Island Time is Family Time: The Best of The Abacos

If you’re looking for a tropical family destination that’s as easy to access as it is to navigate once you’re there, look no further than The Abacos. An island getaway in the Bahamas that beckons with powdery white beaches and sparkling turquoise waters, The Abacos offer both thrills and relaxation to delight everyone in the family. Keep reading to find out why it’s easier to be a Bahama Mama (and Papa) on your next family vacation.

photo: Brendal's Dive Center

What to Eat

When in Rome, eat spaghetti. When in The Abacos, eat seafood. Bahamian food is simple, delicious, and fresh. Keep an eye out for conch salad, a diced concoction with fresh conch, peppers, onions, and lime juice, and don’t miss a chance to eat grilled spiny lobster—smaller in size than regular lobsters but twice as sweet. Firefly Bar & Grill at Firefly Sunset Resort on Elbow Cay serves a lobster quesadilla that you’ll write home about, while Nipper’s—known for it’s epic Sunday parties—serves both lightly fried lobster and conch fillets “burgers” that you won’t want to miss. Head to Man-o-War Cay for homemade ice cream, and we recommend both the lemon and the fresh coconut.

photo: S. Massey

How to Get on the Water

For an unforgettable experience on the water, Brendal’s Dive Shop on Green Turtle Cay offers everything from snorkeling and diving along the world’s third largest barrier reef to more adventurous excursions for those inclined to swim with sting rays and sharks, followed by a rustic, but gourmet, beach cookout on Mun Jac Cay. Along with his wife Mary and now with son Kyle, Brendal Stevens offers one of the best island-hopping experiences around.

Off the path: In addition to taking you to swim with the turtles, feed the stingrays, and snorkel the most pristine reefs, Brendal will also take you to see and feed the wild but friendly Abaco swimming pigs. Inquire about his 2.5 hour tour, or book an Island Hopping Sunday Tour, which also includes passage to Nipper's. 

photo: S. Massey

Where to Encounter Some History

Possibly the most interesting part of a vacation in The Abacos is that you’ll learn a great deal of history as your hop from island to island. Largely unexplored until the late 18th century, British Loyalists became the first known settlers—bringing their New England style that still dominates island architecture and customs—as they fled from the newly formed country in America. For the best one-stop-shop, check out the Man-O-War Heritage Museum, where you can get a glimpse of life in The Bahamas through one family's personal items, then pay a visit to Albury Brother's Boats to catch a glimpse of two fifth-generation shipbuilders at work. On Elbow Key, head to the Hope Town Lighthouse—one of the world’s few remaining manually operated lighthouses in the world. In Plymouth, a colorful colonial town on Green Turtle Cay, a visit to the Loyalist Memorial Sculpture Garden will give you a century’s worth of education on the history of The Abacos, in a quaint walled garden.

Off the path: Just up the road from the Sculpture Garden in Plymouth, you’ll find Ye Ole Gaol, where three holding cells now house local kids’ Junkanoo costumes, and where pink steps still lead up to the hangman’s platform on the roofline.

photo: S. Massey

Spots to Quench Your Thirst that Are Family-Friendly

Much like a British pub, local watering holes in The Abacos serve as gathering spots where friendly locals and tourists mingle, eat, and drink, and where kids are always welcome. Nipper's on Great Guana Cay is the party place for party people every Sunday, where the wide beach is filled with revelers and its two pools are packed. But go any other day of the week and you’ll find a truly local experience, where a local would happily lob off the top of a coconut for a kid, and where you can spend a peaceful day in the sand.

Off the path: In Plymouth, on Green Turtle Cay, Miss Emily’s Blue Bee Bar is just the kind of place where you’re sure to strike up a conversation with someone who can tell you where to find the turtles on any given day, or perhaps where the second of a pair of manatee was sighted earlier in the morning. As the birthplace of the Goombay Smash, Miss Emily’s attracts visitors from around the world, who all want to sign a name on the wall or leave a card on the ceiling.

photo: S. Massey

How to Get Around

What makes The Abacos appealing is also what makes it to at first appear daunting. The archipelago is home to nearly a dozen (FACT CHECK) islands and cays. But you don’t have to have your own yacht to enjoy hopping from one to the next. All you need is a cursory knowledge of the ferry system (it works similarly to the US bus system) to get from one, to another, and another. Albury’s Ferry Service operates the standard routes in The Abacos—most of which run about 20-25 minutes between each island. All ferries depart from The Crossing in Marsh Harbour and operate 7 days a week, every day of the year with the exception of Christmas Day, which operates with a limited schedule. Tickets for any route can be purchased online in advance of your trip, on site at the Albury's office at in Marsh Harbour, or on any of vessel, providing you will be paying with cash (US or B$ are both accepted). If you're traveling with a larger group or just want to book direct passage to align with your itinerary, contact G&L Transportation at 242-359-6208.

Off the path: Once you're on-island, a golf cart is all you need to explore even remote areas of the island. On Elbow Cay, contact Elbow Cay Cart Rental in Hope Town, and they'll give you a crash course in driving one, if you need it. 242-366-0530, wilmamkemp@yahoo.com

photo: S. Massey

How to Get to The Abacos

Flights to Marsh Harbour International Airport (MHH) are provided by Silver Airways, Bahamas Air, Delta, American, jetBlue and United, with direct service from Atlanta, West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, Jacksonville, and Miami, among other cities. Treasure Cay International Airport (TCB) also offers access to The Abacos with frequent domestic and international flights. By sea, you can travel from Nassau with Bahamas Ferry Services on a fully air-conditioned vessel, or a mailboat that provides service to several towns on a weekly (or more frequent) basis. From Grand Bahama Island, Pinder’s Ferry operates twice daily, leaving from McLean’s Town in the East. The fare is $50 one way.

photo: S. Massey

Where to Stay

While home rentals and resorts are available throughout The Abacos, staying on Marsh Harbor affords guests an easy transfer from the airport and proximity to the Albury’s ferry dock. The Abaco Beach Resort and Boat Harbour Marina is ideally situated near restaurants in Marsh Harbour—though the on-property restaurant, Angler's, is excellent. With an assortment of room styles for every type of traveller, families have the option of selecting from adjoining rooms, two bedroom oceanview villas, or privately owned 2 and 3 bedroom Abaco Beach Resort residences. With the largest marina in The Abacos, a beautiful beach (with playground), two pools, and an on-site dive shop, this property is a solid bet. For a smaller, yet still accessible option, consider a stay at Hope Town Harbour Lodge on Elbow Cay. The beach front resort is located within walking distance to shops and restaurants, and is directly across from the Albury’s ferry dock.

Note: This trip was paid for by The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism & Aviation (The Abacos), but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer. 

—Shelley Massey