Ed Leahy gives his views on Grand Bahama Island.
The palm-tree lined lobby of the Grand Lucayan hotel is an old colonial-style Manor House, which harks back to the Bahamas’ prosperous plantation era.
The grandeur is immediately evident as you receive the warmest of welcomes from the friendly staff who started to explain the many activities available and facilities on offer throughout the sprawling resort and around the island.
However, a blue hue beckoned me towards the glass-walled back of the building; a warm sea breeze flowing through the high ceilinged interior.
The line of palm trees continued onto the outside lawn, which leads down to flawless white sands and that iconic turquoise sea.
This is what it is all about. This is the Bahamas. This is the Caribbean.
Idylic days will be spent lounging around the spectacular beach and pool area of the Grand Lucayan. Infinity pools, swim-up bars, outdoor restaurants, all bordered by the finest stretch of white sand leading down to the warm, gently lapping sea.
Grand Bahama Island is one of the most northern of the Bahamas archipelago, located just over fifty miles from the Florida coast and is the fourth largest island and second most popular tourist destination in the Bahamas. The Grand Lucayan is an award-winning resort, overlooking a 7.5-acre white-sand beach with 519 guestrooms including 27 suites and a Presidential Suite.
The Bahamian nightlife is just as renowned as its sunshine and sandy beaches and the opening evening kicked off with a local buffet and unlimited Bahama Mama cocktails at the Bonfire on the Beach.
An all-you-can-eat selection of chicken, rice & peas, ribs and salads sets you up for a party on the water’s edge. The rising of the moon is welcomed by a calypso beat and crackling bonfire timber as the dancing starts – confidence boosted by the quickly consumed rum punch.
There is no cocktails limit but one or two too many may see you end up in the obligatory limbo dancing competition, and that is one thing that never translates well to the video camera.
After a few days of uninterrupted bliss around the hotel’s swimming pools and spectacular strand, it was time to get out and see what the island had to offer.
But not before an extended breakfast at the hotel’s Willy Broadleaf restaurant, as the best of Caribbean fruits, combined with the finest freshly cooked pancakes, doused in maple syrup, set me up for a day in the field.
The Jeep Safari Tour was recommended as the best way to get a feel for the island, with the added bonus that you were assigned your own personal open-air 4x4 vehicle for the duration.
Setting out in the early morning sunshine, the five-hour tour, amidst a colourful convoy of jeeps, takes you across the island along excellent roads as well as off–road through pine forest and along a scenic coastal route.
The tour stops off at the island’s botanical gardens, the tropical Garden of the Groves, where you will have plenty of time to explore the lush tropical landscape with indigenous birds, trees and flowers as well as visiting the hillside chapel, waterfalls and a spiritual Labyrinth for meditation.
Back on the road, the tour takes you to some of the islands best beaches, where you should enjoy a stroll along the sand and indulge in a dip in the always-warm waters.
Grand Bahama Island is a nature lover's paradise with a multitude of locations for hiking, biking, bird watching, horseback riding and paddling.
An alternative day tour, and one of the most popular on the island, is the Kayak Nature Tour, which takes you on a gentle paddle up the mangrove creeks through the Lucayan National Park.
And as Grand Bahama Island is surrounded by the crystalline ocean, the entire coastline becomes a playground for water sports enthusiasts, from boating or jet-skiing to kite-boarding and para-sailing.
Shallow areas are filled with coral reefs and submerged rocks, creating an abundant underwater world for fishing, snorkelling and diving, while shark-feeding dives, dolphin encounters and other adventurous dives can be arranged through UNEXSO.
Back at the hotel and staying on the eighth floor, the spacious dual-aspect balcony proved the perfect place to enjoy the early evening sunshine, while the panoramic views varied from the beach and sea, right around to the nearby marina.
The Marina and surrounding complex provide a great alternative to the hotel’s restaurants for a night out, with a range of dining options available, live music in the square and the obligatory Irish Bar.
Another morning, another monster buffet breakfast at Willy Broadleaf’s before heading off on a tour of Grand Bahama Island’s western tip, the coastal village of West End.
The quiet fishing village is steeped in Bahamian and American history and the very informative guide narrated a catalogue of interesting tales of pirates and bootlegging, sponging and rum running to stories of the rich and famous who frequented the island.
The tour included a break for lunch at a traditional Bahamian café, where the freshest conch fritters were enjoyed listening to the endless stream of West End stories, followed by a stroll along the quay where tons of strewn, empty conch shells provide a most natural pink aesthetic.
The tour took an unexpected, yet most welcome, twist after lunch as we rolled up to Paradise Cove for an afternoon on the beach, snorkelling in the crystal clear waters around Deadman’s Reef. Calypso beats boom out from the Red Bar, where a pina colada or two might easy the body after the extended sea time and prepare you for the inevitable sunburnt back.
Back at the hotel, there is an endless range of activities available if you are able to prise yourself away from the infinity pool and Caribbean waters. Tennis enthusiasts can chose from clay, grass and hard courts, while there are two championship golf courses located in close proximity.
Stay active on the hotel’s jogging paths, basketball and volleyball courts or take the relaxation levels up another notch at the Senses Spa & Fitness Center, a holistic retreat with top-quality equipment, a salon and a spa boutique.
With seven restaurants to choose from at Grand Lucayan, you can vary from classic Bahamian fare like the aforementioned conch fritters, benny cake and guava duff to an array of international cuisine.
The pick of the bunch was reserved for my final night on the island as dinner was enjoyed at the most elegant Churchill’s, which features Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, fresh-caught seafood, succulent steaks and decadent desserts.
House specialties include lobster and wild mushroom risotto, veal marsala and veal osso bucco, while the service and setting are first class, all accompanied by a perfect piano soundtrack that will remain in the memories long after you return from this tropical paradise.
Getting there & Where to Stay
The award-winning Grand Lucayan offers a classic Bahamian experience just 55-miles from the Florida coast. Enjoy a Christmas and New Year to remember in a stunning setting with savings of up to 50% on stays between December 20th 2013 and January 1st 2014. The resort will ring in the New Year with the legendary moves and sounds of the Temptations.
For more information on Grand Lucayan or to book your festive stay visit www.grandlucayan.com
Take advantage of easy connections to the Bahamas via the US with flights from New York and Boston available with American Airlines (www.americanairlines.ie). Flights to the US from Ireland are accessible with Aer Lingus (www.aerlingus.com).
For more information about Grand Bahama Island, visit: www.bahamas.co.uk