Arawak Cay in Nassau, Bahamas

Goldie's Conch House

 Goldie's Conch House

For a real taste of the Bahamas, literally and figuratively, take a bus or taxi (or walk, it’s about 20-30 minutes from the cruise port) to Arawak Cay, a cluster of popular seafood restaurants and bars about halfway between downtown Nassau and Paradise Island, popular with locals and travelers alike. Arawak Cay is on West Bay Street, across from Fort Charlotte.

If you’re staying on Paradise Island or on Nassau Beach in the Bahamas, you can feel somewhat isolated from authentic Bahamian culture: the former is literally an island where visits from non-tourists are heavily discouraged, while the latter is hotel after hotel full of Americans and Canadians. So Arawak Cay is a nice change from that somewhat sterile environment while still being quite open and welcoming to tourists.

Competition between these eateries is fierce, but don’t be cowed by the repeated calls of touts urging you inside. Just choose your favorite spot for lunch or dinner, order a cold Kalik and a plate of cracked conch or fish, and grab a table to wait (possibly a while, on island time) for your order to arrive. Some of the more popular restaurants are Seafood Haven, Twin Brothers, and Goldie's Conch House. Others include the more upscale Greycliff, Indigo, and the Poop Deck.

As night falls the music will get louder, though it’s not all reggae and Jimmy Buffett, on our last visit we found ourselves dancing to Michael Jackson with some local characters and conch-shack employees. If you come in June, you’ll have the added bonus of experiencing the summer Junkanoo festival, held here each year. Sunday nights are when you’ll find the most locals coming down for the “fish fry.”

If you’re on Paradise Island and you want to experience an even closer, more local scene, check out Potter’s Cay, the seafood shacks you’ll see right under the double bridge leading to the mainland. Unlike Arawak Cay, these really are more rough shacks than sit-down restaurants, and you’ll find more locals than tourists (though visitors are welcome). But the seafood is fresh off the boat and delicious, and you’ll mingle with Bahamian families shopping for the catch of the day as well as local produce.