As if there weren't enough reasons to take Friday off. Grand Bahama Island is just 57 miles east of Palm Beach, so flights from Florida to Freeport, its main town, take less than half an hour--and Florida Express ferries from Fort Lauderdale cost $165 round trip. Where the West Indies hug the East Coast, there's a long weekend for anyone. Bosses beware.
On GBI's tranquil East End, 30 miles east of Freeport, Bishop's Bonefish Resort offers waterfront suites and 14 miles of sugar-white sand. It's a short drive (renting a car is easy at the airport) to never-ending Gold Rock Beach--by far the most beautiful stretch of sand on the island. Low tide unveils a welcome mat of rippled sandy peaks, perfect for seaside strolls. Afterward, head to Freeport for the International Bazaar's straw market, where ladies sell handmade hats, baskets, and totes for less than $15 an item--they'll even make things to order, on the spot. On Fridays, Le Chicken Shack Garden Bar, a casual hangout nearby, holds its weekly feast of boiled Andros crab, caught off neighboring Andros Island. When the sun goes down, Port Lucaya's Count Basie Square has steel-drum bands, reggae DJs, and the occasional limbo contest. And don't forget to order a tropical Bahama Mama at nearby Rumrunners. Anyone who finishes the drink gets to autograph the wall.
GBI has long been known as home of "the bone"--the elusive bonefish. Spend a Saturday on the virgin flats searching for a nibble from the wily, silver-skinned fish. Most boats are only big enough for two passengers, so expect an intimate experience. On the lazy West End, 30 miles from the airport, Bootle Bay Fishing Lodge--where legendary Bonefish Foley has hosted Presidents Nixon and Kennedy--rents doubles for $90 and runs half- and full-day fishing excursions. Bootle Bay's full-day outing ($375) is one of the least expensive on the island. After a day on the flats, treat yourself to some fresh conch fritters and a cold Kalik--the local brew--just down the road at the Chicken's Nest. Bring quarters (both American and Bahamian dollars, always worth the same, are accepted everywhere), since there'll be plenty of folks to shoot pool with.
Last December, the 19,000-square-foot Isle of Capri Casino at Our Lucaya--across from its partner hotels, the Westin and the Sheraton--opened in Port Lucaya, a touristy open-air mall where you'll find souvenirs like Androsia batik sarongs, duty-free liquor, and polished conch shells. The Port bustles with shoppers, pub patrons spill onto the walkways, and restaurants serve sweet Caribbean lobster tails (try Fat Man's Nephew, overlooking colorful Count Basie Square). Don't expect to mingle with Bahamians over blackjack--it's illegal for locals to participate in organized gaming. During the summer months, you can stay at the Sheraton for $129--it's a five-minute walk to the Capri, so you won't need a car.
At the 40-acre Lucayan National Park, about 25 miles east of Freeport, take a self-guided tour through the well-labeled trails dotted with wild guava, tamarind, towering Caribbean pines, and gumbo-limbo trees. Unique to the preserve are the Lucayan tunnels, the longest surveyed underwater cave system in the world. When they're hit by sunlight, the water turns a dizzying blue (sorry, no swimming). At Gold Rock Creek, across the road, Kayak Nature Tours leads six-hour excursions through the mangrove swamps, home to snappers, crabs, and barracuda. The tour includes 90 minutes in a two-person kayak, lunch on Gold Rock Beach, and a nature walk. Spend Sunday bird-watching against a backdrop of waterfalls, flowers, and alligators at the 12-acre Garden of the Groves, seven miles west of Lucayan Park. The Garden exhibits nearly 5,000 varieties of plants, many native to the islands. Understandably, it's a popular spot for tropical weddings.
Grand Bahama Island