or restaurant:
- More budget-friendly on-site dining options:
- Burger Shack (basically like Johnny Rocket’s)
- Carmine’s (according to Michael, prices are on par with other Carmine’s and the portions are large)
- Off-site dining within walking distance:
- Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville – across the street from the end of Marina Village. Service is slow, but food is pretty good. Still a bit pricey, but after seeing the prices on the resort, you’ll appreciate these. There’s a swim-up blackjack (I think) bar too.
- Viola’s (7am-midnight) – 4-5 min walk from Beach Towers. You exit out the Beach Tower, pass the Riu Resort, and it’s on the left side with an outdoor patio. This place has somewhat reasonable prices and the food and portion size was decent. Most options are deep-fried. Service can be pretty slow here. They have live music and/or karaoke too.
- Overall, I wish I had brought more snacks (I had several packets of oatmeal and many granola bars, but had to ration amongst several people). I was often hungry, even after eating. I also wish we had done the Chinese food delivery!
A Note on Customer Service and “Island Time”
Besides mandatory 15% tip (TIPS should not be mandatory, but I digress…), we were extremely underwhelmed by the service received at various restaurants and bars we went to. Customer service was always slow, and often very blunt or even downright rude. While we had a great time overall in the Bahamas, I could not wait to get back to American prices, customer service, and speed. You may or may not find that hilarious.
While I understand that island culture tends to have slower service and I was prepared to see exorbitant resort pricing, I did not expect the customer service to be so lacking and unfriendly. There is clearly no service cultures in the Bahamas. Other islands I’ve been to such as Hawaii and Fiji had very friendly service, so I was very shocked. This was such a problem that I wrote to Marriott/Atlantis after our stay about this issue, and they apologized and promised to address it.
Exploring the Property
The property is huge, and it does take some time to get used to how to get around, since a lot of paths lead to dead ends. There are staff situated throughout the resort and we often asked them how to get to certain places.
There is a ton of stuff to do that doesn’t require ponying up extra fees. There are a bunch of amazing aquariums, caves and tunnels, and lagoons. You can see all kinds of fish, sharks, sea turtles, stingrays, and more. Be sure to check out a map and make sure you hit all the spots.
I think my favorite aquarium was probably The Dig, which is in the Royal Towers (the central and most iconic tower). I also loved seeing the sea turtles lagoon under the Beach Towers and the glass tunnel aquarium under the Lagoon Bar & Grill.
The Atlantis Library has various children’s games, books, movies, and a reading/working area.
There are also many nice sitting areas, decorations, and the movie theater mentioned earlier.
There are also a lot of paid activities you can do. You can find all of these things on their website.
And of course the best part of the resort…
Aquaventure Waterpark is 141 acres and is one of the world’s largest water parks. There is an artificial Rapids River also called The Current that is a mile long with various rapids and wave surges, and you ride it in an innertube (single or tandem tubes available). The river has various exits, some of which lead you to the top of the Power Tower via a conveyer belt, so you don’t have to walk up stairs.
There are two main towers of water slides — the Mayan Temple, which has 4 slides (one of which requires an inner tube), and the Power Tower, which also has 4 slides (all requiring an inner tube). My favorites were definitely the slides requiring inner tubes.
There are over 20 swimming areas and a few beaches with beautiful white sand.
A day booking normally costs $129 for adults and $89 for children, but is complimentary with any hotel stay. Pick up a wristband using your room key from any of the beach towel huts. You can pick up a new wristband each day, or just use your old one. They do check for wristbands on every ride.
Lockers are available for rental and are very expensive…I forget exactly how much, but I’d recommend leaving most of your things in your room and waterproofing anything that you bring (i.e. waterproof case for your phone, camera, etc).
Day Trip To Exuma
This was the highlight of the trip for most people in my group. My dear friend Michelle is a professional photographer (also my wedding photographer!) and the main reason she went on this trip to the Bahamas was to see the swimming piggies of Exuma, one of her bucket list items. She did most of the planning for this day trip. Thanks Michelle!
We booked a private charter speedboat through Exuma Sunrise Tours, which I believe is a family-owned operation. The private charter can hold up to 12 people max (we had 8). We booked flights from NAS-GGT (Georgetown Airport, Exuma, the smallest airport I’ve ever been to in my life) for $150 roundtrip per person on Bahamas Air. The captain picked us up from the airport (we landed a bit late) and took us to his house where the boat was.
This was our itinerary (customizable for private charters):
|Sand Bar||Gorgeous pristine sand bar with the most crystal clear waters, and nobody around as far as the eye could see. The waters were warm and we found some beautiful starfish as well.|
|Iguana Island||There was a little island full of wild iguanas on the beach, and we fed them bread and watched some of them fight with each other. Very cool experience.|
|Blue Hole||Not THE Blue Hole, but we snorkeled a bit around this little cave and saw a few fish.|
|Blowhole||We saw a little island with a blowhole and stopped for a few minutes here to take some pictures.|
|Lunch at Bahamian buffet||
This was on some random island and was probably literally the only restaurant around for miles and miles. Cost was around $30 per person (not included in tour price), and consisted of steamed veggies, ribs, rice, grilled or fried chicken, fried fish, mac n cheese, corn fritters, salad.
It was very overpriced for what you got and the food was not much to write home about. Drinks were not included, but our captain had stocked water bottles for us so most of us were satisfied with that.
There are 2 islands with wild swimming piggies (different varieties), and we went to one of them. Generally, the piggies are supposed to swim out to your boat as soon as they hear a boat coming, because they know the tourists will feed them. Unfortunately for us, the piggies had already been fed by the morning tourists, and were lazy and did not swim out to meet us when we arrived. But fortunately, that also meant we had the piggies all to ourselves!
There were about 20 adult pigs and 20 piglets. We fed them bread and took a lot of pictures with them, and played with them in the water, although I have to admit they were quite uncooperative and just wanted to go home. Can’t blame them. Haha.
|Sea Turtles||This was awesome – a few sea turtles swam up around our boat and we were able to feed them and touch them and even snorkel with them for a few minutes. The turtles had a fish swimming right underneath them following them wherever they went; at first we thought they were attached!|
|Stocking Island – Stingrays||This beach has a bunch of stingrays and you get fresh leftover conch from the hut (they also have fresh conch salad, which is like ceviche, for purchase) to feed them with. Very cool experience, feels like they are vacuuming your hand. There’s also a beach restaurant/bar shop here called Chat ‘n’ Chill.|
|Cave Snorkeling||The last stop on our trip was snorkeling around an underwater cave with lots of fish. It wasn’t really what I had expected though, as it was a very small cave and the fish were not very interesting. I wished we had spent more time with the sea turtles, actually.|
Overall, Exuma was a gorgeous group of islands with lots of beautiful and awesome things to see and do. I was amazed by how clear and temperate the waters were, and how clean the white powdery sandy beaches were (barely any kelp washed up on shore, if at all!). I would highly recommend that anyone visiting the Bahamas fit in at least a day trip to Exuma!
Priority Pass Lounges at NAS
There are two lounges at NAS:
- Domestic and Non-US Flights – The Lignum Club
- This lounge looks really awesome and has free premium food and alcoholic beverages, but I did not get to check it out because the hours are 9:45a-10p or 7p depending on the day of the week, and our flights to GGT were outside of those hours. Sad face.
- US Departures – Graycliff Divans
- VERY tiny lounge, entrance is right around the corner from the escalators that come up from the US Customs. Enter through what looks like a liquor shop.
- Each adult gets a credit for $20 food and beverage and the first soft drink is free (juice, water, tea, soda). The $20 includes VAT and mandatory 10% gratuity. See menu to the right. If you want your credit to completely cover your purchase, choose something under $17.
- Service is EXTREMELY slow and unfriendly, like most other Bahamian customer service experiences.
In all, we had a beautiful and fun time in the Bahamas, and especially in Exuma. We were often very hungry, so I would definitely try to plan ahead more next time I stay at a resort that isn’t all-inclusive (Atlantis does have all-inclusive plans, but then it wouldn’t be a free stay :P).
I’m glad the trip was mostly free, but would I go again? Probably not, even if Total Rewards runs this promotion again. Although it was fun and memorable, we were all very turned off by 1) lackluster customer service, 2) prices being higher than even in the US, and 3) slowest service of any island I’ve been to so far. These three strikes make the Bahamas a fairly unattractive place for me to plan another trip to, and the fact that it is such a chore for those of us on the West Coast to get to does not help. There were no interesting lounges in FLL and we were also 3 hours delayed on the way back and had to divert to ABQ for fuel (apparently this is common for Jetblue flights FLL-SFO).
I would still recommend that any friends and readers who have this promotion make the trip, but with the proper expectations that I have set forth in this post. And of course, I’d love to hear about your experiences!