This was my first trip to the Bahamas, and why it took me this long to visit I have no idea.
For my entire life I’ve imagined the Bahamas as a winter vacation spot where cruise lines stop to unload drunken tourists excited to lounge on the beach with a cocktail in hand, rising only to hunt down a palm tree fridge magnet or island-themed keychain they can point to every time they want to reference how “well-traveled” they are. I have no use for palm tree magnets or island-themed keychains. Plus, I don’t drink and the thought of laying on a beach all day sounds positively boring as hell, so when it came to my own personal list of ideal travel destinations, I’ve always avoided the Bahamas.
Oh, the naive idiot I am.
I arrived in Nassau to help launch the first SNAP Retreat, an annual 5-6 day shooting & teaching conference for developing models, photographers and influencers. I left the plane jet-lagged and somewhat in shock of the weather contrast. I’d left gray and cloudy Montana at -18 and was welcomed off the plane in Nassau with gorgeous blue skies at a balmy 82 degrees. Yes, I knew there would be pretty blue skies and pretty blue water but you never really expect it to be that beautiful. Even the air smelled fresh and sweet and floral. Palm trees swayed delicately in a light breeze, the sun just barely peeking out between their leaves. It was warm and humid but not too warm and humid. A cool breeze but not too cool. Okay so maybe I could get used to this.
Casey (the owner of Rocky Mountain Entertainment Agency), her husband Dalon (owner of Explore Flathead Lake)and myself immediately met with the coordinator of the Melia – Nassau Resort and she gave us a quick tour of the site’s meeting rooms, reception areas and restaurants. Attendees began checking in and we even spotted a few already taking photos on the beach.
As far as all-inclusive resorts go, this was my first. I’ve always subscribed to the same mindset as Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in The Beach, where he says, “We all travel thousands of miles just to watch TV and check in to somewhere with all the comforts of home, and you gotta ask yourself, what is the point of that? I just feel like everyone tries to do something different, but you always wind up doing the same damn thing.” A-freaking-men.
But when planning an event like SNAP that mindset really isn’t the best route to take. I mean, have you seen The Beach? Not to spoil it for you but a lot of people die in horribly gruesome ways and no one is signing up for that kind of experience. So after some heavy compromising on my part, here we were, at a pristine, ridiculously gorgeous, all-inclusive beachfront resort in the Bahamas. The staff were warm and friendly and the location looks exactly like the photos featured on their website (a very big deal indeed). The anything-but-weak Bahama Mama served in the lobby was a welcome kick in the teeth after a full 28 hours of traveling, and nobody was complaining. Breaking my biggest travel rule had never felt better.
The SNAP welcome reception was Sunday night, complete with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres for all attendees. It was exciting to meet models from such a wide range of backgrounds, from fitness and nutrition, to curve, to acting and runway and many others. The photographers and I talked about how excited we were to shoot a location different than where we all just came from. We hung at the reception area for a couple hours, but it didn’t take long for the group to make it’s way to the hot tubs and swim-up bar. I ended up in the ocean, because of course I ended up in the ocean. It’s, like, right there.
Monday was an introduction to personalized branding, along with the nuts and bolts of social media marketing. We’d then break off into separate groups, one for models and another for photographers where we’d meet to go over more individualized business plans. After lunch we headed to the beach for a full afternoon of shooting. Just water, sand, bikinis and cameras, as far as the eye could see.
Early morning Tuesday we met on the beach for the second group shoot, and took full advantage of the pristine sand and soft morning light. No matter how many places I shoot, there really is nothing like morning light on the beach. Is it a different color? Is it softer? Is it the saltwater in the air? No idea. But if I could bottle it up and take it home with me in a “Morning Beach Light” bottle I totally would.
I would also sell the shit out of it and make a goddman fortune.
After breakfast we dove straight in to in-depth business classes dedicated specifically to models and photographers, and after lunch we met again for individualized, one-on-one training. Attendees were given the afternoon off to shoot or simply enjoy themselves. We all found ourselves in the lounge area after dinner, where I’d wager our entire group took over the dance floor. After the perfect combination of free cocktails, warm weather and a lot of dancing, we all headed to the ocean for a midnight swim; an event I’m very much going to try to turn into a yearly tradition at each SNAP Retreat.
Wednesday was our group excursion day, and we caught the ferry to Blue Lagoon for a full day of shooting and relaxation. We were met instead with an intense tropical storm, but we all had adequate shelter so it wasn’t miserable in the slightest. We ate lunch and then many of the models and photographers took advantage of the rain for even more “tropical” themed shots under the covering. As soon as the weather cleared everyone spent the afternoon either shooting, swimming with dolphins, taking some underwater video (me), or just lounging on the beach chairs. We arrived back to the resort later that afternoon, sleepy, salty and satisfied.
On the Hunt for Hidden Treasure
We wrapped up a couple classes Thursday morning, and then photographers were given some well-deserved time to themselves while the models prepared for the fashion show set to take place that evening as part the hotel’s Reggae Night. Since we had a few hours, Andy Austin (known for his mountain adventures) and I headed downtown to track down this little cigar shop we were told about at dinner the night before. And by ‘we’ I mean I overheard someone telling him about it and then very forcefully insisted I would be coming along and this was non-negotiable.
We grabbed a bite to eat and caught the #10 bus straight to the heart of downtown, then stepped out into the hustle and bustle of Bahamian city life set against a backdrop of vibrant pastels buildings. We navigated the narrow, grooved streets and keeping close to the vine covered retaining walls that lined each walking path.
We arrived at what we thought was Graycliff Cigar Company, but the person inside kindly re-directed us. We walked through little shops and businesses, following a maze of connecting doors and staircases. Finally, the owner of a restaurant pointed to a door in the back and we thought we had finally made it – but instead it opened into a gorgeous jungle courtyard. A fountain in the middle surrounded by beautiful brick work and a large open space. Some very comfortable-looking furniture adorned a side of the courtyard, and as we headed in that direction a door atop an almost hidden staircase opened and a young woman popped out and asked if we were looking for cigars.
“We are!” We replied, and she opened up the door and pointed inside. I stared at the thin wisp of smoke escaping from the top of the door. “Be sure to ask if you can roll your own,” she mentioned as we passed by.
Inside it was clear we’d found the right place. It was incredibly smokey, but in that glorious sweet and sticky way that only cigar smoke can deliver. A pair of Bahamian men enjoying a few cigars nodded to us from the front couch as we walked by. “We were told we could roll our own?” Andy asked to man behind the counter. “Ah,” he said, “You need to talk to the lady in the back.”
We headed to the back, where we were told it would be $87 to roll our own cigars. They’d roll one, we’d roll two. I’m not much of a cigar smoker myself, but my husband is, and the whole reason I was here was to bring him home a couple professionally rolled cigars, not the shitty ones a first-timer like myself would probably produce, so I declined the offer. We were, however, allowed to take photos of the process in the back room. Um, yes please.
After photos we chose a few cigars, they packaged them up and we were on our way to the next item on the list: The Queen’s Staircase. After we were pointed in the right direction we did what I assume every traveler does when searching for a specific site: kept walking in a general direction, inquiring with locals here and there to make sure we were still on the right path. Soon we came to the foot of what appeared to be something out of an Indiana Jones movie, and a man pushing a small wooden cart directed us up the hill and to the left.
Queen’s Staircase, as it turns out, is a massive open tunnel with nearly 100 ft vine covered walls. Trees dip down from the top in something that seriously looks like an Indiana Jones movie, with a huge staircase at the back, handcarved from solid limestone in 1793. I could’ve taken photos here forever. It was breathtaking.
We made our way up the staircase and continued to Fort Fincastle overlooking the ocean on one side and all of Nassau on the other. We stopped to take it all in for a second then headed out in pretty much any direction we felt like going. We wandered around the city of Nassau, stopping to snap a few photos as we went.
After we were thoroughly hungry and drenched (it had been raining on and off the entire day) we decided to make our way back to the bus that would take us back to the hotel. I should also mention that Andy does most of his trekking in a suit, so how he was still in a chipper mood in a soaking wet full suit jacket was beyond me. Props to him though, I would’ve ended up half naked after tossing the whole thing in the ocean about 20 minutes after we got off the bus.
“Fash-ion show! Fash-ion show! Fashion show at lunch!”
Later that evening we met in the lobby of the hotel for the live fashion show. Now when Casey originally told me she’d be putting together a full fashion show with the hotel and the models, my first reaction was, “Okay, I guess.” I mean I’d never been to a real, professionally produced fashion show before, but I have seen clips of them through the models I follow on Instagram and I’m always been bored out of my mind watching them. These shows always seem too frivolous, elitist and boring to me. I figured I was just one of those people that would never understand the draw of fashion shows.
Of course I’d also never been to one of Casey’s fashion shows before and Oh. My. God. This thing was awesome. Krysten Winter (one of the attendees) sang front and center with the Reggae band, and the models adorned in huge feather headdresses walked the designated runway like it was their own personal catwalk. It was fun. And exciting and loud and invigorating and when the show ended I was shaking from so much adrenaline and I wasn’t even in the damn thing. It was standing room only, and ended with a deafening applause. If this is what fashion shows are supposed to be than I get it. I get why people become obsessed with fashion week because if it’s this over and over and over again than sign me the hell up I would gladly watch something like that again in fact I’m just getting excited talking about it when is the next one someone invite me please????
Afterwards we took some group photos and enjoyed the rest of the goodbye reception. Some stayed late, while others tucked in a bit earlier to get ready for the last (optional) excursion in the morning. This one involving underwater statues and…DUN DUN DUN… sharks.
Make sure to subscribe HERE to read about the sharks and underwater statues and follow me on Instagram or Facebook to see more travel and underwater work. You can also follow me here to see my before and after shots, and special thanks to Dalon for his additional behind the scenes shots in this blog post :).
If anyone is curious, next year’s retreat is schedule for February of 2019 and will take place in Bali. We’re making sure to keep the 1-on-1, individualized coaching approach as much as possible, since we all feel that was one of SNAP’s main strengths. This was by far, hand down the most fun I’ve ever had an event and I cannot wait for next year. I already have a list of class outlines and Andy and I have been hard at work planning the shooting excursions! Click here to get on the list!