by Eleanor Keymer, The Telegraph, May 18, 2019
The question is more "why wouldn’t you go?" with paradisiacal beaches, technicoloured flora and fauna and astonishing snorkelling opportunities. Grand Bahama has been catering for cruise passengers and weekend holiday makers for decades (the island is just 80km off the coast of the US) so also has drinking, dining and drollery down to an art form. While Freeport is closest to the harbour, there are limited sites on offer in the town so passengers usually head straight to Port Lucaya, the tourist hub of the island.
Cruise port location
Freeport is a popular cruise ship destination and three ships can dock at the Lucayan Harbour Cruise Facility, located 15km to the west of the town. Port Lucaya is a 10-minute taxi or shuttle-bus ride from the port.
Can I walk to any places of interest?
No. While the cruise facility has an attractive shopping and restaurant complex to explore, you will need a taxi or shuttle-bus to take you further afield into Freeport or Port Lucaya.
If you’re feeling adventurous, then reliable local buses operate from 7am until sunset and are a cheap and easy way of navigating the island, as well as getting to and from Port Lucaya. There are also plenty of taxis available: make sure you agree a rate or use the metre before you start off on your journey. If you have more time to explore, then why not hire a scooter to seek out the more remote beaches and coves. Just remember to drive on the left!
What to see and do
There is an abundance of onshore and offshore excursions available to cruise passengers but, if you like the idea of uncovering some of the island’s lesser known secrets or sipping a rum with the locals, then striking out independently is advised.
What can I do in four hours or less?
For shorter visits, you can join an activity-based tour which will take you to and from your ship in the allocated time. Why not wander around the glorious Garden of the Groves offering the sun-weary traveller shade among the lush foliage while rainbow-streaked hummingbirds, warblers and thrushes sip nectar from obliging flowers?
If you’d rather take a peek at life under the water, you can join a glass bottom boat tour and gaze at the residents of the coral reefs without having to get your toes wet. That said, it seems a shame not to splash about in the aqua-stained surf and there are a number of catamaran operators willing to sail passengers along the coast before dropping anchor while you snorkel among your marine mates.
What can I do in eight hours or less?
A full day’s excursion gives you more opportunities to enjoy the island’s stunning scenery and may combine one or more sites.
Lucayan National Park boasts one of the largest underwater cave systems in the world and, although swimming is prohibited, two of the caves are easily accessible on foot. The park also has a number of trails with excellent bird watching and picnicking opportunities as well as access to the stunning rippled sands of Gold Rock Beach.
On the topic of comely beaches, the popular Lucaya Beach offers a plethora of water-based activities while Taino Beach is child-friendly – kids will love the Pirates Cove Zipline and Waterpark – with plenty of eating establishments nearby. Pinetree Stables offers guided horseback trail rides ending with a glorious trot along the beach and wade in the glittering shallows.
For those wanting to practice their golf swing, there are some spectacular courses on the island including the award-winning Grand Lucayan Reef Course.
Eat and drink
Conch (cracked, roasted, in salads or burgers) and coconut (in tarts, jams and savoury dishes) are the culinary kings in the Bahamas, preferably washed down with a potent ‘Gully Wash’ cocktail made with gin, condensed milk and – you’ve guessed it – coconut.
In fact, such is the popularity of these favorites that two festivals celebrate them every year: the McLean’s Town Conch Cracking Festival in October and the Pelican Bay Coconut Festival in April, both of which are well worth a visit.
Don’t leave the island without…
As the name suggests, Freeport is something of a duty-free mecca after the city was designated a free trade zone back in the 1950s. Head to the Port Lucaya Marketplace – a buzzy open air shopping and restaurant zone – to find duty free bargains and local crafts. Beautiful, locally-produced, batik prints featuring pineapple, coral and dolphin motifs make delightful souvenirs as do the straw hats, bags and accessories. Bargaining is encouraged so haggle hard.
Need to know
There are no direct flights between the UK and Grand Bahama but you can fly to Miami (10 hours) and then take a 30-minute connecting flight to Grand Bahama International Airport.
There have been increased reports of violent crime, including robbery, towards tourists in Grand Bahama, Freeport and Nassau. However, if you remain vigilant, leave any valuables on the ship and take taxis after dark then you should have a trouble-free trip.
Make sure you only use accredited tour operators and, if you decide to partake in water sports, check their safety equipment and guidelines.
Best time to go
Grand Bahama is a year-round destination with peak season – and peak season prices – found between December to April. Owing to the island’s close proximity to Florida, this destination is extremely popular with US tourists; something to keep in mind around Spring Break in February and March when young Americans descend en masse to party their pennies away. The crowds also congregate between Christmas and New Year when the popular street carnival Junkanoo takes place. Hurricane season rolls in from June to November so arriving in mid-January to mid-February should hit the sweet spots of glorious weather and uncrowded streets.
Shops and attractions are open Mondays to Saturdays, while Sundays tend to be quieter with fewer shops open.