It’s cold outside and you want to get away this winter. However, you don’t want to spend too much, especially since the credit card bill from all that gift-buying and holiday travel has finally posted. And since you won’t likely have the time or energy to plan, I have an idea to make your life simpler: the Bahamas. The water is warm, the flights from much of the U.S. are plentiful, and the prices are just right.
To make sure the trip would fit into the $500 budget, I zeroed in on Grand Bahama Island, where there are many options for low-cost airfare and affordable accommodations. Plus, you can fly into Freeport and be on the beach sipping a Bahama mama in no time. Talk about getting away from it all.
Finding airfare to Freeport, Grand Bahama Island
Over the past few months, airlines have been offering cheap fares to Freeport from cities in the Northeast, Midwest, and Southeast, even at the last minute. I suspect the trend will continue throughout the winter. This week, for instance, I found a host of fares under $300 from a variety of departure cities for February and March travel. A Las Vegas departure would also fit within the $500 budget, with a slightly more expensive fare of $322.
- Orlando to Freeport: $243 (American, Spirit)
- Detroit to Freeport: $263 (Delta)
- Myrtle Beach to Freeport: $284 (Spirit)
- Atlantic City to Freeport: $288 (Spirit)
- Boston to Freeport: $288 (Spirit)
- New York City to Freeport: $288 (American)
- Atlanta to Freeport: $293 (Spirit)
- Las Vegas to Freeport: $322 (Spirit)
All fares include taxes and fees.
As of December 2007, the new star of low fares to Freeport has been Spirit Airlines, which now offers flights connecting through Ft. Lauderdale. Unfortunately, Spirit only flies from a handful of departure cities, but travelers from other destinations can find luck with other airlines. For example, US Airways periodically offers last-minute fares from cities like Albany, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh. And you can check for last-minute airfares posted Wednesdays on SmarterTravel.com.
Finding a hotel on Grand Bahama Island
While airfare to the Bahamas tends to be consistently affordable, that’s not necessarily the case with hotels. If you’re hoping for the atmosphere and amenities of a big resort, you might be disappointed. But, if you’re truly a budget traveler, you’re probably used to heading off the beaten path a bit, where you can find small inns that will likely fit within the $500 budget. Plus, the owners of these places often treat you like family, so your experience will be more personal.
One example in Freeport is Auntie Anne’s Bed and Breakfast, an English style B&B with three guest rooms. No, I didn’t mention it because of the great name that would make my niece proud, but because it charges just $80 per night for two ($40 person), including all taxes and fees. Plus, someone from the B&B will come pick you up at the airport and take you back for free. If you stay three nights, you’ll only pay $120 each. When adding in airfare from Las Vegas, the most expensive departure city I’ve listed, the total comes to $442, leaving $58 left in the $500 budget. Seagrape Bed and Breakfast, with rooms starting at $95 per night, is another affordable option.
If you’re determined to stay at a big resort, there’s still hope. You’ll just need to work a little harder to find deals. The first place I’d look is Bahamas.com, the Official Tourism Website of the Islands of the Bahamas, which regularly posts island-wide promotions. For example, MasterCard holders can save $200 instantly when booking a flight plus three or more nights’ hotel on Expedia by February 12. Several participating hotels will allow you to combine this deal with a fourth night for free. Nice bonus.
I ran a test from Boston, one of the more expensive departure cities on my list, to see if this offer holds true. My test vacation package for an early February stay includes airfare, four nights at the Ocean Reef Yacht Club & Resort, taxes, and service fees for a total of $1,099.95 for two. Subtract that total with the $200 cash back to get $899.95, and then divide that number by two to get $449.98 per person. Expedia will also allow you to add a round-trip ground shuttle to and from the airport for $31.50 per person, bringing the grand total to $481.48.
Spirit Airlines is running a similar promotion.
What to do and eat on Grand Bahama Island
I haven’t been to Grand Bahama Island, so I can’t offer suggestions from personal experience. However, I did some research and found a few affordable eateries with decent online reviews, as well as activities that won’t cost a fortune. For cheap eats, try the Pepper Pot for guava puffs and conch chowder, Georgies for pan-fried grouper and half-priced drink specials, or Geneva’s for Bahamian seafood specialties. Most dishes cost under $15 at all these restaurants.
As for things to do, Paradise Cove Beach and Gold Rock Beach charge a minimal access fee of a few dollars and offer great opportunities for snorkeling and, of course, sunbathing. For underwater cave exploration, Lucayan National Park comes highly recommended. Nature enthusiasts might like Rand Nature Center, where you can see more than 130 identified Bahamian plants; the Parrot Jungle’s Garden of the Groves; and Hydroflora Gardens. For souvenirs, shop for native straw crafts at the Port Lucaya Marketplace, which also has several duty-free boutiques. To get around on the cheap, take the bus, which has fares starting at a dollar each way.
All in all, the Bahamas bring the sun a little closer this winter, and the relaxing sway of your hammock and nearby palm trees will help you forget you were ever rushing around madly trying to please everyone at holiday time. The fact that you barely spent anything on your vacation will erase any residual financial guilt and leave you completely carefree, for a change.
Email me your favorite money-saving tips for Grand Bahama Island, and I might publish them in a future article. Or, feel free to comment or suggest a new Escapes Under $500 destination.
(Editor’s Note: SmarterTravel.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com.)
All prices, dates, and booking details listed here were valid at the time of publication. Some information may have changed since that time.