The Grand Lucayan pool
By Chris Roberts
Floridians know the nearby, 700-island-rich nation floating in the Atlantic has much to offer. Grand Bahama is just 55 miles off the coast. For the holidays, Junkanoo replaces jingle bells and casinos in Freeport chime with the sounds of the season.
If you haven’t been back to Freeport since the days of Freddie Laker’s long defunct Sky Train from Florida cities to Grand Bahama, then add it to your wish list this holiday season.
The Spanish christened this island Gran Bajamar, meaning "Great Shallows." A major centre for tourism, it attracts cruise ships with its deep harbour. The Freeport-Lucaya area is a Mecca for duty free shopping and the country’s second largest city.
Last year Grand Bahama (fourth largest island) welcomed 800,000 visitors.
“About 70 percent of the total is cruise guests, including arrivals by ferry,” says Betty Bethel, general manager for Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, Grand Bahama Island. “There’s a misperception that there is nothing to do, but that’s not true. Beside outdoor activities and sights to see, we’re upgrading the entire vacation experience.”
Take a look at the changes. What used to be three resorts along a mile of beach has been redeveloped into the magnificent Grand Lucayan, a 542 room resort that exceeds expectations. Whether you’re on a cruise ship with a day pass or spending a few nights, the property will impress.
“Things have evolved since the traveler of the 1970s,” says hotel manager Benjamin Davis. “People now want to see and do more at a destination. The benefit of tourism is more widespread.”
Grand Lucayan is completing a major renovation and rebranding. Sumptuous Lanai suites are being added on the beach. The spa is first class and the dining options are original. A favourite is Willy Broadleaf, an inspired breakfast restaurant themed with distinct sections depicting Egypt, India, Africa and Italy. It rivals anything at Disney and incorporates the new tag line “The Bahamas You Remember, A Resort You’ll Never Forget.”
No need to stay at home New Year’s Eve. Grand Lucayan’s bash is totally big time with The Temptations performing live. Festivities start off with holiday buffet and dancing in the resort’s Grand Ballroom. Midnight brings a champagne toast and beach fireworks display. Tickets for The Temptations start at $75.
Grand Lucayan offers family-friendly holiday activities throughout December. Kids will like the Santa Walk and Saint Nick’s Scavenger Hunt. Everyone lines up for the colorful Junkanoo parade on Boxing Day. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinner buffets are feasts.
For dining variety, trot across the street to Port Lucaya Marketplace. Look for Bateman’s Restaurant, where owner Bateman Smith blends his New Orleans motif with holiday necessities – conch salad and tempting desserts.
“We sell a lot of alligator,” says Smith. “Fixed anyway you like it.”
When you go
From Port Everglades to Grand Bahama, Balearia Bahamas Express is the best bet. Sure, there are flights.
“But when you step aboard here, your vacation getaway begins,” says commercial executive Pablo Aviles. “No airport hassles, just relax and enjoy the ride.”
Depart at 8:00am, return at 10:00pm. The crossing takes three hours and port authority formalities are minimal. The company operates first class and economy service.
Book excursions during your Bahamas Express ferry ride. Jeep journeys to brewery tours. Of course, a good guide can make the day. Fortunately, H. Forbes Charter Services, the island’s largest tour operator, has David Rolle to escort and entertain guests.
On his sightseeing jaunt through Freeport, he points out a medical facility and announces to passengers, “I fired my doctor because he allowed a mortuary to be built next to his clinic. Maybe he was running two-for-one specials.”
For information on packages: www.fastferry.com
Chris Roberts is a freelance writer based in Hollywood, Florida.