Follow this reporter as she plans her island-hopping itinerary through the Bahamas, with a special focus on Grand Bahama Island and its attractions.
Lately, when we think about the Bahamas, hurricanes, shark attacks, swimming dolphins and the enormous Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island all come to mind. But the Bahamas is so much more — spectacular scenery, great adventures and activities and interesting culture. Long before the megaresort, named for Atlantis, the lost underwater city, rose from the shallows off Paradise Island, Bahamas was the vacation spot of choice for many families, including mine.
The Bahamas consist of 700 exotic islands situated in the crystal blue Atlantic Ocean stretching over more than 650 miles from the eastern coast of Florida to the southeastern tip of Cuba. All 30 of the inhabited islands are unique and charming.
On an "Island Hopper" press trip, I rediscovered Grand Bahama Island. The last time I visited the golf capital of the archipelago was 25 years ago – it has aged beautifully. I also had an opportunity to revisit New Providence, whose capital of Nassau is even better known, and pretty little Harbour Island. At the official tourism website of the Islands of the Bahamas, you can take a virtual "Island Hop Tour." A real "island hop" can be done in a plane, ferry, mailboat or private boat!
When we arrived in Freeport/Lucaya on Grand Bahama Island, all the great memories of my youth in the sub-tropical sun came rushing back. Grand Bahama Island offers its guests a host of activities and attractions. A must for eco-lovers is the 40-acre Lucayan National Park, home to the largest explored underwater cave in the world.
The Parrot Jungle's Garden of the Groves (242/373-5668) consists of a lush 12-acre botanical garden, four cascading waterfalls, an alligator exhibit, exotic birds and a petting zoo. We made friends with an iguana, who seemed to enjoy our attention. Although we didn't have time to partake, it was recommended by Ministry of Tourism officials that families with older children looking for adventure will find it on Grand Bahama Island.
East End Adventures (242/373-6662) offers rugged tours in open 4X4's, or paddling with Kayak Nature Tours (866/440-4542) will make paddlers of all abilities at home in the sea.
Not to be missed is The Dolphin Experience at Sanctuary Bay. Three programs are offered — The Close Encounter, Swim With the Dolphins, and an Ultimate Dolphin Experience ideal for good swimmers. The Close Encounter program is perfect for all ages. After a short information session on how to approach the Atlantic bluenose dolphins, we took turns standing in three groups of two, in waist deep water, then the dolphins were summoned for us to pet with care. Our trainers assisted parents holding toddlers, so that the entire family could participate in this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I'm not sure whose squeals were louder, the dolphins or the kids.
For those whose idea of adventure is souvenir shopping, the International Bazaar is the place to go. Divided into the sections – Mideast, French, South America, Scandinavian, Oriental and an adjoining Straw Market, you can travel the world without leaving the parking lot.
Grand Bahama Island's grandest resort is Our Lucaya (866/870-7148), formerly The Lucayan, now part of the Radisson Hotels & Resorts Family, is on the shores of the largest resort beach in The Bahamas. At this unusual complex, developed with government funding to promote tourism to the out islands, guests have a choice accommodations at Reef Village, Breakers Cay or Lighthouse Point. All three share Camp Lucaya, Bahamas' first freestanding center built to accommodate a range of children, from infants to pre-teens. This "clubhouse" boasts interactive, island-inspired activities such as daily Junkanoo parades.
My Tip: A Favorite Conch Recipe
At almost every meal we ordered conch fritters, a favorite appetizer on the island. Conch can be bought frozen on any of the islands, and allowed through US or Canadian customs if it remains frozen, so wrap it up in newspaper and place it in a plastic bag. If you have a small, soft-sided cooler bag, even better.
Here is a tasty recipe, but you'll need the following ingredients:
- 4 to 5 conchs
- 1 Tomato
- ½ Cup of thinly sliced onion
- 3 or 4 drops of Tabasco sauce
- ¼ Cup of chopped green pepper
- Dash pepper
You'll have to mix the onion, green pepper and flour in a bowl. When the previous ingredients are mixed together add the remainder of the ingredients, but just to your liking. The water added should be enough to keep the batter together. If batter is too soggy, more flour can be added. Next, pour a considerable amount of oil in the skillet (enough so that the fritter floats in the oil) and heat it. When the oil is heated, use a tablespoon to scoop up the batter and gently rest it in the skillet. Deep fry until brown.
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