Exuma, Bahamas: September Edition

Hosted by the Grand Isle Resort56a6b5b4-1451-4d8b-abc1-e6fb90a854b7-e1570642419460.jpeg98362155-5511-42e4-ae12-61d99867c742.jpegWhen we were heading to Exuma, I got SO many questions like, “You’re going to the Bahamas? How will you fly in? It’s still there?” This isn’t a surprise since US news sources suggested the entire country being destroyed. And while Hurricane Dorian left 2 islands absolutely devastated, there are actually over 700, and over 2000 cays that make up the Bahamas. Each are so special in their own personalities and beauty. Which is why it’s so important and effective to continue helping to support the Bahamian economy and its people by visiting the other islands!

63536C52-CF0B-4365-81EA-0A5073C2E58Cimg_0427-1.jpgHere, it’s possible to sunbathe alone on a white sand beach, stand on a sandbar in the middle of the ocean, snorkel with sea turtles and nurse sharks, swim with pigs, and so much more! Tourism dollars assist in rebuilding and many of the resorts, like @grandisleresort , have funneled money into the relief efforts. 🇧🇸img_1049.jpgIf You Didn’t Already Know: Exuma is a district of the Bahamas, consisting of more than 365 islands, also called cays (pronounced KEY- I didn’t know this until we were there, oops). The largest of the cays is Great Exuma, which is 37 miles in length and joined to another island, Little Exuma, by a small bridge. It was a 1-hour flight from Miami to George Town airport on American Airlines. From the airport, you’d probably want to have a rental car arranged or a taxi in advance since it’s a 20 minute drive to the resort. Our resort had a driver there for us upon arrival, and while we stayed for 5 nights, we didn’t rent a car and were fine. (Note: Taxis seem to be $35-$50 wherever you go)

7329b7b1-3257-4d92-aa23-2bf76545ba00.jpegPro Tip: After checking in at the airport ticketing-counter before you head home, walk across the street to Kermit’s Airport Lounge for Sands Beer and snacks. There are several colorful picnic tables and it’s a fun way to spend your last hour before boarding your flight! These beers are so refreshing, maybe the only ones I actually appreciate.

 

Planning Ahead

Cash: It’s helpful to bring some cash on your trip though cards are accepted. The US dollar is accepted. Remember: In the Bahamas, there is a Value Added Tax (VAT) which is placed on goods and services rendered at the rate of 12%. 

Where to Fly Into: Exuma International Airport:  Several major national and international airlines offer daily, bi-weekly and weekly flights. Helpful to also know: Exuma is 132mi from Nassau so boating is doable. Hurricane Dorian hit two weeks prior in the Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, but Exuma actually had amazing weather– sunny everyday, and temps in the upper 80s. The ocean water is pure turquoise. SO. DREAMY.

Packing Tips: Keep it comfy and casual on beach vacations! You’re not in a city.. most likely not attending fancy dinners! Besides dining at 23° North one night, I actually didn’t dress up whatsoever this trip! I had a lot of maxi dresses and rompers hung in the closet and by the end of the week, they remained as untouched as most of the beaches we stumbled upon in Exuma! HA. Seriously, save yourself some suitcase room, and time! The only time I wore more than a swim suit and cover up, or work out clothes, is when we went out to dinner- and even then, just wear a casual sundress and sandals sufficed.

80389271-76FE-4A95-91F3-9CC59CC3138A75EA7BBB-0066-424C-9F94-CD5494DB72A4img_9856img_0459795ED796-803D-48A5-83F4-592B4B320B80Where to Stay: We stayed at the award-winning Grand Isle Resort & Spa on the quiet island of Exuma! A truly luxurious beach resort situated on the beautiful Emerald Bay Beach. We absolutely enjoyed this beachfront Bahama’s resort villa luxury accommodations. The resort is made up of spacious villas (all with stunning blue water views) complete with high-end amenities! Complete with 2 beautiful pools both overlooking the beach, restaurants and gift shop on the property, a great fitness center to get some work outs in, and golf carts to rent! This is a beachgoer’s dream with the softest white sand and warm ocean waters. Grand Isle Resort has beach chairs as well as stand-up paddle boards, volleyballs, snorkels, kayaks and more set up for complimentary guest use.img_0430

7BDC723E-0A7C-4262-82B7-0771A18E3FC2A5AE21AE-F33B-4AF8-965A-8710DD7771B3cb9f7581-c4dd-447f-b319-99e96d6a02ec.jpegThey feel a lot like high-end homes with quite tasteful furnishings and accessories, granite countertops, an enormous marble bathroom with a spacious glass shower and jacuzzi, L’Occitane amenities and a patio or balcony depending upon what floor- accessible by French sliding doors. (We had three separate balconies!)7229e864-11c3-4f98-9da0-494ee8a0f707.jpeg90e6ca21-78f7-4539-8fdd-1bbde13b6c47.jpeg53DB8CA5-81EE-46E3-80FE-C90E79013DFFimg_9838.jpgVillas & Penthouses: Ranging in size from one to four bedrooms, these breezy and beautifully furnished villas capture the essence of relaxed residential comfort. Coffee and tea were stocked in the kitchen. High-speed WiFi is included and available throughout the resort. The staff were utmost respectful and accommodating. Our first villa had some wifi trouble and they upgraded us a day later to an owner’s penthouse! Everyone called us by name. We had the place practically to ourselves since September is a slower month.img_0428.jpgimg_9329We had perfect weather all week. We had the convenience of a spacious penthouse with a fully-equipped kitchen (all villas come with these amazing kitchens) The concierge helped us navigate for where to get groceries, and set up a boat tour for us to explore other cays and see some of the things Exuma is known for.

img_1274img_1278Grand Isle Paddleboardimg_1276Private terraces were golden for our leisurely breakfasts and evening cocktails. My culinary skills were surely showcased in our fully equipped gourmet kitchen each night! Guests may even arrange an unforgettable meal delivered by Grand Isle’s Chef. He’s so nice, left us a lovely fruit plate and wine upon arrival, and introduced himself at the pool. These special, personal touches made such a lasting impression. Truly set a tone for the entire week for us. We appreciate how thoughtful and kind the staff was to us.

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Fitness

If You Came to Work Out, Grand Isle Has You Covered
Grand Isle Resort offers helpful options in their fitness center, all with a view of the ocean!

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Tony wrote a fitness article featured in LiveStrong. Here, I had to record his movements to submit for the piece.

Resort Dining Options:

Pro Tip: Grocery-Run! With a fully-stocked kitchen, it’s easy to prep creative meals in the villa. We learned this ahead of time and took a taxi the second day to a small, nearby grocery store to pick up ingredients for dinner 3-4 nights! We also checked a bag from Miami full of wine, champagne, breakfast items and snacks! The only thing I wish we had more of is water, I drank from the sink a few nights after running out of bottled water, but I was told that isn’t the greatest idea. Oops! We saved money by refilling our water bottles around the resort at cooler stations though! But yeah, we just saved a ton by cooking in our villas and bringing our own wine! It was fun too. grand isle resort pool

2096514e-3c7c-4f26-be99-2e90eae66648.jpegGuests of Grand Isle Resort have a few choices for dining on the property. The Palapa Grill restaurant boasts fab views of the pool and ocean while serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Guests can also have menu items from the Palapa Grill delivered poolside or to a villa via in-room dining. Tip: The spicy conch fritters were delicious! Big fan. There’s 23° North which only serves their menu on the weekends, and then a handful of local spots (unsure of their hours!) that concierge can point you to, off the property. But a little more on 23° North…

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Most Relaxing and Chic: 23° North Beach Club

 23° North Beach Club

Our favorite feature of Grand Isle Resort, 23° North, was this very place. This 30,000 square feet beach club features a brand-new, fine dining restaurant experience (like I mentioned previously), special events venue (it would actually be so pretty for a wedding reception) oceanfront infinity pool, coral-stone patio, and unrivaled views.

851994c9-cd2c-4b4b-a242-1fda580ea365-e1570243111743.jpegThe freshest seafood, local ingredients, fragrant herbs and rich island spices lift up the Bahamian-fusion cuisine! 23° North Beach Club offers an air-conditioned and elegant Asian-Bahamian twist to dinner! The interior is simply gorgeous, comfortable and cozy with a fireplace.

A $4 million project in the making, this brings the resort to the next level. We were waited on at our cabana, the servers were so kind and called us by our names! It was adult-only and very pretty. Just think Mediterranean style with the all white and deep sapphire blue pool overlooking the ocean, only separated by sand dunes! We spent the majority of our time here while on the property… sun-tanned, and mimosa in hand 🙂

Don’t forget the SPF!

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Stellar Hospitality

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Our new wonderful friend, Patricìa of social media: she hosted and helped us with all the things from getting special taxis to Cocoplum Beach, to hosting fun cabana mimosas and welcome cocktails! She was just the best and most helpful resource to have with any questions we had before and during the trip! On this particular morning, she arranged for our taxi to wait for us while we explored the incredible beach where the famous swings were!

GOLF & SPA: An 18-hole golf course designed by PGA legend- Greg Norman weaves throughout the luxury resort, wrapping around Emerald Bay and finishes at the tip of the peninsula. Available to rent for $20 a day, you can also golf cart around this gorgeous course without disrupting the players. An onsite spa offers their services as well, if I hadn’t just been treated to one earlier that month for my birthday I might’ve indulged! We didn’t really explore this option to golf, however, I hope to better look into details of playing at least 9 holes the next time. It’s owned by Sandals and was quite pricey.

082EABA0-4F65-4275-A658-0BAAC7A9E0705719bfea-3032-4f7e-a7bf-867383c30f79.jpeg1E3FDD87-FAA6-41AA-A7F6-42457005DDDCDB15D8BA-3D82-4A95-8068-691887619177B304B2D0-A0BE-401F-9A82-AA7A3827336Bimg_0457Excursions We Chose: While it is 100% fine to relax for a week on the resort, the concierge team really helped us book what off-site things we knew we wanted to experience while in Exuma. They paired us with a trusted vendor, Coastline Adventures for their Full-Day tour. They picked us up from the resort’s entrance and returned us at the end of the day. 👏🏼We had a wonderful time! For a few years now we’ve had a couple items to check off our bucket list! Swimming pigs and befriending some sharks!😅

The speed boat ride was just about 100 some miles in total and stopped at the following:(1)  Farmers Cay: Feed/Snorkel with Sea Turtle (2) Big Major Cay: Swimming Pigs (3) Compass Cay:  Swimming with the sharks (4) Leaf Cay to Feed Iguanas (5) Walked on a gorgeous secluded sandbar (6) Conch Salad was caught, and made fresh for us (7) Pointed out Celebrity Islands- David Copperfield, Faith Hill & Tim McGraw, etc.(8) Staniel Cay: Stopped for lunch ($20US/person for buffet home-cooked style ribs/picnic food)

Full-Day Boat Tour

Note: I saw 0 children on this due to intense boat speeds I’m guessing. This was Mid-September 2019 and at that time paid $250 US per person with $20 US per person extra for lunch which was buffet style of what seemed to be home-cooked, $10 US per person at Compass Cay. So for the 2 of us, I think it came out to be around $570 US. We did find it worth it though, even when one of the boat’s engines blew. Since we relied on the boat’s speed to cover so much mileage (120mi) over the day, I am pretty sure we didn’t get to snorkel at two of the normal stops due to lack of recovery time.

Pro Tip: Water is hard to come by sometimes when you’re abroad- remember this! Our boat did give us unlimited Sand Beers and water bottles which was great. Lunch is kinda pricey though- maybe pack your own lunch and grab water from the boat!

Swimming Pigs

Big Major Cay

And this little piggy went to the Bahamas..

43B50F1C-9C4C-4BC2-88C2-CE46D9D6D5D4One of the most famous and favorite stops while exploring the Exuma Cays is a visit with the swimming pigs. Major Cay is uninhabited and the pigs are not native to the island. Some say they were left by a group of sailors, who planned to come back and cook them. Or that the pigs swam over from a shipwreck nearby. Wherever they came from, there are now about 20 pigs and piglets on Pig Beach aka Big Major Cay. As our boat approached, they were waiting for us, and began swimming to us haha!

 So you know- we were warned that the mother pigs are quite protective over their babies, and known to sometimes bite (particularly, butts.) HA NO PIG DEAL. Needless to say, I was always aware of my big pig surrounding when I approached any piglets! Our tour guide gave us buns to feed them and you can get in the water to swim with them too. IMG_0497Screen Shot 2019-10-09 at 12.24.58 PMphoto taken from google

Swimming and Petting Sharks

OKAY, soooo it may very well seem crazy to swim with sharks, BUT these are pretty harmless. Nurse sharks are slower swimming bottom feeders who prefer fish, shrimp, and squid. However, they do have very small, but strong jaws and will bite defensively if they are stepped on or bothered so it’s important to be respectful.  Tony accidentally hit one with his foot while treading water by them, luckily nothing happened! *Sigh of relief.* I didn’t venture out much further than the shallow dock viscinity, but I was able to sit and swim with the sharks from there and tread off the ladder!  Don’t let fear overcome you on this one, definitely worth the experience. I mean, the sharks get fed regularly and even have names..#SquadGoals #CompassCay #SharkBaitOoHaHa

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What do Nicholas Cage and Iguanas have in common?

They both want to live on the island, Leaf Cay? We were told by our guide that this 40 acre island was at one point actually owned by Nicolas Cage? Random but in 2006, he purchased the island for $3 million, but once he saw the large population of iguanas living there, he resorted to selling it back to the Bahamian government for $1.5 million. Oh man, bad investment- but cool that he did!

This was our final stop on the boat and were we tired! BUT this was a fun little surprise considering we didn’t know what to expect and got to feed several iguanas. Jurassic Park vibes for sure. It was beautiful as the sun was setting, and the iguanas were happy to see us 🙂

 

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Coco Plum Beach (Great Exuma)

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Rental cars can be delivered to the resort for guest use at a rate of $75 per day. A few groups that we spoke to at the resort said they had a rental,  but we survived a short stay like ours without one.  If you need to get creative with transportation ask the concierge to see if they can make it happen as they tend to know the taxi drivers well.  If we figured out transportation a little better I would have loved to go to Chat ‘N’ Chill had we known more about it prior! There’s music, a beach bar, and stingrays and a shark! At Hooper’s Cay there are also sea turtles you can swim with! We did get help from concierge to check out Coco Plum Beach and our driver kindly waited for us while we explored.

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Beach Spots: One of my favorites is the swings on Coco Plum Beach. There are two sets of swings in the ocean here and they are so fun. Depending on the tide, you may have to venture out into the water a bit, but it wasn’t too deep! We had the beach to ourselves.. the beach is just breathtaking, and worth the little drive to see. If you go at Low Tide, you can walk as fas a you can on the sandbars out to the middle! Funny enough, we ran into the sweet Italians that we met on the day tour boat a few days prior!

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Another spot that is said to be worth the trip and while we didn’t make it here, we were told to head to the Tropic of Cancer. This beach is said to be stunning; they filmed Pirates of the Caribbean there! If you go, chances are you’ll be the only ones there. Pure heaven! They say there is an island off shore called Turtle Island because it looks like a turtle.

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How Long To Stay:

I would suggest staying at least a week to fully unwind and prevent unexpected weather from canceling activities in case you do run into rain or windy days! Rates for the Grand Isle Resort seem to fluctuate over the course of the year during high and low seasons! We were incredibly fortunate to be hosted by the resort during September which is normally considered to be a low-season time. There was a major hurricane that hit the northern Bahamas earlier that month, but left Exuma Cays untouched. We had nothing but sunshine with occasional cloud coverage.

When To Visit:

Many travelers seem to prefer to visit Exumas in the winter, when temperatures are balmy and dry. June through October marks the Exumas’ rainy season, with storms, high winds and cloudy days, as well as the occasional hot, hazy and humid day.

Other Exuma Properties:

We shared the bay with Sandals Resort at Emerald Bay (all-inclusive resort) but it was far enough away that we never saw anyone or their property but from afar. The Peace & Plenty which is not considered luxe, but seems charming, historical and cultural- dating back to the American Revolution, and the location is more centralized on the island. I’ve heard AirBnb is a nice option too. Some homes even come with boats for the visitors to use! I’ve had a couple of friends who have done this and said good things. Either way, you won’t regret visiting Exuma, Bahamas.

Our Sincere Appreciation for Grand Isle Resort:

This resort is just totally accommodating, clean, beautiful, and boasts the most stunning views! They’re also giving 10% of all bookings to the victims of Hurricane Dorian to help rebuild their own resorts and get back up and running as soon as they can. Visiting the Bahamas helps much more than people know. Are you convinced yet? Leave your thoughts below! For more, visit my instagram @hmgriff11 to check out our travels.

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One of the most important things I remember is how nice everyone we came into contact was on the resort and off. The welcoming and thorough staff who called us by name wherever we were on the resort, and treated us with such kindness- we even were upgraded to the penthouse suite by the always patient, Patreika at reception, after returning from an all day boat excursion!
Upon arrival, Jay of concierge, escorted us by golf cart to our villa, carried in our bags, and helped us with any off-property questions we had. He made it known there were a handful of off-site places to eat that were options to us and he then arranged travel for us to get to each place. Patreika also arranged a cheerful driver named Iceland to take us into town for groceries to cook meals (bc let’s be honest- our fully-equipped kitchen simply was too amazing not to be used!), and got us registered for a private tour group for a full-day of boating to various cays with 3 girls from Spain and 3 Italians!🇧🇸It was called Coastline Adventures and it lasted from 8AM to after 5PM, picking us up at our resort’s entrance and returning us at the end of the day. (More info about tour that section)
Also upon arrival, we had a beautifully displayed fruit plate and bottle of my favorite, Cabernet Sauvignon next to two wine glasses, waiting for us from the Executive Director of Culinary, Chef Fritz of the resort! He later that day introduced himself to us at the pool— we dined there and 100% suggest the Miso Sea Bass and Tuna Ceviche from 23° North Beach Club!
Finally, the nicest and most hospitable servers for dinner at @23northatgrandisleresort and welcome cocktails (from the beautiful bartender, Sharell) The truly amazing, Patrícia 🌴, of social media who was the best guide for us before arrival as well as on property and taking us to hidden beaches, CocoPlum Beach, and joining us for our daily cabana mimosas at @23northatgrandisleresort

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