Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 21, 2017

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The island is yours

Club Grand Bahama is redefining the “all-inclusive”

The last time I went to an all-inclusive, the pillows smelled. Not a dirty unwashed smell, but a kind of musty, thousands-of-people-with-wet-hair-have-slept-on-me kind of smell. I slept pillowless for seven days. Not comfortable, I know, but better than having that je-ne-sais-quoi aroma near my nostrils. I haven’t been back to an all-inclusive since — until now.

Of course, the Bahamas’ Club Grand Bahama (CGB) (tel: 888-270-1205 or 242-373-CLUB; bahamas.com) isn’t exactly an all-inclusive. In fact, the brains behind the package’s promo will (almost) slap your wrist if you describe it as such. Instead, CGB is an island-inclusive. What does that mean? Think of your top all-inclusive complaints, then imagine the opposite.

The snazziest hotel won't cost more

It's a classic problem, really, whether we’re talking all-inclusives or not: the hotel that looks really nice costs more per night. With CGB, however, you can stay at any participating hotel — Pelican Bay, Radisson Our Lucaya Resort, Our Lucaya Reef Village, Flamingo Bay Hotel & Marina or the Sunrise Resort & Marina — and the package price stays the same.

There are three packages to choose from: silver from US$83 a night, gold from US$129 and platinum from US$202. The higher the price, the more food and activity options you have — at no extra cost. The gold package gets you access to about 15 breakfast and dinner spots, and 23 activities/excursions, while platinum gets you 21 and 35, respectively.

Keep in mind that although the accommodations are equal in CGB value, they aren’t equal in character. I stayed at the Pelican Bay (tel: 242-373-9550; pelicanbayhotel.com), which was full of character. With 89 rooms and 93 suites, it’s fairly large for a “boutique hotel,” but it’s rooms are homey: sunny walls, colourful Caribbean art, Italian tile floors, palm-leaf ceiling fans. Best of all, none of my pillows smelled. Amenities include a mini fridge and, if you ask for one in advance, a microwave.

The hotel is an easy five-minute walk to the Port Lucaya Marketplace and the closest beach. Unfortunately, the hotel doesn’t own any beach chairs so you’ll have to spread a towel (provided) on the sand. If you make yourself comfy on a chair that belongs to another hotel (complete with, say, your MP3 player, magazines, a book and a cold bottle of water), the lifeguard will boot you off. Not that I tried, of course.

If you’d prefer a beachfront hotel with chairs, consider the neighbouring Radisson Our Lucaya (tel: 242-373-1333; radisson.com/ourlucaya). The resort boasts 740 guestrooms and suites, in colours of sea and sky, that are slightly more crisp and contemporary than those at the Pelican. The hotel also features fitness and spa centres, and three swimming pools.

The 478-room Reef Village (tel: 242-373-1333; ourlucaya.com/reefvillage) was fine, but my least favourite. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to tour the Flamingo Bay (tel: 242-373-5640; tainobeach.com/flamingo.html), a little further east near Taino Beach, and the Sunrise Resort (tel: 800-932-4959; sunriseresortandmarina.com) wasn’t a CGB participant at the time.

Banish the buffet

My first all-inclusive experience was, believe or not, worse than my second, described above. I went to the Dominican Republic with a girlfriend and Montezuma took his revenge. Thankfully, I had packed just enough loperamide for the two of us. We were too scared to eat anything afterwards, so we ate bread the entire second half of our trip. I didn’t think I’d need loperamide in the Bahamas; I was right.

I had breakfast and dinner at nine different restos during my stay and never once did my tummy bubble, bubble, toil and trouble. I ate at one buffet, possibly the only one in any of the three packages, and it ended up being a great breakfast joint.

Not that Willy Broadleaf (Radisson Our Lucaya Resort; tel: 242-350-5306/5313; gold package upwards) offered anything out of the ordinary: a hot and cold buffet of fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal, bagels, English muffins, pancakes (I had blueberry buttermilk ones), eggs any way you like them, bacon, sausages, hash browns and lots more. An all-you-can-eat breakfast hits the spot when you’re on vacation because you're generally so caught up with activities that you skip lunch. In the case of CGB, lunch is not included, so breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.

If you need coffee to jumpstart your day, try Island Java (tel: 242-374-5282; islandjavabs.com; silver package upwards) in the Port Lucaya Marketplace, but go before 10AM if you hate line ups and want a table either inside or out. Their CGB breakfast consists of a Danish, doughnut or muffin with coffee or tea, but you might be tempted to try something extra from their colourful chalkboard menu, like I was. I went for a good ol’ veggie omelette and toast (US$5.75), but other options include banana pancakes (US$6.50), coconut French Toast (US$6.50) and Johnny cakes (made of cornmeal) with sausage gravy (US$6).

I had lunch and dinner at Sabor (tel: 242-373-5588; sabor-bahamas.com; gold upwards), in the Pelican Bay gardens, a handful of times, and that’s saying something. Owned by Icelandic chef Völundur Snaer Völundarson, or chef Worly for short, the four-year-old resto features a fusion menu worthy of its sunset view over the Port Lucaya marina. They do seafood well: I had their conch fritters with Bahama mama fry sauce and, another afternoon, their grouper wrap with lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and cheese in a citrus-herb aioli. Their grilled sirloin steak with mushrooms, caramelized onions and garlic-roasted potatoes was good, but their “wok” dish was too saucy for my taste.

Their gossip cake (chocolate brownie, crispy meringue, frozen bananas, coconut caramel sauce and a little liquor) will indeed give you something talk about. Other restos to consider: After Deck (tel: 242-373-8657; theafterdeckfreeport.com; silver upwards) and the newly-expanded, Latin Agave (tel: 242-374-4887; agavelucaya.com; gold upwards), which was still adjusting to demand (read: long waits for a table, a menu and your food) when I was there in April. Both are in the Port Lucaya Marketplace.

Forget drunk university students

With the exception of spring break, most of the girls have not gone wild here. After all, alcohol is not included in the CGB packages. That’s not to say that there isn’t any here. What it does mean, however, is that a) if you crave that Bahama Mama — a concoction of light, dark and gold rum, grenadine, OJ and pineapple — you’ll have to ante up and b) if you’re not a drinker, you won’t be paying for everyone else’s booze as part of the package price.

Most activities don't cost extra

Non-motorized water sports aka kayaks, paddleboats and maybe some goggles: that pretty well covers most of an all-inclusives' inclusives, besides drinks, food and shelter. Not so with CGB, instead, this is where the island-inclusive really comes into play.

While the silver package only gets you access to a handful of activities, gold and platinum gets you 23 and 35, respectively. The clincher is that each guest gets one activity or tour per two-night stay: so, if this is a long-weekend getaway, you only get one activity; if you’re vacationing for a week, you get three or one every other day. Still not a bad deal considering that activities are at no extra cost, transport is generally included and some excursions crisscross the island.

Take the Freeport Biking Tour with Grand Bahama Nature Tours (tel: 242-373-2485; grandbahamanaturetours.com; platinum package only), for example. The five-hour guided cycling tour explores 20 kilometres of Freeport with two, hour-long stops, one at Garden of the Groves for lunch and a final stop at the gorgeous Taino Beach.

If you’re not an experienced biker like me (I’m a long way from Lance Armstrong), you’ll struggle to keep up a little, but the frequent info stops help and, really, there’s nothing wrong with, ahem, trailing the pack. This is an active tour that has you in the sun most of the day, so it may not be suitable for kids and seniors.

If you’d prefer a little more seeing and little less doing, consider the four-hour, Garden of the Groves tour (tel: 242-374-7778; thegardenofthegroves.com; gold upwards), minus the bikes. If you choose to discover this five-hectare tropical Eden complete with an African-grey parrot (the most talkative of the species), cascading waterfalls and koi ponds with a guide, consider yourself lucky if you chance upon Darren, one of their newest. He started the job after a garden employee overheard him touring with his daughter one weekend. His expertise is folk medicine, passed down from his grandmother.

Another half-day tour that’ll have you seeing green is the East-End Extravaganza with H. Forbes Charter Services (tel: 242-352-9311; forbescharter.com; gold upwards). It’ll bring you 25-minutes east to the 16-hectare Lucayan National Park, home to a 9.5-kilometre underwater cave system that’s one of the longest in the world. When you come up for air, you’ll boardwalk it through a mangrove ecosystem were you’ll peek in on a rainbow of wild birds and fish.

After about 15 minutes, the woodland opens up to reveal the Bahamas’ “welcome mat.” Gold Rock Beach is a stunning 83-kilometres of white sand that will take your breath away. It’s no wonder portions of "Pirates of the Caribbean" were filmed here. If you want to spend more than an hour at Gold Rock — like the rest of your life, maybe — I’d suggest renting a car (about US$60 a day for a compact), touring the park on your own (admission US$3) then shell-hunting the rest of the day. After all, you are in the Bahamas.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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