One the perks of being a general interest columnist is getting to write about your vacations. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.
With three teenagers (please pray for me), family vacations can be a challenge. My three children are completely different so getting everyone on the same page is a miracle. Then there is the money.
When I was single, vacations were expensive. Now that I have a family of five, vacations are exorbitant. If I wasn’t running out of time, I would just wait until next year.
Our go-to family vacation has been the Florida beach, which can be reasonably affordable. We have occasionally gone skiing but let’s not even discuss how much that costs.
This year, however, I struck paydirt. I found a reasonably-priced family vacation that was gorgeous and exotic – the Bahamas. Oldest son John somehow became intrigued with the island of Eleuthera. Daughter Ruth loves the beach and was dying to go to an island.
My initial reaction was “no way.” My mind raced to 15 years ago when I was stranded in a podunk airport for hours upon hours waiting for a puddle jumper. I swore no more.
As it turned out, we found an affordable flight directly from Atlanta to the North Eleuthera Airport. The runway is just barely long enough for a commercial Bombadier Delta jet.
Next up was finding a place to stay. The resorts were way out of our price range, so we used “Home Away” to find an affordable house. It took awhile, but we found a 5-star house for $300 a night.
The 2,000-square-foot house, dubbed “Tequila Sunset,” was right on a little cove with a beach in the hamlet of Gregory Town. Being off the beaten path, the price was discounted. But we wanted to explore the island by car, so driving was not a problem for us. Car rentals are affordable because most of the cars are older and pretty beaten up.
As any family knows, work and school schedules limit travel to specific times of the year. We hated to travel over Christmas, but other than summer, this is the longest break. Scheduling our trip to include Christmas Day further lowered the cost and increased availability.
First thing, I checked the weather. Bahama Decembers are perfect. High of 80, low of 72, no rain. You can’t beat that. The water is on the cool side, but perfectly fine for swimming, especially if you are a young teenager.
Our crew of six included Ginny, me, John, 19; Ruth, 14; Lawrence, 18; and Lawrence’s girlfriend Anna. Our first flight was at 6 a.m. (Ouch!) on a cold and freezing night.
Getting teenagers out of bed is mission impossible. With a vacation on the line, I was a nervous wreck. I awoke at 3:30 a.m. in time to have my morning coffee, gain my senses and rally the troops.
With minutes to spare to catch our flight, it was painful waiting, while the security line inched forward at a snail’s pace. It wasn’t easy, but we made it.
One of the many great things about Jackson is our easy access to the biggest airport in the world. A short one-hour flight to Atlanta and all the world is a flight away.
It was about a one hour and 45-minute flight to North Eleuthera. I was worried about the short runway, but the pilot stopped the plane with a third of the runway to spare. Everybody let out a squeal of glee as we felt the warm tropical air.
Big car rental companies don’t operate in Eleuthera, which has a population of 10,000, but I was able to book a six-passenger van through a friend of the house’s caretaker.
The van was a big mistake. We should have rented a Pathfinder or Jeep with higher clearance. There is one main paved road up and down the 110-mile length (and one mile width) of Eleuthera, but once you get off the main road, it’s very rough.
Our house was great. We immediately started snorkeling and kayaking around the crystal clear water. You can literally see 50 feet or more to the bottom. It’s all sand and limestone rock. There is not an ounce of mud on Eleuthera. The fish are colorful and abundant.
Gregory Town had a little store for groceries. It even took credit cards. The people were very friendly. That night, the stars above the palms provided a majestic view. I played “Back to the Island” by Leon Russell in memory of his recent passing.
Meals are not cheap because everything has to be shipped in. Conch, grouper, and Bahamian lobster and jerk goat or chicken are the staples. The food was quite unique and tasty.
The gorgeous, isolated beaches were down very bumpy, rough roads. The water looked treacherous on the eastern Atlantic side. The western Caribbean side is just the opposite, hardly a wave. That’s because the prevailing winds in the Bahamas are from east to west, opposite the continental United States.
The main tourist town on Eleuthera is Dunmore Town on Harbour Island. For us, it was a pleasant 30-minute drive and a 10-minute boat ferry. Dunmore Town has gorgeous, swimmable pink sand beaches and fancy resorts. We drove around in golf carts and mopeds, and had a great lunch overlooking the beach.
One day we went reef fishing and caught enough fish for several great meals. We caught Red Hind, Nassau Grouper, Grunt, Porgies and a beautiful Queen Angelfish, and several other beautiful inedible fish.
Our fishing guide took us to a beautiful sandbar where we beach combed. I took a beautiful family photo that I hoped to use for next year’s Christmas card (the girls nixed the idea of appearing in their bikinis).
Our fishing guide gave us directions to a sapphire blue inland swimming hole. We found it by taking a right down the path across from the burned out jeep. It was a 50-foot jump off a steep cliff into crystal clear water. Nobody has ever found the bottom. Climbing back up the rope ladder was almost as hard as mounting the courage to leap off the edge.
Every day there was some exotic, beautiful geological formation to discover: caves, rock pools just out of reach of crashing waves, fields of agave century plants, innumerable beaches and coves.
One beach allowed us to walk a quarter mile through two feet of crystal clear water covering soft white sand to an offshore island. The photo I took looked as beautiful as a Tahiti island photo.
On Friday night we hung out at Elvina’s in Gregory Town. It was a completely local joint with awesome food and music. Famous singer Lenny Kravitz lives nearby and often joins the jam sessions. Some people might consider the place a tad scary, but we felt right at home.
Eleuthera was rough enough to be fun and exotic, but with enough tourist infrastructure to be entertaining. The economy depends on American tourism and they know it. The people are very friendly and accommodating.
Our flight back was delayed by vacation congestion, requiring us to do the full family Atlanta International half-mile sprint. (Murphy’s Law 768: The distance of the gate is inversely proportional to the time you have to catch your flight.) But we made it!
All in all, a great trip. Family vacation, check! The price tag was about the same as a week at Destin, Seaside or Rosemary Beach.
The Bahamas are some of the most beautiful islands in the world and they are right at our doorstep. Enjoy!