When they're planing a weekend getaway, most Miamians think one of two ways: Mickey Mouse hell in Orlando, or drinking and fishing in the Keys. But we sometimes forget there's an entirely different country just 60 miles away from us, filled with fresh seafood, white powder sand, and really, really cheap beer.
Last weekend, Cultist was invited to try out the fast ferry service to Freeport on Grand Bahama Island. Ferry Express, operated by Baleria, departs daily from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. The ferry seats about 460 passengers and travels at a top speed of 32 knots (about 36 MPH). The ride takes about two and a half hours each way and, while it's not really a time saver when comparing it to a flight, it is cheaper and offers benefits like being able to move around, shop for duty-free booze, watch a movie, and have a snack.
Like an airplane, the ferry offers economy and first-class seating. Opt
for the first-class which, unlike on airplanes, is only about $20 more
each way. For the extra expense, you'll get reclining seats, a lounge area,
and a complimentary movie.
Like catching a flight, you've got to
be at the ferry terminal an hour and a half before its 10 a.m.
departure. That sounds lousier than it is, because boarding takes place at
about 9 a.m., and waiting on the ferry is pretty pleasant.
underway, be prepared for speed. This sucker is fast! Buy a beer, sit
back, and enjoy the ride. The company is planning on putting in a
casino and making some other improvements, but for now, download a few
books or movies to your iPad or watch for flying fish and dolphins out
A big "con" for the ferry is the fact that going outside
is prohibited....something about "safety." Psh. There is, however, a smoking deck, a leftover feature
from when the catamaran did European shuttle service. You can thank all those
stringent U.S. Coast Guard safety regulations for the fact that you
can't get any more sun.
A big "pro" is the ability to buy cheap booze and snacks on board.
The ferry docks in Freeport and it's
about a 20 minute taxi ride to the main tourist area of Port Lucaya. If you're just crossing over for the day, the ferry offers a daytripper fare of $49 per person each way
(not including additional taxes and fees). But if, like us, you're staying overnight on the
island, you can book packages including ferry and accommodations,
starting at $149 for two nights at a Freeport hotel.
The Pelican Bay Hotel is located adjacent to Port Lucaya Marketplace and
the marina. The boutique-style resort has three pools, a dockside bar
and restaurant, and complimentary goldfish to keep you company in your
Port Lucaya's central hub is Count Basie square, which
turns into a free, all-ages dance club each evening. Surrounding the
square are bars where you can find extremely cheap drinks. Signs offer
Kalik beers at two for $5, shots of Cruzan rum for $1, and rum-infused
drinks served in coconuts for about $7. Twenty dollars can get you a few
drinks in Miami, but in Freeport, it gets you straight-up bombed.
If you're up for a late night, the casino is open 24 hours, and Neptune's nightclub is open until the wee hours of the morning, where you can find both locals and tourists dancing to a mix of reggae and dance music.
The Port Lucaya area is fun, but it's a place designed for tourists. You're not in the real Bahamas until you've ventured over to the less touristy
part of the island. Bahamas Interland Eco-Tours will take you to the east end of Grand Bahama Island, where you'll find Lucayan National Park. This 40-acre park has two caves, which
served as burial grounds for the Lucayan Indians. It's now home to
thousands of bats, migratory birds, and albino fish who swim in the
deeper parts of the cave.
A stroll through mangroves
reminiscent of the Everglades leads to Gold Rock Beach. Possibly the
most gorgeous beach we've seen, this beach is named after the large
gold-colored rock just out in the blue waters of the Atlantic.
getting your feet wet, head over to one of the local restaurants in
High Rock, where freshly caught snapper is served fried with peas and
rice (and more Kalik) for about $10.
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On the way back to the ferry terminal,
stop at Junkanoo Beach for a few conch fritters and some more Kaliks for
the road. The ferry returns from Freeport daily at 7 p.m. The upcoming Junkanoo Summer Festival, which runs Thursday evenings at Freeport's Taino Beach on July 5,12, and 19, is a great time to make overnight plans.