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Published: January 30th 2013
Those of you who know us, know that we are not really resort kind of people. In fact, we very often speak critically of people who travel to another country only to never leave the resort and as a result, never experience the actual country. Resorts always seemed to us to be overcrowded, overcharged, overdone, and lacking in any real sense of history, culture, and authenticity. There is the argument that resort guests are offered daily excursions, activities, and tours which can provide the opportunity for history, culture, and all things authentic. Then, there is the counter argument that such excursions, tours, activities, and the like are limited and superficial. And so, the argument can continue indefinitely. We have always preferred to travel the road less travelled, to steer away from resorts and their guided excursions whenever possible; it is almost always possible. With that, we travelled to Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas where we stayed three nights at an all-inclusive resort.
Chuck subscribes to www.travelzoo.com
and every week he receives emails advertising travel and entertainment deals. Tuesday, January 15th
Chuck read an email from Travel Zoo promoting last minute deals with www.cheapcaribbean.com
vacation packages to Bahamas, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Virgin Islands, and Jamaica. Prices ranged from around $500 up to around a couple thousand dollars. Many packages were all-inclusive and most were for a few days to a week in length. All vacations featured lodging at a resort. After looking over our options, Chuck said “can we do this” to which I replied “I can if you can”. We booked our last minute all-inclusive resort style vacation package and were in Freeport by Thursday afternoon.
I spent Wednesday packing and researching. What was there to do? What was the language? What was the currency? What was the exchange rate? What to pack? We just assumed that the weather would be warm and sunny. Almost, or well, mostly it was. English was spoken in Bahamas. Both Bahamian and American currency was accepted throughout. The exchange rate was dollar to dollar. I packed shorts, light shirts, long sleeve shirts, and swimming suits. And, I drafted a list of places to go and things to do.
In retrospect and really upon first impression, some things that stood out included warm weather, predominant trade winds, and happy people.
Viva Wyndham Fortuna
There also seemed to be a lacking sense of history and authenticity. On the other hand, there was a definite and apparent island style and culture which was upbeat, carefree, and inviting. Oddly, I think there is more available seafood in Wisconsin than there was there. And, no museums, no historic sites, and no archaeological zones! All-inclusive resort impressions were about what we expected; lots of rum, remote location, lots of rooms surrounding common areas where endless activities occur.
We checked in at the resort, received our wristbands, were told how to find our room, and told to make reservations for dinner. We were then swiftly greeted by a lady offering to give us a plethora of t-shirts, bags, and baseball caps in exchange for our participating in a tour of the resort and attending a presentation promoting the benefits of buying into the Viva Wyndham Vacation Club (or something of the like). Okay, fine; we were scheduled for the 90 minute fiasco at 11am the next day. We found our room, changed from winter clothes to summer clothes, enjoyed our beach view, set out to find food and drinks, and stroll the shoreline.
Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach
We headed to the beach bar where we found pizza, hot dogs, pasta salad, nachos, and an endless parade of loud and drunken twenty-something’s. Oh poop! It seemed as though we had landed in Spring Break Heaven. We had our fill of food and set out to walk the beach. The water was very calm and very cold! I was now regretting promising our friend Charlie that I would go in the water. Maybe the water would warm up by the next day.
After walking the beach we went to make dinner reservations. There was no availability. Oh poop! What were we supposed to do for dinner? No worries we were told, just go to the buffet, it starts at 6:30. We went for a drink and hoped the buffet would be better than the beach bar food. It was! There was pork, beef, chicken, fish, salad bar, soups, fruits, deserts, breads, cheeses, and an endless variety of veggies. It was awesomely impressive! We had a drink and talked about what to do with the remainder of our time there. Options included fishing, Lucayan National Park, the Garden of the Groves, Port Lucayan
Marketplace, and a restaurant featuring seafood, shark feedings, and live jazz music, oh and our promo tour of the resort the next day.
We ditched the promo tour! I hate those things, our time was limited, and really who cares about the free caps and shirts. Instead, we travelled by bicycle to the Garden of the Groves. They said it would take about 5 minutes; it took half an hour, even still a very nice ride. Garden of the Groves is a twelve acre park with walking trails, waterfalls, a fern grove, ponds of fish, turtles, and waterfowl, a spiritual labyrinth, birds, a chapel, shops selling locally made souvenirs, a café, playground for kids, and (obviously) gardens. The park was dedicated to Wallace and Georgette Groves, founders of Freeport. Admission was $15 per adult. Hours were daily from 9am to 5pm. We arrived a few minutes before a tour bus was scheduled to arrive and were told by Park Guide Marilyn that we could tag along with the tour if we liked. We did. Marilyn was full of knowledge of local flora, fauna, and history, and she provided a fun, interactive, and educational tour. She
also promoted a children’s book that she had authored, available for purchase in the garden shops. We bought Marilyn’s book and had her sign it to our grandchildren Benny, Kirsten, and Eddie. All in all we spent about three hours on the tour, exploring the gardens on our own, walking the labyrinth from start to finish (it was actually relaxing), and feeding the fish and waterfowl. We made it back to the resort in time for lunch; another impressive buffet.
We decided to rent a car and spend the afternoon at Lucayan National Park located about a half an hour drive east from the resort. Park admission was $5 per person and hours were daily from 9am to 5pm. The 40 acre park (divided into two sides by the Grand Bahama Highway) is home to one of the longest underground cave systems in the world, a boardwalk over a tidal mangrove creek, and trails through pine and palm trees, and to sink holes (or caves) and Gold Rock Beach. Along the trail on the land side of the park visitors can enter three different sink holes. The first, Burial Mound Cave was where the bones
of pre-Columbian inhabitants were found and is now home to a newly discovered species of crustacean, a sort of swimming centipede (ewww). The second sink hole, Sea Cave was where pre-Columbian pottery shards were found and the last sink hole, Ben’s Cave, showcases a pool of fresh water that floats on top of saltwater and orchids and air plants growing on trees at the entrance to the cave. On the sea side of the park the trail circles over Gold Rock Creek, to Gold Rock Beach, and then through a forest of pine and palm trees before returning to the park entrance neighboring the highway. Gold Rock Beach is probably the most pristine beach I have ever visited. The sea water is clear, turquoise, calm, and shallow (great for land lovers like me). The beach is very clean and virtually untouched. It was like stepping into a world of simple beauty. As far as the eye can see there was nothing more than a white sand beach, clear turquoise waters, the remains of trees turned to driftwood from the tides, birds, seashells, and an endless shoreline of pine trees. It was a place that touched my heart, spoke to my
soul, and left a lasting impression in my mind. And, for the moment, it was ours. Although the water was cold, our shoes came off and we went in! Since we rented the car for 24 hours we decided to return the following morning. How could we not? We spent all of the next morning laying in the sun, exploring the beach, playing with and then chasing away birds (they poop a lot), collecting sea shells, a sea biscuit, and sea fans. It was a truly beautiful experience.
After returning our car and having lunch we took a taxi to the Port Lucayan Marketplace. There were rows and rows of souvenir and jewelry shops and a scattering of bars and restaurants bordering a walkway along the local bay and marina. We bought postcards and mailed them to the kids and called it a day. We spent the last night enjoying another awesome buffet and rocking out to techno music at the beach bonfire back at the resort.
The last morning we enjoyed another great buffet, walked the beach one last time and soaked up some sun before having to return
Leila & Chuck
Gold Rock Beach
to the frozen tundra we call home.
After all was said and done we confirmed that all-inclusive resort vacations are not at the top of our list of must-do’s. We also determined that all-inclusive resorts, like the Viva Wyndham, are great for family vacations; economical, enjoyable, and easy for all ages with unlimited food, beverages, and activities. It wasn’t our favorite vacation, but we thoroughly enjoyed it and are actually planning to return with family in tote.
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