*All travel expenses for this trip were paid by Princess Cruises, but all opinions are my own
During my recent (and first) big-ship cruise aboard the Crown Princess, my pal Samantha and I took every opportunity to disembark and go on a shore excursion to see how Princess arranges for its passengers to experience the ship’s ports of call.
Our fourth and final shore excursion was to Eleuthera, one of the Bahamas’ Out Islands…and a truly wonderful place.
*For all our shore excursions, while still onboard the ship, we were given small white tickets with the tour’s name, code number and port, as well as what to bring and where/when to meet the tour.
Excursion: A Taste of Eleuthera
Length: About 4 hours
Come along and discover Eleuthera…on a sightseeing tour in a land that time has almost forgotten. Once ashore at Princess Cays [Princess Cruises' private island in the Bahamas], board your air-conditioned transportation. Travel through wide open spaces, past lush vegetation…through quaint villages with small pristine churches. Enjoy a taste of the island with an authentic native lunch and be entertained with Junkanoo, the Bahamian tradition which incorporates music, costumes, and dance.
From our first few minutes on Eleuthera, Samantha and I were smiling. Most of the ship’s 3,000 passengers planned to spend the day sunning themselves at Princess’ private island, Princess Cays (click here to see photos), while our group of 20 adults was warmly welcomed aboard a small, pristine Eleuthera Adventure Tours mini-bus by a Bahamian woman in her early 30′s. As we got underway, she spread her hands wide and announced:
“Here on Ehloo-trah, we answer the question ‘How y’doin’?’ by sayin’ back:
“I’m right here between ‘Oh Lord and t’ank God.’”
This apparently means, “I’m doin’ alright.” And we really, really were.
Our guide launched into the island’s history: First settled by South American Indians, then the hapless fleet of Christopher Columbus, then English Puritans and pirates, and finally, British slave owners fleeing America’s War of Independence. Puritans changed the island’s Indian name of Cigatoo to Eleuthera (“eh-loo-thrah”), the Greek word for “free.”
So the good news is, you can now come to Eleuthera and feel free…but only to a point. There are a lot of churches here.
Our tour encompassed the southern third of this skinny, 110-mile-long island, and along the way I’d swear we were waved to and smiled at by every man, woman and child we saw. We smiled and waved back in turn, and soon felt like giving the whole island a hug. It’s possible that some humorless, state-sanctioned edict states that locals have to be friendly to tourists, but I think this is just the way folks in the Bahamas move through the world.
Since we arrived during a holiday break for local children, we were not privy to a school visit, and on a slightly overcast day we didn’t have much luck trying to see to the bottom of the island’s bottomless ocean hole (declared so by Jacques Cousteau), but three tour stops stood out for me:
Tarpum Bay. Beside the 1849 St. Columba’s Church, there’s an endless view of the Caribbean and a long, weathered dock where you can see weathered folks scaling a catch so fresh that it’s still moving. Tiny little lanes in this fishing village lead to antique, crumbling stone houses and nearby, the colorful gingerbread homes of the original pineapple barons. It’s so quiet here we could hear the slap of wake against hull, and could have stayed sitting and staring for hours out to sea.
Rock Sound. There’s not much to this small settlement besides a government administration building, a radio tower and a small police station (with a big policeman named Joe), but the fun was in the details. After checking out a a couple of local homes sealed up against potential hurricanes with custom-cut boards labeled for each window and each direction, we stopped in the street to sing the Bahamian national anthem (“March on Bahamaland”), learn the symbols on the Bahamian crest, and be presented with the national flower, the yellow elder, by an adorable little girl.
Four Points Restaurant. It’s hard to say what I loved more: The powder-soft beach, the cool water on my feet, dancing like a fool, or eating a beautiful Caribbean lunch while facing…the Caribbean. After a few sips of the delicious national beer, Kalik, I switched (for research purposes), to a coral-orange Bahama Mama and tucked into a heaping plate of conch fritters, spicy pineapple salad (or as I like to call it, Spicy Pineapple Salad of the Gods) and a Bahamian dessert bread called guava duff.
By the time we’d learned how to make conch salad and shimmied down the Junkanoo line (Don Cornelius may not know it, but he missed a great opportunity to move Soul Train to Eleuthera), Sammy and I were ready to hit a real estate office and phone our husbands to bring themselves and our dogs.
Yes, there will be stiff and rhythm-free white folks who won’t dance and yes, someone is guaranteed to rudely turn up their nose at the thought of eating conch (which will only mean more for you), but you’ll hear engaging stories about members of British royalty, learn some new songs and possibly impress yourself by braiding palm fronds, the first step in making Bahamian baskets.
Safe to say we were both left wanting more. After all, there are many miles of Eleuthera left to see, as well as its neighbor, Harbour Island. You can rent clear kayaks, frolic on horseback on pink sand beaches, wander through 18th century settlements, take a boat ride at sunset…you get the idea. In contrast to more touristed Nassau and its dazzling, Disney-fied Atlantis, Eleuthera offers quiet, space and a focus on human connection.
I’m bringing Adam back some day, with or without the dog.
TWT Travel Binders: Bahamas
All Aboard the Crown Princess, Pt. 1
All Aboard the Crown Princess, Pt. 2
Turtles, Hell and Rum Cake: Grand Cayman
The Highs and Lows of Roatán
Doin’ Time at the Ruins of Tulum