Due to its proximity to Florida --only 50 miles east of Palm Beach -- Grand Bahama Island is a popular destination for many Floridians for a quick, grab-your-beach-towel-and-go fun day getaway by cruise ship. Grand Bahama-bound ships sail from Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach and offer short cruises --generally, one- and two-days -- that can be combined with land packages at resorts and hotels on Grand Bahama Island for a longer vacation. Other big draws are the island's beaches and other natural attractions, great fishing, snorkeling and diving, as well as its relatively affordable prices.
The island's main areas are Freeport and Lucaya. Freeport is landlocked, in the center of Grand Bahama, with hotels shops and other businesses. Here travelers find the International Bazaar, once one of the island's most visited shopping areas, which has fallen to a state of disrepair due to the closure of the Crowne Plaza, a mega-resort in downtown Freeport. Lucaya is a bustling waterfront collection of hotels, restaurants and shops next to a saltwater pond on the island's southern shore.
Most cruise passengers who sail to Grand Bahama Island hit the beach first. Among the island's most popular beaches are Xanadu Beach, Lucayan Beach and Taino Beach. Xanadu Beach, a mile long and with a backdrop of coconut palms and other vegetation, offers opportunities for water sports including parasailing and jet-skiing.
For a close-encounter with dolphins, a program is available at the Underwater Explorer Society next to Port Lucaya. During this Dolphin Experience, visitors can observe the dolphins, enjoy a talk by a member of the staff and interact with these intelligent creatures in a shallow wading platform. The dolphins are free to swim out to sea through an underwater gate that prevents their predators from entering the dolphins' habitat and the dolphins are also free to return to the habitat if they wish.
Other popular attractions include the Garden of the Groves, a 12-acre botanical garden with a wide variety of plants including orchids, petting zoo, children's playground and arts and crafts village. It is on Magellan Drive and Midshipman Road, near the International Bazaar. Nature lovers will wish to check out the Lucayan National Park, a 40-acre park on Settlers Way at the eastern end of East Sunrise Highway featuring a beach and freshwater cavern system, and the Rand Nature Centre, a 99-acre facility with nature trails that showcase the flora of the island on East Settlers Way.
Eco-friendly activities on Grand Bahama Island include biking in Lucayan National Park, and hiking in the Rand Nature Center, horseback riding, and sea kayaking.
Not-to-be-missed local flavors include conch, which is prepared a number of ways including fried, stewed, cracked and in chowders. Places to enjoy it include Iries in Our Lucaya --try the cracked conch (grilled) with a spicy sauce. Another restaurant to sample cracked conch is Billy Joel's on the Beach on Lucayan Beach. Try the conch salad at Becky's restaurant, midway between downtown Freeport and Port Lucaya.
Arts and crafts created by Bahamian artisans make delightful souvenirs. A good place to browse and purchase handicrafts is at the Port Lucaya Marketplace. Visitors may also wish to check out the straw market adjacent to the International Bazaar in Freeport.
Among the lines that call regularly on Grand Bahama Island are Celebration Cruise Line and Discovery Cruise Line.
IF YOU GO -- For additional information on Grand Bahama Island, visit www.bahamas.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun