Two hours from the Port Everglades in Miami lies Freeport, on the island of Grand Bahama. Veronica and I had been living and working in South Beach, Miami, for a month, and the option of popping to the Bahamas for the weekend was too irresistible an opportunity to pass up. Imagine that! “I’m just off to the Bahamas. See you on Monday.” Well, people who live in Miami can say that. In fact, some do a day trip. In Singapore, we sometimes pop to Thailand, Indonesia, or the Philippines for the weekend, which is equally exotic, but now all too familiar….and so the Bahamas would be the perfect end to our little adventure in this part of the world.
The Ferry ride from hell
The ferry left early on Saturday morning, so to get there we had to be picked up by bus from the corner of Collins and 13. Check-in was fast and efficient, and soon we were on board the large, somewhat sparse ferry. It wasn’t particularly busy, there were a couple of families, couples, small groups of holidaying friends, some on day trips and some on overnight stays (differentiated by the colour of sticker put on their clothes). It was free seating, and Veronica and I sat down and started eating our McDonalds breakfast. The ferry set off on time, and immediately, the ‘customer service executives’ began handing out sick bags. I thought it a tad unnecessary, until 20 minutes into the trip. Waves were high, the ferry practically lifted off at times before crashing back down, and the feeling in the stomach was akin to the feeling you get as you fly down a huge drop on a rollercoaster – except this ride lasted 2 hours instead of 2 minutes. I closed my eyes and willed my McMuffin to stay down. It did, but Veronica reluctantly gave up her breakfast to the vomit bag. She wasn’t alone. The whole boat was full of the sounds of people throwing up, groaning, whimpering. The sounds had replaced the earlier whoops of joy each time the ferry was thrown up and down at the mercy of the swells. Some tried in vain to get up and run to the toilet to be more discreet in their chundering, but they couldn’t get there without crawling – the ferry was swaying so much it was as though you were trying to walk in a straight line during an earthquake. Throughout, the customer service executives, or ‘vomit attendants’ daintily skipped around the ship handing out extra vomit bags, taking away those bags full to bursting, and bringing water to those in need, big smiles on their faces. They were obviously used to it. Perhaps to work on one of these ferries you need to pass the ‘vomit test’ first – get to Freeport and back in choppy seas without throwing your guts up, and you’re hired.
Grand Lucayan opulence and Port Lucayan Marketplace’s local character – the perfect combination
As we neared the Bahamas, the seas got calmer, the boat slowed down, and we began to get ready to get off. The day-trippers were off first, their faces grey, looking haunted by the thought that they would have to go through it all again in just 8 hours. Then we got off. A bus was on had to pick us up and shuttle us directly to our hotel – it was all part of the package I’d bought in Miami. We arrived at the hotel – the Grand Lucayan – the ‘epitome of luxury and tranquility’ in Freeport. The lobby is probably the most beautiful I’ve seen. We were welcomed by a lady with a big Bahamian smile, who told us our room would be ready in an hour or so. Vero and I changed into our beach wear, left our bags with the concierge, went through the elegant lobby and out of the back onto a huge, perfectly manicured lawn, and behind that, the ocean. To the left is an infinity pool, gym and spa. To the right another pool, restaurants and a lovely white-sand beach lapped by the turquoise sea. It’s a huge place. We sat down by the pool and ordered a very sub-standard burger and a coke for an extortionate price. It didn’t matter. We were in the Bahamas now, we were in paradise. When we finally got into our room, we had all the more reason to be cheerful. We had an ocean view room, a high floor, and subsequently enjoyed sweeping views of the hotel grounds, the beach, and the sea. I could have spent the whole day on the balcony supping cold beer and enjoying that vista. But we were here for only a couple of days, and needed to try and make the most of it. We spent the next couple of hours walking up and down the beach, feeling the Bahamas beneath our feet and gently refusing the repeated attempts by various beach vendors to get us to buy something. Later, we headed back through the hotel lobby and across to the marina. It was pleasant. The sun was up, there were no clouds, but there was a stiff breeze that chilled us a bit. It was perfect weather for a walk. Around the marina area is a colourful local shopping/ entertainment area, called Port Lucayan Marketplace. It’s quaint, and full of local flavour and character -far more interesting than staying in the confines of the resort hotel. Veronica and I wandered around, but it was still afternoon and so pretty quiet, and too early for a famous Bahama mama cocktail. We bought some drinks and snacks from the supermarket, so as to avoid paying the outrageous hotel prices for anything, and headed back to have a swim and then get ready to go out. The evening was spent bar-hopping in the Marketplace.
We woke to a gloriously sunny day – warmer than the day before, and we decided to go to Paradise Cove for the day. We took a private car there, and the journey there passed through a number of small villages, giving us a look at real Bahamian life away from the resorts. As in many such places, there is a huge gap between the haves and the have-nots. Dilapidated buildings, streets littered with broken down old cars, kids in tatty old clothes running around with no shoes….it was about as far-removed from the Grand Lucayan as you could get.
We arrived in Paradise Cove, and taken to a small restaurant / activity centre to have a look at things to do. Veronica and I had a beer and tried the local speciality – conch burger, then we decided to go snorkelling. Paradise Cove is famous for its snorkelling – in fact its regarded as the best snorkelling spot in the Bahamas. It didn’t disappoint. After swimming for some 10 minutes over dead, grey coral, you come to some beautiful areas, and then a nauseating drop-off into the deep. We saw a few huge turtles too. After an hour,we headed back to shore and went off to find a private spot on the beach to relax with another beer. All too soon, the departure time came, and we headed back to the hotel.
Bahama Mamas and Bonfires
That evening, we decided to go to the ‘bonfire BBQ’ event – a once a week event organised by the hotel. We were picked up in a bus and ferried off to another beach and to a restaurant. Two loud and obnoxious bartenders were serving very strong bahama mamas, and brazenly asking for tips, which is something they may have picked up from the Americans. It was more direct than in Miami, though, where they say ‘If you’d like to show your appreciation.’ Here, it was, “Tips! Give me your tips!” They made a fortune. The buffet started, and I suddenly remembered why I hate big organised tours, or resorts or any of that stuff. A huge line of around 150 people formed, and it took me ages to get anything, especially as most of the yanks seemed to be filling up two plates each. Veronica and I made some short-term friends in the queue, and enjoyed the rather pointless getting-to-know-you conversation that rarely leaves you feeling you’ve learned anything new. After eating our fill we gathered around the bonfire. It was chilly again, the wind causing me to buy a light sweater with the word ‘Bahamas’ written on it. The bonfire warmed the soul as it was accompanied by some drummers playing traditional rhythms….it had them limbo dancing inside. By now everyone was in high spirits. We got the bus back to the hotel, headed to Marketplace for a Rum Runner, and then, full of rum and meat, we headed back to the Grand Lucayan to crash.
We woke up at a reasonable time the next morning, and checked out. We still had the morning and most of the afternoon to kill, so we spent it at the different pools, and walking up and down the beach. Today was the warmest day of the trip, and the ocean was a more brilliant display of shades of blues, the beach was whiter, and we were sad to leave. We got the ferry back to Miami. Thankfully, it was a smooth ride. We enjoyed our brief stay in the Bahamas, and will be back again for sure.