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Freeport's greatest distinction is that it's on the Bahamas' northernmost island. Located a mere 70 miles east of Palm Beach, 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 1950s, 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 Radisson Our Lucaya and adjacent Sheraton at Our Lucaya resorts.
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Other Bahamas Cruise Ports:
Castaway Cay • CocoCay • Freeport • Great Stirrup Cay • Half Moon Cay • Nassau • Princess Cays
Kalik Beer, brewed in the Bahamas.
A straw basket purchased at Bahamian Straw Crafts and the square 15-cent Bahamian coin you receive as part of your change.
English is the official language -- British, not American -- but it may be laced with Bahamian dialect.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency is the Bahamian dollar. No need to exchange, U.S. dollars are accepted throughout the islands. ATM's are available at banks, but few provide U.S. dollars.
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 Port Lucaya.
Very little. Sure, the port facilities look mighty pretty -- passengers arriving may spot pastel-colored bungalows scattered about, plus a gazebo under which plays a Bahamian band. But very few of the bungalows actually sport any kind of useful shop or service. It's all very ghost-town-ish, to be honest.
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 about $25; if you ride in a collective van with other visitors the fare is a quite reasonable $5 or so per person each way. Otherwise, you can rent a car; major firms like Avis (Airport; 800-331-1084) and Hertz-Red Kap Car Rental (Airport; 242-352-9250) will send a courtesy van from the airport. Important note: Drive on the left! Motor scooters are also available for rent.
Watch Out For
Pickpockets and thieves; best to not give them an opportunity. Take care to not purchase counterfeit or pirated goods, as bringing such products into the U.S. may result in forfeitures and/or fines. Also, take care to not disturb, harass or otherwise threaten wildlife; many birds, reptiles and animals are endangered or protected species.
As mentioned, these days Lucaya is the island's uber-destination. The town is anchored by two big hotels: The Radisson 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 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. The company provides transportation from cruise port.
Been There, Done That
At the 40-acre Lucayan National Park, the highlight is a seven-mile system of underwater caves, mangrove swamp and hiking trails (Gold Rock Beach is absolutely pristine). You can also take kayak and cycling tours. The caves, in particular, are fascinating; both Ben's Cave and Burial Mound Cave are inhabited by rare fish and underwater crustaceans (and, yuck, did we mention migratory bats in summer?).
At Garden of the Groves you'll find a 12-acre botanical destination with some 12,000 species of the colorful birds, plus Kodak-worthy flora and fauna. Open daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Magellan Drive; 242-374-7778)
Best All-Around Party and Recreation Beach: Lucayan Beach, which runs in front of Our Lucaya Beach Resort (comprised of the Sheraton and the Radisson), 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 surf is 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.
For local cuisine, try Becky's Restaurant, but stick to Bahamian fare. Open daily 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. (E. Sunrise Hwy. and E. Beach Drive; 242-352-5247)
At Mather Town Beach, try Margaritavilla Sand Bar on the sand road off Millionaire's Row for casual fare. American football on the T.V. on Sundays. Open for lunch and dinner. (Spanish Main; 242-373-4525)
At Taino Beach look for the thatch-roofed shack Tony Macaroni's, with its outdoor dining and amazing views. Its specialty is roast conch, but also serves conch salad, roast lobster and shrimp, and hot dogs. Open daily for lunch and dinner. (Taino Beach; 242-533-6766)
At Port Lucaya Marketplace, options abound, but two favorites are Cally's The After Deck, open daily from breakfast onward (242-373-8657) and Zorba's, open daily 7 a.m. – 10:45 p.m. (242-373-6137).
Sabor, in the garden of Pelican Bay Hotel overlooking Port Lucaya marina, has a fusion menu with a Latin beat that features the best seasonal catches and ingredients with menu item such as seared yellow fin tuna fillet or blue cheese burger. Open daily Lunch 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.; Happy Hour 5 – 6 p.m.; Dinner 6 – 9:30 p.m. (Sea Horse Road at Port Lucaya; 242-373-5588)
Flying Fish, formerly The Ferry House, offers seafood specialties in a posh setting. (open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday - Friday and for brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; Port Lucaya Marketplace; 242-373-4363)
Staying in Touch
In the Port Lucaya Marketplace, look for Cafe Breezes, Agave Restaurant, Sparky's Bar or Mamadoos Restaurant.
Coral Beach Bar also has unrestricted Wi-Fi.
In downtown Freeport, try Forbes Cyber Café.
For Active Types: A six-hour kayak 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 54-foot catamaran.
For Duffers: Take in some golf at the Lucayan Country Club.
For More Information
Call the Grand Bahama Island Tourism Board at 800-448-3386
On the Web: www.bahamas.com
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The Independent Traveler: Caribbean Exchange
-- Updated by Jodi Thompson, Cruise Critic contributor.