Text and Photography by Rick Frehsee
Whether you are an avid diver, fisherman, golfer, gambler, shopper, night clubber or beach lover—or if you are a combination of all these pursuits—Grand Bahama Island may well be the perfect destination for you!
Grand Bahama is the fourth largest island in The Bahamas, after Andros, Eleuthera and Great Abaco, and the second most popular tourist island, after New Providence. Lying only 55 miles due east of Palm Beach, Florida, and a 30 minute flight from Miami, Ft. Lauderdale or Palm Beach, GBI is easy and accessible for short-term visits. (The island can also be reached by way of jet hydrofoil from Palm Beach or cruise ship out of Miami or Ft. Lauderdale.) However, the many charms and attributes of the expanding Freeport/Lucaya region will appeal to those who plan an extended stay. With excellent shopping; world-class nightlife and gambling; watersports that include specialty diving with sharks or dolphins, windsurfing, sailing, personal watercraft or parasailing; and with beaches as beautiful as they come, you may never want to leave. More bustling than the Out Islands, more relaxed than Nassau, Grand Bahama achieves a perfect compromise between an energy driven and a lazy day vacation.
There are actually two Grand Bahamas to experience, and visitors can easily transition from one to the other. The twin cities of Freeport and neighboring waterfront Lucaya provide the developed tourism attractions. Visitors are drawn here by resort hotels, casinos and nightclubs, golfing, duty-free shopping and watersports. This year brings major changes to the waterfront, with the addition of more than 1,600 guest rooms and the completion of the Lucayan Resort.
Grand Bahama achieves the perfect compromise between high energy and relaxation.
Despite this boom in development, just outside of Freeport/Lucaya is the possibility of many stimulating ecotourism adventures. Most of the eastern and western sectors of the 96-mile long island remain intriguingly natural. Therein lies the charm of Grand Bahama—diving, kayaking, horseback riding, bird watching and hiking by day; gambling, clubbing and shopping by night.Grand Bahama is a mecca for scuba divers, lured here by the specialty attractions of dolphin dives, shark dives and notable shipwrecks, in addition to the standard Bahamas attractions of fabulous reefs and walls.
The Dolphin Experience
Swimmers and scuba divers interacting with dolphins is a special marine experience pioneered at Grand Bahama by UNEXSO (short for the Underwater Explorers Society), a prestigious multiplex dive operation located next to Port Lucaya. The dolphin facility at Sanctuary Bay is about two miles east of Port Lucaya. A ferry takes you from Port Lucaya to the bay for your choice of a variety of programs. You can observe and photograph the dolphins, participate in a swim with the dolphins, sign up for an assistant trainer program or experience scuba diving with the dolphins in open water. For certified divers, this last program may well be the highlight of your diving experiences to date! Your support boat leaves from Sanctuary Bay with dolphin trainers aboard, followed alongside by two leaping Bottlenose Dolphins.
On site, in the clear, reef-lined water almost directly offshore, guest divers settle on the sand bottom 45 feet deep. The dolphins and their trainers make the rounds, giving each diver plenty of time to touch, feed and photograph the dolphins. Just watching these graceful creatures frolicking in front of you is a nearly unbelievable experience, but the final reward is truly unforgettable—a dolphin kiss!
A completely different reaction results from Grand Bahama’s other big animal dive—a swim with sharks. This is a well orchestrated and professionally staffed dive that involves a minimum number of guests, a shark feeder, safety divers and videographer. After the boat is on station, divers enter the water, with the staff wearing protective chain mail suits. From the surface, you can see sharks slowly circling below. Swimming to the bottom, 45 feet down, guests are then arranged in a semicircle, knees on the sand.
When everyone has settled into position, the feeder begins pulling fish out of a plastic container. Nearly 20 Caribbean Reef Sharks, some more than eight feet long, swim in circles or figure-eight patterns, with the feeder being the focal point. Amazingly, the sharks pay no direct attention to the other divers, but they do occasionally short-cut through the group, producing dramatic close encounters. The whole experience is unreal, very exciting at first, then a straightforward learning opportunity; one of the most unique diving experiences on the planet.
Wreck diving adds to the special character of Grand Bahama underwater. The major attraction is Theo’s Wreck, a huge, 238 foot long, Norwegian freighter, intentionally sunk as a dive site in 1982. The great wreck lies on her port side at a maximum depth of 100 feet. Bow chains, a giant prop and rudder, holds and companionways—all combine to create a virtual underwater studio for the photographer.
Two small wrecks located closeby are less intensive, but interesting experiences. Both are comparatively modern vessels, intact and resting on the shallower mid-reef plateau. Poppa Doc is a 50-foot, steel hulled vessel in 45 feet of water. The tugboat Jose rests in 65 feet of water closer to the reef front. Both are easy, relaxing dive sites.
Grand Bahama’s unique marine attractions also include numerous blue holes and sunken caverns, some located on the reef plateau in front of the island or in shallow inlets, others, such as the famous Ben’s Cavern, are located inland, surrounded by scrub and pine forest. Access and entry into any of these submerged caverns requires special permission, certification and/or training; pre-booking is necessary.
There are other inland adventures on Grand Bahama as well, and combined with the special diving attractions, shopping, casinos and nightlife, they make Grand Bahama a “buffet” vacation experience.
The Bahamas Experience | Parade of Marine Life | Shark Diving | Grand Bahama Island | Bahamas Dolphins Encounters | Nassau | Out Islands of The Bahamas | Ten Reasons To Take The Whole Family | Walls and Blue Holes | Rapture of The Wrecks | Exploring The Bahamas by Live Aboard | Bahamas By Snorkel | Bahamas Diving Association | Index