Freeport, Grand Bahamas February 2013

Off we go to Freeport, Grand Bahamas for a little winter R&R. Along with the four of us was two of friends that do a lot of traveling with us. I had only been to the island of Exuma several years ago and really enjoyed it so I was really looking forward to seeing what Freeport had to offer.

We meant up with Doc and Troya at the Island Seas Resort where we’d all be staying. On their arrival late that morning they were told by the check-in staff that the rooms may be ready around 230pm, check-in was 4pm, turned out our rooms weren’t ready until closer to 5pm. The resort was fairly large with 3 buildings of rooms across the street from the main resort. Of course our rooms where across the street though Brax had requested beach view rooms. I get it’s only a request but it didn’t seem like the place was close to being full. When we finally got our room keys and went to collect all our luggage the bellman offered us a cart but I didn’t get the impression he would bring us our luggage on the cart so we just took our own stuff and headed across the street. Our rooms were close as was requested but one on the first floor and the other on the second floor which wasn’t a biggee. Our rooms were spacious, 2 bedroom with kitchen and living room area. Appeared very clean until we walked barefoot, apparently mops aren’t used. Our kitchen was minus a coffee pot and toaster but Troya and Doc’s room had both. Getting coffee filters was like pulling teeth, they gave us a few then I ended up buying more toward the end of the week.

Our view overlooked a large canal with homes lining the canal, it certainly could have been worse. On the outside of the rooms I noticed several of the casing around the air conditioning units were falling apart. Not sure when the last time the place had been painted, it looked like it needed it along with some other maintenance needs. The grounds in general were clean and neat but very minimal as far as decor goes. I realize this was not a five-star resort but the place really has potential.

That Friday night we ate at the resort restaurant. It was a buffet that was decent, not a ton of selections but what was there was good.

Saturday we decided to hang out by the pool/beach. The weather was partly sunny and warm. Average this time of year is mid-70′s to low 80′s with the water temp in the 70′s. We participated in some afternoon(may have been late morning) cocktails that were tasty. This was the first resort I’ve stayed at that there wasn’t a wait person taking orders so if we needed a drink we had to go to the bar but if we needed food we couldn’t order from the bartender, had to be from another person. Maybe during the busy season they have poolside/beach wait staff. The food was good, the greek chicken salad was awesome!!!

After we had been laying out and relaxing we took a walk down the beach. There was a beach/road side cart called Michelle’s that had a menu of lobster, conch, fish, chicken and pork. Michelle was out on the beach, hustlin’ for business. She was very nice and swore we’d enjoy her food, offered up a deal on the lobster dish if we’d return. We continued down the beach where we came across an outside bar called On Da Rocks so we stopped to check it out. The bartender was awesome, warmed up to us crazy Californians after a bit. We taught him a drink or two. They also had food there, fresh conch being pulled out of the shell as we watched. Brax ordered the conch and lobster dish and conch fritters. We got the fritters first…YUM!!!!! Then sometime later Brax came over with a styrofoam container full of conch and lobster in a spicy, garlic lemon sauce. It was delicious!!!! I think really the best food all week.

Brax had spoken with one of the taxi drivers earlier and got some info on what to do and where to eat for dinner. We really wanted to eat good local food. Dave, the taxi guy, recommended a place called Sire’s, so off we went. The place reminded me of on old fastfood restaurant with the counter that was turned into a bar and tables with bench seating. Lots of locals which to me means it’s probably good. We sat outside where they had a large pull down screen that they showed TV on. The waitress was nice but not overly friendly, kinda felt like we might have been bothering her. A few things on the menu they didn’t end up having, lobster being one of them along with a couple of bahamain beers we wanted to try. Cracked conch is what we came to understand was a mainstay of a Bahamian diet. Basically it’s pounded out conch then lightly floured and fried. Rice and peas(think red beans), plantains and macaroni(mac’n'cheese) are also common sides. The cracked conch and shrimp I had was pretty good, the fish fingers were delicious. Grouper is a common fish used in dishes. If you like fish and have an opportunity to try grouper I’d recommend it. It’s got great flavor, mild, slightly firm and not fishy tasting/smelling at all!

Sunday afternoon we dove with Sun Odyssey dive shop. It was very convenient, walking distance from the resort. Nic the owner got us all checked in then directed us to follow Doc(he was doing his check out dives here) to get our BC’s, wetsuits and regulators. After helping ourselves to the equipment with some assistance from Mya, Nic’s assistance, we headed to the boat. Once on the boat we put BCD’s and regulators on tanks. Luckily we had Brax, he’s a master diver and I am a fairly new diver, so he could double check we had it right. Our first dive was a very shallow dive so Doc could do some of his check off requirements. When we arrived to the site, Nic instructed Mya to take 2 other divers that were with us down while he took Doc down and told Brax to take Bacon and I down and basically do and go where we want. The visibility was great, some beautiful fish and coral but nothing super exciting. About half way thru our dive I started having problems with by BCD filling with air, fortunately this was a very shallow dive. When we got on the boat I showed Mya what it was doing then told Nic who didn’t seem to concerned, that bothered me. Our second dive was a wreck dive that was approximately 50ft down. When I jumped in, the secondary regulator was constantly blowing air so I got back on the boat and Nic replaced it with a different one. Back in I went but unfortunately as I approached the site of the wreck I started to feel I was really having to work to breath and the deeper we went the harder it was so as much as I tried to relax and talk myself out of having a bit of a panic attack I couldn’t. I got Brax’s attention and made our way back up to the boat…such a bummer!!!

That evening we went back to Michelle’s on the beach for dinner. She gave us a great deal on the lobster dish which included 2 small tails, rice and peas, plantains and cabbage and carrots for $10. It was very good as was the conch dish she made.

Monday we went to Port Lucaya, a popular tourist spot. The resort offered free regular shuttles to and from. Port Lucaya had several restaurants and bars along with little shops and marts. I was disappointed with the shopping. Nothing very unique, every little shop had the same junk basically. I did find a cute shell ring for $12 at the cigar shop. Several places had happy hours so we of course took advantage of that. While walking around trying to decide where to eat for dinner, we asked a local woman named Genny where she might recommend. She was very friendly, said her husband had an Italian restaurant named Giovanni’s if we felt like Italian but also said there were several good restaurants. In the end we went to their restaurant and were not disappointed. Genny came to our table said not only did they have Italian food we could also order Caribbean food as well. We all ordered the same thing because it was a fantastic deal. The menu over all looked good, lots of choices but they had a deal for 2 people that included soup or salad, wine, Frutti di Mare pasta(mussels,conch,shrimp,lobster in garlic and olive oil) and dessert for $45. The wine selection in the Bahamas appears limited as is the knowledge about the wines at least in places we went. The wine that came with our dinner was a burgundy but the waitress didn’t know the name of it. It wasn’t very good but we did order a bottle of Bardelino from Italy that was reasonably priced and was decent. It was on the light side, decent fruit not sweet and slightly tart but paired well with our food. The staff at Giovanni’s was very friendly and helpful. Genny even offered up her nephew Robert to take us back to the hotel. We declined the offer but Robert was very nice and I’m sure he would have done it.

Tuesday was the BEST day of our trip! Brax booked a swim with the dolphin’s excursion thru Unexso. This is a big commercial operation that also offers diving, snorkeling and other dolphin experiences. I had mixed emotions about the dolphin excursion, I didn’t know what to expect. I hate to see animals being exploited and in sad situations and I certainly hate to contribute to that by partaking in such activities. But this was a professional operation that seemed to really care for these animals and has their best interest at heart. We were taken by boat thru the canals to a large lagoon where the dolphins are kept. There, the 5 of us(Bacon stayed home) and 2 other girls were introduced to one of the trainers that gave us some background on the program and information on the dolphins as well as instructions when we got in the water. The 5 of us got in first with 2 dolphins, Exuma and I can’t remember the other ones name, 2 at a time we swam out then the dolphins swim out to catch up. I swam with Exuma, it was so exhilarating! She was so smooth! I’d dive down and she’d follow right next to me, then she’d lead me down for a dive. The trainer said I was spoiling her:) These animals are so amazing!!! They seemed happy and it was clear the trainers really cared for these animals. It was cool to talk with the trainers and learn some about how they work with dolphins. After our dolphin excursion we had lunch and cocktails at Sabor, a cool little bar/restaurant overlooking the canal. It was on the same property as the Pelican Bay Resort which was beautiful. If I were to go back I’d like to stay there. The bartender at Sabor made us a very delicious cocktail and lunch was very good. We walked across the street to check out the Grand Lucayan Resort. This property is HUGE!! Beautiful beach front property with a nice pool and a few bars and restaurants along the beach. We returned back to our hotel, got ready for a beach bonfire on Taino beach…It was lame so we headed back to Port Lucaya for dinner at Agave a Latin fusion restaurant. I had a delicious burrito of chicken, black beans and a very spicy curry sauce, not your typical burrito but I wasn’t expecting real Mexican food.

Wednesday we hung out at the resort, the weather was getting pretty cloudy but still warm. We ventured off to find the $2 dollar bar. On our walk there we passed 2 other couples that had clearly already been to the $2 bar because they couldn’t walk a straight line if they tried!! We walked in to this small screened in bar with 2 LARGE dudes sitting at the bar. They were hilarious!!!! They lived there, the one guy was born and raised on the island. It was cool to sit a talk with someone local. That evening we went to the Fish Fry. All week everyone talked about the Fish Fry on Wednesday nights. David took us and pointed out the different places to eat and the bar where everyone hung out and danced. Between the 6 of us we ate at three different spots, basically all offered the same food…fish and chicken with macaroni, rice and peas or coleslaw. Brax got chicken and ribs, I got snapper with coleslaw and macaroni from a different place. Everyone else got the turbet(not sure that’s the spelling but the same as the trigger fish). The fish is whole and fried. My snapper was very good as was my macaroni and cheese and coleslaw. We then headed back to where the bar and dancing was happening, hung out there for a bit and did some people watching.

Our last day we stayed at the resort and hung out by the pool, the weather was starting to cool off a bit but that didn’t stop us. Brax and I took a walk on the beach one last time. The water was beautiful, perfectly still, gently lapping up on the shore. Had it been warmer I would have grabbed my snorkeling gear, we hadn’t seen it that smooth all week. Down the beach a bit was a beach-side make shift bar serving some cocktails and food so we got a drink then headed back to get everyone else. We all returned with the intentions of trying some food but when we returned, Bernie the owner, had left to make a run to get more beer and ice so one of the other patrons began making us cocktails. When Bernie returned we made sure to pay him for our drinks. Thinking Doc had ordered us food, we waited and waited, remember we’re on island time. Doc had ordered but apparently Bernie forgot because at some point an hour plus later he asked Doc if he needed to order. Needless to say we moved on and decided we’d eat again at Sire’s for our last dinner in the Bahamas.

Over all I was disappointed and can’t say I’d go back. In general I felt like the people were indifferent and not very accommodating. The food was decent, groceries were on the pricey side. The island itself is flat with lots of shrubs and a lot of litter which is such a shame. I’m sure there is great diving to be had but unfortunately I missed out on that. The resort was definitely a disappointment. On the bright side we were with great friends and that’s most important. Happy Travels!!!

Freeport Bahamas

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The Fan 4 were in Freeport Bahamas the week of February 22nd to March 1st. I was expecting a warm tropical week. I forgot that Freeport is only 70 miles East of Miami and shares pretty much the same weather. The temperature was in the high 70′s all week with the humidity in the high 80′s so it felt a lot warmer than it was.

We chose the Island Seas Resort for its location on a  long white sand beach. It is off the beaten path but only 10 min from Port Lacayo by car. There are two sides to the resort. One side has a beach view and the other side has a canal view. I sent the resort an email months in advance requesting a beach view. They replied that they would try to accommodate us. Check in was at 1600 hours but our room was not ready until 1750 hours and we got the canal view. I tried to see what was available with a beach view but no one seem interested in helping me. Everyone told me to go ask someone else until I was told to ask someone who was not there. I was assured that she would call me the following day with availabilities. Didn’t happen. Our room was decent. Old and in need of remodeling. The rooms were clean but the floors had not been.

I must say, the beach was nice and a short walk down the beach landed us at some inexpensive local bars. One of the first ones we tried was called “On the Rocks” They served local food, local beers and mixed drinks for a great price. I tried the conch and lobster and conch fritters. It was one of my favorite meals of the trip. Brian was the bartender and he was very generous. We exchanged shot recipes and had a great time.

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Sunday

We went scuba diving with Sun Odyssey. Sun Odyssey is a small family operated dive shop. The boat is spacious and easy to dive from but the rental equipment needs some attention. We had a tank with a bad O ring and a BC inflater valve stuck open. Our first dive was on a reef at 14 ft. The reef was alive with lots of fish but is was surgy on the bottom. Visibility was approximately 60 ft. Our second dive was on a wreck and I was excited to get in the water. Unfortunately my dive partner had equipment problems and we had to abort the dive.

While hanging out at the resort, I met a local taxi driver named David. I have included in his information and I recommend his services. David got us up to speed on everything on the island. From taxi fares to local events and attractions. He steered us away from the tourist places and introduced us to some local sites. We used his service exclusively. One of the places he recommended was Sire’s Restaurant. Sire’s serves up some of the best local cuisine with large portions at a great price. Six people had two appetizers, drinks and entres for $20 a person. I was so full I had to waddle out and I was glad David was driving a van.

Monday

Monday we went to Port Lacayco. It is two blocks of stores, restaurants and bars set up to accommodate the cruise crowds,  Fortunately for us there were no ships in that day.  There was a nice Cuban cigar store that had a great selection of Cuban cigars.  We had drinks and appetizer at a couple of places (Can’t remember the names). Around dinner time we were trying to decide which restaurant to eat at.  A lady walked by and I asked her for advice.  Her name was Ginny.  Ginny told us to that her husband was the chef at Giovanni’s Italian Restaurant and she invited us to have dinner there.  We took her up on her offer and we were not disappointed.  Hill and I had the Chef special.  For $45 we got appetizer, glass of wine, dessert and the Seafood pasta in olive oil.  Delicious.  The seafood was made up of local seafood.  Conch, lobster, grouper and lite tomato in a spicy olive oil sauce.

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Dolphin day.  We booked a dolphin experience with Unexso.  Unexso is a very impressive dive center.  Their dive center sells diving equipment and apparel. They have a restaurant and bar and a pool that you can lounge by while people are taking dive classes.  They also have a fleet of dive boat and water taxis.  We took one of the taxis, with Captain Carl, to the lagoon where the dolphins were.  For $175 we got to swim in the lagoon with the dolphins.  What an experience. Each of us got our own dolphin to play with.  We could swim with them, dive with them, hug them.  They were very playful and funny.  They are amazing creatures.

David had told us about a bonfire at one of the hotels. He said there would be plenty of food, drinks and a good time. So, after our great experience with the dolphins we went to the bonfire.  Unfortunately for us, it was too windy for the bonfire and the event was moved into the resorts patio area.  There was plenty of drinks, music and limbo.  But, nobody was in the party mood so we went back to Port Lacayo and had dinner at Agave.  As its name suggest, Agave serves Mexican cuisine and they have a decent tequila selection.

Wednesday

During the day we relaxed on the beach and walked up to a famous local bar called The Two Dollar Bar.  Beers are 2 bucks.  Great concept.  Everyone walked away a happy customer.  Wednesday night was the fish fry.  Again, David gave us the info on this.  Every Wednesday at Smiths Point, local restaurants put together a fish fry.  There is plenty of food selections, drinks, music, dancing on the beach of Smith Point.  Everyone on the Island goes.  It was all that it was billed up to be.  We all bought dinner from a different restaurant and then we got together and shared.  That was the best part. I had conch, friend snapper, fritters, mac and cheese. All for $6.  I think Doc’s grouper was the best.

All in all I had a nice time.  The beach and ocean was beautiful, the local food was interesting and we had fun.  I was disappointed with the Island Seas Resort.  They were indifferent to our existence and no one was willing to answer any question or assist in any way if they could send you to someone else.  I promised David I would include his info so here it is.   David Francis: Cell#(242)559-6331. Email:Biggs8069@yahoo.com.  David is a good man.  You can trust him and he will be good to you. Check out the gallery for more photos from the trip.

 

 

 

 

Not a fan…….

So I know the others are probably writing a lot about each day and such but I will keep this short…….
Not worth your time and money. It was not beautiful nor exotic. Part of our not so great experience was our fault because the weather was not very nice and that could be equated to the time of year we went. The food was tasty at first but got old very quickly when we realized the best food (cracked conch) was fried and eating fried food for a little while is new and fun but gets old quickly. The pool was cold, the drinks were overly sweet as well as the pricing which is to be expected but should taste better at least. The people were not very friendly at all, customer service was non-existent. Gratuity is included for everything so they don’t care really how they treat you. So all in all fun of course because our group always has a good time together but I would never go back. Staying in Florida probably would have been better……..

Freeport, Grand Bahamas 2013

Freeport- Grand Bahamas

As promised the FTF tries to do at least on international trip each year. Last year we Grand Bahamaswent to St. Maarten. The experience was mixed for me due to reasons I will not go into. We had originally planned to go to Belize this year, but procrastinated a bit and could not make the dates fit with the availability. Brax still wanted to get in some warm water diving and was able to find a place at the Island Seas Resort in Freeport and off we went for a week in the sun. I tried to complete my scuba certification so I would not be a liability while we were there, but that did not end up happening. I was able to complete the book work on line prior to our departure and made arrangements to complete the certification while there. Here are my highlights and thoughts on Freeport in the Grand Bahamas;

Scuba diving/certification:
To complete your open water scuba diving certification you must complete both the book work portion and diving portion. Brax and Hill are both certified and several of the people that travel with us also are certified. Troya and I did and introduction dive while in Australia, and then I did some supervised dives while in St. Maarten last year. I figured that since this was going to become a major source of recreation while on vacation I should get certified. I looked into getting certified before we left, but for a number of reasons that did not happen. I was able to complete the book work portion on line (it can be done with your dive master or on line). I then looked into the certification programs available in the Freeport area. There are basically 3 dive companies around Freeport and only 2 offer certification programs. Unexso is a very large, commercial company that offers a number of different activities including scuba diving and snorkeling. I contacted them about their certification program but they never got back to me. The other company, Sunn Odessy, is much smaller, and run by the Roll family. I contacted them by email and they were very responsive and we were able to arrange a program that would start the day after we got there. Although there was a little confusion when I first arived, Nick was very flexible and set up a schedule for us to finish the program by the 3rd day. Nick and I got along fine, he is at times no-nonsense, and I could tell that if you came ill prepared he would likely have little patience. This is a small company, so if you are looking for bells and whistles this is not the place. However, if you just want to scuba in the Bahamas with an instructor who knows the area, knows what he is doing and can be flexible, Sunn Odessy fits the bill. The diving we did here was much better than what we experienced in St. Maarten, not as good as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia (but how many places are). That is the extent of my experience, so if you are looking for a more experienced opinion look at Brax’s or Hill’s Freeport blog.
Island Seas Resort:
Island SeasThe resort is a time-share resort. A little off the beaten path, it is not located near downtown or the port area. We reviewed the resort on-line so we had a good idea of what we were getting into. I think that Troya and I both were expecting the worst to ensure we were not disappointed. In actuality the rooms were better than we had anticipated. All are condo style units with a full kitchen and 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. The unit was big and clean. The resort itself did not have much to offer. They have one pool and a pool side bar. The do have a swim up bar, but it was not being used because the water in the pool was too cold for anyone to get into. The resort did not feel crowded, but finding chairs or recliners poolside was challenging. Troya and I got there early, several hours before check in and were told we should be able to get into the room early. In reality it was over an hour after check in before we were able to get into the room. The resort and beach were clean and they had kid/family games happening at the beach, but not much else happening. The workout room was also disappointing, 4 different cardio machines and a rack of dumbells in a very crowded room. The biggest disappointment was with the staff. I could not say anyone was out and out rude, but it felt like they were all very indifferent. They would help if asked, but were not very friendly and did not go out of their way for anything. We initially thought it might be just an island thing, but found the customer service was much different in town and at some of the other resorts.
Dinning:
The first night there we decided to play it simple and just eat at the one restaurant at the resort. Earlier we had some lunch pool side while waiting for the room to be ready and the Greek salad with chicken was actually not bad. They had an Italian all-you-can-eat buffet for dinner that night which ended up being frozen style pizza and other cafeteria style food. Not impressive. The following night we went to Cyrus, a local restaurant in town recommended by our befriended taxi driver and tour guild Dave. A little side note, we always try to befriend a local when traveling to get an idea of how to truly experience and area rather than just follow the typical touristy path. This was a little hole in the wall (my favorite type of place) with lots of local sea food options. We were all very happy with the food, the local classic cracked conch was particularly good. The following night we had walked to a couple local beach side bars (head out the resort, make a right and walk down the beach, easy to find). On the way was Michelles. A little kitchen Michelleson wheels that she parks next to the resort and serves up what she claims is the best jerk pork or chicken and conch on the island. After a few drinks we decided to take her up on her challenge and bring some of her food back to the room. Again, everyone was very pleased with the jerk pork over her rice and beans being the best dish hands down. You can also not beat the price, two lobster tails with beans and rice, steamed vegetables and fried plantains for $15. The following night we took the shuttle to the Port Lucaya Marketplace to check out some of the options there. We were all starting to get hungry and were trying to pick a place to eat out of numerous but underwhelming options when we ran into Genny. After a brief chat with her giving us some needed directions we decided to “ask the local” again to see where she would recommend eating. Low and behold she was off to work at Giovanni’s, an Italian restaurant she and her husband owned. No one had Italian food on top of the list given we were in the Bahamas, but it did not take long for her to convince us once she started describing what was on the menu. I am happy to say that you can find excellent Italian food in Freeport. Most dishes do utilize the abundant seafood in the area. We were all very surprised and pleased with our meal.
The next evening we went back to Agave where we had a few drinks the night before and thought some of the items on the menu looked promising. Troya and I shared a jerk chicken burrito and spicy seafood bowl. Both items were very good and we were impressed at the different flavors and spices used in the two dishes. Wednesday on the island is fish-fry night. Dave let us know about this and said everyone on the island comes out for this event. The impression I had was something akin to a bunch of food trucks lined up offering different options and then a local band playing music on the beach into the evening. In actuality it was a bit more commercial and organized than I had anticipated. Several restaurants are right there on the beach, and then as you walk either inland or along to beach several other properties have built accessory kitchens and dining areas so they can participate in the festivities. Interesting since I think it only happens once, maybe twice a week. It was fun because we went to several different places to get the food, so we had a lot of variety. Hill and I ended up picking the best place (can’t remember the name but it’s near the end of the road along the beach and is the only place with a full bar). I do not know if any of the places actually have names, but again at the advice of locals we went as far down the road as we could from the main area, that’s where to best food is we were told. To our disappointment the music ended up being club style dance DJ music played at one of the main restaurants. The final night we decided to go back to Cyrus’s. Not sure why, maybe we were just getting tired of fried food, but it did not impress the way it had the first night. Over all feeling about our food adventure in Freeport, we were all surprised and impressed at what we had, especially after our dining experience in St. Maarten (not real impressed). Nothing out of this world amazing, but I was impressed with the variety and flavor.
Activities:
Bahamas BeachScuba was covered above, so I will not go into that again. We did do a swim with the dolphins program through Unexso. Although very expensive it was a lot of fun and the crew very entertaining. Here is where Freeport comes up short in my mind. Although I do enjoy hanging out on the beach or by the pool, I get restless when I have no other options. Outside of scuba and some other boating exertions, Freeport does not have much else to offer. What it does have to offer all seems to be tailored to the cruise ship clientele.
Final thoughts:
When I travel I try to submerge myself into the area to get an idea what it is like to live there and how things are different or the same as where I am from. I do this by spending time in one area, getting to know local people as much as I can and getting off the beaten path. I kept trying to do this while in Freeport but always ended up feeling like I was having a cruise ship experience (if you are not sure what I am talking about ask me about it and I will go into more detail for you). I kept trying to figure out why I could not get any deeper into the culture there and then it came to me on the last day, that is their culture. This is a vacation island, set up as a tourist destination for cruise ships or people looking to lay around on the beach and drink rum for a couple days, and maybe go on a pre-planned excursion. Everything on the island is set up to support this industry. So in the end I guess I was able to find the culture of Freeport. Not what I usually look for in a vacation destination but if that is what you are looking for have at it.