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Trip Report June 30 - July 6

Gastonia, North...
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Trip Report June 30 - July 6

This trip was a couple years in the making. We are so blessed to have been able to take 2 weeks at our favorite place on earth. This is the first week on Great Exuma. Will post a link to pics later. Apologize for the length but I like long trip reports.

Gastonia, North...
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1. Re: Trip Report June 30 - July 6

Sunday, June 30th

We awoke on Sunday morning to our doorbell buzzer going off. It was 5:15am and none of our alarms had gone off!! Our neighbor and good friend was taking us to the airport and we had both over-slept! What a way to start the vacation! So I hastily grabbed our belongings and the stuff from the freezer (forgot a couple of steaks) and headed out the door hoping we had not forgotten anything essential. I still haven’t found my house keys by the way. Once there we thanked Frank for getting us up and headed to the sky caps. We’ve always used them before as they are a tad bit more generous if you’re over the weight but we were told that we can no longer check in there for international flights. Weird, we just did this in November. Oh well. The airport wasn’t too crowded, security was ok. Vince was in a good mood and as usual, trying to make jokes with all of the TSA agents. When we got to the gate, we learned that our flight was going to be delayed because NAS had been hit with a lightening strike overnight and the control tower wasn’t working. I thought we were doomed. As it turns out, our flight was only delayed about 30 minutes and we had plenty of time before out flight to GGT. We landed in the new US terminal to an empty immigration line. The inter-island travel line is now all the way to the left so we cut through the zig-zagging line to get to it but it really wasn’t necessary as ours was the only plane at the time. Bags took a while but it was nice checking out the new terminal while we waited. As usual, customs just waves you through. Once outside the new terminal door, you can either wait for the shuttle or walk. There are now sidewalks and signs that lead to the domestic side. The walk is not bad but it was pretty humid. We were too early to check in for our flight so we found a nice cool spot at the far end of the old airport near the lines for flights to Cuba. I hate waiting but NAS really isn’t that bad. Once we could check in, we checked our big bags and headed through domestic security. It was Sunday but the bar was selling drinks so we got our first rum and cokes of the trip. They are pretty strong! We met a nice lady named Marina who works at Cape Santa Maria and she invited us to visit when we were there the following week.

Our flight finally boarded. We were on Sky Bahamas and I was a bit worried about the recent crash. The guy behind us started chatting us up. He’s from Quebec and owns a house in Hartswell, as it turned out, which is where we were staying. He told us we could see his house if we took the kayaks out and gave us his card. He said he has to come down about every 5 weeks to take care of everything but this time he couldn’t even stay in the house as he had quests there so he was staying in a hotel. I don’t think I’d complain too much if I were him! During our conversation, the issue of flight safety came up and I started to mention the “crash” but before I could get the word out, a Bahamian in the seat in front of us turned her head and shot me the “death stare” and told me to “shhhh”!!!! Apparently it’s a major faux pas to mention a crash on the airline while your butt is firmly planted in one of their seats. Oops!

It was a bit overcast but I was still able to get some shots of the Exumas. I really love flying over them. Our flight and landing was nothing less than perfect as we’ve come to expect the flights to and from the Out Islands. I don’t remember much about the GGT airport other than it’s pretty small. We found our Honda Accord from Thompsons with key under the mat and a note with our name on it on the dash. To our surprise, it’s a right hand drive Honda straight from Japan. We’ve never driven one so of course I make Vince make the first attempt at it. It only took about 10 minutes of gripping the door before I made him pull over so I could drive. I felt like he was going to run me off the road at every turn! It’s best not to be in the passenger seat so I drove the whole week.

We tracked down the car rental office but no one was there (it was Sunday). I called Mr Thompson and he said just to come back on Monday to complete the paperwork so we just continued on our way. When you get to town, it gets a bit confusing with the one way road. At the stop sign, make a right. Just past the basketball courts, keep left if you need to go into town or veer to the right (staying in the left lane) if you need to go south past town. We unnecessarily made the one way trip more than once. It’s even weirder heading north.

It took a couple of tries to find the house because Valerie had sent the directions to my work computer after I had already left work on Friday not knowing I would not have access to that email. She came running out when she heard our car and flagged us down. She is such a gem. We really grew to be friends over the week, or at least I’d like to think so. The cottage is very cute and has everything you need. It’s small and basic but very clean and the screened porch is nice. We got settled and headed back out to the fish fry for some takeaway. We got some conch fritters and grouper fingers from Shirley’s. The food was ok but it was served very quickly. She claims to have the most varied menu of all the stalls at the fish fry. It was Sunday and most everything was closed. Valerie had stocked the fridge with some essentials before we arrived so we had rum and coke and breakfast stuff for the morning. We definitely made ourselves at home in the pool. Her pool has a really neat design with one wall higher than the other so you really get a feeling of privacy. After our takeaway dinner we took a walk down to the pier to watch the sunset. I love that first night feeling!

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2. Re: Trip Report June 30 - July 6

Monday July 1st

Next morning we made our way downtown to fill out the paperwork with Thompson’s and to get the rest of the groceries. There were a TON of people in Exuma Market even though it was not yet stocked up for the week. We were told to come back after the supply boat came in but we still got what we needed. We parked at Exuma Yacht Club and the nice young man there said he’d keep a watch out on the car. We thought that meant he expected a tip so on the way back when we tried to tip him but he wouldn’t take anything. I get so confused about tipping.

Valerie offers a 2 person kayak with each cottage so we could not wait to take advantage of that. Some people call the 2 person kayaks “divorce makers” and I can see where that could be true. After some maneuvering in the wind and current, we made our way to a small beach across the inlet to Moriah Harbour Cay. It was nice but you don’t get the feeling of being on an uninhabited island as much as I thought you would. I was also hoping to see some sharks but no luck. We did see a small turtle though. After that hot and sweaty adventure, we hit the pool. Having a pool this trip was really nice.

With the long full days of summer, we still had plenty of daylight left so we decided to make our way down to Little Exuma. On the way we picked up a nice young man who was going to Williamstown. He showed us where the turn was for Tropic of Cancer beach and told us a little about each settlement as we passed. I love that it’s so safe to pick up hitchhikers in the out islands!! Tropic of Cancer beach is amazing. The sand is so white and soft! The waves were up just a bit so we didn’t swim but stayed for about an hour on the beach. Sugar called us later that evening to see if Tuesday would be good for the Cays tour and I told him if he thought the weather was good then we’d be there!

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3. Re: Trip Report June 30 - July 6

Tuesday July 2nd

The drive to Barraterre (Berryterry) is A LOT longer than we expected. It took a good hour and 20 minutes from Hartswell and the signage is not all that great. Turn left at the sign for Stuart Manor and go all the way until you come to the dock. Sugar’s son Montel was waiting for us. We also finally got to meet Rebecca and her family. Before we left, we conversed via Trip Advisor about taking the tour together. We had Sugar’s 35 foot Contender all to ourselves. It was awesome! There were four adults, two college kids and two younger kids. We had plenty of room. Sugar fired up the tunes and we headed to an area to see starfish. Montel brought one to the boat and let the kids see it then he gently put it back on the sea floor. Then we went looking for conch. This is not for the faint of heart. We took the boat on the OCEAN SIDE to his secret conch spot. I mean there were what felt like 8 ft rollers coming at us from off the ocean. The boat was rocking and rolling and spraying us. Sugar was always in control but it was scary and exhilarating at the same time! Montel jumped in the water to hunt for the conch. Earlier I had offered to jump in and help them look since I had done it before but MAN I am glad they did not take me up on it. There’s no way I could have done it, I would have FREAKED OUT in those waves! I tried to video us coming back in through the channel in the cays but it just doesn’t do those waves justice. The power of the ocean is amazing.

From there we headed up the cays and past the homes of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill (there was a woman sunning herself on the lanai, not sure who) and Musha Cay and various other resort projects in the works, including what looks like a hobbit house! We anchored at a remote location near Black Point to wade in the shallows while Sugar and Montel made the conch salad. I went WAY out because I don’t like to watch creatures die, even slugs, but I’m a hippocrite because I love to eat those creatures! The conch salad was AMAZING! Just enough heat, tender conch, fresh veggies! Even one of the kids tried it and loved it! We also had Sugar’s yummy rum punch. From here we headed to Thunderball Grotto. Sugar is the man when it comes to getting you in the cave. He takes you to the entrance so you can swim with the current instead of against it. We went at low tide so there was room for us to swim into it without having to dive, although it was still pretty narrow. The current is a bit swift as it runs through the cave but there is a ledge you can hold on to that is out of the main stream of the current. There are fish EVERYWHERE! Huge grouper, parrotfish, queen angels! It’s amazing! Montel fed the fish the leftover conch parts which I think is better than the processed cans of cheese whiz I saw other people with. At least the conch is a natural part of the fishes diets. Don’t take cheese whiz in there people, really?? Would you feed the gorillas in the zoo (which I am against also by the way) would you feed them foi gras?? I don’t think so. The reef around the entire grotto is really cool. I would have liked to have spent more time at the reefs on the outside as well.

From there we headed to SCYC for lunch. There are huge yachts everywhere. Sugar had a hard time finding a place to dock. The yacht club already had a large table put together and waiting for us. The tour runs like clockwork! Vince had the burger and I had the fried fish salad. The food was very good but I didn’t care for the salad dressing. The conch fritters were good too but a little mushy for my taste. We also paid for Sugar and Montel’s lunch which I think it pretty much the norm. The yacht club is very cool. I purchased one of the laminated maps that they use as placemats for $2.50. There were lots of other souvenirs available. I kind of wish Vince had gotten a hat. Sugar got a bag of scraps to feed the pigs.

Big Major Spot is just around the bend from Staniel Cay. Again, I can’t believe the gathering of huge yachts around there! Sugar commented that some of the boats did not get close enough to shore so the pigs had to swim out too far to greet them. Be sure to get close to shore so as not to put too much stress on them, especially the female as she is pregnant right now. The pigs are not the greatest swimmers.

Our next stop was Compass Cay for the friendly nurse sharks. We each had to pay the $10 fee to swim with them. I REALLY enjoyed getting to pet the sharks and watching them swim around. The vibe here though, was kind of weird. The staff members just sit there and watch everyone in the water with the sharks with these glum looks on their faces. And some of the yachties just had bad attitudes. But we were the only tour group there at the time and everyone knows Sugar so maybe it was just me being self-conscious that I can’t afford a multi-million dollar yacht!

On our way home we hit Nick Cage’s island to see the iguanas. I didn’t get out but the others did. The lizards are huge!

The trip back goes fairly quickly without all the stopping. We tipped Sugar and Montel and signed his guest book. I would highly recommend Sugar Adventure Tours!! There is a little convenience store (Rayanne’s I believe) near the dock if you need anything. We didn’t get back until about 6pm and the stores in Georgetown would have been closed by the time we got back to town so we picked up a few things from her. She is also renting out a brand new duplex in Mt Thompson.

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4. Re: Trip Report June 30 - July 6

Wednesday July 3rd

Wednesday I definitely had what I started calling the “cays tour hangover”! We decided to head to Chat n Chill this day. We didn’t have to wait long for Elvis’ water taxi. Once there, they ask you what time you’d like to be picked up. We told them 4pm (5pm is the last one). We set up Vince’s camping hammock between two palm trees and just relaxed all day! The food was not that great. I had the conch burger and it was kind of dry and mixed with cornmeal. Not like the fried conch I’d had before. We took some shots of the stingrays and then tried to find a path to the ocean side but we had no luck. At 4 we headed back to the government dock in Georgetown. Round trip water taxi is $12 I believe. On the way back Vince accused me of leaving his sunglasses at Chat n Chill. I called Elvis to see if someone could take a quick look during the last taxi over there but they were not to be found.

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5. Re: Trip Report June 30 - July 6

Thursday July 4th

Vince was resolved to find his sunglasses so the next day we hired Elvis’ taxi to take us around Elizabeth harbor since it was still very windy and we didn’t feel comfortable maneuvering a rental boat on our own. Minns refunded my deposit b/c of the inclement weather. Before we met Vernon (not Elivis) for the tour, Vince took the taxi back to Chat n Chill and tracked down his sunglasses that had fallen off in the bush while we were trying to find the path. Ha, I didn’t forget them after all! But I was glad he found them. While Vince went back to C&C, I did some souvenir shopping at the Sand Piper across from Peace and Plenty. They have some really nice things in there. I got Vince a t-shirt and some more Abaco Neem for my mosquito bites. Also picked up the book “Don’t Stop the Carnival” that I had been wanting to read. They also had “Out Island Doctor” and “Wind from the Carolinas” which are both specific to the Bahamas. I’ll have to try them next vacation. And don’t forget the 2014 Bahamian Calendar! Spent about $75 there and didn’t even get to see the artwork! I probably couldn’t have afforded it anyway. There was a quick rain storm that came up so I popped next door to the Driftwood Café to pick up some sandwiches for our tour. I got an Italian sub for us to share and got myself a fruit flavored tea. Although we ended up going to the St Francis for lunch, the sub was still very good the next day and the tea was really yummy and refreshing. The ladies at the café are super nice as well. I would definitely eat there again.

The weather turned cloudy at the start of our tour. Vernon took us to a couple of blue holes in the “hurricane hole” but with the overcast sky, they were really dark and there was not much to see. Vince said he could feel this eerily cold water coming out of the big one. We then headed to some reef heads towards the south of the harbour. I’m really glad we did not try to rent a boat. The Minns boats seem so tiny and the waves were really kicking! We hit about 3 different snorkeling spots and saw alot of nice coral, lobsters, rays all kinds of reef fish. No lionfish which is good because we didn’t have a spear with us. Vernon had trouble anchoring in the high surf. A couple of times the anchor was too close to the reef for my conservation-minded self so we offered to dive down and gently move it before he started to reel it in. It was harder than I thought!! The storm really started to bear down on us (or so I thought) so we told Vernon we’d had enough and spent the last couple of hours of the tour at St Francis. Vernon and I had the cracked conch which is supposed to be the best on the island and it was really the best I had had (up to that point anyway – we made our own on Long Island). Vince had the seared tuna wrap which was really good as well. The goombay smash was good to wash it all down with. While we waited for our food Vince and I took a walk to the ocean side and shot a few pics. The waves were really coming in and the beach was not suitable for swimming. The food and the company were awesome. Sandy is the bartender and Kiva is the chef. We really enjoyed sitting and talking with them. I would definitely stay at the St Francis. They really treat their guests well. We paid for Vernon’s lunch and also gave him a little more for tip. We had an awesome day despite the weather.

Vince and I have a ritual every night while on vacation of watching the pics and videos we had taken that day. Valerie has nice small HDTVs in each cottage so it was very easy to review the pics and videos with one simple cable. We really enjoyed staying at the cottages.

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6. Re: Trip Report June 30 - July 6

Friday July 5th

Our last day on Exuma  I wanted to try my hand at kayaking again so we headed out this time straight across the inlet. We beached the kayak and tied it to some brush as the tide would be coming in later. The walk across the sandy muck was really hard! It seemed like forever before we would get to the ocean but we finally made it. The beach here is pure white and the water pure blue. It was gorgeous! And the water was actually very calm. It was a nice place to just relax on the sand or in the water. I think this is where Sandals brings their guests for the “gilligan’s island experience”. Although even here, you can still see homes on the mainland so it still doesn’t feel as remote as you might think. I would have liked to have done more kayaking in the mangroves but the current and wind just made it too difficult. After our last kayak trip we headed for the pool of course! I mentioned to Vince that I had had such a wonderful time already that I would be satisfied to go home but couldn’t believe we had another whole week to go!

Tonight we planned to make the snapper that Valerie had given us but we wanted a snack before hand. Valerie suggested Santana’s and since I have always heard great things about the place, we decided to go. Valerie tried to call before we left to make sure they were serving but the land line was acting up. It was Friday night so most everyone was going to be open. When we got there it was just the locals hanging around. We ordered the grouper. Lobster was on the menu as well but we didn’t order it because it’s hard to know if it was caught in season or not, although another tourist couple did order two of them. The grouper was absolutely delicious!!! It came with rice, coleslaw and beets. We normally don’t like beets but these were very good. The whole meal was almost completely gone before I remembered to take a picture. The experience here was very good. We got to meet Dee and some of her family. We also met a lady from New Mexico who had walked down from her rental place. She used to live on Exuma and was visiting. It’s so nice chatting with people and finding out their experiences. Our dinner of snapper was really good and Valerie had given us some goat peppers to go with it. I think these small snappers would have been better to fry but they were still good from the grill. By the way, we had trouble finding lighter fluid for the grill.

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7. Re: Trip Report June 30 - July 6

Saturday July 6th

Our flight with Island Wings wasn’t until noon so we had time to make breakfast and have one last dip in the pool. We said our goodbyes to Valerie and told her we would definitely be back. We also left her some of the perishables from the fridge. She especially appreciated the pistachio ice cream! We headed to town for gas. We left the tank just as it was when we picked it up. We paid $40 for 7/8 of a tank. We needed to find some place for a quick lunch and decided on Latitudes at Exuma Beach Resort. They said they weren’t open until 12 but did serve us outside on the patio. About the same time a family of about 15 people showed up unannounced with no reservations. I think this is extremely rude. How hard is it to pick up the phone and at least let them know you are coming? They tried to sit at a table that had already been reserved. The staff had to scramble to get the tables put together and umbrellas up. Then their kids started splashing water out of the pool and it ran down the patio towards my bags that were on the concrete floor. Luckily one of the staff noticed and I was able to save my bag and camera.

Rudeness aside, the view here is gorgeous and the restaurant and grounds look really nice. I’m glad they were able to smarten the place up with a few renovations. We ordered the conch fritters and we split a burger. I have to say that I think their fritters were the best of the trip. They were very crispy with nice conch meat. The burger was good too but by the time it came out it was almost noon and we still had at least a 10 minute drive to the airport. We had everything boxed up and paid. There is an automatic resort 15% service charge added to the bill so I left a little extra for tip.

I called Marty to let him know we were going to be a little late. I didn’t realize how far the airport was from town. We got to the terminal and parked our Honda in the lot, left the key under the mat. Once inside I did not see an Odyssey Aviation desk. I asked a nice Bahamas Air agent and he “oh, that’s a long walk!” Uh oh. Finally, they unlocked a pad-locked door for us and one of the Odyssey Aviation workers loaded our bags onto a golf cart and drove us the 200 yards or so on the tarmac to the separate Odyssey Aviation building where Marty was waiting in his crisp, smart pilot’s uniform. How cool! They loaded our bags and we hopped in. No weighing, no screening, it was awesome; like having your own private plane. We tipped the luggage handler and climbed in. Marty asked if one of us wanted to ride in the co-pilot’s seat. I immediately thought that Vince will say yes and of course he did. I sat in the back but still had great views. The plane will hold 4 passengers. Of course my camera started to die once we were in the air but I still managed to get some good shots of Great Exuma and Stocking Island. It wasn’t long before Long Island came into view. We were so excited to be back!

We had such a great time in the Exumas and it was in large part to the people we met. Valerie is an awesome host and her cottages are a perfect home base for exploring. She’s a gem to talk to. We could have talked for hours but she is always busy fixing something on her sprawling property. Sugar and his son made our day to the upper cays absolutely fantastic. You can tell they love their jobs and love being with people and seeing their faces when they experience the beauty of their islands. And by the way, Sugar would really appreciate a nice steak or two if you have extra room in your luggage. As much as he loves being on his boat and fishing, he’d rather eat beef over fish any day! I’d also like to thank Vernon and Elvis for going out of their way to help Vince find his sunglasses and for Vernon getting us to some nice reefs in not so great weather. And also for letting us experience the great food and hospitality from Sandy and Kiva at the St Francis! Everyone we met was super nice and very proud to call the Exumas home. Great Exuma is a great place to start a two-island trip as there are many direct flights to Georgetown and a couple of options for getting to Long Island, most highly of which I recommend Island Wings. There is also a ferry on Tuesdays to Simms, Long Island. Or you can hire Presley Pinder to come and get you from either Georgetown or Williamstown and he will take you in his boat to Long Island. We will DEFINITELY be back!

Edited: 23 July 2013, 15:23
Tallahassee, Florida
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8. Re: Trip Report June 30 - July 6

Hey Girl! I am enjoying reading this! Savoring it! :)

Gastonia, North...
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9. Re: Trip Report June 30 - July 6

Thanks G! I am hoping to get some pictures up tonight when I get home from work. We missed out on a few restuaurants that I really wanted to try: Catch a Fire, Le Shante, Big D's and others that I'm sure I'm missing. You really need alot more time than 5 full days and 2 half days to experience all it has to offer.

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10. Re: Trip Report June 30 - July 6

When we retire!!! :)

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