‘Living it up in The Bahamas’

Jan 30, 2021
Freeport Dock in the Bahamas. Source: Liz Sier

Our embarkation process from West Palm Beach, Florida, was delayed by the late release of the previous passengers by the police! Yes, the whole cruise was detained on arrival in port by police investigating the suicide of one of its passengers overnight. Apparently he had been seen jumping overboard and the ship had turned around to search for him, in vain.

Thankfully there were no such dramas on our cruise. We had purchased it as part of a timeshare/holiday club promotion. It involved an overnight on the ship, two nights at the Flamingo Bay Resort and another overnight cruise back to West Palm Beach. During the embarkation process, we were offered a chance to sign up for the specialty restaurant or book ahead for the formal dining room. There were also offers of discount wine packages, so we took that one. We also signed up for an ‘Around the World’ wine tasting, so as soon as we had put our gear in our cabin, we headed off for a very pleasant hour or so of sampling wine from the US, Spain, Argentina, France and Italy – even before the cruise departed. Other cruisers had immediately descended upon the pools and poolside deck, where there was live music and a crowd doing line-dancing! People were committed to having fun and not wasting a minute of this weekend.

Cabins on this ship were either inside or ocean view. There were no balconies. The cabins were much smaller than the ones we had been familiar with, but since you spend most of your waking hours in other parts of the ship, it does not matter. The ship was also a lot older and seedier, but perhaps we had been spoiled on the Celebrity line. Although it was a much smaller ship, there were bars, a theatre, a buffet and formal dining. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 crisis, this ship has since been withdrawn from service and sold for scrap.

The song “Kokomo” had always inspired me to go to The Bahamas, with its connotations of sun, sea, snorkelling and holiday vibes. Apart from that, I knew nothing about it, so I was surprised to learn The Bahamas was not actually in the Caribbean, but in the Atlantic, with Grand Bahama about 163 kilometres south-east of West Palm Beach. It is an independent country with a British heritage and is still a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. There are 16 major islands and hundreds of cays in the group, but the main ones are Grand Bahama and New Providence, of which Nassau is the capital.

The cruise line provided a continuous cruise shuttle out of West Palm Beach for those who just want a day on Grand Bahama, or you could stay a couple of days, like we did in Freeport, The Bahamas’ second largest city, specifically at the Flamingo Bay Resort, which shares facilities with the Taino Beach Resort. The resort has the largest pool on the island, with a hidden swim-up bar in a grotto, over which the waterslide curls and propels its riders into the pool below. It’s tempting to visit during happy hour to get the two-for-one special cocktails and follow them up with an exhilarating slide!

Flamingo Bay has its own marina, where you can take various boat trips and snorkelling excursions, as well as the water shuttle into Port Lucaya Marina and Marketplace for the shopping and restaurants, as well as the casino. Our room looked out onto the marina, so it was very convenient. We took the snorkelling trip straight out from Taino Beach to a very pretty reef filled with colourful coral and many types of fish, including the resident barracuda and some stingrays. Hubby also managed to get in another round of golf at the Reef Course while I hit the shops. The Reef Golf Course is regarded as one of the Caribbean’s finest, and is based on Scottish-style courses.

The Port Lucaya Marketplace is the largest open-air shopping, dining and entertainment facility in The Bahamas, with more than 40 specialty stores and boutiques, 11 restaurants and 11 bars – even an Irish Pub! Built to emulate the 19th-century building style of the Old Bahamas, it boasts of a wide variety of duty-free stores, two generously stocked Straw Markets, two Craft Centres and Push Carts filled with Bahamian crafts and souvenirs. In the evenings, the Count Basie Square hosts a band playing Bahamian music. We made sure to eat there at night so we could enjoy the musical entertainment. A couple of nights a week the restaurant on the foreshore at Taino Beach puts on an all-you-can-eat-and-drink buffet and bonfire, with a fire-dancer and lots of games for adults. It certainly was an entertaining night watching guests make fools of themselves!

Count Basie Square. Source: Liz Sier

Our time on the island concluded with a private taxi tour around Port Lucaya, Freeport and the residential areas such as Millionaire’s Row (Grand Bahama’s version of Beverly Hills) and then what our driver called the “native” settlements, where she lived. She explained that the earliest people on the islands were known as the Siboney, which later were replaced by an Arawak tribe called Taino or Lucayans, from which the Lucayan National Park, and the Port get their name. However these disappeared with the conquest by Spain and the islands were later settled by the British, particularly those, who with their slaves, were expelled from the American colonies after their independence. So the current “native” population is made up of the descendants of the emancipated slaves.

The Lucayan National Park is a major drawcard and boasts an intricate underwater cave system, but we did not have time to explore it. We did see where the annual hurricane onslaughts had done their damage to vegetation and buildings, and at the time of our visit there was still much needing repair. The popularity and proximity of The Bahamas for US holiday makers will help the community restore itself once tourism opens up again.

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