The Bahamas is an English-speaking country consisting of 29 islands, 661 cays, and 2,387 islets. Since the Grand Bahamas are a mere 100 miles from Ft Lauderdale, FL, it makes for an easy weekend destination and as a result, receives an ungodly amount of tourists each year (over a million). We visited a mere two of the islands, Freeport on the island of Grand Bahamas, and Nassau on New Providence Island. Truth be told, Freeport has to be the ugliest looking industrial port we’ve encountered anywhere in the Caribbean. Thankfully, the seaside suburb of Lucaya is Freeport’s only saving grace with shopping opportunities for those so inclined as well as a decent beach. Nassau on the other hand was what we had been expecting, with an attractive harbor, colorful blend of old world and colonial architecture, and fantastic beaches. Nassau is the capital of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, and a whopping 80% of the population lives on this island.
12 Apr: Freeport, Grand Bahamas
Our cruise pulled into the very ugly industrial port of Freeport. Given that this was the first cruise ever for Bill and Laverne, it was a bit awful that their very first sight of a Caribbean port of call was Freeport! We had heard that there is absolutely nothing to do in Freeport, and knew we had to hop in a shared taxi to Port Lucaya on the other side of the island. Port Lucaya Marketplace and Marina was established in 1988, and is a 12 acre complex across from the beach in Lucaya. There is a casino, several straw market venues, souvenir shops galore, restaurants and bars. If we had to do it all over again, we would have pre-booked an excursion here since there really is little to do other than go shopping or get drunk at a local bar. Ah well, you live and you learn. Instead, we settled for a day at Lucaya where we checked out the dolphin programs at UNEXCO, did some souvenir shopping at the straw markets, and got suckered into attending a “resort tour” at the Taino Beach Resort. Had we realized this was another RCI membership brainwashing session, we would have absolutely refused to go. But intrigued by the free jetski rides, lunch buffet, rum and t-shirts deal, we didn’t realize until we reached the resort that this was going to be another of those high pressure sales tactics to join and become a member…”it’ll save you thousands of dollars during the course of your life and absolutely, you can will it to your heirs…blah, blah, blah”. We got away just as soon as we could and not a minute too soon, the rain started down pouring with force and we were drenched in a matter of minutes. Anywhere else but the Taino Resort and their pushy/rude salespeople was better, so we returned to Lucaya and checked out the beach. This was more our scene, with an empty pristine beach all to ourselves (the rain must have driven everyone else away?) and some friendly locals to chat up. With the rain diminishing, we realized we had to get back to the cruise ship and decided to take a shared taxi back. Overall, we probably would have had more fun staying on the cruise or else prebooking an excursion on this island. Lucaya warrants a brief visit, but is a bit boring unless you are really into shopping for overpriced souvenirs or getting hammered in a local bar. Needless to say, we won’t be in a rush to return to Freeport!
13 Apr: Nassau, New Providence Island
Woke up to bright sunshine and just knew today was going to be a better day than yesterday. After breakfast, we had some time to kill before our dolphin adventure so we decided to head out towards the Queen’s Staircase. This limestone staircase was built in the 1790s by slaves (carved from the limestone hill and bricked up afterwards), and was made of 66 steps (one for every year that Queen Victoria reigned). Only 65 steps remain today, and the entire staircase climbs a total of 102 feet to reach Fort Fincastle and the water tower. The staircase was originally built as an emergency evacuation route for the people in Fort Fincastle, but when Queen Victoria decided to abolish slavery in the Bahamas, they were renamed the “Queen’s Staircase”. We knew that at the top of the staircase, Ft Fincastle (free entry) provided a nice view of Nassau and the harbor. Getting to the staircase was easy…we just followed the signs and made our way towards a thin narrow walkway that was built between two high stone walls, with verdant green foliage and tropical plants lining either side of the walkway. We were so early that the vendors selling locals crafts hadn’t had time to set up their booths yet. Fort Fincastle is more like a rampart than a fort…it is a tiny structure that has three mobile cannons commanding a fine view over Nassau. Afterwards, we made our way back towards the port, where we were to meet the staff for our Dolphin Encounter ride to Blue Lagoon Island. We had prebooked this tour independently of the cruise ship, and found several other passengers who had done the same thing. Once everyone had gathered at the prearranged meeting point, we were led to the Dolphin Encounter boat where we had a short ride over to Atlantis (to pick up more passengers), and once filled to capacity, made our way towards the Blue Lagoon resort. Once at the Blue Lagoon resort, we were given a brief orientation about dolphins and an overview of what to expect today. We had opted to sign Bill & Laverne up for the Dolphin Encounter while we went with the Dolphin Observers (so we could take their photos). The Dolphin Encounter was pretty neat, with all participants able to kiss, pet, dance and pose next to the dolphins which are hilarious by the way. They were so eager for the trainer to throw a football which they would catch mid air. After the dolphin program, we decided to enjoy the lovely beach and calm lagoon. Hammocks were readily available (as were chair loungers), and the bartender was doing a great job making superb drinks. We got to see the other marine life at the Blue Lagoon to include Lucky the loggerhead turtle, who was adopted by the facility after she was attacked by a shark. The sea lions were also having a ball swimming about but we were more keen on catching some rays and soaking in the sun. By mid afternoon, we decided to head back towards Nassau and lucky for us, there was a rehearsal for “the opening of Parliament” on Rawson Square. The real deal was scheduled for tomorrow morning, but we got to watch as the military members in their smart uniforms paraded while the band marched along. A contingent of cabinet ministers, senators, senior government officials, and members of the Judiciary were in attendance for the dress rehearsal, and we thought this was just as good as the real thing.
After swinging by the cruise to grab a quick bite to eat, we headed out towards Atlantis Resort. Becky had researched beforehand that the aquarium there (dubbed “the Dig”) was fantastic, and more importantly, FREE after 1730 when the guards decided to leave for the day. Cruisecritic didn’t disappoint, and we happily found out that it was true…we could get something for free in the pricey Bahamas! The Dig was everything we imagined and more…its a series of aquariums located beneath the lobby of the Royal Towers and is the world’s largest open air marine habitat. Hundreds of different aquatic species can be spotted in the Dig’s various tanks such as angelfish, sharks, manta rays (one is larger than a whopping ten feet), eels, seahorses, jellyfish and more. While admiring the various tanks, it was obvious that whoever masterminded this ingenious idea was trying to replicate what the legendary city of Atlantis would look like today. We heard loud, boisterous music coming in from the outside, and were able to catch a Junkanoo (a street parade that is a traditional African parade consisting of elaborate floats, costumes, music, dance, and art). This Junkanoo was more simple, with music and colorful costumes to catch our wandering eye. Very cool! We headed back towards our cruise afterwards and all remarked how much we enjoyed Nassau. This is one island we wouldn’t mind coming back to experience more!