First Impression: Freeport and Port Lucaya have come a long way in the last few years, becoming a strong, beautiful tourist attraction with an enviable array of resorts, entertainment, restaurants, spas and pristine beaches to just relax and have fun—it’s an absolute water-sports and beach lover’s playground. But it’s also woven with a rich tapestry of culture, arts and landmarks that makes it just as recreational for those seeking more sedate activities than high-octane thrills. The many adventures you can participate in have become an art form in itself and behold a tremendous adventure for families and couples on getaway. You’ll have the most amazing experience, you may never want to leave this island paradise!
Time Zone: The islands of the Bahamas operate on Eastern Standard Time (EST).
Transportation: The Bahamas is the most popular port of call for Caribbean cruise lines, especially Nassau. The Nassau International Airport services many regular flights from the U.S., Canada, and overseas. Nassau is also a popular port hub to all other islands in the Bahamas. There are no buses to and from the airport, and few resorts offer shuttle services, so you most likely will need a taxi or to arrange transport service from some of the big-name agencies at the airport. The government fixes the rates, so there’s no need to bargain for cheaper rates. Taxis are plentiful, as well as water taxis. Taxis line up at the pier; if you’re 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 at $5 or so per person each way. There are frequent buses running as well. If you choose to rent a car to get around, keep in mind that they drive on the left side of the road in the Bahamas. You can also rent motor scooters for getting around town.
Documentation & Customs: In order to enter the Bahamas, you will need to show a valid passport. For U.S. citizens, if you are out of the country for 2 or more days, you are allowed up to $600 of duty-free merchandise, including 32 oz. or less of tobacco products and 2 liters or less of alcohol. Canadian citizens out of the country for more than 7 days are allowed up to $300 in duty-free merchandise, including 16 oz. or less of tobacco products and 40 oz. or less of alcohol products. Check with local experts on European policies.
Currency: The Bahamian Dollar is the official currency, but it is equivalent to the U.S. Dollar. The U.S. Dollar is widely accepted, as are most credit cards and traveler’s checks, but not Euros. You will want to do some currency exchange before you leave overseas so you have either currency on hand. Check with your bank for exchange rates and know them well.
Weather: Freeport is idyllic year-round, with a tropical climate and mild winters. Temperatures rarely drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (F) (16 °C). Average temperatures range in the low to upper 80s (F), with water temperatures varying between 72° and 78 degrees F. The winters are usually cool and dry, with temperatures in the mid-60s to 70s (degrees Fahrenheit), while the summers are usually hot and wet. Sunscreen is a year-round necessity, especially in the summer months, as sunburns can be intense and dangerous. Hats for balding or shaved heads also help prevent scalp sunburns. Although a freeze has never been reported in the Bahamas, snow was reported to have mixed with rain in Freeport in January 1977, the same time that it snowed in the extreme southern Miami, Florida area. The temperature was about 4.5 degrees C (40.1 degrees F) at the time. Hurricane season lasts from June through November of every year.
Communications: The Bahamas offers direct-dial phone service worldwide. Many resorts offer high-speed Internet access, if you wish to check your email or upload pictures of your adventures. Ask your cell-phone carrier about service and pricing in Freeport. Many carriers will prorate the monthly international service charge for only the number of days you are out of the country.
Electricty: The Bahamas uses the same standard voltage for electrical appliances as the U.S. and Canada. Any electric appliances that you bring, such as a hair dryer or shaver, may need an adapter. Coming from Europe or Australia, you will need to call your hotel beforehand to check on what you will need.
Rich History: The first known residents of Grand Bahama Island were the Siboney Indians who lived during the Stone Age. The Taino Arawaks eventually canoed from South America and colonized the island and the rest of the Caribbean around 1000 B.C. The Arawaks on Grand Bahama Island were known as Lucayans. When the Spanish arrived in 1492, there were some 4,000 Lucayans residing there and part of a well-organized social and political culture. After the Spanish occupation, the Lucayans died out quickly, likely due to the European-introduced diseases. The Bahamas were eventually claimed by Great Britain in 1670, bringing the piracy under control. For the next few hundred years, Grand Bahama Island was a rather quiet island, with only a relative few residents living on the West End. In 1834, when Great Britain banned slavery, former slaves living on the Islands of the Bahamas were permitted to stake claim on open land. Many of the oldest settlements were founded by former slaves and are thriving communities today. By the mid 20th century, Grand Bahama Island was still the least developed of the Bahama Islands. In 1955 Wallace Groves, a Virginia investor, saw the potential for turning the island into a resort playground for the wealthy elite. After negotiating with the Bahamian government, he began work on the construction of Freeport. It grew quickly in popularity, especially with the addition of the harbor—Port Lucaya was added in 1962. Freeport is now the capital of Grand Bahama Island and the second most populated city in the Bahamas, after Nassau. Tourism is the foundation of the island’s economy and shows no signs of slowing down.
Local Flavor: Although you can find almost any kind of international food in the Bahamas from sushi to lasagna, some dishes are unique to the Islands of The Bahamas, like broiled fish and grits, conch (in many varieties), minced lobster, Bahamian crawfish, peas ‘n rice, Johnny cake (a pan-cooked bread) and guava duff, a delicious dessert. The restaurants of Freeport and Port Lucaya offer a wide variety of cuisine that will satisfy every budget and appetite. Whatever you’re looking for, there’s an eatery on Grand Bahama Island to satisfy your cravings. Some of the most popular eateries include: Azure Café, a sophisticated Italian restaurant; The Maine Dining Room for American fare, with seafood specialties, and a delightful atmosphere and ambience that includes a cozy fireplace; the charming Corsican Restaurant is great for families and serves Italian and local fare; there’s also farm-to-table fresh American cuisines and sumptuous seafood at Broad Arrow Tavern; some of Freeport’s best pizza and pasta is found at Antonia’s Pizzeria; grab better than average breakfasts at The Freeport Café; enjoy casual atmosphere and delicious pub fare at Gritty McDuff’s on lower Main Street; local cuisine great for entertaining and romantic dinners are found at Conundrum; satisfy BBQ cravings at Buck’s Naked BBQ; experience an enchanting Parisian-style tea room with great food and superb teas at Jacqueline’s Tea Room; Westin Lucaya’s Iries Restaurant and Bar specializes in gourmet Caribbean, Cuban, Jamaican and Bahamian fare; Thai Garden Restaurant is a locally treasured and frequented Freeport Thai eatery; try unique versions of traditional dishes at The Ferry House Restaurant where the restaurant’s bar floats on pontoons, beneath a canvas canopy and overlooks the waters of Bell Channel; Harbour Room is a popular Cajun, Creole, Caribbean restaurant and night club located in Port Lucaya; Luciano’s Restaurant overlooks the beautiful Port Lucaya and introduces a new dimension in fine dining with classical entrees from Europe, as well as favorite Island dishes; enjoy Pacific Rim cuisine featuring fresh sushi and a fusion of Asian flavors at China Beach; and experience the only Irish pub in the Bahamas with traditional Irish and European fare and, of course, frosty pints of beer at Grand Bahama’s Shenanigan’s Irish Pub.
Nightlife: When dinner is done, there’s always time for a little fun. The nightlife on Grand Bahama Island is just as diverse and entertaining as the daytime activities. Whether you’re in the mood for gambling, dancing, live music or sharing a few drinks with the hometown crowd, there’s something for everyone to enjoy on Grand Bahama Island. The Resort and Casino at Bahamia features gaming around the clock, with blackjack, craps, roulette, Caribbean stud poker and slots; The Casino at Lucaya Beach and Golf Resort also features slots, craps, blackjack, baccarat, Caribbean stud poker and more. Share a drink at Rum Runner’s, Churchill’s Garden Bar, Margarita Villa Sand Bar or Pusser’s Pub. Dance the night away at Joker’s Wild, Club 2000 or the Safari Lounge. For lively bands and performances, check out the Goombaya Show at the Country Club at Bahamia or Count Basie Square at the Port Lucaya Marketplace, the entertainment hub for Port Lucaya that’s also family friendly.
Retail Therapy: There is an excellent selection of merchandise from all over the world at Port Lucaya with competitive prices on perfumes, jewelry, cameras, designer clothes, as well as beautifully carved native artwork. You can find some excellent deals on certain items when shopping in the Bahamas. Whether you’re looking for luxury shopping in the Bahamas or just want to take home a special souvenir in order to remember your trip, there are some great choices for shopping in the Bahamas. Shopping markets do include both high-end labels and native homemade goods at the local Bahamas straw markets. Port Lucaya Marketplace has some great trinket shops as well as some of the better-known shops. The International Bazaar features a maze of shops, cafés, vendors and more spread throughout the area, as well as a mix of cultures. For grocery shopping, there are two supermarkets—Winn Dixie—in Downtown Freeport and another Winn Dixie on Sea Horse Road in Lucaya, as well as food stores like Butler’s Specialty. Prices can be somewhat expensive, though, due to their monopolistic position and the cost of shipping food over. The marketplace across from the Our Lucaya Resort (Port Lucaya) offers a wide variety of locally made (some not) straw, arts, crafts and souvenir items. Shopping in the Bahamas has become a major draw for the tourist town in recent years. Stunning selection of gems and jewelry, like Freeport Jewelers, can be found in Freeport/Lucaya. In addition to clothes and sundries, cigars and alcohol are also often found on the islands for much less then you might pay elsewhere. There is no sales tax for items purchased in the Bahamas, but everyone is charged a flat $15 departure tax on their way out.
Spa Therapy: Relax and pamper yourself with exotic spa treatments and a variety of services at one of Freeport or Port Lucaya’s indulgent spas. Opportunities on the island are limited, and the most recommended are the resort spas, including the spas at Our Lucaya Resort & Reef Village, Grand Lucaya Resort, Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach, Port Lucaya Resort & Yacht Club, Freeport Resort & Club, Grand Lucayan Reef Village, Island Seas Resort, Pelican Bay at Lucaya and Xanadu Beach Resort & Marina.