"Tacky. Crowded. Cliche."
These were my smug thoughts upon first seeing Breezes. But when I stepped back into the airport shuttle van to leave four days later, I didn't want to go.
My initial trepidation was--and remains --entirely supportable, especially for novice all-inclusivees who sneer at packaged travel. Breezes resembles a Coors Light ad, only with bigger-boned people: Plenty of drinks, abundant food, lots of activities and a pool deck nearly as big as the beach. Most of the guests are Americans, with a few Brits thrown in. When my friend Lauren and I arrived, a young bride and groom were strutting from the on-premises wedding chapel while thumpy music streamed from hidden speakers, providing cadence for a water aerobics session occurring next to a pool volleyball match held just outside the health club . . . well, you get the picture.
Once I'd settled in at Breezes, though, my spirits brightened, thanks mostly to the legions of fellow vacationers who without hesitation or judgment flung themselves into the resort's program of food, frolic and alcoholic beverages. They appeared to harbor no expectations of unique character, uncluttered beaches or intimate nuances and instead just went about having a contagiously good time.
The crowds seemed pleased with the Breezes compound: a U-shape, eight-story hotel with 400 double rooms (AC, TV, CD player and phone) in parallel wings that flank chaise-ringed pools (bar and grill included). Connecting the wings is a vast common area with a performance stage, another bar, table tennis and pool tables, board games and chess sets, a giant TV and a fitness room. Below is an indoor/outdoor dining area, generic though comfortable, a piano bar and Pastafari, a sit-down Italian restaurant. The Hurricanes disco throbs till 5 a.m.
The beach itself, a whelk's throw from the pools, is nondescript by tropical standards but is enhanced by the shimmering blue Atlantic. It's about 150 yards wide, though you can walk freely off the property at either end. The swimming area is rope-bound, to protect swimmers from boat traffic, and covers about the area of two country club pools. And because the core of the action is highly centralized--around the pool, bar and grill--the south fringe of the beach is often quiet and empty. Concentrating the daytime bustle around the pool may heighten congestion, but it also helps improve access to the other on-campus sports and activities.
After availing myself of all the usual water sports--kayaks, Hobie Cats, snorkeling--I volunteered for a trapeze lesson, both out of a sense of journalistic duty and to impress Lauren. The contraption included a cable ladder that ascended to a one-by-five-foot platform about 20 feet high, a harness with lines controlled by a guy (Bradford) on the ground, two trapezes and netting to catch falling humans.
Climbing up after a brief sea-level lesson, my knees rattling, I thought the hell with responsible reporting and let some other guy impress the girl, because I'm backing out of this. Five seconds later I was on the platform, in terror, as Bradford's partner Amicar secured me to the harness lines. As he handed me the trapeze I tried to stall with small talk.
No dice. At Amicar's signal I was off, swinging rapidly while trying to heed Bradford's instruction, which he repeated from below: "Knees above head! Let go with the hands! Stretch! Hands on, legs off! Swing front, back, front and let go!" With spastically fluttering arms I hit the net, grateful and unscathed.
The scuba class is equally professional though less frightful: a one-hour land/pool course followed by a reef dive of about 20 feet. "It was the best part of the trip," a 30ish woman from Pennsylvania chirped. "Like watching the Discovery Channel!" If many of the activities were much more MTV--the emcee of a bathing suit contest goaded two bashful contestants, "Don't worry, nobody out there knows you, and if they do, they're drunk anyway!"-- such sophomoria is well balanced by the competent instruction and array of activities. Once, while snorkeling an offshore reef (not included in the package price), I saw a sea turtle hustle by at close range.
Considering the offshore snorkeling and other added-cost excursions such as parasailin, a walking-distance casino and the Atlantis resort on nearby Paradise Island (a must-see), and you'd have to be a pretty picky curmudgeon to have a bad time at Breezes.
INCLUSIVENESS: Highly inclusive, plus tipping is not allowed. The booze is mid- to top-shelf, the food largely mediocre but of wide enough variety to appease even the choosiest eaters and the activities include water skiing, kayaking, trapeze/trampoline, water aerobics, beach and pool volleyball, tennis and dance instruction. Extra-cost activities ongoing within tantalizing proximity were jet ski rentals ($50 per 30 minutes), parasailing ($45), off-shore snorkeling ($35 for equipment, boat ride and one hour in the water), hair braiding ($2 per braid) and rides on a big banana towed behind a boat ($12). Resort staff applied no pressure on guests to spend for these activities, although proprietors are free to roam the beach soliciting business.
OFF-RESORT EXCURSIONS: Getting out and around is fairly easy and cheap, if you don't mind busing it. Downtown Nassau is alluring only for hopelessly addicted, and not very demanding, shoppers; it's where the cruise ships dock so the deals aren't great, hustlers abound and the streets and stores are crowded ($1.50 for a round-trip bus ride from the resort). Buses stop running at 7 p.m. and taxis are not cheap. We paid $8 for a two-mile ride and $15 more to get from Nassau back to the hotel. Don't try to walk to Nassau along the shore (too much uncrossable private property diverts you to the road). Many off-site solicitors of tours and activities will send a van for you. If you like snorkeling, take the offshore trip ($35) that leaves from the beach (vs. the one that involves a van ride to another boat). A trip to Paradise Island (a $3 water taxi ride from Nassau) is worth it just to witness the $800 million Atlantis resort, with windowed tunnels showcasing all variety of marine life, a massive shark tank, up-market retail stores, a water slide, numerous pools, labyrinthine grounds and a serious casino. The water taxis stop running around 7 p.m.
BOOKING: Simple enough. Acting on a newspaper ad, I called a Bethesda travel agent (All Ways Travel, 301-571-0400) and booked the trip with little hassle. Charter flights go and return (from BWI) Fridays and Mondays. Flights seem to sell out more quickly than rooms during high seasons, which now run all year except early September to mid-November (the height of hurricane season). You can call SuperClubs direct, 1-800-467-8737.
TRAVEL TIME: About four hours from BWI to Breezes, including a 15-minute van ride from the Nassau airport to the resort.
TOTAL COST: $986.60 for four days/three nights, or $246.65 per day. This included $888.60 for the package and $98 for extras ($35 for offshore snorkeling, $27 in bus and taxi rides, $36 for dinner outside the resort).
CONTACTS: 242-327-5356, www.super clubs.com /resorts/Breezes/Bahamas/ index.html.
If This Resort Were a Drink . . .
. . . it would be a frozen pina colada (sans cherry) in a plastic cup. It's a stock experience strictly for mass consumption, but it's still a pretty tasty drink.