Better in the Bahamas: Making landfall in Freeport before Dorian
FREEPORT, BAHAMAS: Two nights at a destination doesn’t seem like enough to get the flavor of a place, but I’ve just returned from two nights in Freeport on the Grand Bahama Island. I can assure you that it was relaxing, exciting, and fulfilling.
Moreover, I know where I’m going to spend more time, next time.
Located a short plane trip from Southern Florida, the Bahamas are the yearly playground for some 5.5 million tourists, most of which come from America, each year. It’s Caribbean beauty, diverse ecosystems and welcoming people making it an easy vacation choice for those looking to relax and enjoy the sun and sea.
Better being in the Bahamas
The Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach is an all-inclusive resort that covers 26 acres and features everything – nightly entertainment, a huge sandy beach, several restaurants, great views. Rack rates may seem a tad steep, however, keep your eyes open. The Bahamas resorts offer regularly, deeply discounted rates particularly mid-week and offseason. The same with round-trip airfares from Miami or Ft Lauderdale. A normal airfare is regularly around $200. However, keep your eyes open and you can find deep discounts here, as low as $50 roundtrip.
Local transport is easy to arrange, and groups of four to fifty can save a bundle by engaging local coach companies. Our group’s land carrier, S&D Coaches, was a welcoming mix of people and clean motor coaches.
If you are planning a trip, particularly off the summer season, negotiate with the hotels. Let them know you are looking at properties in their vicinity and want to know what their absolute best rate is for the days you plan to be there.
Remembering Hurricane Matthew
Three years this October Hurricane Matthew overran this part of Grand Bahama Island. many roads, almost all the trees, and hundreds of houses lost to the storm. Business came to a standstill and devastation was everywhere. But the Bahamians hadn’t lost a human life, and their spirit was revived. They got together and cleared the roads, helped each other find lost pets, and shared belongings.
Slowly, restaurants reopened and often offered free meals to locals, who repaid the kindness with help clearing debris and fixing up.
Visiting Freeport in Spring of 2017, several wings of hotels, many restaurants, and lots of local businesses were already back in operation. Visiting in August of 2019, buildings that can’t be repaired were being demolished. Newly elevated roadways are well under construction. New building codes are in place. For one thing, no new wood-frame houses. It’s all stone and block now.
And the spirit of the Bahamas, friendly by nature and aware that tourism is the number-one industry, is fully back. Only to be over-landed by Hurricane Dorian, whose damage is still unforeseeable, but vast. The cost of lives and injuries steep.
The Junkanoo Festival
The Junkanoo Festival, where costumes favorably compare to the grandest in Las Vegas or at Mardi Gras, is in full swing.
Ride down the shore and see islands and piers made of conch shells, mountains of which testify to the critter’s versatility. You see conch everything – fritters, salads, even burgers. I started to think that there is no one “conch taste,” as each method of preparation yields a different experience.
By the way, it’s pronounced “conk.” The “ch” is hard. Don’t stand out as a tourist!
Local “lobster” is another treat. Unlike the two-claw crustaceans, local lobsters more resemble crayfish, with plenty of meat in the tail. And it’s delicious, prepared as many ways as you can imagine, with the drawn butter treatment topping the list.
At some all-inclusive resorts (and available à la carte at the many boutiques) are snorkeling and scuba diving, jet ski rentals, deep-sea fishing, boat and scooter rentals, and anything else you may want to do.
Seeking bucket list activities, I took a dive with the Bahamian dolphins. The Bahamian Dolphins are as friendly as the people. Under the guidance of the UNEXSO Dolphin Encounter we were safely taken on a journey of dolphin safety, theirs not ours. And how to make the most of our encounter.
At first, it’s daunting to be dangling your feet in the water and having a 400-pound critter come swimming directly beneath, everybody in our group of twenty or so pulled their feet out. And there were a few screams. However, within half an hour, we were hugging the beasts, petting their backs and bellies, and trading kisses. Yes, those friendly Bahamians kiss total strangers!
It seemed almost silly when I signed up, but truly, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I wouldn’t trade for a million dollars.
One member of our group made a quip about the price for the dolphin swim. They were given the option of a “shark encounter” for considerably less. My advice? Do the dolphins.
Prices in the Bahamas vary by season and island. Freeport is a different experience and price structure that Paradise Island. The thing to know is that deals are available year-round, particularly for groups, and a little pre-trip prep can save precious hours and dollars.
Many of the hotels double as local travel agents, happy to share good recommendations and their close associations with local transport, restaurants, and activities.
Customs laws and allowances change each year, so always check online, if you plan a buying trip. And you should plan a buying trip. Everything from mix-your-own perfumes to exotic candles and sculptures, to local brews and distillates, make great take-homes souvenirs and gifts.
Dorian has spent a considerable amount of time churning over and destroying the Bahamas. The damage is said to be unprecedented. But as they have before, they will mourn their dead, rebuild their homes and infrastructure and welcome the tourists that are the lifeblood, along with investment management and international banking back.
How can you help? Donations to the Red Cross and verified relief groups are always important. All donations, from small to large, help. On the phone with Fox News, Daphne Bannister, Director of Operations for Women Supporting Women Ministries in Nassau, The Bahamas, is asking for everyone’s prayers.
Then, plan your 2020 vacation to visit the Bahamas.
Join as they celebrate at their many festivals. Enjoy the warmth and the sun. Eat at small local restaurants. Tip well – from restaurants to maid service in the hotel.