Parks, diving, shopping, gambling and more available to give you a vacation of a lifetime
WHAT-TO-DO FREEPORT - JULY 2006 EDITION
There’s a lot more to a Grand Bahama vacation than sun, sea and sand, although the island offers generous portions of these holiday essentials, too.
The island’s dazzling beaches defy description, always looking as though they’ve never been walked on before. There are miles of them on the south side of the island, from West End to McLean’s Town, all easily accessible.
As for the sea, you can travel the world over, but you’ll not find clearer or more colourful waters than those around Grand Bahama. Nor will you find healthier corals or more abundant marine life.
Ecotourism is a major draw in The Bahamas today, with thousands of visitors travelling to see the country’s stunning national parks. There are 22 of them, each with unique features of subtropical nature on display. They range from Inagua National Park, a bird (particularly flamingo) sanctuary on the chain’s most southerly island to Walker’s Cay National Park in the north, a haven for serious divers.
Grand Bahama is home to three parks. At only 1.5 acres, Peterson Cay (pronounced key) is the smallest preserve in the system and one of the most heavily used. It’s a popular day-trip destination for Bahamians and visitors alike, with a lovely beach and fascinating snorkelling over pristine corals. Check with the activities desk in your hotel on how to get to the cay by boat, just off the south coast of Grand Bahama.
The Rand Nature Centre in Freeport is a 100-acre sanctuary named for a renowned philanthropist, the late James H Rand. It’s well worth the admission price ($5 for adults and $3 for children) to stroll along the charming nature trail that winds through the park. Operated by the Bahamas National Trust, this is a premier spot for birdwatching with scores of species on display, including the rare Bahama Parrot and even, on occasion, the very rare Kirtland’s warbler.
Lucayan National Park, which can be accessed from the Grand Bahama Highway, is a 40-acre wonderland of wetlands, caves and underwater caverns formed during the last ice age. With six miles charted so far, one of these is thought to be the longest underwater cave system in the world.
Accomplished divers prize Ben’s Cave in particular for its eerie ambience, stalagmites, stalactites, fossilized corals and calcite crystals. About 35 feet down, divers pass through a halocline – the interface between fresh water above and salt water below.
Above ground, there are miles of raised boardwalks through the park, offering insights into Grand Bahama’s wetlands – important nurseries for the island’s marine life, and protected nesting and roosting sites for birds.
If you’re a dedicated snorkeller or diver, you’re in the portals of paradise.
Diving with sharks or watching them being hand fed are two options for the stout of heart (it’s really quite safe, say dive masters).
Another is swimming in the open sea with a pod of free-ranging dolphins. You must be at least 55 inches tall for this excursion and be a certified diver. This is a special dive because Grand Bahama is one of the few places on Earth where you can swim with these intelligent mammals in their own environment.
Even if you’re not an accomplished diver, you can still experience Grand Bahama’s watery wonderland, either by stepping aboard a glass-bottomed boat or using an easy-to-master Mini-B shallow-water scuba diving outfit.
The Mini-B is a lightweight apparatus that allows you to dive on the same day you decide to try it. After a short practice session at Xanadu Undersea Adventures or UNEXSO, you’ll be ready to breathe and swim underwater with access to all the colourful coral formations and reef fish that have made Grand Bahama famous.
For serious divers, there are wrecks and reefs to explore and, for the especially brave, a night dive when many fish not seen during the day emerge from their hiding places to swim through the beams from your underwater lamp.
Shopping can be an adventure in Grand Bahama too, and many visitors travel here expressly for that purpose. Savvy shoppers can save up to 30 per cent and more on some items and there are no state or local taxes here – the price on the sticker is the price you pay.
Whether you visit the smart shops downtown, in Our Lucaya, the Port Lucaya Marketplace or in the International Bazaar, you’ll find everything from authentic Bahamian straw work and inexpensive souvenirs to top-of-the-line luxury items.
The world’s most prestigious designer names can be found here. This is a great place to buy diamonds and other precious gems because of the island’s knowledgeable and helpful sales professionals. They will explain the four Cs of diamond valuation when you are ready to buy: clarity, colour, carat weight and cut.
There’s now a fifth C, by the way, standing for “conflict free.” This certifies that your diamonds are not from a country where terrorists sell ill-gotten stones to finance their operations. Conflict-free diamonds are the rule in Bahamian stores.
Grand Bahama is also the perfect place to buy a keepsake watch. There are timepieces from the most respected names in the business – Rolex, Tag Heuer, Elini, Gucci, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Tourneau, Ebel and Breitling to name only a few. There’s much more, too, from art and collectables to crystal and china, to leather goods and linens.
STRIKE IT RICH
If you’re 18 or older and still looking for intense holiday action, there’s plenty at the Isle of Capri Casino in Our Lucaya, open from 10am to at least 2am, except Tuesday and Wednesday, when the board games open at 6pm. You’ll find all of your favourite games here, including a sports book, hundreds of slot and video poker machines and more than 20 gaming tables, with private rooms reserved for high rollers.
Although craps is the most complicated board game, it’s the favourite of many serious gamblers. The pace is fast, with opportunities to make many different kinds of bets on every roll of the dice. Players can win between two to 15 times their wagers. To get the highest odds (X 30), you wager either Craps Two or Craps Twelve – betting that the number you choose will turn up on the next roll of the dice. You’ll hear a lot of whooping and hollering around a busy craps table.
A popular game among the high-limit players, as well as those who place smaller bets, is blackjack. It’s a quieter and more personal game because each gamer plays against the dealer and players have to do some simple mental arithmetic as they play. This game gives the player a better chance at winning over the long run than other games. Many strategies have been developed over the years to increase your chances of winning.
Roulette is an intense game with players reaching over the board and laying last-minute bets as a white ball spins around the rim of the opposite-spinning roulette wheel. All this activity ends abruptly when the dealer waves his hand over the board stopping play until the next spin. Roulette offers high odds – 35 to one for bets placed on a single number. But there are many other bets that pay anywhere from even money to 17 to one.
Another table card game that has many fans is Mini-Baccarat, a version of classic Baccarat, considered by some to be the most sophisticated of the board games. The object is to bet on which of two hands will have a score closest to nine. You can bet on either the banker or the player or that they will tie.
It pays to study the board games before playing them. There are many informative sites on the Internet that will help you in this, including www.gambling-hall-online.com.
Catching some rays on a peerless beach, visiting a national park, diving or snorkelling in warm, crystal-clear waters, picking up a duty-free bargain in a smart shop or striking it rich in the casino – these are only a few of the choices available to vacationers in Grand Bahama.
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