Freeport, Grand Bahama
Freeport, Grand Bahama Overview
Freeport's greatest distinction is that it's on the Bahamas' nearest island to Miami. Located a mere 50 miles east, Grand Bahama Island is a regular on the short-cruise circuit from South Florida. But the isle, the fourth largest in the Bahamas' 700-strong chain, also owes its popularity to its beaches -- pretty, smooth white sand rings Grand Bahama Island -- and its water sports, from snorkeling to deep sea fishing.
In the 1950's, the island realized its great potential for tourism-related revenue when Wallace Groves, an American financier from Virginia, proposed building a town that both appealed to visitors and sufficiently supported industry. Since then, Freeport has boomed with hotels, restaurants, casinos and most recently eco-tourism attractions like Lucayan National Park. Its island atmosphere and miles of sunny beaches coupled with its close proximity to the United States, makes the Bahamas, and specifically Freeport, a top choice for Americans anxious to take a vacation.
Indeed, Lucaya and its marketplace have evolved into the tourist hub of the island, partly through design and partly because of the hurricane damage to other parts of Freeport. The International Bazaar offers a collection of shops and restaurants with themes inspired from places around the world, and though some tourist shops and a small Straw Market are still operating, that shopping area, once one of Freeport's biggest tourist attractions, has lost many of its stores to Port Lucaya Marketplace (not to be confused with Port Lucaya, where ships dock). Freeport's got everything from shops and beaches to restaurants and a casino -- not to mention two major golf courses, part of The Westin at Our Lucaya and adjacent Sheraton at Our Lucaya resorts.
Freeport, Grand Bahama Quick Facts
As mentioned, these days Lucaya is the island's uber-destination. The town is anchored by two big hotels: The Westin at Our Lucaya and The Sheraton at Our Lucaya. Port Lucaya Marketplace offers tourists shopping at more than 70 boutiques, as well as a handful of restaurants and the Count Basie Square, where entertainment is offered in the evenings. The Isle of Capri Casino is open for -- you guessed it -- gambling. Duffers can golf at the Lucayan and Reef courses, part of the hotels. The beaches here are marvelous, and offer all the key services from Jet Ski rentals to ocean-front bars.
The International Bazaar, located closer to the heart of Freeport, was unfortunately hit hard by Hurricane Frances, and most of its better-known shops eventually fled to Port Lucaya Marketplace (though there are still some trinket shops, even our tour guide suggested we bypass this once famed attraction).
In Freeport proper there's not much to see, though the island's open-air fruit market is a minor curiosity; it's located across from the Winn Dixie supermarket. The best thing to buy there isn't fruit at all, but a homemade red pepper sauce that's incongruously sold in half-pint liquor bottles. The sauce -- a Bahamian specialty -- is a great spicer-upper for meat and vegetables.
If you're interested in swimming or diving with dolphins, Unexso (www.unexso.com) offers a variety of encounters.
Go snorkeling or scuba diving at Paradise Cove at Deadman's Reef, on the island's west end. In addition to the reef, you also can see underwater archaeological excavations.
Best All-Around Party and Recreation Beach: Lucayan Beach, which runs in front of Our Lucaya Beach Resort (comprised of the Sheraton and the Westin), has water sports outfitters, bars, restaurants and equipment rentals. Another candidate is Mather Town Beach, about three miles from Port Lucaya. There are limited water activities, but it's a great place to swim, eat, drink and hang out with the locals.
Best Family Beach: Taino Beach, in front of the Ritz Beach Resort, offers water sports, and the waters themselves are calm enough for kids.
Most Peaceful Beach: Gold Rock Beach, part of Lucayan National Park, is protected by the National Trust. There aren't many services -- bring your own lunch -- but it's gorgeous and away from the crowds. While you're there, check out the birdwatching trails.
Taxis line up at the pier; if you are taking a taxi to the beach, arrange a time for your driver to pick you up. A taxi for two to Lucaya will cost $25; if you ride in a collective van with other visitors the fare is a quite reasonable $5 per person each way. Otherwise, you can rent a car; major firms like Avis and Hertz will send a courtesy van from the airport. Important note: Drive on the left! Motor scooters are also available for rent.
Where You're Docked
Ships dock at Lucaya Harbor, a 10-minute drive from the city of Freeport and about a 25-minute ride from Lucaya.
Staying in Touch
In the Port Lucaya Marketplace, look for .Com Cybercafe.
For Active Types: A six-hour paddling tour through Freeport's Lucayan National Park takes you through inland creeks of the mangroves (and offers some beach time).
For Families (or those who just want to relax): Go sailing and snorkeling on a catamaran.
For Duffers: Take in some golf at the Lucayan Country Club.
Bahamian Dining: For local cuisine, try Fat Man's Nephew (Port Lucaya Marketplace, open all day) orBecky's Restaurant (one mile east of Royal Oasis, open all day); order the conch.
Great Beach Joints: At Mather Town Beach, head for Club Caribe (Churchill Beach at Mather Town, closed Monday). At Taino Beach, there's Tony Macaroni (open daily for lunch and dinner).
Port Lucaya Marketplace: Options abound, but two favorites (beyond the aforementioned Fat Man's Nephew) are Cally's Restaurant (open daily from breakfast onward) and Zorba's Greek (open daily for breakfast and lunch).
Beachfront Lucaya: Incredibly hard to resist is the Westin's Prop Club. This hangar-like bar and restaurant sits right on the beach, with windows thrown wide open to create a near-ocean-air experience. Food is basic snack fare (burgers and the like). It's a wholesome place for families, too, and ultra casual -- you can walk right in from the beach.
Gourmet Lunching: The Ferry House Restaurant (open for lunch Monday - Friday; dinner every night but Monday) is a destination in its own right. It's got a fabulous martini bar and a menu that reflects the chef's Scandinavian origins.
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