Crack open the diary and write in a family vacation to The Exumas in the Bahamas. For future sun-and-sea-chasing escapes, the 365 islands that make up The Exumas are a well-kept secret reserved for a chosen few. Lucky for all, our Editors stumbled upon this gem. . . and they aren’t so great at keeping lips zipped. Read on for tips on where to stay and play in this heaven in the Atlantic.
The Exumas’ Appeal
Besides the all-around loveliness of the Exumians, the biggest draw is obviously the ocean. We’d wager you haven’t experienced anything like the water that runs the gamut of clear as bath time to deep sapphire-blue, with tranquil turquoise hues layered in the mix. The mentally medicinal calming affect it has on the soul has to be the reason why celebrities like Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, Johnny Depp, Tyler Perry, Richard Branson, John Travolta and David Copperfield have thrown down millions to purchase private islands here. Adequate words do not exist to describe its beauty or the way it feels to be immersed in its charms.
Where to Stay
Which brings us to the next topic. Where to lay your head at the end of the fun-packed days we’ll tell you about in a minute. If you can’t swing a week at magician David Copperfield’s $57,000 per night Musha Cay, then Grand Isle Resort is the place for you, and our packed-with-personality favorite.
Grand Isle Resort resides in the capital and largest city in The Exumas, George Town, located on Great Exuma. The cay is 37 miles in length and is joined to another island, Little Exuma, by a small bridge. Grand Isle Resort does not have the feel of your typical hotel, more like that of an upscale, but laidback, condo community. Each expansive one- to four-bedroom villa is owned by a person, some of which own many villas, but you wouldn’t know this because of the seamlessness of renting and staying on-property.
The villas are designed with amenities you’d find at home, with bedrooms that have private bathrooms, full kitchens, dining and living areas and outdoor spaces, such as balconies or patios. And, a sure-to-be-favorite for the kids? For $20 per day, each villa comes with its own golf cart that’s parked in an insanely adorable private garage.
The overall theme in The Exumas is leave the stress at home. Leave the electronics at home, or at least in the room. Let the serenity of the island consume you and enjoy a peaceful unplugging with the family. Next to the infinity-edge pool, you’ll find Hummingbird Hut where team members are on hand daily from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. to lead kids ages 5-12 years in beach and pool treasure hunts, horseshoes, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, boogie boarding and more. This is also where you can snag a beach towel, pick from a selection of books and games to borrow and swap chats with the friendly staff.
While the kids play, parents can experience SeaStar Spa’s seawater-infused experiences that promise to restore balance and allow you to relax and recharge.
After indulging in alone-time, come back together as a family for parent and child golf lessons with a PGA pro at Emerald Reef Golf Club or have the concierge arrange for a bonfire on the beach.
Tip: The selection of sunscreens is limited, so if you have a favorite or have kids with sensitive skin, consider bringing your own from home.
Play Off-Property: Swim with Pigs, Sharks & Iguanas
Yes, you’re reading that correctly. This isn’t a metaphor. You can actually swim with pigs. A whole tiny island of them. They’ll swim right up to your boat and act as four-legged escorts to their private paradise. The Exumas is the only place in the world you can have this experience and, we can promise, it’s the memory kids will proudly drag back to their school’s show-and-tell.
Tip: While feeding the pigs is great fun, we’d actually recommend you, and definitely young kids, not participate in feeding them. Once they know you are a bearer of food, they stay on your heels waiting for the next bite. . . even when there are no more bites to be had. Not feeding them allows you to approach them at your leisure and snap some great pics.
Learn the history of these remarkable animals by picking up a copy of Pigs of Paradise, authored by T.R. Todd, who helped propel these pigs into wide-reaching stardom. Read, buy a copy for your friends and keep tabs on the Facebook page for updates on the book-inspired Pigs of Paradise documentary that premiered at the Bahamas International Film Festival, December 2018.
A bit more expected than pigs, but no less exciting, is swimming with the nurse sharks that are common in the warm, shallow waters of the Bahamas. Once you dive in, you’ll notice these amazing ocean dwellers have a surprisingly sandpaper-like texture that enables them to move faster in the water. While the number of sharks in the water can be overwhelming, take comfort in knowing the sharks you’ll encounter on an excursion are well-fed and accustomed to swimming with humans. Just keep your hands on their backs and away from their mouths, don’t try to feed them while swimming and be kind. If provoked, like any living creature, they won’t be shy in protecting themselves.
Lizard-loving family members rejoice! There’s an island for you, too. Your approaching boat which signals feeding time sends the island’s only residents swarming, giving Allen Cay a Jurrassic Park-like vibe—minus the terrifying carnivorous dinosaurs. You’ll have a chance to feed them fruits and veggies, and they’ll show the love by standing stoically for snaps.
Tip: If you plan on picking up the iguanas, be sure to bring a long sleeve something-or-another as their sharp claws can accidentally nick skin.
Grand Isle’s concierge service can roll all these excursions—pigs, sharks, iguanas—up into one dreamy afternoon, floating in the middle of the Atlantic blues. Add in making stops along the way to ooh-and-aah over the celebrity-owned islands that dot the course, and you have all the ingredients needed for a pretty swell day. For a more customized experience, they can arrange for a crew to take your group to a private, uninhabited island for a fresh-caught lunch that’s spear-fished while you watch from the boat. There are also opportunities to snorkel, scuba, kite surf, feed stingrays in nearby Stocking Island and low-tide shelling on Coco Plum Beach.
Where to Dine
Grand Isle Resort’s The Palapa Grill serves up an authentic taste of the Caribbean made special with tropical cocktails and fresh, local ingredients. They have nightly themes to keep things interesting, like Comfort Food Classics, Bahamian Dinner Night and an Island BBQ & Junkanoo Bonfire on the Beach. Other on-property dining options include room service, a private outdoor dining experience at The Overlook Palapa and Ocean View Terrace for up to 12 people, or an in-villa chef experience arranged by the concierge. Prior to arrival, you can also request groceries to be delivered to your villa to enjoy a home-cooked meal courtesy of you.
As a side, when you’re ready to head back home, The Palapa Grill will gladly have a to-go meal prepared for you to munch while you wait for your flight. Their pizzas are good options for this, as they are still appetizing when cold.
When to Go
Take your pick of months and seasons. In terms of temperature, there’s no bad time to visit the Exumas. Summer temps typically reach average daily highs of 80-90 degrees, while winters rarely drop below 78 degrees. Hurricane season is July-October and high season is November to mid-April, making it a solid spring break contender.
Special Events on the Island
The George Town Cruising Regatta, held February 13-27, features 14 days of activities, including two days of sailing, conch-shell blowing contests, a variety show, softball competition and lots more family-centric activities.
Sailing fans, or anyone who likes to enjoy a warm day at the water’s edge, should mark their calendars for the 65th Annual National Family Island Regatta, April 24-28. More than 60 native sloops, a single mast sailboat with a fore-and-aft rig, converge at Elizabeth Harbour, to take part in various Series and Cup races.
George Town is located about an hour south of Miami via airplane and is serviced by the Exuma Airport, airport code GGT. Keep in mind this airport is tiny. Perhaps the smallest airport you’ll see in your travels—baggage claim is conducted via a single garage door-like opening in the wall—but it’s a well-oiled and friendly machine. However, the departure lounge is small and you’ll most likely be standing in cramped quarters waiting to head back home, so keep that in mind when traveling with small children. Be prepared to keep them entertained.
Good to Know
- US and Bahamian dollars are accepted interchangeably across the islands.
- Electric outlets are the same as in the US, so no need to worry about bringing adapters for all those electronics you won’t need because of all the unplugged-ness happening.
- The Bahamas is in on Eastern Standard Time.
- Just like in the U.S., it’s customary to tip 15% to waitstaff and taxi drivers.
- The driver’s seat in cars sits on the left side, just like in the US, but British rules apply to the roads, so drive on the left side. This island is very easy to navigate and is extremely safe, so self-exploration is highly encouraged.
- Yes, you can drink the tap water. The curse of Montezuma is not alive on these islands.
Grand Isle Resort
George Town Exuma, Bahamas
Photos provided by Grand Isle Resort, unless otherwise noted.
This trip was paid for by Grand Isle Resort and all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.