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Nassau's Fascinating Graycliff Hotel

NASSAU, Bahamas — Really, it was just a hotel. So understated from the street that you could walk by it, and we almost did. That would have been our loss.

We walked through the front door of the Graycliff Hotel, just like Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall did, 33 years earlier. Except they had a new baby with them, and fortunately we did not. But they had no entourage, no bodyguards and neither did we. The paparazzi weren’t on their heels. Surprisingly, no paparazzi were following us either.

Mick and Jerry, along with their first-born, stayed the night. We stayed long enough to walk the impressive grounds, visit the cigar factory in the hotel, have lunch in the elegant dining room and tour what was once a dungeon and is now a wine cellar with 275,000 bottles in it.

That is not a typo.

This was the middle of our walking tour, the one provided by Norwegian Sky concierge Ana Maria Telea, and it commanded the most attention. The wine cellar alone would have done that…everything else was an unexpected bonus.

A cigar factory in an exclusive hotel? Really? Yes, really. The owner, Enrico Garzaroli, bought the hotel from a wealthy Canadian family (the Killams) in 1973. The only previous owners were Lord and Lady Dudley from England and, before them, a pirate named John Howard Graysmith, who built it, dungeon and all.

Besides overnight stays (in only 20 rooms) and cigars, Mr. Garzaroli also sells chocolate, coffee and — yes — wine. His wine collection is reputedly the third-largest private collection in the world and it’s estimated to be worth $20 million. The most expensive bottle, shown to us by cellar master Sudhir Varot Kangath, is a German white. Sudhir says the bottle, a 1727 Bremen Ratskeller Rudesheimer Apostelwein, is worth $200,000 and that it was still good when last tasted in 1968.

No kidding? One bottle? In our white wine glasses, not that it would ever be there, a wine has no chance to wait 40 years between tastings.

On one wall there are maybe 100 bottles that he calls the “Million Dollar Rack” because that’s the total value of bottles worth $5,000 to $25,000 each. According to Sudhir, his boss sells “four or five” of them a year. We did spot a 1900 Chateau Lafite, a case or more of 1982 Bordeaux that is in “high demand”, and a couple of Barolos from the ’50s. They all have plastic “necklaces” and they’re all carefully catalogued. And there are cameras everywhere in case any visitors dared.


In the heart of the wine cellar is a long rectangular table, surrounded by chairs and many bottles of wine. It’s for private dining — all it takes is $1,000 a night — and among those who have booked it are Beyonce and Jay Z, Aristotle Onassis, Tom Cruise, Sir Winston Churchill, Nicholas Cage, Michael Jordan, Al Capone, Lebron James, Paul Newman and Tony Keith. That would be in addition to Mr. and Mrs. Jagger.

It was in the wine cellar that we saw the biggest cigar on the premises, fresh from a humidor in the California wine section. It was 18 inches long. Upstairs in the Cigar Factory, Cuban workers make cigars from tobacco from Andorra, Dominican Republic and Ecuador. Each person can make 180 cigars a day and there are shifts of 16 to 18 workers. To test the quality, there’s even a machine that smokes the cigars, although most of the workers seemed to be smoking them, too.

But the most amazing thing about the Graycliff Hotel is that we were able to walk in and see all of this, right off the street without any introduction.

“Why?” we asked the hostess.

“Why not?”

Mick and Jerry did.

With all the new ships on this side of the Atlantic, we covered the debut of the Norwegian Epic for our Canadian colleague Phil Reimer. Starting today, for a week, you can read our reports on the Epic at his blog — click on Ports And Bows.

Nassau More than Walk in a Park

NASSAU, Bahamas — As concierges go, Ana Maria Telea is high on our list. She works on the water (Norwegian Sky), but she knows a lot about walking.

Probably not on water.

Faced with the prospect of snuba diving, scuba diving, even snorkeling, off-roading or deep-sea fishing from this Bahamian port, we chose walking. Ana Maria gave us a two-page, printed walking tour that was even better than she said it would be. In fact, it was so good, it’s going to take two blogs!

Once we ran the gamut of aggressive vendors and tour sellers around the pier, we began our “two-hour” self-guided tour. It began slowly, probably a good idea. A glimpse of period buildings that were or are occupied by various government people led us to the local courthouse. As it happened, many people were standing around the periphery of the area, with a bus surrounded by armed guards. For a coupe of ambulance chasers like us, this was too good to pass up.

It turns out the bus was taking prisoners from court to jail, and the people watching were their families. Now we wouldn’t go so far as to say they seem a little loose on justice in Nassau, just a little different. If you look closely at the young man leaning on the fence, you’ll see something in his mouth that is not his tongue. But hey, it’s not lit… and maybe we’re old-fashioned. As for the sign on the building wall, no comment necessary.

We did visit a jail (or gaol, as it used to be called) — yes, we did say VISIT — because it’s now the public library. But 125 years ago, people were booked in it…today they read books in it. What followed was a collection of interesting sights:
• a “showcase parking lot” where the Royal Victoria Hotel stood until it was leveled by fire in 1971;
• the Queen’s Staircase, 66 steps built by slaves in 1793 to what is now a marketplace for vendors;
• an old fort called Fincastle, needed to watch for marauding pirates who never came and with a defense that included an authentic “howitzer” — okay, have YOU ever seen a real howitzer?
• a street that used to be the dividing line between rich and poor, with the mansions on the right and shanties on the left (a twist of irony here: the mansions are now occupied by banks and investment firms).

The highlight of the walking tour…can you wait until tomorrow, right here?

Time being of the essence and Atlantis still on the horizon, we were forced to abort our two-hour stroll through Nassau and board a water taxi. In Nassau, some motorists drive on the right side, some on the left. Water taxi operators drive wherever and whenever they want, in boats so shaky they invoke dark humor because there is some doubt whether Atlantis will ever be anywhere BUT on the horizon.

To the surprise of some passengers, we make it across the open water to Paradise Island with nothing more annoying than a self-imposed tour guide who blatantly asks for tips by shouting: ‘What’s the best nation in the word…it’s doh-nation, what you just gave me!”

Atlantis, if you haven’t heard, is a posh resort. You don’t have to see the rooms to know…the bridge over placid water that houses an apartment allegedly once the property of Michael Jackson is the tip-off. And the million-dollar yachts in the harbor are the tip-off. And the biggest aquarium we’ve ever seen, in the lobby of the hotel. And the exclusive shops along the path that takes 10 minutes to walk from the $500 (maybe) water taxi to the $500,000 yachts. And the magnificent lobby and casino that all visitors must pass through on the way to the aquarium.

It’s an amazing and opulent complex but we found a place, equally expensive, more to our liking. We’ll tell you about that tomorrow.

We’re giving our Canadian colleague Phil Reimer a break and, starting tomorrow, writing about the Epic on his blog for the next week. If you’d like to check them out, click on PortsAnd Bows.

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