Going Local at Atlantis
Groups Experience the Best of Bahamian Culture Right at the Resort
On Bahamian Independence Day this year, July 10, Atlantis Paradise Island burst into a kaleidoscope of confetti-colored Carnival-esque costumes. Local dancers and marching bands, including the Royal Bahamas Police Force Band, paraded on the Royal Deck, while guests regaled to the sounds of Bahamian rake and scrape music, tasted local flavors like conch salad and soaked up the true essence of The Bahamas.
Meeting attendees and hotel guests have been pursuing alternative experiences when traveling to The Bahamas and other locations to avoid being a part of large crowds. Atlantis has carved out special cultural opportunities, such as the Bahamian Independence Day celebration, along with many others to cater to travelers’ needs, with an expansion of offerings ranging from local artisan craft markets to festivals with full regalia.
“The well-being of our guests, team members and community always come first, so we reimagined many of our guest activities to ensure everyone has a safe and enjoyable time. This summer Atlantis offered a variety of activations on property that really tied Bahamian culture to the resort, and the guests to the Bahamian culture," said Angelo Hart, Executive Director of Guest Activities and Resort Programming.
Since the early stages of the pandemic, Atlantis has been at the forefront of safety for visitors. “At the very beginning of COVID, Atlantis partnered with the Cleveland Clinic and launched the Atlantis Clean & Safe Promise to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of resort guests and Atlantis team members,” said Bryan Gay, Senior Vice President of Sales at Atlantis. “The Atlantis Clean & Safe Promise has ensured our cleaning and sanitization policies meet or exceed operational standards. This initiative has proven successful in protecting our guests and team members.”
Entry to The Bahamas currently requires all visitors to submit either a negative PCR test or proof of vaccination and a negative rapid antigen test, to be approved for a Bahamas Health Visa. Guests must show their Bahamas Health Visa upon arrival to the resort. Additionally, The Government of The Bahamas requires guests over two years of age to wear masks in all public areas throughout the resort, except while eating, drinking, swimming, riding the water slides and when physically distanced on the beach and pool areas.
Atlantis has implemented safety protocol measures outlined by the CDC as well as the Bahamas Ministry of Health. “Because Atlantis occupies the majority of a small island, we have had the ability to create a safe zone for all our guests and team members,” Gay said. “With few exceptions, our team members are required to wear masks. They are COVID tested weekly as well as required to go through screening and temperature scans before entering the property each day. Contractors and suppliers are also subject to these same requirements before being granted access to Atlantis facilities.”
Though planners have been hesitant to commit to contractual obligations amid continued COVID concerns, Atlantis is offering flexibility when it comes to attrition to help get meetings going again, according to Gay. “We have been and will continue to work very closely with our clients to ensure flexibility when it comes to attrition, as we are supportive of their concerns and want to ensure that we are partnering with them to help get meetings going again.”
Conference services can work with groups on safety protocols, such as developing physically distanced floor plans that work best for their event. “We continue to see interest in meetings and incentive programs for next year,” Gay said.
Groups that do book meetings at Atlantis Paradise Island will still be able to experience the rich culture of The Bahamas without leaving the resort. Following is a taste of just some of the options afforded to visitors and groups, all of which were either taking place prior to COVID or will be continued next year, and many of which can be customized for groups.
Eight Great Local Experiences
The Bahamas’ bi-annual Junkanoo Festival is a showcase of Bahamian culture that normally takes place on Nassau and other islands on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, and on New Year’s Day. Dating to the early 1900s, the festival features a grand parade and organized groups of up to 1,000 or more, preparing costumes, music and performances, with judges rating each group in a best music category, best costume and best-choreographed dance category. At the end of the night whoever has the most points wins bragging rights.
Atlantis replicates the Junkanoo Festival during summer in the Marina Village every Friday to showcase the national culture. “We’ve got different groups of Junkanoo performers,” Hart said. “Guests can also make their own Junkanoo masks and headpieces, and join in the fun.”
Groups can request a customized Junkanoo experience as well, with live performances of about 20 or more entertainers to give attendees a taste of what Junkanoo is and what the Bahamas is all about. “This is very popular with groups,” Hart said. “We were doing this before COVID.”
Goombay Summer Nights
Goombay Summer Nights Another celebration of Bahamian culture, Goombay Summer Nights, is held during peak season from mid-June to mid-August. Atlantis introduced the event to its resort this year, including a native Bahamian show outdoors, as well as Bahamian artisans, a local rake and scrape band and local food vendors.
“In this show, there was a cadre of different performers: fire dancers, limbo dancers, something we call Goombay dancers, and there was an obeah man, a mythological creature--almost our version of voodoo for lack of a batter word,” Hart said.
Goombay Summer Nights was held on the Royal Deck around the pool. “It was outside, it was safe and the guests were also able to see a local Bahamian show and taste local Bahamian food. Our guests truly loved it.”
The Bahamian Independence Day spectacle that was held this year was based on the Goombay concept, but about 10 times larger, and will take place on July 10 again next year. Groups can offer attendees a customized version of the event scaled to whatever size needed.
Aside from all the pomp, one of the programs instituted this summer was Art Walk, taking place every other Saturday at the resort’s Marina Village. Atlantis brought in local artisans--painters, sculptors, and other vendors-- and they were placed at the Marina Village throughout the day. Resort guests could come to this local market where they could purchase authentic Bahamian arts and crafts.
“It brought the local flare of the Bahamian culture to the resort and it gave a much-needed boost to our local artisan community,” Hart said. “We simply invited artists to share their works with our guests, and it turned out to be a great experience for all."
Visitors could also watch the local artisans in action during Art Walk. Atlantis plans to bring back Art Walk next year.
Local art is an important aspect of the Atlantis experience throughout the property, namely the resort’s partnership with Bahamian artist Antonius Roberts. Roberts, a painter, sculptor and woodcarver, created the Heart Swing in the middle of Aquaventure Park, which is a staple for commemorative resort photos. His other signature piece on property is "Sacred Space," human figures carved out of trees. “It’s a quiet space for people to go to meditate and get away from the hustle and bustle,” Hart said. The resort can call on Roberts to customize an experience, include a walking art tour of the property. “A lot of the art on the resort is from local artists,” Hart said. Groups can also organize a Sip and Paint activity where a local artist can join while attendees sip wine and practice their own brush strokes.
The entertainment department at Atlantis books local musicians and DJs with a cadre of options at the resort’s various bars and lounges. “On a weekly basis we have tons of different lounges we engage local artists, everything from a rake and scrape band to a local DJ at the pool,” Hart said. “We’re sticking true to our Bahamian roots on property.”
Rake and scrape is the name for a style of local Bahamian music, a mix of calypso and reggae. Some bands have a hand saw and use a screwdriver to scrape the saw. The bands also make their own drums. Meeting groups can arrange for customized performances for a local rake and scrape band or even organize music lessons. They can also choose a local DJ or other music for private events and parties.
While music is one form of storytelling, Atlantis also engages traditional storytelling with its Shake a Tree program. “We have partnered with a local historian who has written tons of books and we have engaged her to do some Bahamian storytelling, Shake a Tree and talk Bahamian stories under tree and groups could participate in that,” Hart said.
Nothing quite captures the true taste of The Bahamas like its cuisine. Atlantis showcases local fare at several of its restaurants, including Fish by Jose Andres, where sustainable seafood like lionfish, which is an invasive species in The Bahamas, and local favorites, such as conch, are highlights on the menu.
Frankie’s Gone Bananas is a take on the renowned Arawak Cay former fish market that over the years transformed from basic food stalls to a foodie mecca. Frankie’s serves up traditional fish fry fare.
Groups can also savor local flavors at Sip Sip’s at The Cove where Bahamian Chef Julie Lightbourn dishes out “Caribterranean” cuisine like lobster quesadillas and fresh seafood platters alongside Sip Sip’s signature rum punch.
The best way to understand a culture is to participate in its sights, sounds and tastes. Groups can arrange for cooking lessons with on-property chefs or even mixology classes stirring up Bahamian cocktail classics. Atlantis can customize a host of other classes for attendees, such as Bahamian dance lessons around the pool deck. Ring Play, for example, is an old-school dance that local children practiced in primary school. “It’s very tribal, very Caribbean and African in makeup, so we have the opportunity to teach groups that as well,” Hart said.
Another option for groups is a conch-blowing lesson, an activity that was introduced last summer. In Bahamian history, conch shell blowing was used to signal boats were coming in, as they navigated the harbor.
For language aficionados, Atlantis also offers an option on learning how to speak Bahamian, which is its own distinct dialect of English. “It’s really cool for guests to understand some things we say,” Hart said.
Mandala Spa Indigenous Treatments
Bahamian botanicals are key to the spa experience at Atlantis. Nearly 100 species of plants and flowers are used in Bahamian bush medicine, and many are incorporated into treatments at the resort’s Mandara Spa.
“We would recommend groups try the Bahamian-inspired treatments,” said Youlanda Deveaux, Regional Vice President for Mandara Spa. “Wouldn’t you want to experience botanicals and herbs and spices we used when we were growing up as solutions to skin problems and medical issues?”
The Bahamas Botanical Massage, for example, offers a variety of options for herbal mixtures used during the treatment, such as the relaxing Bahamian Lullaby with soursop leaf, hibiscus flower and fever grass. “The Botanical Massage works on energy channels, and melts tension and stress,” said Deveaux. “Bahamian Lullaby is a good one for relaxation. If you schedule the service at night, that really calms you down because of the hibiscus flower in there.”
After the treatment, guests are served a hot bush tea, sweetened with grapefruit, orange, and lime, which is also offered for retail. The spa has a bush tea sommelier on call for guests who want to make the tea when they get home. For groups, the sommelier, as well as the herbalist who curates the ingredients for the treatments, can host educational talks about the benefits of the botanicals used.
EDITOR'S NOTE: As of Jan. 1, 2022, the new room VAT throughout The Bahamas is changing from 12 percent to 10 percent.