A Grand Resort on Grand Bahama Island: Grand Lucayan
By Chris VandenHeuvel
You may have heard the Grand Lucayan on Grand Bahama Island referred to as Our Lucaya. Or perhaps as a Westin resort. Or a Sheraton Grand… or various other iterations over the years. Forget them all – today it's the Grand Lucayan, a sprawling, enjoyable resort for an active family vacation with little ones, tweens and teens.
Grand Bahama Island is only a 35-minute flight from Miami, which makes it popular with Americans looking for an easy island experience. Another 20-minute taxi/shuttle ride from the small airport ends in the Lucaya neighborhood, a bustling little port area penned in by the Atlantic on one side and a small harbor on the other.
The Grand Lucayan's 519 rooms and suites – now operated by Radisson – rise ten stories over a seven-acre, mile-long expanse of coral sand beach. Add a set of beachfront suites, loads of water sports and numerous pools, a multitude of eating and drinking spots, a workout center and spa, even a small casino next door – and well, it's a very large complex that can appeal to just about anyone, from honeymooners to Spring Break revelers to family vacationers.
What Kids Will Like
The wide, seemingly never-ending expanse of beach supports volleyball, beach trampoline, water sports, beach combing, sand castles, rock climbing, secluded family time or lively games such as Beach Olympics organized by staff. Arcing, four-foot deep swimming pools (including two infinity pools), a lap pool and a baby pool at the redesigned kids club provide plenty of water time. Older teens will enjoy the run of the sweeping property, as well as getting off site across Sea Horse Road in Port Lucaya's maze of shops and restaurants.
There's ice cream, a hair braiding hut, hammocks under palm trees, steel drum music by the pools, cute little geckos darting about, coconuts falling on the lawns, an oversized outdoor chess set ... and beckoning beyond all else: the huge beach. This is an immense and wide-ranging play space for kids.
What Parents Will Like
Choices – lots of choices. The resort's Kids Club gives parents flexibility to chill or to play water sports while the young ones are hanging with new friends. There's a wide choice of dining and drinking establishments including a bar for cigar lovers and another perfectly suited for watching the sun slide down the sky. The spacious beach is nearly deserted early morning and late afternoon, allowing for quiet adult time or family fun time out of the midday sun. Opportunities to meet others, a place to connect with your kids, time to simply chill with your toes in the sand .... there are lots of choices to fit every interest here.
The surprisingly spacious guest rooms are quite comfortable with sweeping views of the Atlantic ocean, pools and beach – well, at least half of them. The sliding glass doors open wide to balconies with a simple table, sling chairs and kid-safe railings. The bathrooms are a bit dated but perfectly functional, with bathtubs handy for bathing little ones. Ethernet and Wi-Fi Internet connections are included, although the Wi-Fi was quite spotty.
Note: There are no adjoining rooms. The high-rise one- and two-bedroom suites and the 22 beachfront Lanai Suites may be more suitable for families who want separate sleeping space for parents and kids.
Water Sports (and Beyond)
A separate on-site outfitter provides loads of water sports right on the wide beach. Throughout much of the day, guest are yanked around on banana boats, skidding across the water on wave runners (surprisingly not too noisy), flying through the sky on parasails, paddling their kayaks and catching the breeze on small sailboats. An adult must accompany kids on some of these. The activity generally is far enough off shore to avoid the swimmers and to prevent noisy motors from disturbing the peace.
The resort also has four on-site tennis courts with varying surfaces and two well-regarded off-site golf courses.
The food at the resort's restaurants and bars ranges from Asian fusion to beachy snacks. The quality was rather hit or miss on my visit. The relaxing, exotically decorated Willy Broadleaf has a popular breakfast buffet and omelet station that will satisfy most American sensibilities – a delightful place for a quick or leisurely breakfast ensconced under gauzy canopies. But the buffet offerings were surprisingly unoriginal for a West Indies island.
Lighter breakfast and all day snacks – including ice cream and Starbuck's coffee – are served at the Plantation Cafe. Many guests grab lunch around the pools from various outdoor cafes/bars (including a swim up bar) while others head across the street to Port Lucaya's restaurants.
The resort sets up various outdoor dinners such as a Wednesday fish fry (an island tradition) and Bahamian buffets. Irie's focuses on island cuisine and does a nice job with local, fresh fish. China Beach bills itself as Asian fusion and offers a wide array of sushi, typical Chinese dishes and other Asian fare. But it's quite expensive and many of the flavors lacked a real Asian punch.
There also is room service, separate kids menus, several restaurants across the street – plenty of choices to satisfy most tastes.
The Grand Lucayan offers a full Kids Club program 7 days a week at Camp Lucaya for kids ages 3-12. Children must be potty trained to participate. The Camp offers half-day (up to 4 hours, no lunch included) and full-day (up to 8 hours, lunch included) programs year-round. During 2012, rates are $20 per child for the half-day program and $35 for the full-day program. Sibling discounts are also available. Kids Club activities include treasure hunts, cookie decorating, arts & crafts, Wii games, mask making, relay races, and more.
Grandma Lucaya's Nursery also is available here which provides up to two-hours of cuddly care for newborns to three year olds ($10 per hour). The nursery is open 7 days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed for an hour between noon and 1 p.m. - so parents must pick up their infants at this time.
Babysitting services are also available at the resort with at least 24 hours notice.
The workout center is impressive for an island resort. The cardio and weights equipment is near top notch and generally well cared for, with minor wear and tear. The resort offers spinning, yoga and other classes, included in the rate. Ah, if only it looked over the ocean .... Resort policy requires parents to sign a legal waiver for kids under 16 who want to use the facility.
Below the fitness center you can get a slightly easier workout in the Senses Spa that offers a host of somewhat pricey treatments in rather dated facilities.
The resort has a sundries and small gift shop on property, but most people wander across the street to lively Port Lucaya, a cute little maze of high- and low-end shopping where you can buy anything from a Rolex to t-shirts to rum. The Straw Market shacks add a bit of local color as Bahamians hawk their often handmade wares – great for inexpensive souvenirs or gifts. There's another large shopping complex (International Bazaar) elsewhere on the island for those who need their fix.
Across the street at Port Lucaya, outfitters provide all sorts of trips above and below the water, from snorkeling to scuba shark watching. Nearby Dolphin Discovery is similar to other dolphin experiences: a 20-minute boat ride leads to a secluded cove where kids and adults can pet dolphins, learn about their aquatic lives, laugh at their silly antics and receive a personal dolphin smooch (and buy the photo, of course). The dolphin trainers are funny and informative, the dolphins themselves are adorable and there also are some colorful Macaws for cute kiddie photos.
By all means, definitely arrange a trip to Gold Rock Beach, a 30-minute ride and a short walk through the Lucayan National Park mangroves to a stunningly lovely stretch of white sand and shallow blue/green water, fringed by toppled pine trees. Pack a small snack and some beverages and plan to chill on the nearly endless beach where scenes from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise were filmed. A truly beautiful beach – time it with low tide for the greatest impact.
When I had to head back home, I was delighted to find that U.S. citizens clear customs on island rather than hassle with Miami International Airport customs. I didn't really want to leave the Grand Lucayan and Grand Bahama Island… but this made it a bit easier.
If You Go:
- For more information on the Grand Lucayan, visit http://www.grandlucayan.com.
- Every other day, 100 to 300 cruise ship passengers are transported via bus to the resort's front door. I thought this hubbub would change the tenor of the place, but during my stay (in the middle of Spring Break!) it only added to the liveliness of the resort. Many youngish revelers head across the street to Port Lucaya at night instead of hanging at the resort.
- The 18-year-old drinking age is laxly enforced on island.
- Two additional, unused hotels on the property may reopen at some point, adding hundreds of rooms and potentially more than a thousand additional guests. The property is definitely big enough to handle it, and it has done so well in the past – but it may impact the generally un-crowded beaches and change the nature of the experience..
- The Grand Lucayan is not an exclusive, ritzy property – it's an upper end, middle-of-the-pack resort that has pretty much all the amenities a family needs at a non-luxury price.
Husband and wife team Chris & Pat VandenHeuvel have been writing about cities, resorts, destinations and the occasional restaurant for more than two decades. They call Charleston, South Carolina home and their favorite travel companions are their two globetrotting teens, both of whom profess to love the smell of a nice hotel.
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