I’ve traveled by ferry on four continents but didn’t know about something almost in my backyard.
A high-speed boat from Florida to the Bahamas. A chance to pop over to that island nation with British roots to see what I could for the day.
The route is run by a Spanish company that’s been doing this kind of thing in the Mediterranean for years.
The boat goes from Fort Lauderdale to the city of Freeport on Grand Bahama, one of many Bahamian islands. It’s roughly the distance from Philadelphia to New York. The trip takes 2 1/2 hours, weather permitting.
There’s the catch. I’d read where bad weather could delay things even more — or scrap the journey altogether. And there’s that little matter of the Gulf Stream passing between Florida and the Bahamas — the current that can make the crossing a real gutwrencher.
I forgot to pack Dramamine and expected to be pasted to the bathroom floor per usual, but was thankfully spared. Though it was raining slightly, it was smooth sailing, as they say.
But because of immigration rules, we had to be there two hours early. I was nervous about getting lost in the massive maze of the Fort Lauderdale cruise ship terminal.
The place was packed with tourists going over to Freeport for the day or several, and well-heeled Americans and Bahamians commuting back and forth for things like shopping and doctor visits.
And an Australian couple who’d come to Fort Lauderdale to buy a boat, and planned to sail home. I asked if they could use another hand. Oh, well.
The boat looked like a mini cruise ship. Spacious, but not as fancy.
First-class sported airline seats that looked a little strange on a boat. And a safety presentation followed by a movie. Impossible Mission with Tom Cruise, one of the friendly bilingual staff informed me.
The only other entertainment on board was a snack bar with Cuban coffee and Dr. Brown’s soda, Bob Evans sandwiches …
… and a duty free shop that sold M&Ms. No Wi-Fi at the moment, or phone service. I’m told slot machines may be in the works.
Somewhere in the middle of the trip, my iPhone switched to international coverage. Oops. Disabled the phone part but quick. And though I brought my charger for the camera part of the phone, I didn’t have a European plug. The concession folks were nice enough to charge it up for me.
Over in Freeport, we day-trippers were spared waiting in the immigration line, leaving the afternoon to explore.
If I were staying for a few days, there are any number of beaches to explore on Grand Bahama Island. But because my time was limited to the Freeport area, I took a $5 van (U.S. currency is widely accepted) packed with other sightseers from the ferry terminal to Lucaya Beach (named for the original inhabitants), in the suburbs.
My plan was to check out the beach and then wend my way to downtown Freeport on the way back to the terminal. I was eager to try a local eatery recommended by a Bahamian ferry passenger.
But when I told the van driver I wanted to head to downtown Freeport after the beach, she asked why. (I’d find out soon enough.)
Lucaya Beach — more like Florida during Spring Break than another country — was pretty, though packed.
My little taste of the Bahamas beach was delicious.
When in the Bahamas …
… make like a Bahama Mama and braid your hair. Yeah, not exactly Bo Derek.
There were the obligatory tourist shops.
Including a jewelry store that reeled me in with a divine ring. When I found out it was around the price of a MINI Cooper, I bolted. At least the MINI is a tad more practical.
I settled for a conch burger — that’s it buried under all the cheese — to tide me over until I got to Freeport. Pretty good. But couldn’t stomach the breaking news on CNN about the John Edwards trial. No getting away …
Took public transit to Freeport. Though it was knee-to-knee, everyone was cordial, wishing each other a good afternoon. The females were called Mum by the males and sister by the women.
When I finally arrived in downtown Freeport, I understood why it wasn’t a hot destination. Unlike Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, there really was no there there. Save for a lovely bunch of coconuts.
Lunch at Western Bakery, the local eatery I’d been so curious to try, was over. With that, I hopped on another bus to the harbor for the return trip back to the U.S.
On the ride back, treated myself to a Dr. Brown’s. And had the pleasure of shooting the breeze with a very gracious couple.
We discussed life, travel, and the sublime taste of Cadbury Crunchie candy bars. They offered me some of their supper — turkey sandwiches that they’d packed, and half a Crunchie. I declined; didn’t want to come off as a complete glutton.
They were so understated, I was floored to find out this was them.
After a long day …
Back in Fort Lauderdale with two gigundo mosquito bites as souvenirs. And the glow of an intriguing time.
Key points: If you want to stay over in the Bahamas, the ferry may be cheaper than flying. But keep in mind that you can’t board unless you have a passport.
For more info, click here.