If you are a beach lover, you’ve probably dreamed of visiting the Bahamas. If you never made it to the pristine sands and teeming reefs of this archipelago, it’s not too late. If you’re a grandparent, consider a Bahamas family vacation. Visiting Atlantis or one of the other big-name resorts can be a trouble-free but pricey vacation. Designing your own trip, perhaps to one of the Out Islands, is a more complicated but usually more economical way to go. In the Bahamas, you'll face the usual challenges of a beach vacation, with a few extras thrown in.
General Information About a Bahamas Family Vacation
You are visiting a foreign country, so you will need to be armed with some basic information:
- Be prepared with travel documents. Passports are necessary for travel to the Bahamas.
- English is spoken in the Bahamas, although with varying accents.
- Bahamian money is tied to U.S. currency, so that a Bahamian dollar is the same value as an American dollar. American currency is readily accepted on the islands.
- Electricity is AC 120 volts, 60 cycles, so American appliances are compatible.
- There is no sales tax in the Bahamas, although hotel rooms are taxed, and there is a departure tax.
- Cars travel on the left side of the road. If you plan to rent a car and you’re from a right-driving country, you’ll have some adjusting to do. Some people adjust easily, and some have difficulty.
- Hurricanes do occasionally strike the Bahamas, but less often than they hit the U.S. mainland.
- High season is from December to April.
- It is hot in the summertime. Unless you have a great tolerance for heat, you’ll want air-conditioned accommodations. You’ll also want to take full advantage of the trade winds. Look for accommodations that are on slightly higher ground and that are on the windy side, usually the east.
- The Internet is available in most of the Bahamas, even in some of the Out Islands. If you are staying in a hotel, you may have service in your room. You’ll need to find out if there is a wireless connection or if you’ll need to bring a phone cord and Ethernet cable. If you are in a more remote location, you may have to visit an Internet café or resort area to access the Internet. Some locations charge for service, and others offer it for free.
- Cell phone service in the Bahamas is GSM, Global System for Mobiles. Some of the American cell phone services and all of the European use GSM. Check to see if your phone is included. If not, rent a phone that will work, ideally before you enter the Bahamas, or resign yourself to being out of touch, which is not a bad option for some, although your tween and teen grandchildren may go into serious withdrawal. Don’t use any type of pay phone without discerning prices, as some charge outrageous rates.
- The location of the Bahamas and the difficulty of policing the scattered islands make it an attractive way station for drug smugglers. The majority of Bahamians are, however, law-abiding. You should take the normal precautions against crime, but on some of the Out Islands, for example, unlocked doors are standard, and crime is almost non-existent.
Special Considerations for the Major ResortsAlthough resort vacations are usually uncomplicated, with everything you need in one place, they can be pricey. Here are a few helpful hints for a resort vacation:
- You may not have to stay inside a resort to enjoy the amenities. You can stay at the Comfort Suites on Paradise Island, for example, and enjoy the Atlantis facilities for no extra fees. The Comfort Suites throw in a complimentary Continental breakfast.
- Atlantis on Paradise Island is the most famous, but your family might be happy with a less sprawling and expensive resort. Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach, one of the Viva Wyndham all-inclusives, is an less expensive resort with a circus on board.
- Unless you are staying in an all-inclusive, you'll want to avoid eating every meal in a restaurant. Investigate suites with food preparation capabilities, or at least invest in your own drinks and snacks.
- Be sure to check for promotions and research other ways to save money at Atlantis and other popular resorts.
Special Considerations on the Out Islands
An Out Island vacation is great fun, but it is a little more work, and you'll definitely be without some of the conveniences of home. Here are some special conditions of the Out Islands:
- The water supply is largely rain water. Visitors should use bottled water. If staying in a house, boil the water.
- Groceries are about twice the price of groceries in the U.S. By judicious shopping, you can still save money by buying some of your own food rather than eating out all the time.
- Many houses don't have laundry facilities due to the high cost of electricity and water. Laundromats are available but are expensive. Take enough clothes for your whole trip, or wash things out in the sink.
Sharing the History of the Bahamas
Be sure to share some of the fascinating history of the Bahamas with your grandchildren. Even young grandchildren can learn that Columbus made his first landfall somewhere in the Bahamas. Older grandchildren will benefit from knowing more of the story. They should know, for example, that the Spaniards virtually depopulated the islands, taking the inhabitants to other islands as slave labor. The British claimed the islands in 1629, and English and Bermudian settlers arrived a few years later. A number of British Loyalists relocated to the Bahamas after the American Revolution. The Bahamas became a sovereign state in 1973, although the nation elected to remain a part of the Commonwealth, recognizing the British monarch as its head of state.
Grandchildren will probably be interested to learn that the Bahamas have been home base for a number of shady endeavors, from the pirates and privateers who flourished in its early years, to the blockade-runners of the American Civil War, to the rum-runners of the Prohibition years. In some areas, ships that wrecked on the reefs provided bounty for islanders who salvaged the cargo. These profiteering islanders actively opposed the building of lighthouses so that ships would continue to fall victim to the rocks and reefs.