The fourth largest and second most populated island in the Bahamas, Grand Bahama Island has recently enjoyed a spurt of commercial growth. While the island was originally developed in the 1950s, the cruise ship traffic tended to bypass it in favor of nearby Nassau. However, lately ships such as the Discovery have begun to make Freeport their main port of call, revitalizing the tourist trade on this sleepy island.
Although 41,000 people live on Grand Bahama, they are spread out over such a wide area as to make the island seem nearly uninhabited in parts. Wide stretches of road and miles of white sandy beach are empty for days at a time. You can walk for hours without seeing anyone. On the other hand, if you travel a few miles to bustling Port Lucaya or the International Bazaar, it becomes obvious that while the island is not a tourism capital, it's on its way to becoming one. An interesting piece of trivia is that locals call Freeport “The City” and Nassau “The Town.” One would think it would be the opposite, after all, Nassau is several times larger. However, downtown Nassau is a pell-mell collection of shops, services and businesses, squeezed together wall-to-wall with no real logic. Freeport, on the other hand, is composed of a few separate districts, distinctly separated by land and highways, and each possessed of its own specific qualities.
As far as tourists are concerned, Port Lucaya is the center of Grand Bahamas. The cruise ships dock here, the activity boats depart from here, and the night life is concentrated here for the most part, in the Port Lucaya Marketplace. Several large hotels are also located in Port Lucaya. They are scattered around the Marketplace, with the most famous of them, the Lucayan, being directly across from it. As far as lodging goes, many people feel that Port Lucaya is the best bet, because guests of a Port Lucaya hotel have instant access to the beach, restaurants, activities and shopping. The Marketplace is perhaps the best shopping center on the island, with about 85 specialty stores and restaurants, not to mention a hopping Straw Market. The Straw Market is the place to haggle for local goods and cheap souvenirs.
The port itself is very busy during the daytime, all the way up to the sunset hours. During the morning hours, dozens of activity brokers, barkers and ship captains try to draw in customers for activities ranging from sport fishing to snorkeling to parasailing. Buses full of tourists from major hotels arrive at the port and line up for the Robinson Crusoe Shipwreck Cruise, the Glass-Bottom Party Boat, and other favorite daytime adventures. At sunset, the ever-popular Bahama Mama Booze Cruise departs from the dock, full of rowdy vacationers ready to get drunk. An hour after sunset the same ship returns, full of drastically changed people. Half of them stumble out of the ship looking for the nearest bed. The other half charge happily out, looking for the nearest bar—which, in this district, is easy to find.
Nighttime options in Port Lucaya vary a tiny bit. There's live music in Count Basie Square, a half-dozen little bars (frequented by locals and tourists alike) and a few hotel lounges. Fortunate guests of the Lucayan can splash around in the gigantic rock-formation hot tub. For people who want to make a mellow night of it, several open-air restaurants and casual sweet shops are open till around 10p. Enjoy dinner, a snack, or coffee with friends. Ice cream at Marie's Kookies is a great way to beat the heat. Pisces Restaurant, located at the front of the Marketplace, is a popular pizzeria and hangout spot, serving fruity cocktails and doses of boisterous cheer.
It's a toss-up whether this district or Port Lucaya is the hottest spot in Freeport. Since they're several miles away from each other, it doesn't make much sense to go to both districts in one day—especially if you're taking a cab (since there is almost no public transportation in Freeport, cabs are usually the best option). While the Bazaar doesn't have a busy harbor to draw people, it has something that is for some even more tempting, a Las Vegas-style casino. Located at the Resort at Bahamia, this casino is 20,000 square feet in size, and has every kind of table game as well as over 400 slot machines. A production show is presented nightly in the Casino Showroom. The rest of this area's nightlife is scattered; the Resort at Bahamia boasts a few bars, while the club of the moment, Ruby Swiss Restaurant, is behind the Resort at Bahamia.
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