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Trip Report: Grand Bahama Island; Ocean Reef Resort and Yacht Club

rsnash

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Earlier this month, we realized dh had some extra "use them or lose them" vacation days left. So, we found a last minute rental offered on TUG for the Ocean Reef Resort and Yacht Club, not too bad an airfare, and away we went for Christmas week in the Bahamas. Not too shabby. If you click on any of the pictures below, you will be brought to my dh’s flickr page with more related images. I have also posted my review of Ocean Reef in the TUG Resort Database (must be a TUG member to view).

We actually left a day earlier than the scheduled check in and were able to book 1 extra night for $129, although we had to change rooms on official check in day. The airfare was about $300 less to fly on Friday instead of Saturday, so it was worth it. We had originally not planned to rent a car, as many people mentioned the plentiful taxies, resort beach shuttles, and availability of public buses (really vans, the taxis are vans too). However, by Friday night we had decided to rent a car. I called the resort's office on Saturday morning and they had a car available for $250 for the week, but it was a 10 year old car. A TUGger had recommended Brad’s Car Rental, so I checked with them too. We got a similar model, but almost brand new, for $275 for the week. Brad himself picked us up Saturday morning, bringing us back to the airport to take care of the paperwork. Return on the following Saturday was REALLY easy. We parked it right at the departures door and they took it from there, so we didn’t even have to deal with a transfer of our baggage to a shuttle.

Anyway, we arrived on Friday and took a taxi to the resort ($22, gave him $25 since he had to deal with 4 bags, 2 heavy). The taxis on GBI are all vans. I was confused at first because a greeter directed me to a taxi, but I thought it was some hotel shuttle. Later I realized that all taxis are these white vans. The public buses are the same type of van, but they say “public bus” on the side. We checked in, but our extra night room was not quite ready (I guess someone had checked out a day early), and since we were hungry, we had lunch at Grouper Grill by the pool. The check in girl brought us our room keys while we were eating.



Would you like a bite of my conch burger?



Our room for Friday night was a 1 BR Studio. I fully describe this unit in my TUG resort review. Let me summarize to say, that it was not in the best repair, but was acceptable if you get it cheaply and just want a place to crash and don’t plan to cook lots of meals. After lunch and checking in and moving bags (I didn’t unpack until moving the next day), I was wiped and took a nap before dinner. We decided to go to the tourist area of the Port Lucaya marketplace. Walking around a bit, and reading menus, we decided to have dinner at Zorba’s. I had recalled some positive reviews on TUG and TripAdvisor for Zorba’s and it did not disappoint. Actually, walking in, it reminded me of the Greek restaurants in the Tarpon Springs area north of Tampa FL. In fact, the owners moved to GBI from Tarpon Springs twenty or thirty years ago. I loved the blackened grouper. We also tried some souvlaki, conch chowder, hummus, salad, etc. All the food at Zorba’s was great, and the service was quite friendly.




The first view of Zorba’s. Most of the Port Lucaya restaurants have their menu out front.



After dinner at Zorba’s we walked around the marketplace for a bit. Most of the stores were closed as it was getting pretty late, but some were open, like Colombia Emeralds, and there was entertainment at Count Basie Square. The plaza was decorated for Christmas with a big tree surrounded by fake snow. There were some fun singers on the bandstand, click the image below for some more marketplace pictures.



Port Lucaya decorated for Christmas



Just behind the tree, next to the Marina, is Daddy Brown’s Conch Stand. This is where we experienced our first Conch Salad. DH became addicted to Conch Salad, which is a healthy addiction to have. Conch Salad consists of equal parts finely chopped conch, tomato, yellow onion, and green bell pepper. Sprinkle with salt, mix. Add the juice of 2 limes and ½ a sweet orange. Stir and serve. Click here for dh’s blog post with video of conch salad being made. One day we bought it in the evening for the next day’s beach picnic lunch. I liked it a little better after it sat overnight in the fridge, the lime juice cooks the conch, like in ceviche.

Daddy Brown’s also offered Lobster Salad. It is prepared the exact same way as the Conch Salad, except with chopped Spiny Lobster tail. Since the conch is raw, you need the very freshest, almost still alive conch to make it, and lobster tail is pretty expensive, at home in the US, I suggest trying it with briefly boiled shrimp and/or calamari. Truly this is about the healthiest dish you can have on GBI. Most everything else is fried. There are some grilled fish items, but a lot is fried, even if it says stewed, the protein portion may have been fried first. Anyway, we sampled many versions of Conch Salad, but we returned to Daddy Brown’s stand at least three times!



Daddy Brown's Conch Salad



We ate so much conch, that dh even wrote a blog entry about it. Click here to read his post all about conch salad, conch chowder, grilled conch, etc. Being that we were on GBI during Hanukah, conch fritters were this year’s latkes!

Despite a sign at Zorba’s (see picture above) saying they sell phone cards, they just have the kind to add minutes to your phone. So, on Saturday, it was our mission to get a Bahamas SIM chip for my unlocked phone. (see my previous post asking about cell phone service in the Bahamas). We were told we could get on at Gizmos & Gadgets in downtown Freeport. After renting the car from Brad, we followed his directions and found it without too much difficulty. It is in the Town Center shopping strip off of Pioneer’s Way, right around the corner from the Freeport City Market (supermarket).

On the way to Gizmo’s we stopped at MaryAnn’s for lunch. Brad and his coworker had picked up some take out from there for their lunch, it looked good, so we found the spot he had marked on our map. It is located on West Settlers Way, just east of the circle near it's intersection with East Settlers Way. MaryAnn’s features local Bahamian cuisine. We realized that if something is described as “steamed” it is actually braised and has some brown gravy. We shared a bowl of conch chowder, after adding a bit of the local hot sauce (ask for "goat pepper sauce," if you ask for "hot sauce," you get Tabasco), and looking back, I think it was the best conch chowder of the week. We also tried the Chicken Souse. Souse is a soup that you eat for breakfast. We noticed it on Zorba’s breakfast menu and since they had some left at lunch time at Mary Ann’s, dh ordered a bowl. It doesn’t look like much, but it has an interesting sour note to the broth, probably from lime juice.



Chicken Souse, a breakfast soup, at MaryAnn’s in Freeport. Click for more pics of MaryAnn’s place.
 
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rsnash

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We then returned to ORYC and were able to move into our reserved room. This was a 1 BR Suite in the main building and was way nicer than the studio.



The view from our patio at Ocean Reef Yacht Club. Click for more pictures of Unit 112.



For dinner on Saturday evening, we went to a place that many locals recommended, called Simply Native. For a Saturday night, it was pretty empty. Apparently, it is more popular as a lunch place. The service was slow too. Very slow. But the food was excellent. I particularly liked their cracked conch. This tastes like a cross between fried calamari and fried clams. Excellent. Unfortunately, our food pictures of Simply Native didn’t turn out very well, since it was a little dark in there. But despite the slow service, I recommend it, for lunch.

We sampled cracked conch at several locations during the week. Simply Native’s was my favorite, but dh preferred the version served at Kelly’s stand at the Freeport Vendor’s Market. TheBahamasWeekly.com even picked up on Jason’s post about our various conch experiences.

We were supposed to go on an all day party booze cruise and snorkel trip on Sunday. But it was canceled due to having too few reservations and rescheduled for Tuesday (then on Tuesday they called and canceled due to mechanical reasons, rescheduled for Wednesday, canceled on Wednesday due to rough seas. We never did go on snorkel boat trip. Bummer.) Instead, we drove out to Lucayan National Park on the east side of GBI. It is about a 30 minute drive from the Port Lucaya area.

When you arrive at the park, there is a parking lot on the north side of the “highway.” Park there and a ranger will collect $3 per person. As we were arriving at low tide (call 915 from your room or *915 from your cell to get local marine weather reports), we headed straight to Gold Rock Beach. You walk about 15 minutes along a path through a mangrove swamp, then a canopy of trees and emerge up a short flight of steps to an endless vista of pristine empty beach.



Here I am about to climb the steps to the beach. Click to see more pictures of our walk through the mangrove tree lined path and the caves.



If you arrive early enough, you will have this beach completely to yourself until the first tour bus arrives. But even then, it was only about a dozen other people, who didn’t stay too long (another reason to rent a car: if you go on one of the Lucayan National Park/East End tours, you maybe get an hour on the beach). You can walk nearly 100 yards out into the surf less water before it even comes up to your knees.



Gold Rock Beach stretches out before you. The tiny island you see out in the distance is the “Gold Rock” the beach is named for.



We waded in the clear, tranquil water for a while, sunbathed and enjoyed the rest of the morning. We left when we were starting to get hungry. We hadn’t packed a lunch that day, having heard about a place just up the road from the park, Bishop’s. There’s a sign at the entrance to the parking lot indicating that Bishop’s is 7 miles up the road. It’s not. It’s about 10 miles, and you don’t see it from the road. Instead, you turn off the highway to the right at the Police Station in High Rock. Go down this road, turning right at the T intersection (after first staying left at the fork), pass a cemetery on your right and you will arrive at Bishop’s Resort and Restaurant. Actually, it was Brad the car rental guy who told us we had to get the cracked conch at Bishop’s. So we did. It was our least favorite cracked conch of the week. It wasn’t bad tasting or anything, just not great. There is another restaurant at the same location called Diamond Sunrise. Eat there. The cracked conch was way better, more akin to Simply Native’s back in Freeport. The best part about either location is they are right on the water. You can relax on the beach lounges in front of (behind? On the beach side) of Diamond’s. It is the same type of calm clear water and powdery sand as Gold Rock Beach, just without the Mangrove tree walk. Later in the week we returned to the east end and just headed straight to Bishop’s beach rather than take the trek through the forest again.



The fried snapper at Bishop’s was better than the cracked conch. Click for more pictures of Bishop’s, including the beach with convenient parking.





We preferred the food and beachside ambiance at Diamond Sunrise
 
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Kids playing on the beach in front of Diamond Sunrise



We got back to Ocean Reef in time to join in for the Monday Madness Party. It was fun and if you participate in the contests you have a chance to win some nice prizes (the biggest being a trip to Mexico or a cruise (my TUGgy senses smell a TS presentation involved here lol)). But the food was overly starchy (peas & rice, mac & cheese, fried chicken), so we went out for dinner after most of the games were over. We went to a Chinese restaurant in the Port Lucaya Marketplace. It was pretty good, especially after dh made it clear we know good Chinese food (he speaks a little “Chinese restaurant” (knows the words for spicy, tea, chopsticks, etc). I enjoyed their stir fried grouper. We also ordered Ma Po Tofu, which was good, but is supposed to be spicy and wasn’t at all. They offered some chili sauce to kick it up, which helped. We had walked by the more popular Asian restaurant, East, but the prices there were ridiculous (entrees in the $30 range). China Café was more reasonably priced (although more expensive than NY area Chinese, of course) and had very good food as well.



If you are craving Chinese food, don’t overlook China Café, it is located across from Giovanni’s.



On Tuesday, we drove out to the West End of the island. We stopped at the Sand’s Brewery on the way. There is a liquor store on premises and they are going to be offering tours soon, but not yet. If you’d like to go on a brewery tour, they should be all set up to do that within a couple months.



Obviously, this is where Sands beer is produced, and they also make a local version of Guinness, called Strongback.



The brewery is located at the intersection of Fishing Hole Road (on the map, the street signs say Grand Bahamian Way, while you are heading West on Queens Hwy), at a light, this is where you turn right to head to the west end of the island and our destination, Paradise Cove. Even though the signs and ads for it say “Paradise Cove Resort” it’s not a hotel. You arrive to a small open air building with a bar, lunch stand, and snorkel rental area. Even if you brought your own equipment, there is a small charge ($3 pp) and you should pay attention to the orientation of where to go out in the water to see the best fish and where not to stand to protect the reef. There isn’t anything much worth seeing further west (we drove to both ends of the island). The Ginn sur Mer TS looks beautiful (at the very end of the west side), but I would fully supply yourself and not plan daily trips to Port Lucaya if you stayed out there.

If you are not a very strong swimmer, I recommend renting one of their water scooters. These look like Vornado fans that you hold under you and speed you out to the reef area. We have our own snorkels and prescription goggles, so our rentals of 2 pairs of fins, 2 scooters, 2 beach lounges, and usage fees totaled about $50. A tour with transportation provided from your Freeport area hotel costs $35 pp. The snorkeling was very nice. When we went on Monday, we didn’t rent the scooter and the long swim to the reef was rather tiring. Therefore, we didn’t spend much time at the reef itself, since we knew we had the long swim back to the beach to get through. When we returned on Friday, we made sure to rent the scooters. Since the swim out was so much easier, we spent quite a while exploring the reef and looking at all the beautiful fishes.



You swim out to those three little islands (about 200 yards?) to see most of the fish. Just to the lower left of the right most island, you will see a buoy, that is a route marker/resting place for the swim there and back.



While at the brewery liquor store, I had picked up a card for Howard the Stone Crab Man displayed near the register. We love Stone Crab. I called Howard from our cell phone on our way out west and made arrangements to touch base with him after leaving Paradise Cove. He had both Jumbo (5 to a pound, $10/lb) and Colossal (1-2 to a pound, $12/lb) Stone Crab Claws available with a 5 lb minimum. Now, 5 lbs is just about enough for 2 people for dinner, and we wanted leftovers for another dinner or lunch, so we ordered 10 lbs. Howard met us back at Ocean Reef that evening. The crab claws were still frozen, so we placed the bags in a colander in a bowl in the fridge to be cracked the next evening.



Howard the Stone Crab Guy
Please call Howard for your Stone Crab needs while on GBI
242-373-9062 or 242-457-9721
 
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rsnash

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We also know a good local source for Caribbean lobster tail and fish. Another person who works for my dh’s company’s office in Freeport (explore our Flickr pics and you’ll figure it out), is also a commercial fisherman. We bought about 5 lbs of lobster tail and a “pot ready” (gutted, finned, and scaled, then frozen) snapper from him as well. I can give you his number if you want it, by email, because I am not comfortable posting his home number publicly. Also, he doesn’t deliver, you’ll have to drive or take a cab, about 10 minutes from Port Lucaya, to pick up from his house.

The crab needed to defrost in the fridge overnight, but the lobster tail defrosts quickly under cold running water. I had brought some whole wheat spaghetti with us and we had bought some canned tomato at the market. So dinner on Tuesday was Lobster Fra Diavolo Pasta.



Bahamian Lobster Pasta Fra Diavolo a la Timeshare Condo



Since they canceled our Booze Cruise yet again on Wednesday, we did a little shopping in the Freeport Vendor’s Market. We tried a couple more versions of conch salad to bring for our picnic lunch on Xanadu Beach, and picked up a few other items like homemade hot sauce and a wrap scarf for me.



Be sure to get some of the lime juice based hot sauce at the Freeport Vendor Market



For dinner that evening, I prepared a salad and some mustard sauce and we feasted on the Stone Crab we got the day before from Howard. Click for the Mustard Sauce recipe from Joe’s Stone Crab of Miami. I made a lighter version using light mayo, mustard, black pepper and hot sauce.



Those 4 claws fill the large platter
We borrowed a hammer from one of the boaters to crack these beauties



Since we had tried several times to do a full day snorkel/booze cruise, and all were canceled, we decided to splurge and go for a dolphin swim on Christmas Day. This was a fabulous once in a lifetime experience. Although I may do it again some day, even though it is costly. The Unexso facility is very nice. You have to get yourself to their location next to the Port Lucaya Marketplace. There they have a full gift/clothes/dive shop, a restaurant/bar, and a pool (where you can relax before or after your dolphin or diving tour). We did the “Dolphin Swim” in their private lagoon. You take about a 20 minute boat ride there, the captain pointed out some nice homes and an old (recreation?) pirate ship along the way. While at their lagoon facility, you have an orientation, then swim and give commands to the dolphins for about 20-30 minutes. It was really cool. BTW, these dolphins were born in captivity and they have frequent access to the open ocean. They are female, about 30 years old, and each have had calves.



Here I am swimming with two dolphins



After the Dolphin experience, we headed back out east. Spent some time on Bishop’s beach, then drove all the way to McLean’s Town, the easternmost point. Let it suffice to say, there’s really no reason to go further than High Rock. Later that evening I made the snapper with a Creole sauce of bell pepper, onion and tomato, served with roasted potato. I really made full use of the TS’s kitchen on this vacation.



Bahamian Snapper with Tomato Creole Sauce and Lump Stone Crab Meat



On December 26, aka Boxing day, or our last full day on GBI, we returned out east to spend more time at Paradise Cove. More relaxing, more sunbathing, more snorkeling. Ah, the life. I had made sandwiches wraps with some of the Caribbean Lobster tail, which we supplemented with a few of the Red Bar’s offerings: grilled conch and conch fritters. And for dinner that night we used up the rest of the crab and lobster, and various vegetables (did I mention that I made breakfast all week with Egg Beaters (brought frozen from home) omelets with vegetables and whole grain toast (ditto, frozen from home)?) into a Primavera Seafood Pasta. And we finished the rest of the veggies with a large salad. The next day we returned home, enjoying our first class upgrades (dh is CO platinum) and suntans, but wishing we could have stayed just a few more days.
 
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Carol C

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Wow, a TUG review by a Caribbean foodie! Nice pics too! Btw, when I went to Grand Bahama Island a few years back I discovered Zorba's and agree it's excellent!
 

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Thanks Rachel, what a great trip report! You really have talent for incorporating all the details in a fun, interesting way.

Maria
 

lprstn

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Wow!! Thanks so much for sharing!

Wonderful trip report, with great pics...wish I could see more of these here. You gave me some great ideas.
 

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Thank you -- best trip report ever !!!

Hello and Thank you !!!

My goodness, that was THE best trip report ever !!! My mouth was
watering the entire time, just glazing over all those yummy, yummy meals !!

With your excellent photos and wonderful descriptions, we felt as though
we were in the Bahamas right along with you.

Our family has been thinking of Grand Bahamas for a family vacation -
and your wonderful trip report is just the incentive that we needed.

Thank you very, very much,:cheer: :cheer:

Regards
Patricia
(from Canada)
 

rsnash

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You're welcome for your thanks and Thank you for your compliments! I try to make you feel like you are there, while giving recommendations for those who are going.

Have a safe, happy, and prosperous New Year everyone!
 

rsnash

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Wonderful trip report, with great pics...wish I could see more of these here. You gave me some great ideas.

Great ideas for a vacation or for your next trip report? ;)
 

rsnash

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Just as a bonus...

Here's a picture our dog/house sitter sent us on Friday evening. We left Friday morning, before the snow started in NJ. When he took this picture of our dogs, we were sitting by the pool in the Bahamas! :p

3135553716_2f4a10acab.jpg


Happy New Year everyone!
 

tmbrit

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Thanks wonderful report. Can you tell me what the high and low temps were while there in Dec? Also we stayed in the bahamas before and was wondering what extra charges were at this resort at check out?

Thanks, Terri
 

rsnash

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The temps were in the mid 70s most of the week. Locals would be wearing sweatshirts, turtlenecks, jackets, while we laid on the beach in our bathing suits! In general, I found the ocean more comfortable, temperature-wise, for swimming over the pools. It was explained to me that the ocean temperature doesn't change so much day to day, but seasonally it just varies 10-20 or so degrees, whereas unheated pools are the same as ambient air temperature.

My final checkout bill was around $72. I don't have the breakdown, but it included internet and local calls, in addition to a utility surcharge.
 

lll1929

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That was an awesome trip report. The pictures were great and the healthy food ideas and recipes were greatly appreciated.
 

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I've been to other Caribbean islands, but never the Bahamas. Sounds like a great trip.

I thoroughly enjoyed your report. Thanks for taking the time to write it!!
:)
 

tashamen

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Your poor little doggies....:(
 

rsnash

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The ... healthy food ideas and recipes were greatly appreciated.
My dh and I have both lost a lot of weight in the last year. You can read some of our Top 10 Changes here. Some of the best recipes I've developed were for soup, here's a link to Soup, Glorious Soup, Part I and Part II.

Your poor little doggies....:(
Aw, don't feel too bad for them, it's not like they're outside all day. At least they have someone staying with them in their own home, rather than being sent to a kennel. Plus, they actually love running around in the snow. Eventually. This was the first big snow of the season. I'll admit it though, they look miserable. Bailey seems to be saying, "How could you leave us?!" :bawl:
 
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