Weekenders: A Grand Bahama Adventure

This island beckons with white-sand beaches, nature tours and an easygoing way of life.

By Terry Ward

Hurricane Matthew charted a bull’s-eye course over the Bahamas last autumn. But thanks to the resilience of the Bahamian people—and a good deal of help from outside the islands, too—Grand Bahama has bounced back, its golden shores, hardwood forests and bright blue waters again open for exploration. For visitors looking to inject some active fun into the quintessential beach escape, the island’s attractions are as spectacular as ever, with reef fishing, horseback riding, sailing and swimming with dolphins available within a few miles of Freeport, the island’s capital. These unspoiled land- and seascapes lie just 55 miles off the coast of Florida, which makes getting here and into vacation mode as smooth as that first swill of rum punch.

Discover Freeport

Start your adventure by exploring the cultural touchstones of Freeport. It’s about a six-mile drive from Grand Bahama International Airport to the lively Port Lucaya Marketplace, where some vendors slice the tops off coconuts and pop in a straw for sipping, while others mix fruit daiquiris. You can browse stalls displaying handmade plaited straw bags—a traditional Bahamian handicraft—for toting your beach gear. Tour operator Bahamas Adventures leads Freeport tours that visit the market as well as other area highlights, such as the Rand Nature Centre, where you’ll explore a Caribbean forest and learn about the island’s endemic flora.

From Port Lucaya Marketplace it can be a simple hop over to Taino Beach. Getting there is half the fun, with ferries leaving at 10 minutes past the hour from the market for a scenic 10-minute crossing ($3* a person). A clean stretch of white sand leading into shallow waters makes Taino a great spot to stroll, swim or kick back under the shade of a palm tree (chairs and umbrellas are available to rent on-site). On Wednesday nights, crowds gather at the east end of the beach for the Fish Fry at Smith’s Point, a popular cookout held by the Outriggers Beach Club. Here, residents mingle with travelers to a live soundtrack of calypso and soca music while piling plates with Bahamian specialties like spareribs, peas and rice, broiled lobster, grilled conch and fried fish.

Tropical Marine Life

Anglers looking for a little action can head out aboard a 23-footer with light-tackle operator Lil B Fishing on a four-hour trip to the reef. Bahamian captain Les Treco and his sons usually know where the snapper, groupers and triggerfish are biting, so you can spend more time reeling in catches and less gazing out at a drifting line. “The trip is great for families and people who don’t want to wait three hours to catch their first fish,” the captain’s wife, Janice Treco, says. Plus the crew will fillet and clean your fish on the ride back and get them ready to cook up. Night tours are also available upon request, as are diving for conch shells and catching lobster if you opt for a private charter.

For a tasty fish lunch with no reeling required, Flying Fish puts a contemporary spin on island eats. Claim a table outdoors for waterfront views as you order the cured local wahoo or conch burgers slathered with truffle mayonnaise. On Sundays chef Tim Tibbitts may step out of the kitchen to serenade diners on guitar.

When you’re ready for a dip in the water, you can sign up for a Dolphin Close Encounter at UNEXSO, the Underwater Explorers Society, in Port Lucaya. Open to all ages, the two-and-a-half-hour outing begins with either a boat ride through Grand Bahama’s lush canals or a tour of the island’s southern shore before reaching a natural lagoon that’s home to 14 Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. Once there, you can stand on a submerged platform as the handlers call dolphins in close enough for you to stroke them or even pose for a salty kiss. And for certified divers, UNEXSO offers scuba sessions during which you can swim alongside dolphins, explore shipwrecks or go underwater at night to see marine life not typically visible during the day.

Trailblazing by Land and by Water

For a glimpse of the island’s varied ecology, consider taking a two-hour horseback ride on the trained steeds of Pinetree Stables. The guided tour departs from Freeport, traveling inland to survey shaded pine and hardwood forests, passing by the island’s only castle and crossing sand dunes to arrive at William’s Town Beach. You can ride your horse amid the shallow ocean waters of this secluded south-shore beach, which extends for nearly two miles.

To continue exploring the island’s natural wonders, paddle through tunnels of emerald mangroves on a 90-minute kayaking trip through Lucayan National Park led by Grand Bahama Nature Tours. Kayaking expeditions include door-to-door transportation to the park, which lies about 20 miles east of Freeport and is named in honor of Grand Bahama’s native Lucayans. The park contains one of the world’s largest underwater cave systems. Two of the caves are open to all visitors, while certified cave divers who obtain special permits can go into many more. During the kayaking trip, you’ll explore Ben’s Cave, a cavern containing one of the park’s two inland blue holes. As you navigate your way through the park, knowledgeable guides share facts about the indigenous people and point out some of the fauna that makes the habitats unique, such as olive-capped warblers and yellow-crowned night herons.

You’ll also have time to kick back on Gold Rock Beach, one of the most postcard-perfect strips of sand in all the Bahamas. Across from the Lucayan caverns, the beach can be accessed via the nature trails and boardwalks that crisscross the park’s 40 acres. Picnic tables line the shore, and if you visit without a guide you can make a day of it. You can dive right into the warm and clear waters to begin your next adventure.

EXPLORE

Bahamas Adventures
Jolly Roger Dr., Freeport; 242-727-2367; bahamas-adventures.com; Freeport tours, $49 a person

Grand Bahama Nature Tours
Freeport; 866-440-4542; kayak tours, $96 a person for six hours (includes two hours of kayaking, plus time exploring the caves and the beach, and transportation to and from most area resorts)

Lil B Fishing
Freeport (tours depart from Ocean Reef Yacht Club & Resort); 242-351-6917; lilbfishingbahamas.com; four-hour tours, $70 a person

Lucayan National Park
Grand Bahama Hwy.; 242-352-5438; bnt.bs; admission, $5 a person

Pinetree Stables
Freeport; 242-602-2122; pinetree-stables.com; two-hour guided trail rides, $165 a person

Port Lucaya Marketplace
1 Seahorse Rd., Freeport; 242-373-8446; open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., hours for individual venues vary

Rand Nature Centre
Grand Bahama Hwy., Freeport; 242-352-5438; bnt.bs; adults, $5; children, $3

UNEXSO
1 Seahorse Rd., Freeport; 800-992-3483; unexso.com; Dolphin Close Encounter: adults, $85; children ages 4–7, $50; ages 1–3, free)

EAT

Fish Fry at Smith’s Point
Smith’s Point, Freeport; 242-373-4811; dinner for two, $25

Flying Fish
1 Seahorse Rd., Freeport; 242-373-4363; flyingfishbahamas.com; lunch for two, $80

RELAX

Gold Rock Beach
Grand Bahama Hwy.; 242-352-5438; bahamas.com; admission, $5 a person

Taino Beach
Jolly Roger Dr., Freeport

STAY
RCI® affiliated resorts on Grand Bahama include:
The Ocean at Taino Beach 4063

It’s easy to relax here thanks to swim-up bars and hammocks. Jolly Roger Dr., Freeport
Member Review: “Gorgeous and spacious units.”

Viva Vacation Club at Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach 3661

Water lovers can enjoy sailing, canoeing and snorkeling, which are available with optional group instruction. Churchill Dr. with Doubloon Rd., Freeport
Member Review: “Great food options.”

Ocean Reef Yacht Club & Resort 2093

Expect two pools, an outdoor restaurant and bicycle rentals. P.O. Box F-2695, Freeport
Member Review: “Lots of hiking trails nearby and great desert scenery.”

Island Seas Resort 4215

Views of lush foliage abound at this oceanside resort. 123 Silver Point Dr., Freeport
Member Review: “Loved the nightly games and karaoke.”

Memories Grand Bahama D861

Kids have their own domain at the Teens Club and Kids Club, where they can play video games, table tennis and billiards. 1 Seahorse Lane, Freeport
Member Review: “Nice pools and waitstaff.”

RCI® Tip

Did you know the Bahamas is a popular cruise port? RCI® subscribing members can save up to $1,200USD per cabin toward the purchase of select sailings with Standard Exchange.** Visit cruiserci.com for more terms and conditions.

For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.

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Non-RCI affiliated resorts on Grand Bahama include:
Pelican Bay Hotel

All 186 rooms at this hotel have balconies and are within a five-minute walk of Lucaya Beach. Seahorse Rd., Freeport; 242-373-9550; pelicanbayhotel.com; doubles from $185 a night

Castaways Resorts & Suites

Located 15 minutes from the airport. Each room has a patio or terrace, and guests can access the on-site restaurant and complimentary beach shuttle. 42629 E. Mall Dr., Freeport; 866-410-9676; castawaysresort.net; doubles from $105 a night

  • *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars. Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.
  • **RCI Cruise is administered by International Cruise & Excursion Gallery, Inc. d/b/a/ Our Vacation Center and/or ICE, a Delaware Corporation, with its principal place of business at 7720 N. Dobson Rd., Scottsdale, Arizona under contract with RCI, LLC. RCI disclaims all responsibility in connection with any third-party travel services. For more information, go to www.cruiserci.com.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Fall 2017