During a recent vacation with my partner, Carole Parisien, we had the opportunity to leave our worries behind, even if for just a short while. We spent most of our days exploring the sites, swimming in the ocean after long walks on the beach and taking full advantage of the numerous amenities offered at the resort we chose, Atlantis Paradise Island. An ocean-themed wonderland on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, it’s a stunning 154-acre waterscape, which includes fresh and saltwater lagoons, pools, marine habitats, waterslides and river rides.
While basking in the sun, it dawned on me — our last vacation was to Hawaii back in 2016, right before my first Reno Boss column was published here in the Free Press. It was also the winter before we embarked on a major renovation on our house. We’ve been going non-stop ever since.
What I’m getting at is this vacation was long overdue.
Neither of us had ever visited the Bahamas, and we excitedly booked our flights and accommodations and began investigating online the various activities we could enjoy during a week of relaxation under the hot Bahamian sun.
Hints of trouble began to surface in the Atlantic about three weeks before we were set to leave — Dorian was gaining strength, poised to hit the northern islands of the Bahamas as a Category 5 hurricane.
We anxiously watched the hurricane’s progress on CNN and soon realized the Bahamas may not be the best place to be.
When Dorian made landfall on Great Abaco, things looked bleak for the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.
We decided to cancel our accommodations, but remained glued to CNN — well into the early morning hours — watching coverage that seemed to thoroughly depict the hurricane’s wrath. By the next morning, while Dorian continued to hover over Grand Bahama Island, we noticed the diameter of the storm had since migrated past Nassau and Paradise Island, where the Atlantis Paradise Island resort — and our intended hotel — is situated.
This prompted me to call the hotel directly, and much to my surprise, a woman answered with a friendly greeting. I explained how we had just cancelled our stay based on the CNN coverage we had watched the night before and was wondering if that had been necessary.
It was the woman’s bewildered tone that made me realize perhaps CNN had not been entirely accurate with Dorian’s coverage. "Why is everyone cancelling?" she said. "We only got a bit of rain here."
Carole and I contemplated what to do. How could we go on vacation to a place recently ravaged by a Category 5 hurricane? Upon doing some research, we learned tourism is by far the largest contributor to the Bahamian economy. And because Paradise Island had not been affected by Dorian, we decided to book our hotel stay again and proceed with our vacation.
Our thinking was the Bahamas will no doubt need its economy fuelled by tourism to remain strong and to rebuild on the northern islands, where most of the damage occurred. Although a series of other storms were brewing in the Atlantic just a few days before our departure, their paths were unlikely to hit the Bahamas, so we boarded our plane and made our way to Nassau.
A short and scenic shuttle ride from the airport through Nassau and over the bridge to Paradise Island revealed there was zero damage from Dorian in this area.
Carole and I had lovely chats with many of the employees of Atlantis resort. While swimming in one of 20 pools located near the waterpark, I struck up a conversation with one of the lifeguards perched on her elevated bench, who described how packed the resort was before the hurricane. She also mentioned how she had not yet heard from some friends and family who lived on the northern islands since the devastation, but she was hopeful and proudly remarked they were a strong country that would rebuild.
All the staff at the resort were, in fact, amazingly friendly, but the resort itself seemed… well, empty.
When Carole and I swam in the pool, we were often the only ones there. After rushing up the stairs to experience the thrill of a waterslide, there was never any lineup. Even the walks along the beach were tantamount to being castaways on a desert island.
I mentioned to the young lifeguard how we had struggled in our decision to come because of the devastation reported on CNN, and that, in my opinion, the network had done a grave disservice to the Bahamas by not clearly defining that even though Dorian hit the Bahamas, it did not hit all of the Bahamas. The lifeguard paused, then simply said, "Mhmm, you are so correct, my Canadian brother."
Although CNN’s coverage of Dorian was thorough, it seemed to depict the devastation of an entire country, which simply was not the case. Everyone we talked to before and after our trip couldn’t understand why we would travel to the Bahamas in the wake of such destruction. And make no mistake, the calamity is real for the northern islands — Dorian was the most intense tropical cyclone on record to strike the Bahamas, and it will take years to rebuild and recover from the estimated US$7 billion in property damages, but just as we would not avoid travelling to Toronto in the wake of forest fires in Alberta, we should not simply cross the Bahamas off our dream-vacation list in the wake of Dorian.
Nassau and Paradise Island are definitely open for business — and your tourism dollars are needed there, now more than ever.
Marc LaBossiere is the Winnipeg Free Press home renovation columnist.