Battle of the Bahamas: The Baha Mar Resort vs. Atlantis Paradise Island

Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar
••• Hyatt Hotels

The $3.5-billion Baha Mar project in Nassau has been long delayed but eventually will include multiple upscale hotels as well as a mega casino and a private island, set to rival the long-established Atlantis as the premier gaming and entertainment destination in the Bahamas. With new owners slated to take the reins of the project in 2017, Baha Mar may finally be moving from fantasy to reality after more than a decade of unfulfilled promise and controversy.

Baha Mar Will Have 4 Hotels and a Huge Casino on Cable Beach

The huge new destination resort is being built on 1,000 acres on Nassau's fabled but somewhat faded Cable (Nassau) Beach area. The project -- billed as the largest destination resort in the Caribbean -- will include the 1,000-room Baha Mar Casino & Hotel, the 700-room Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar, the 300-room SLS LUX, and the 200-room Rosewood at Baha Mar. The complex will ultimately have about 2,200 rooms, 284 private residences, a 100,000-square-foot casino, a 200,000-square-foot convention center, a 30,000-square-foot ESPA destination spa, and the Tournament Players Club at Baha Mar golf course, designed by Jack Nicklaus.

Other promised offerings include an on-site animal-encounter program and a private island reachable via a 15-minute boat ride.

The casino will be the largest in the Caribbean, overshadowing even the Atlantis' mammoth gaming space.

The closest neighbor to the resort complex is the all-inclusive Breezes Bahamas, which presently has a virtual monopoly on the east end of Cable Beach.

To the west of the Baha Mar sit the Wyndham Nassau Resort, the Melia Nassau Beach, and the Blue Water Resort at Cable Beach. The Baha Mar complex is about a 15-20 minute drive west from downtown Nassau -- and about a half-mile from its future arch-rival, the nearly as sprawling and ambitious (and far more established) Atlantis Paradise Island development.

Supporting the Baha Mar project is a new road system connecting Nassau's Lynden Pindling International Airport to the Cable Beach area; the airport is just 12 minutes by car from the resort.

Atlantis' Aquaventure Waterpark a Big Difference Maker

By comparison, the Atlantis has about 3,800 rooms total, including the iconic Royal Towers, the 600-suite Cove Atlantis, the 497-room Reef Atlantis, the Beach and Coral towers, and the Harbourside Resort. Until Baha Mar opens, the Atlantis can still boast of having the largest casino in the Caribbean, and also trumps the Baha Mar in at least two ways: it has an upscale marina and a 141-acre waterpark hailed as one of the best in the world. Not to mention -- it's actually open for business.

Like the Atlantis, the Baha Mar skews upscale, especially at the Rosewood and SLS properties. Construction of the Baha Mar is reportedly 97 percent complete, but was halted over financial problems in 2016. New owners Chow Tai Fook Enterprises -- which owns the Rosewood hotel chain -- are promising to put the finishing touches on the project and finally swing the doors open by April 2017 -- but we've heard that type of prediction many, many times before, so stay tuned.

Will Baha Mar really open? There's too much money already sunk into the project, and it's too close to completion, to believe otherwise. Presuming that Caribbean travelers can start booking rooms in 2017, the Baha Mar will have the edge over Atlantis as the new game in town, and the association with Hyatt resorts will likely provide a boost for frequent travelers. The new casino will be exciting to see, as will the promised private-island experience. And Cable Beach retains its classic charm -- we'd give Baha Mar the beach edge over its Paradise Island rival.

But don't bet against the Atlantis, which has smartly aligned itself with Marriott's Autograph Collection and will continue to have greater appeal to family travelers with its water park, animal encounter programs, and "lost world" theming.

Like everyone else, though, we're looking forward to finally getting a chance to walk the grounds and explore the halls of the new Baha Mar resorts so we can make a real comparison between what could become the Caribbean's two leading mega-resorts, located less than a half hour from each other in easy-to-reach Nassau.