Aaargh! Yo, Ho Maties!
(A sound-and-light vignette at Pirates of Nassau showcases a battle between Blackbeard and his crew and a merchant vessel under attack.*)
Relive The Bahamas’ swashbuckling past
at “Pirates of Nassau”
By Susan J. Young
On a port call in Nassau, it’s easy to immerse yourself in the world of the real Pirates of the Caribbean and the Bahamas.
Just stroll a few blocks from the cruise terminal to the “Pirates of Nassau” attraction, which does an admirable job of capturing the sights, sounds and aura of Nassau’s Golden Age of Piracy.
From 1690 to 1720, the greatest concentration of pirates in the New World lived and sailed in this region.
Nassau’s waters were too shallow for the large military and merchant vessels but deep enough for the faster, shallower draft vessels favored by pirates.
So New Providence Island and other islands of The Bahamas were frequented by pirates because of the coves.
They could lay low and pass the time while awaiting treasure-laden merchant ships to enter nearby shipping lanes.
Then using "hit and run" tactics, they'd attack merchant ships and race back to the islands with their plunder.
To get a good taste of the pirate life, head for the dark red building with pirate placards on its exterior walls (see photo above*).
Just a few blocks from the cruise terminal at Nassau, it’s at the corner of King and George streets, right across from Christ Cathedral Church.
Outside, you’ll most likely encounter the self-described Captain “Black” Sparrow, a corny but fun character who hams it up with the tourists.
Or, other times, a female pirate stands guard at the entry.
Visitors are directed inside the pirate shop to buy tickets.
Entry for the attraction, which takes only 35 minutes to an hour to go through, is $12 for adults, $6 for kids 4 to 17.
We felt the attraction was worth the money. You’ll have a good time if you enjoy:
- Realistic vignettes of pirate life, using both wax figures and, at times, animatronics;
- Simple true/false quiz questions about pirates (with the question asked and a black piece of material covering up the answer that visitors can reveal);
- Pirate flags, placards and illustrations depicting such pirates as Blackbeard, Anne Bonny, and others;
- A look at pirate justice – with a vignette about being stranded on a deserted island;
- Day-to-day aspects of pirate life including dining, plundering and surgery;
- Details (some a bit gruesome) about what happened to captured pirates;
- A small amount of pirate artifacts such as coins, guns and swords
- Modern day representations of pirate life through such items as movie posters or a mask.
The pirate guide outside shows visitors the way to the first section of the attraction, a massive and impressive (3/4 in actual size) replica of “The Revenge,” a French corvette ship.
In its day, this ship would have carried 16 guns and been manned by a crew of 35.
Captured by pirates, this ship’s manpower would increase to 200 men to help overwhelm and capture merchant ships that were attacked.
As visitors stroll alongside the vessel, they’ll likely be impressed by the size and the re-creation of a scene that could be in any pirate movie.
It’s night-time and the dock area is filled with bales, barrels and crates. The smell of sea water and tar fill the air.
You’ll hear water lapping at the sides of the ship. A pirate stands guard on the ship’s top deck.
Along the other side of the street are shops and storefronts, with the appropriate sounds of pirates enjoying an evening ashore with fiddle and song at a local tavern.
For sure, this isn’t Disney, so don’t expect that level of re-created detail.
Nevertheless, this initial part of the attraction is quite impressive with its sheer size and theming.
It puts visitors in a “pirate mood” as they tour the rest of the attraction.
Just be a bit careful in your steps as this area is incredibly dark. If you have eyeglasses that change slowly from light to dark, you may have a bit of trouble seeing, as I did.
Take time to linger here a bit and let your eyes adjust, as you soak up the aura of the quayside at twilight.
Next, you head into the ship’s lower deck area to see what pirate life entailed.
Let’s just say this part of a pirate's life wasn’t pretty.
You’ll observe swinging hammocks, stowed cannon, gambling and onboard surgery.
The so-called “mess area” where the pirates dined ... is, frankly, quite a mess.
You'll even observe a goat in the hold!
After seeing the ship's exterior and the interior, it's time for more pirate tales. Head up the stairs.
Or, if someone is touring via a wheelchair, there’s a tiny elevator. The attraction is wheelchair accessible throughout.
Upstairs, you'll observe Nassau's beachside shanty town as you come face to face with female pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read.
They're fearlessly disputing their pirate share!
If you want to really delve into the history of piracy, you'll find a plethora of reading information in this attraction.
But there’s also plenty to entice the kids. The Anne Bonny vignette had a telescope out front.
A small boy checked it out and I too chuckled when I peered into it. Yep, there was a pirate ship on the horizon.
During your tour through the attraction, visitors will also see a poignant vignette that depicts a pirate stranded on a desert isle.
It’s actually a three-dimensional recreation of a 19th Century painting by Howard Pyle.
Pirates often said that being marooned was akin to being "made Governor of your own island."
You’ll also enjoy pirate flags, illustrations, and true/false quiz questions (as with the one above, with the "answer" under the black cloth*).
Then (as shown in the photos above and below*) Captain Teach, commonly known as “Blackbeard,” appears with his fearsome crew onboard the deck of a ship in the heat of a battle.
The sounds of gunfire, the flashes of light caused by cannon fire, and other sensory elements combine to make an impressive experience for the visitor.
But again, the lighting in this room is dark -- almost too dark.
So stay and watch through several series’ of the sound and light show to get the full effect.
It's amazing I got the shots above, as it was truly dark in this room. Even if your camera has a low-light setting, you'll likely need to use a flash.
Note to readers: There is a slope downward as one enters the dark room. Watch your step. It's difficult to see this slope
Another interesting section of the museum involves a historic meeting. It also explores the fine line between being a pirate and being a buccaneer working for the government.
In this scene, you'll observe Captain Woodes Rogers, the newly appointed Governor of the Bahamas (shown in the vignette at right*)
He's interviewing ex-pirate Ben Hornigold (shown in the vignette at left*).
But can he trust him to help restore order to the islands by capturing another pirate?
It's just another colorful scenic vignette designed to tell a pirate story visually and to immerse visitors in the world of the pirates of yore.
Pirates of Nassau also reveals the true stories of cruel instruments of torture, pirates in prison (shown at right*) and the deaths of many pirates.
Convicted pirates were almost always hanged.
That said, most kids accustomed to today's television shows and movies probably won't be phased in the least by what they see.
But if you have very little ones, some parts of the attraction may be a bit intense at times.
At the end of the attraction route you’ll discover an interesting wall exhibit of movie memorabilia
This includes posters of "The Pirates of Penzanze," "Captain Blood" and "Hook."
You'll also see written documents, historic coins, flintlock revolvers, cutlasses and other objects from the Golden Age of Piracy.
There is a diagram of rope knots used by pirates and respected seafarers, with a chance for people to try their hand at making those knots.
Next, you’ll head to a courtyard, where the kids will love the cannons.
The whole family can pretend they're pirates by putting their heads through a display that reflects pirate attire.
At certain times, you can apparently enjoy a refreshment in this courtyard, but it didn't appear to be open during our visit.
The last stop on the attraction tour is the pirate shop. You’ll find plenty of pirate fare here, including coffee mugs that say “Dead, 'till I gets me coffee!”
I’d suggest walking to tour Pirates of Nassau immediately upon arrival at the port.
Why? This attraction is included on a city and pirate tour offered by many lines.
It's usually the last stop on those tours, which include visits to Fort Fincastle and Fort Charlotte.
If you visit -- as we did -- not long after your ship docks, you'll possibly have the place to yourselves.
I loved strolling alone along the dock and experiencing the attraction's tableaux without the crowds. It adds an aura of mystery and intrigue.
Would I go again to Pirates of Nassau?
“Aargh! Of course maties! Yo, ho, it's a pirate's life for me!"
*Photos shown above are all owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of Susan J. Young. All rights reserved. Do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.