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Bahamas two ways: frantic in Atlantis, conked out in Kamalame Cay

Kamalame Cay, a private island in the Bahamas.

Sarah MacWhirter/The Globe and Mail/Sarah MacWhirter/The Globe and Mail

Hot sun, a light breeze and a hammock at the edge of the beach with only the waves as background noise.

That's a mom's dream.

But my 12-year-old daughter was picturing daredevil waterslides, a see-and-be-seen teen club and poolside chaises with music pounding through the loudspeakers.

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Mother-daughter relationships are complicated enough, fraught with tension one moment, burbling with girlish happiness the next. Add a vacation into the mix, with wildly different dreams, and I couldn't help but wonder: Were we doomed to have a holiday from hell?

This would be the first island escape for both of us, so we decided to compromise: She'd get her adrenalin-spiking theme park, I'd get a quintessential flake-out. Bahamas, here we come!

The law of diminishing returns

First stop, Atlantis.

About a year before our visit to this megaresort, the talk was non-stop: about the club, the amazing rides, the cool scene that no tween could live without. Secretly, I was dreading it, but can that many people be wrong?

Atlantis is everything you expect: a completely manufactured experience. You have to be in the mood. It's a gigantic waterpark with few but fantastic rides, big prices and ridiculously long lineups everywhere you go (the slides, the poolside bars and all the restaurants, even to get a locker for your bag when all the chaises longues are used up).

You may be inclined to dislike Atlantis, especially after seeing Crush, the teen dance and gaming club that encourages your offspring to act like college hotties ordering mocktails through tabletop computer screens (they're not old enough to drink real cocktails, so let's pay to let them pretend!).

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But you can't sidestep the fact that waterslides are fun. Especially when they start with a view over turquoise waters edged with sparkling white beach.

My advice: Start your day as early as possible, score a lounge chair for your bag (everyone leaves their stuff lying around) and get as many slides in as possible before the lines get too long. It's the law of diminishing returns. Then, when the length of the lines outweighs the enjoyment of the slides, slather the suntan lotion once again, get a pina colada (for mom) and float down the Lazy River. Have an early dinner (remember to make a reservation the night before – or head to Bimini Road restaurant at the marina for a lively dinner punctuated with loud song, steel drums and shakers) and get ready to do it all again.

Late on the afternoon before we left, I noticed we still hadn't felt the sand between our toes. I asked Alyanna if she wanted to walk on the beach. "No, Mum, let's wait till we get to the real Bahamas."

The law of attraction

Second stop, Kamalame Cay.

For the mom part of the journey, we unpacked our bags at Kamalame Cay on Andros Island. From the back veranda of Driftwood, our two-bedroom villa, it was 40 steps to the hammock (strung up between two palm trees), 60 steps to the chaise longue on the sand, 110 steps to feel the water lapping at your toes.

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This was the Bahamas I needed.

When the weather was cool, Alyanna and I walked the beach, had hot tea and fresh cookies on the veranda, and bundled in a blanket in the hammock for a read.

On Sunday morning, the sun emerged and the waters calmed – perfect for snorkelling – but Alyanna was under the weather. We decided to go anyway, as Bahamas' Blue Holes are legendary in diving circles. I donned a mask, Aly took over photography duties from the boat, and I took the plunge.

For some reason, uncharacteristically, I felt afraid. So I stuck close to dive master Margaret – so close she must have thought I was more interested in her than the angelfish. We neared the blue hole and suddenly the colour I'd expected, the sense of mystery, was upon us. And the sense of danger in the open ocean. I could see why Hollywood director James Cameron wanted to be first to really explore the depths. And then the orange seaweed and the fish near the top of the hole began to swirl and twist in a kinetic dance – in a vortex, Margaret explained.

Now I'm more frightened by the blue hole. But we go back under. And suddenly Margaret is gesturing with excitement, pointing toward something large and grey and stealthy on the far side of the hole. I try following her – you just can't breaststroke in flippers –but now she's swimming with some urgency toward the boat. Holy mother of God! It's climate change in action! A predatory shark is where it shouldn't be and I'm going to get ripped to shreds while my daughter watches from the boat!

But Margaret curves right, slows her pace and surfaces. "Did you see that," she exclaims, her eyes bright with discovery. "It was a spotted eagle ray. I haven't seen one here in years. Wasn't it great?!"

I nod my head, sheepishly; I don't want to disappoint her. I decide to be more courageous and float toward the blue hole for one last, leisurely look. I see angelfish and a skinny colourful fish with giant myopic-looking eyes. I see a grey fish with lacy fanlike fins. I get excited, my heart rate slows, I'm embarrassed about my fear.

And Alyanna? She slept through it all, bobbing on the waves, her painted toes resting on the boat's edge.

Here at Kamalame, the wildlife is truly wild, the service is attentive and personable, and the conversion to green energy is quietly under way. The hot-water heaters, the pool pump and heating system and the roadside lights are run on solar power, and recycled vegetable oil is shipped in from Florida to take the place of diesel to run the generators.

That fuels a good vibe to store away while enjoying drinks and appetizers with the other guests before taking a table for dinner. Those moments in the Great House, mingling with the other guests, are a high point of the Kamalame experience. Our last night, as we all sat together – strangers only days before – a man got down on one knee, pulled out a diamond and proposed to his girlfriend, shocking her as much as the rest of us. She accepted, the corks popped and we all cheered. A few minutes later, newlyweds (married on the beach just hours before) came in to offer their congratulations.

The resort may need some small upgrades (new fixtures and spruced-up cupboards to start), but it was here we could truly unwind. Here we read, we cycled, we soaked up the sun, we raced through a rainstorm, we walked, we talked. We connected. We didn't argue. We just were.

The bottom line

While Alyanna packed, I sat on the back veranda, bundled in fluffy white towels as the waves, heavy with rainwater, pounded the surf. A hermit crab ambled in front of my toes and into the mist. The calm at Kamalame had prevailed; both Alyanna and I were really and truly relaxed.

As she had said the night before, "There's not that much to do here, but that makes it better. Atlantis tries be all real, but at Kamalame they don't have to try. Here, it's actually real."

Hermit crabs, lizards and all.

At Reef Atlantis, rooms start at around $360 a night. On Kamalame Cay, rooms start at $407 (U.S.) a night. For more information, visit atlantis.com and kamalame.com.

Mother and daughter face off on each other's vacations

Mom made the sustainable choice, a small family-run resort on Andros Island. Her 12-year-old daughter had been dreaming of Atlantis. Here's what they thought of each

ATLANTIS

First impression

Mother: Oh my God, it's gigantic, and it's my job to learn the lay of the land to make the most of this. Wish me luck.

Daughter: People want travellers to feel at home. But I don't want to feel at home. I love it here!

The wildlife

M: I thought sharks never stopped moving, but I was wrong. Two sharks are lying motionless on the mucky glass tunnel we just slid through. Weird.

D: I felt bad for the sharks because their cage kinda sucks – but it was really fun.

The busy-ness factor

M: If I don't find somewhere to put our bag, I will scream. Or cry. Or both. Please can we walk down the beach to the One and Only Ocean Club?

D: Disney is good because they make it family-friendly, but at Atlantis there's too much going on to be family-friendly.

The food

M: The lineups! You definitely have to make a reservation or arrive early. Or, better yet, walk down the beach to chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Dune at the Ocean Club for Bahamian conch salad and the chicken-coconut milk soup.

D: Some of it was really good, but that restaurant with the giant aquarium? Awful!

Least-favourite moment

M: When the cruise-ship crowds arrived.

D: Getting separated.

Favourite moment

M: Gripping hands with a stranger on tubes at a split in the Lazy River like it was a life or death situation – and then, discovering that the Lazy River is that much better after a pina colada.

D: The Leap of Faith [waterslide] It was awesome! And I really liked the dolphin experience.

KAMALAME CAY

First impression

Mother: It's so quiet! Is anyone else here?

Daughter: I like my room, and I like the cookies!

The wildlife

M: No-see-ums. You can't see them, but you'll suffer for weeks.

D: The hermit crabs are pretty cool, but don't step on them! They will eat you. … And the little lizard stole my cheese. And then he gave it back – on my bed!

The busy-ness factor

M: Peace. I thought my body wouldn't remember how to truly relax.

D: You don't have to wait in line for everything you do here!

The food

M: A picnic basket outside our door in the morning with fruit, breads and a Thermos of hot coffee? Yes!

D: Good, but maybe it needs more selection.

Least-favourite moment

M: When the dark clouds rolled back in.

D: I don't really have a least favourite moment.

Favourite moment

M: Cycling at sunset.

D: Lazing in the hammock on the beach.

SARAH MacWHIRTER and ALYANNA ROYCE

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