A Travellerspoint blog

The Cays to Paradise: Boating the Exuma Cays III

Days 7 - 9: Compass Cay to Little Farmer's Cay

Day 7: Swimming with the Sharks.

Compass Cay to Big Major Cay: 8 miles

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Compass Cay is primarily known for the bevvy of uber tame nurse sharks that the marina has been feeding and petting for years. They linger around the marina dock and are literally as docile as kittens. After a breakfast of burritos, fried potatoes, and fruit, we decided we'd visit with the sharks.

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We all jumped in and swam around with the big, gentle beasts until we got waterlogged and pruney.

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I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw this post shortly after our trip: shark-attacks-instagram-model

Her quote: “I am so fortunate that I still have my arm and my life."

Seriously? Is this for real? I jumped in and immediately (accidentally) kicked one of these “ferocious beasts” HARD in the head with my big dumb foot. Then, I managed to bop another one in the face as I flailed about trying to move away from the one I kicked. What did they do? They looked sadly at me like, “Why did you do that?” and the moved closer to me so I could stroke their heads.

THIS is a photo of us with these man-devouring beasts. Certainly looks frightening, doesn't it?

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As a PSA for anyone contemplating visiting the Compass Cay nurse sharks that is worried he/she might lose their life, let me give my 2 cents on the “Instagram model who nearly lost her arm and her life:”

  • She did not, in fact, get in the water at the Compass Cay marina where EVERYONE THAT HAS EVER USED GOOGLE (OR INSTAGRAM) KNOWS THE TAME SHARKS RESIDE. She jumped in the fish cleaning station on Staniel Cay where the nurse sharks are not, in fact, tame, are not accustomed to human contact, and know only that dead fish parts regularly get thrown in the water in that spot and the last shark to grab the meat goes hungry.
  • Have you seen a nurse sharks teeth? It’s like getting bitten by a puppy. I suppose a puppy could maul you to death if you gave it a few weeks. Has anyone ever heard of a nurse shark fatality? I didn’t think so. My 6 lb. yorkie mix has left a bigger scar on my arm fighting me for her sock monkey. That girl was more likely to get killed by a falling coconut than by that nurse shark.

REAL shark teeth

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NURSE shark teeth

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She should be ashamed.

  • DO: Go to Compass Cay. Jump in the water with Chunky, Squirt, and Mutt. Swim around with them. Sit on the lower dock at high tide and they will literally slide up onto your lap so you can rub their heads.
  • DON’T: Be a stupid Instagram model and throw yourself in the bait station at Staniel Cay and then publicly wail about the baby teeth that left a mark on your arm.

I am now emotionally moving on.

We needed to move the boat before noon to avoid an additional night’s fee, so we spent a little time lounging on the giant pizza and making the quick walk over to Crescent Beach on Compass– a ridiculous curve of blinding white sand and impossibly blue water.

That, of course, not another living soul was on.

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Compass had been beautiful, but we had dinner plans at the exclusive and private Fowl Cay Resort, so we loaded up with water and ice and made our way south.

Big Major Cay was our stop for the night.

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Unfortunately, Big Major, thanks to the swimming pig phenomenon, has recently seen an influx of mega-yachts and hit & run tourism (boatloads from Nassau gorging themselves on the pigs for mere seconds before being whisked off to overwhelm the next stop).

However, we knew that the area is big and open and there are plenty of hidden secrets if you want to find them.

We nestled ourselves into a private spot on the far end of Big Major – far from the Nassau fast boats and supersized yachts. We anchored at a lovely little private beach that was literally across from our dinner destination at Fowl Cay.

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We snacked on chips & dip and sandwiches before pouring up cocktails and floating the afternoon away on our own private beach.

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For dinner, we had requested reservations at the private island resort of Fowl Cay. If they have space, they will allow boaters to join them at their Hill House Restaurant for a multi-course dinner complete with cocktail hour and all inclusive drinks.

It comes with a hefty price tag, but we all agreed it was one of our favorite meals of the trip.

The dinner experience begins with “Social Hour” at promptly 6:00 p.m. We arrived by dingy and were warmly greeted at the dock and shown to the restaurant with its cozy bar and outdoor terraces with jaw dropping views.

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Appetizers were set out and limitless cocktails were made to order. Let me repeat: Limitless cocktails were made to order.

Danger, Will Robinson.

We draped ourselves on the oversized loungers and sipped martinis as we watched the sun sink on the horizon, like we were Kardashians and did this crap every day.

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We were eventually called in to dinner and seated at a lovely table where our waiter began to bring our first course. We had pre-ordered when we made the reservation, which was another way Fowl Cay ensured a seamless experience.

We were introduced to Lemont, our waiter, as seared scallops were brought and wine was poured.

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Then a sorbet was provided to “clear our palate.” Our Kardashian vibes were in full gear by this point.

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Everyone had opted for the fresh catch and a delicate and delicious mahi-mahi was set before me.

Lemont changed my life with that piece of Mahi Mahi. It was cooked as if it was a sacrifice to the gods.

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I’m not sure how we had room for dessert, but we made it happen.

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Then it was time for 6 overstuffed, overimbibed people to crawl into a dingy and find their boat in the dark.

Day 8: Birthdays and Karma Will Bite You in the Ass.

Big Major Cay to Staniel Cay: 2 miles

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Our very ambitious plan for the day was to do no more than visit the swimming pigs on the other side of Big Major and then hop 2 miles over to Staniel Cay Marina where we would celebrate Matt’s birthday.

It was a glorious morning. We celebrated the birthday boy with brioche French toast with fresh mango and maple syrup.

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Then it was time to visit the swimming pigs. Matt and I had visited the pigs on previous trips to the Exumas, but our friends had never had the pleasure. It had been 5 years since Matt and I had been, and I was surprised at the changes time had brought.

I felt lucky to have seen the pigs for the first time in 2012. They were still under the radar and very little information existed about them on the tangled depths of the interwebs. We were able to enjoy them in relative peace with only a few other people while the pigs behaved like very polite hosts. Hungry, but polite.

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In 2013, they started to get notoriety as they appeared in web-based articles by some heavy hitters like USA Today, Travel & Leisure, Huffington Post, and the New York Post. Thrillist featured them as a “must do” adventure. Then 2015 came and the Bachelor filmed there and it was all over. Bachelor Ben and his awkward group date ruined it for everybody.

Rather than the primary visitors being those vacationing on Great Exuma or, more likely, those staying on nearby Staniel Cay as it was “back in the day,” in the past few years Pig Beach has become a popular day trip for the masses from Nassau.

I have already shared my opinion of Nassau.

Speed boats loaded with bodies zoom over to throw a few turkey wieners at the pigs, take a selfie, and run back to Paradise Island to get a yard long cocktail at the pool bar. Some people even take a day flight from Nassau just to visit the pigs. In the past couple of years, Pig Beach has become so over-instagrammed, over-visited, and over-hyped that it has lost all of its magic.

I have now visited the famous swimming pigs on 3 separate trips, so I feel I have enough experience to dispel what I call the “Pig Beach Myth.”

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Pig Beach Myth:

“Oh you can’t believe your eyes when the boat gets close to the island surrounded by the cleanest, crystal clear, turquoise water and you see pigs frolicking on a deserted sandy beach and cooling down in the water. Wait, pigs? In the ocean? Oh yes. Here on Pig Beach, you will find big, fat jolly pink pigs, kicking their little trotters through the surf, nuzzling up to the side of your boat, and practically dancing on the surface of the glittering water. As soon as you step in the water they surround you and play with you. If you visit Exuma, don’t miss these adorable pink bundles of joy.”

Note: all of the words above are from ACTUAL blog posts. I have taken the liberty of high jacking them and packing them all together into a single, utterly delightful, and absolutely absurd package.

Pig Beach Myth

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Pig Beach Reality:

First, pigs are prone to defecating all over the place. That said, the water at Pig Beach is neither clean nor crystal clear. It’s more of a murky turquoise because it’s filled with pig poo. So, when you gleefully leap from your boat to frolic with these “adorable pink bundles of joy” make sure you keep your mouth closed. Can you say cryptosporidiosis three times really fast?

Second, most of these pigs are not jolly nor are they adorable. They do not nuzzle, they do not play with you, they do not frolic. While a few of them are moderately “cute-ish,” many of them are quite unattractive. Some are HUGE, fairly ugly, and extremely aggressive. They do not want your friendship or affection. They want a turkey hot dog. They are HUNGRY. As soon as your boat gets close enough, they literally charge into the water, circle your boat, and start clawing with their giant hooves (little trotters, my Aunt Fanny) at the sides of your inflatable. If you are brave enough to get into the water, they will chase you mercilessly looking for something to eat. They bite some people (people who don’t have food or don’t run fast enough).

Third, you are not on a deserted beach. This is not a private experience. You will likely be sharing your bucket list experience with at least 842 day trippers from Nassau. Loud, screaming, maniacal day trippers. With turkey hot dogs.

Finally, NO ONE TELLS YOU ABOUT THE DAMN BIRDS. Seriously, people are running around the beach throwing all manner of bread and potato chips blindly into the air in the direction of the pigs (because the pigs are chasing them down the beach). This results in a flock of manic seagulls dive bombing your head trying to get every morsel the pigs don’t get first. Within moments, you’ll find yourself doing your best Tippi Hedren impression.

Pig Beach Reality

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So, let’s recap: Feces, bacteria, 700 lbs of aggressive swine with sharp incisors and hooves wanting to eat anything in the vicinity of your person, hordes of other people with GoPros and selfie-sticks, possible screaming and profanity depending on who got caught without a piece of bread in their hand, and dive bombing birds.

I am absolutely not saying this isn’t an experience. GO. DO IT. I have been 3 times for goodness sakes. Just realize what it is and what isn’t. Don’t expect Babe snuggling in your hand while you exchange pleasantries and establish a lifelong bond. Enjoy the sheer novelty of pigs on a beach, swimming in the water, and trying to knock you down for an apple. Then run back to your boat. With your mouth closed.

Here is a rundown of our visit: Before we could get out of the dingy, the biggest of the pigs was climbing onto the side of our inflatable dingy. I forcefully screamed, “Everyone get out of the boat and run before she pops it!” At this point, everyone grabs their assigned zip-loc full of old sandwiches and starts running. The pigs give chase. Big Momma Karma, the pig leader, bites Matt on the ass. I start screaming, “Drop the sandwiches! Drop the sandwiches!” as he forcefully flings the sandwiches as far from his body as he can get and runs. Meanwhile, some girl from Nassau is literally screaming like she’s being chopped to death by a hatchet as she runs down the beach while her boyfriend stands next to tour operator asking what to do. At this point, I look over and Big Momma Karma has discovered that I left my bag of sandwiches in the boat (because I decided I didn’t want to be chased) and is attempting to climb into our dingy. Matt and I scramble to the boat to throw the sandwiches overboard. As the sandwiches hit the water, a momma pig with 3 piglets immediately swims into the water, piglets swimming beside her, to eat up the floating sandwiches. As they do, one piglet craps all over my feet.

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While our 2012 and 2013 visits were quite nice, this visit left me feeling like a parent that just took her kids to DisneyWorld, spent $97,456 and did nothing more than stand in lines and come home with a heat rash and food poisoning from a $9 hot dog. It wasn’t what it was promised to be.

For me? Never again.

Like any good Instagram Model, Matt feels lucky to have his ass and his life.

After about 10 stressful and disappointing minutes, we were ready to leave Pork Paradise and get the birthday in full swing on Staniel Cay.

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We moved the boat to Thunderball Grotto where we tied to a mooring ball and enjoyed some mimosas and snorkeling.

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We couldn’t move the boat to the marina until the afternoon, so we took the dingy over to the Yacht Club for lunch.

Frozen drinks, burgers, and fish tacos nearly made Matt forget he’d been bitten on the ass by a pig.

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After lunch, we walked to the Pink Store and the Blue Store in an attempt to restock some necessary provisions (i.e., Doritos). As the stock at the Pink Store and Blue Store could literally been anything to nothing on any given day, we did not find Doritos. We did, however, find some old Halloween candy, cheddar cheese Bugles, and YooHoo.

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Afterward, we took the dingy around the cay until we saw a deliciously deserted beach calling to us. We stopped and did some serious chilling and shell hunting until we were too sun parched to do anything but go back to the boat.

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We moved the boat to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club and cleaned up for Matt’s birthday dinner.

SCYC dinner requires that you sign up and order earlier in the day. There are 2 meal times, early and late. We opted for late so that we could enjoy the sunset.

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We started off with shots in the bar and waited for the dinner bell (literally) to ring us in at 8:00.

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Our multi course dinner consisted of cream of cauliflower soup, fresh salads, and your choice of entrée. Obviously, I dove into the fresh lobster. My side? Fries! Does it get any better?

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I must give kudos to the staff at the SCYC restaurant. Not only did they hook us up with a gorgeous private room for dinner, they also make the most decadent chocolate cake and served with candles and singing.

There was a lot of wine and a lot of silliness. There was loud music, boat dancing, and vomiting off the back. There were 2:00 a.m. Ramen noodles.

I would call it a successful birthday.

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Day 9: Sharks and Lizards and Pigs…oh my!

Staniel Cay to Little Farmer's Cay: 19 miles

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I woke up with Ramen noodles in my hair.

The morning after our rum punch birthday bonanza, Matt was moving a little slower than normal. All he really wanted was to go back to sleep. That and to find the small animal that had died in his mouth during the night.

We checked Matt’s ass for gangrene, found none, and enjoyed a breakfast of loaded scrambled eggs, banana bread, and melon, and headed to Farmer’s Cay.

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We had been swimming with sharks. We had been chased by pigs. Why not round things out with a trip to see the giant iguanas on Bitter Guana Cay?

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It was a short hop over to Bitter Guana where we stopped and visited lizard beach for a while. As soon as you pull up, these prehistoric giants come crawling out of the foliage onto the beach, hoping for a dropped grape.

Of course, it made me angry when a tour operator showed up and handed his guests bags of bread to feed to the iguanas. Yes, bread, a natural part of the iguana diet. At least if you are going to feed them, feed them fruits and vegetables.

We tried to feed them grapes. Which they promptly discarded in favor of Wonder Bread.

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Before heading out, we mixed up some morning bloody Marys and mimosas and simply enjoyed the view.

Sometimes you want a vacation that takes your breath away. Sometimes you want a vacation that lets you breathe.

Exuma was both.

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Eventually we made it to Little Farmer’s Cay. We had overnight reservations at the Little Farmer’s Yacht Club. What it lacked in amenities, it more than made up for in personality.

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The personality of its distinguished owner, Mr. Roosevelt Nixon, to be precise.

He makes a mean rum punch.

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We had planned to take the dingy over to Ty’s Sunset on the beach and have lunch, but, as it was Bahamian Labor Day, Ty’s was closed. Instead, we settled in for fried fish and more delicious rum punch with Mr. Nixon.

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After lunch, we took the dingy into the main harbor where we found a quaint settlement, a fresh conch stand, and Deno Darville…the turtle whisperer.

While we waited for our conch salad, Deno convinced us all to don our snorkel gear and, for a few bucks, he would “call the turtles.”

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Not only did he call the turtles, he called Stewie, the cutest puffer fish of all time.

We swam around in the water until our salad was freshly prepared and ready to eat.

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Full of fresh conch salad and our own rum punch, we took the dingy around to Ty’s, just to see what all the fuss was about. It was a beautiful stretch of beach and the little bar and grill looked lovely. I guess we’ll just have to save that for next time!

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We enjoyed sunset on the boat before heading to Ocean Cabin for dinner.

We had enjoyed this place a lot on our previous trip. While Terry wasn’t up to the entertainment and antics of our previous trip, the lobster and ribs were spot on.

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I still wasn’t a fan of the Windex blue drink though. That stuff could strip the paint off a barn.

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Posted by vicki_h 11:43 Archived in Bahamas Tagged sailing nassau catamaran exuma out_islands lion_of_the_sea highbourne_cay Comments (5)

The Cays to Paradise: Boating the Exuma Cays II

Days 4 - 6: Highbourne Cay to Compass Cay

Day 4: Going Nowhere Fast.

Highbourne Cay to….Highbourne Cay: 0 miles

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On our second day, my 98 page itinerary demanded that we depart Highbourne Cay and travel 14.5 miles south to Shroud Cay where we would anchor for the night.

The weather disagreed.

It became clear that we were spending the entire day on Highbourne Cay and wouldn’t be moving the boat until the following day.

It was a hardship being stuck on a beautiful private island, with a comfy slip, shore power, showers, an upscale restaurant, beautiful deserted beaches, and free bicycles, but we made the most of it.

First order of business: Showers. You learn quickly on a boat that whenever an opportunity to take a land-based shower presents itself, you take it.

(The same holds true for a #2)

I whipped up a breakfast of eggs-in-a-basket with avocado slices, fresh tomatoes, and salsa while everyone cleaned up.

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After breakfast, we set out to explore. Highbourne Cay has 8 amazing beaches, each one more beautiful than the last. Highbourne was nearly deserted and we had every pristine beach to ourselves.

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We thought we’d take the bus to visit one of the more distant beaches, but when we saw how long this guy had been waiting, we decided to take the bikes.

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We stumbled on a perfect crescent beach, complete with a lounging pavilion, chairs, a paddleboard, and an outdoor bar where we quickly set up our rum punch assembly line.

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Knowing that we couldn’t do anything or go anywhere was incredibly relaxing.

Eventually, we biked our way back to the Marina for lunch at Xuma. Lunch was as decadent as dinner. Their hamburger was a thing of beauty.

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Then it was back to the boat for clean-up and naps before dinner.

We noticed the beach had a bonfire set up so we inquired at the office and found that we could reserve the beach pavilion and bonfire for dinner – so reserve it we did. It cost $200, but it was well worth it.

Sure, you could probably just show up on the off chance that no one else was using it and use it for free, but we were glad we had a paid reservation when we arrived and a large family had set up camp in the pavilion.

No receipt? No beach for you. They packed up and went to find their own spot.

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Pesto pasta, grilled chicken, salad, bread, s’mores, a beach bonfire and more wine than Trader Joe’s…it just didn’t get better than this. This is what boat trips are all about.


Day 5: Here Comes the Sun.

Highbourne Cay to Shroud Cay: 14.5 miles

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It was still cloudy when we woke up, but the weather looked promising. We made plans over a breakfast of yogurt, granola, and fruit parfaits.

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We had to modify our itinerary to make up for the day we spent on Highbourne and decided to skip a stop at Norman’s Cay and head straight for Shroud. The following day, instead of stopping at Warderick Wells, we’d go all the way from Shroud Cay to Compass Cay.

As we made our way north, the gray skies gradually began to clear. The dark water gradually illuminated, as streaks of electric blue began to appear.

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The skies were clearing as we anchored at Shroud Cay.

Our “routine” became an appetizer and cocktails mid-morning so we celebrated our arrival with bloody marys and a fruit tray.

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Then, we did nothing but lounge in the incredible water with cocktails until it was time for lunch.

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Lunch was a giant platter of nachos, black beans and rice, and one weird circular rainbow around the sun that looked very much like a celestial boob.

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After lunch, it was nearing high tide, so it was a good time to take the dingy for a ride up the shallow mangrove river on Shroud Cay to see what was supposed to be “the most amazing beach ever.”

We navigated slowly through the shallow water, the guys having to get out on occasion to pull us through.

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At the end, the river spilled into the ocean at what was, definitely, the most amazing beach ever.

We pulled out the drinks, parked our butts in the sand, and let the sun and sea take us. We did a whole lot of nothing for a couple of hours.

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Eventually, we made our way back to the boat and cleaned up for dinner. It was nothing more than hot dogs and hamburgers, but with the sea salt air and the magnificent sunset, there has never been a finer meal.

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Day 6: On Thin Water.

Shroud Cay to Compass Cay: 27 miles

Because our power cat only had a 3 foot draft, this allowed us to cruise on the shallow west side of the islands, where the Exuma Bank offers crystalline turquoise and jaw dropping views. We planned to take advantage of the “skinny water” and take our time navigating to Compass Cay and simply enjoy the ride.

Because we had to combine 2 days of travel into one, it would be a long ride. We decided to get up early and have a quick breakfast “to go” of bagels with fruit.

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We pulled out as the sun was just peeking into the day.

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To break up the long day, we planned to stop at Cambridge Cay to visit the sandbar. This meant our morning would take us 22 miles. The weather had completely cleared and we finally saw that Exuma water we had been dying for.

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We stopped for lunch at Cambridge Cay: sesame seared tuna with noodles.

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After lunch, we took the dingy to explore the sandbars and shallow waters around Cambridge Cay.

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Then, it was another 5 miles to Compass Cay, famous for its tame nurse sharks.

We had reserved a marina slip, which was no easy feat. Compass doesn’t have bathrooms, showers, or a regularly operating restaurant, but we had shore power and it was just nice to get off the boat and stand on a non-moving, non-wet surface for a bit.

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We enjoyed a sunset platter with wine before grilling up some steaks and calling it a night.

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Posted by vicki_h 09:05 Archived in Bahamas Tagged sailing nassau catamaran exuma out_islands lion_of_the_sea highbourne_cay Comments (3)

The Cays to Paradise: Boating the Exuma Cays I

Days 1 - 3: Nassau to Highbourne Cay

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The Exumas is an archipelago of 365 cays (pronounced “keys”) scattered along some 130 miles of extraordinary turquoise sea in the family islands of the Bahamas.

These 130 miles of island are sprinkled in the ocean like a glittering necklace. On one side of the cays is the heaving ocean. On the other side is the protected and peaceful Exuma Bank, a shallow paradise of shifting sand, colorful reefs and tiny uninhabited cays with shockingly white beaches and water that looks lit from within.

The Exumas are remote, beautiful and untouched. With only a handful of beach bars and even fewer restaurants , and almost nothing that could rise to the level of “town” for some 100+ miles, it is raw and isolated nature, incredible in its beauty and unmatched in its tranquility, but it’s the water that makes the Exuma Cays the perfect place to bareboat.

The draw here is not what you see by land….it’s what you see by water.

It had been 5 years since our last boating trip, having done 2 week long bareboats in the B.V.I. and a 2013 trip in the Exumas. We were itching to see that Exuma water again and knew that doing it by boat was the way to go.

But we don’t sail.

Imagine my delight when I found the sole power catamaran for charter in the Exumas. Before you could say, “Swimming Pigs,” we had convinced 4 friends who had never bareboated to join us on an Exuma adventure with Matt at the helm, armed with nothing more than my 98 page itinerary.

God help them.

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Day 1: It's All About Getting There.

On our previous sail through the Exumas, we had opted for a there-and-back trip out of Georgetown Exuma that lasted 7 days. That trip barely gave us enough time to get to Staniel Cay, some 60 odd miles from Great Exuma. That left over half of the Exumas undiscovered to us. We wanted an opportunity to see the entire chain, so for this trip we chartered a boat out of Nassau for a one way to Georgetown, Great Exuma for 10 days.

Unfortunately, this meant flying into Nassau.

I love the Bahamas. But I hate Nassau.

Ahhh……..Nassau …. the land of Senor Frog’s, drunk 20-somethings, and electric blue, 2 foot tall plastic cocktails. It is a land of cruise ships, three-for-$10 t-shirts, and oversized resorts with midnight buffets.

When I hear someone say they have been to the Bahamas and the next sentence is, “I’ve been to Nassau,” I know they haven’t been to the Bahamas.

Thankfully, our time on Nassau was short.

We arrived at midnight and were literally waved through customs and immigration as the agents packed their belongings up to leave for the night.

We endured a $50 taxi ride to our hotel, paid $8 for a can of soda, and went to bed.

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Day 2: The Waiting is the Hardest Part.

I woke up before Matt and, to kill time, decided to walk down to the hotel’s “beach.” It just made me sad. Having seen so many breathtaking beaches in the Bahamas, to imagine anyone spending their vacation on this “beach” was just wretched. They had no idea what they were missing.

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Although it did have a stunning view of the cruise ship port......

As soon as Matt was awake, we wasted no time getting to Palm Cay Marina, where our boat was waiting. While it was still “Nassau” it was a world apart. If I was going to be forced to spend a day on Nassau, this was the place to do it.

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Palm Cay Marina is far from….well….pretty much anything else on Nassau. It was a lovely marina, and for $10 we could use the pool, beach, and facilities until our 4:00 boarding time. It was very chic and upscale. They even gave each of us a free rum punch, which we consumed faster than you can say, “May I have another rum punch, please?”

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We lounged by the pool and sipped cocktails while we waited for everyone to arrive.

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We celebrated everyone’s arrival with a poolside lunch.

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And then it was time to board catamaran "Lion of the Sea." Chartered through NavTours, we couldn't have been happier with the boat.

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And our very tiny cabins.

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With our very large luggage.

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Good thing I had that extra cocktail.

Dinner that night was at Palm Cay’s poolside restaurant with plenty of twinkling lights, cocktails, live music, and terrible dancing.

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And then everyone crammed themselves into their sardine can bed for our first night on the boat.

As I lay down in my tiny bed, Matt’s giant body taking up 2/3 of the space, I realized that this must be exactly how it feels to be a sardine in a tin- just hotter, tighter and far more uncomfortable. What followed was approximately 7 hours of restless fidgeting, jostling, and shoving with the “accidental” kick thrown in occasionally. Everything but sleep.

Day 3: And awaaaaaay we go!

Nassau to Highbourne Cay: 35 miles

The next morning we got up as early as we thought reasonable just to get out of that cabin. We admitted to each other how, at least once during the night, we had both felt abject loathing for one another. But in the beautiful glow of our first boat sunrise….

Except, there was no beautiful glow.

We woke up to absolutely miserable weather.

MIS-ER-A-BLE.

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Gray skies. Wind. Rough Seas. Rain.

Today was one of our longest legs, as we had to get all the way from Nassau to the very beginning of the Exuma island chain. We had 35 miles to go across open sea. It was our 4 friends’ first day on a boat trip, Matt’s first day ever driving a catamaran, and nature had turned against us.

Not to mention that, even for a seasoned captain, simply navigating in the Exumas is not for the faint of heart. One must use a combination of the boat's chartplotter, Explorer charts, the Cruising Guide to the Bahamas, and several iPads running a variety of navigation apps to pick your way through the shallow water. Add 7 hours of rough open sea and 4 newbies to that equation and it was not looking like an amazing first day.

As the self-designated Galley Wench, I cooked up a “to go” breakfast of egg sandwiches, told everyone to take some Dramamine and “HOLD ON,” and off we went.

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The seas were angry that day, my friends.

We had 3 mildly seasick friends and one who literally entered her cabin, died, and never came out.

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Lunch was en route, so I had to make ham and cheese croissants, a vegetable platter, and cocktails in a wildly rocking galley. I have talents, people.

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The day was a tropical hell of rough seas and disappointment.

After a 7+ hour slog through alternating rain and wind, we made it to Highborne Cay. We entered the marina where a glorious slip awaited us as did dinner at their upscale restaurant.

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Frankly, it had been a long, miserable day, but the worst was over. We celebrated with arrival cocktails and a little appetizer platter on the boat.

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And then it was off to a beautiful dinner at Xuma, Highbourne’s open-air restaurant.

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A plate of profiteroles can fix anything.

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Posted by vicki_h 09:01 Archived in Bahamas Tagged sailing nassau catamaran exuma out_islands lion_of_the_sea highbourne_cay Comments (4)

Mon bon AMI: An 18th Anniversary on Anna Maria Island

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Nestled along the emerald coast of the Gulf of Mexico, Anna Maria Island is a mere whisp of land that’s barely a shell toss from Tampa. There are no sprawling resorts, no historic waterfront, and nothing anyone could call a “high rise.” It’s more bike paths, palm trees and brightly colored beach cottages. It’s like visiting the Florida from my childhood except that the thing I hated the most as a kid is the thing I love the most now: there’s not much to do.

Anna Maria is a narrow barrier island just off Sarasota that’s only seven miles long and less than 2 miles wide. Made up of three quaint beach communities: Anna Maria to the north, Holmes Beach in the middle and Bradenton Beach to the south, it’s loaded with old Florida charm.

It seemed like the perfect place for a quick anniversary getaway.

Before heading to AMI, we made an overnight pit stop in New Smyrna Beach on the east coast of FL to drop our friends off. The beach at New Smyrna was expansive, with rich dark sand littered with shells and not a soul in sight.

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Their home enjoys frontage on both the beach side and the river side, so we had the opportunity to do a short kayak trip up the Indian River.

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The best part of the day was when a small group of dolphins joined us for about 30 minutes. I have enjoyed dolphins from the boat in the Bahamas, but this was entirely different. Being at water level with them, and so close, with no competing sounds was phenomenal. You could hear their breath each time they came to the surface. Pure magic.

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We spent a night in New Smyrna and then made our way to the west coast of FL, landing in at the Sarasota-Bradenton airport just before lunch on a gloriously sunny Friday in April. The FBO staff pulled the rental car up to the plane just as we were parking, so it was a quick 5 minutes before we were on our way!

We were STARVING so we stopped en route to AMI at Cortez Village, just before crossing the bridge across the intracoastal waterway. There we found Tide Tables, an unassuming little restaurant at the marina rumored by good friend and fellow blogger TraceyG to have amazing fish tacos.

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We started off with some chilled shrimp while we waited.

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The wait was short, very short, and within minutes we each had a basket of gorgeous fish tacos, tangy slaw, and carrot salad.

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With our bellies filled, the sunshine on our faces, and a slight buzz from the cheap wine, we were feeling mighty fine.

It was still slightly before check-in time, so we made another stop on the way: the Anna Maria Oyster Bar at the Bradenton Beach Pier. Matt needed an oyster fix and we had an hour to kill.

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The oysters were plump and salty, but the real show stopper was the salted caramel vodka cake.

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Our trip had been planned at the last minute, so we didn’t have a lot of accommodations to choose from. Not planning to go anywhere for our anniversary, we had agreed to take our friends to FL and, since they were paying for the fuel, thought….why not make a weekend of it?

Despite the fact that pickings were slim when I was trying to find beachfront digs, I was delighted to find the ever-so-simple but incredibly adorable Love Shack.

I mean really, where better to spend an anniversary than the Love Shack?

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There were certainly nicer places to stay, but we wanted to be nestled right on the beach, where we could simply walk out the back door and have our toes in the sand. What the Love Shack lacked in “fancy” it made up for in location.

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I knew that Anna Maria was “old school” Florida, so it seemed fitting that they cottage reminded me of the places I used to stay with my parents when I was 9, with gently sloping cracked linoleum floors, brightly colored wood paneling, and old style tri-fold beach chairs.

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It was perfect.

Within minutes, we had dumped our bags and were sitting on bright turquoise Adirondack chairs sipping chilled rum punches and listening to the waves.

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After sufficient chill time on the beach, we cleaned up for dinner and went out our back door to enjoy the sunset with a glass of wine.

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AMI is the kind of beach town where everyone gathers for the sunset, treating it with reverence and awe, as though it isn’t something that happens every single day.

I loved it.

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It was just a couple of miles down the beach to Beach House, where we sipped cocktails at the edge of the water while we waited for a table.

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I had an amazing margarita but Matt….misordered. He ordered what was called a “dirty monkey” and expected something like this...all deliciously ice-creamy and milkshakey:

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What he got was more "black rotten banana that should have been thrown out yesterday:"

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He forced it upon me to confirm that it was indeed terrible and, with one sip, I knew how it got its name. It tasted like a monkey ate a banana and crapped it out.

Dinner, however, was decadent. We were so hungry by the time we sat down that we overordered and ended up with a feast of the house smoked fish dip, farmhouse salad, and the gulf scampi for me and the seafood capellini for Matt.

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Saturday morning I woke early and saw that Matt was sleeping like the dead. I let him be and wandered outside.

I love the beach in the morning, before it’s littered with bodies and screaming children. It’s quiet and peaceful, the world softly waking up around the ocean. The sand is scattered with tiny shells, the waves lap gently at the shore, and the day is full of promise.

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It was 10:00 before a groggy Matt wandered out onto the beach. Sleeping that late is very unusual for either of us so I knew he needed it and was thankful we had this glorious weekend to get our batteries recharged.

We set our cheap tri-fold beach chairs up in the sand, grabbed a morning mimosa, and watched the world go by.

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After a couple of hours of sunning and swimming, we were hungry, so we threw on some clothes and headed down the beach to Skinny’s Place, a hole-in-the-wall that serves up wide, juicy patties on toasted buns with plenty of toppings and an impressive variety of beer. They are also known for their colossal onion rings, fried to crispy perfection.

Skinny’s was funky, Old Florida at its best.

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The menu said to say “Mayo” or “No Mayo,” which made me wonder why, down here in the south, there would even be a choice. Nothing beats a burger slathered with a hearty helping of mayonnaise, preferably Duke’s or JFG.

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The burgers were everything they promised to be and left us ready to do some shopping and strolling around Anna Maria’s cute beachside town.

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Every place we stopped was bright, unique, and eclectic, but my favorite had to be Shiny Fish. I’m not sure what won me over the most….the swing outside, the incredible décor and selection of awesomeness inside, or the PAINT YOUR OWN SAND DOLLAR TABLE!

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I really wanted to paint a sand dollar, but Matt was getting over estrogenized and needed a shopping break.

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We ducked into The Donut Experiment, where you can order a soft, still warm cake donut topped with your choice of icing and your choice of topping.

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I went for the vanilla icing and candy sprinkles while Matt opted for caramel icing and sea salt.

That donut was like a gift from god.

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We walked over to the beach and thought about getting a drink at Sand Bar until we saw how long the wait was. I could swim to Puerto Rico and get my own bottle of rum before we would have a drink in that place, so we strolled around town a little more before heading back down the beach to our end of the island. Anna Maria was a perfect blend of quirky, cute, and funky, with just enough "WTF?" to keep it from being boring.

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We stopped in at a cute little beachside bar, the Kokonut Hut. It sat right on the sugar white sand and served up wicked little buckets of rum punch.

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After a bucket of rum punch, a frozen rum punch with a 151 floater, and a Pussers painkiller…there was nothing left to do but take a nap.

We woke up in time for sunset and enjoyed another beautiful evening on the beach behind the Love Shack.

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We had dinner reservations at Blue Marlin on Bridge Street, so we headed to the Drift-In Lounge’s outdoor tiki bar for a pre-dinner drink. The Drift-In was an incredibly cool little dive bar. Everyone seated around the bar appeared to be a local or a regular and they were cranking out my favorite 80s tunes over the ancient speakers. The tough, tattooed bartender made us a fantastic pina colada, which, side-by-side, looked a lot like boobs.

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Or maybe I had simply had one drink too many.

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We found the Blue Marlin practically across the street in an adorable little blue cottage with warm lights. This cozy little bistro cranks out some of the freshest seafood on the island.

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As we perused the menu, the waiter brought us….not bread…..edamame. Odd…but delicious.

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We had a delicious burrata salad, swimming in rich olive oil and basil and we both ended up ordering the shrimp and grits which, much to my delight, came served with an adorable little hushpuppy. Dessert was a decadent pecan pie with vanilla bean ice cream.

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After dinner, you can sip wine and listen to live music in their outdoor patio area, the Trap Yard….only 351 miles from Abaco!

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It was Sunday morning and the official “ANNIVERSARY.”

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We started the day with celebratory morning cocktails at the Coquina Beach Café. You can’t be a $3 mimosa with a view like this.

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Next to the café was the weekly Coquina Beach Market, filled with everything from original art and jewelry to fresh baked goods to home-made dog biscuits.

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We had worked up an appetite and stopped at Wicked Cantina on our way back to the Love Shack.

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It was $5 margarita day. For $5, I expect a pretty sub-par margarita. These were anything but sub-par…they were strong and freshly squeezed.

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Even though I don’t like avocadoes (literally one 3 foods on the whole planet I don’t like…), I was intrigued by the fried guacamole. Cover anything in dough and fry it and I’ll eat it.

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Matt ordered carnitas tacos with rice and charro beans.

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Matt’s tacos looked amazing, but I am a nacho fan. I LOVE NACHOS. You could say I have a ….

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These nachos were absolute perfection. The only ones I can remember having that I liked more were at a little divey beach bar on St. Croix on my honeymoon, but that memory might be clouded by the fact that 1) I was on my honeymoon where everything seemed sparkly and magical and 2) I had been drinking rum all day.

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After lunch, we headed back for some beach lounging, sun, and cold slices of watermelon.

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As the sun began to dip lower in the sky, we headed out for the official anniversary dinner.

First stop was at the Doctor’s Office, an adorable craft cocktail bar in….what else…an old doctor’s office.

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Dinner was beachside at the Beach Bistro. I chose it because it has a reputation for being the best restaurant on the island. I left knowing it is.

The location, right on the beach, was a show stopper in itself. However, as we stepped inside, the interior took my breath away. It was tiny and intimate, delicate and elegant, with white tablecloths and a single, red rose on each table.

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They wished us a Happy Anniversary and brought us each their standard complimentary cocktail – a refreshing blend of blueberry infused vodka with a splash of St. Germain and lime juice.

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Next came a complimentary “shot” of their “one helluva soup,” the bistro blue tomato made with Parrish plum tomatoes in sweet cream with Maytag blue cheese. This was paired with a chunk of homemade sea salt focaccia with olive tapenade, basil pesto, and smoked salmon.

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Salads came next. Matt ordered the caprese, a giant ball of fresh milk mozzarella surrounded by a rainbow of cherry tomatoes, drizzled with basil olive oil and balsamic. I couldn’t resist the black and blue Caesar, which was loaded with bacon and blue cheese.

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Dinner for Matt was the dinner special of seared jumbo scallops, while I ordered the famous bistro bouillabaisse – a savory broth filled with poached lobster tail, jumbo shrimp, fresh grouper, shellfish, and calamari and served with crusty herbed garlic toast and aioli. Apparently, my dish required a bib.

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When we were certain we couldn’t eat another bite, they brought out another complimentary dish – a scoop of ice cream rolled in some powdery deliciousness, served on top of a shot of Frangelico and topped with whipped cream and almonds.

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It had been a perfect meal in a perfect setting….but the hits kept coming. As we left, they handed us a box with one of their signature truffles, a bag of toffee popcorn, and a rose.

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Happy Anniversary to us!

(all that food did not stop me from ordering a slice of key lime pie to go…I’m still ME after all…)

It had been a sleepy, food-filled, fun-filled, sun-filled, relaxing weekend. The only thing that could make it any better was a piece of key lime pie for breakfast in the plane on the way home.

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Matt – I love being your co-pilot and can’t wait to see what adventures the next 18 years takes us on!

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What’s up next folks? Holy Life Preservers….we’re headed to the Bahamas to spend 12 days on a power catamaran going from Nassau to Georgetown Exuma!!!! Be sure to check back in June to see what happened!

Posted by vicki_h 10:11 Archived in USA Tagged beach florida sarasota bradenton anna_maria holmes_beach Comments (0)

A Double Dose of Vitamin Sea

We had a mid-April trip to Guana Cay planned when a last minute opportunity to fly down for free came up at the end of March.

There is no such thing as an overdose of Vitamin Sea.

It was the end of March when we zipped down with good friends and seasoned veterans of Abaco for a fun-filled weekend. We arrived early and were greeted with brilliant blue skies and an abundance of sunshine.

Keeping the boat at Treasure Cay has changed our “arrival routine” from a Bahama Mama and conch fritters at Curly Tails to a lunch trip to Treasure Sands before making our way to Guana Cay. Treasure Sands is beautiful and has amazing food, but it’s not the most convenient place to boat to from Guana, the passage demanding calm seas and as little wind as possible to be entirely comfortable. Because our boat is already there, it just makes sense to enjoy it before we leave.

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So we launched right in with drinks by the pool and a delicious seaside lunch.

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We arrived on Guana too late for a grocery run and headed to Grabbers for sunset cocktails instead. Who needs fresh water and milk when you have a lethal frozen concoction of rum waiting for you?

I should point out that one too many frozen concoctions of rum often leads to a “golf cart incident.” In this case, Matt turned left and my body went right.

I think falling off your golf cart is a rite of passage on Guana Cay.

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The next morning we grabbed the necessary provisions at Guana Grocery and discussed our plans for the day. It was going to be windy every day, so we couldn’t venture very far. Friends who were also on island were boating over to Firefly and we agreed to meet up for lunch.

That would have been fine if the boat had started.

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While the guys puzzled over the problem, the girls headed to Grabbers for sunshine and frozen mango daiquiris. Before we could do as much as dip a toe in the water, the guys told us to “Come on!”

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After puzzling, deliberating, changing the battery, and finally giving up and calling Troy, we discovered that someone had inadvertently hit the battery kill switch.

Note to self: Check kill switch before calling Troy.

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Humbled and late, we headed to Elbow Cay. We made it in time to meet our friends for a fabulous waterfront lunch with the best frozen drinks in Abaco.

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It was getting late and it was pretty windy, so we cut our losses and headed back to Guana for a peaceful sunset.

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It was Friday night and Kidds Cove was serving up their Friday night grill. They day wrapped up with butter and garlic drenched lobster and crispy conch fritters.

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Saturday morning was beautiful….but still windy. I made breakfast from my score of fresh baked Johnny Cakes that I found at the grocery the day before, and we tried to decide whether to even get the boat out.

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But first....$5 bloody Marys from Sir Eden at the Orchid Bay Farmer's Market!

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Ultimately, the sunshine won out and we decided on a conservative plan: a quick trip to Man-O-War for lunch at the Dock & Dine and a stop in at the lagoon, where the winds are always calm.

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One of the things I love about Guana Cay, especially since buying a home there, is that it’s more like home than a vacation and the people who live there and visit regularly have become friends and family rather than strangers. As such, we had somehow amassed a group of 14 for dinner that night and I only had a reservation for 6.

Mermaids was quick to accommodate the change and immediately had a table set up for our entire group. The service, the food, and the drinks were top notch as always!

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After dinner, we hopped over to Grabbers for some Karaoke with Gabby and a little bit of (very bad) late night dancing.

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It was Sunday Funday, but the water was the calmest it had been all weekend, so we decided to forgo Nippers and head north to No Name Cay. I had seen that there were some piglets on the island and wanted to get my baby pig fix.

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Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I am not short of opinions and, from time to time, I have to climb up on my soapbox. So ….get ready.

I realize these are PIGS. However, they are not pets. They are not very keen on being touched, chased, or handled. I was dismayed by how many people I saw flat out running after them, chasing them, as they ran away squealing and terrified. I saw parents letting their kids throw things at them and grab at them, as they tried to hide under things to get away. I saw people throw food on the sand rather than in the nice, clean wooden trough that is provided, causing the pigs (who will eat ANYTHING PEOPLE) to gobble up the food….sand and all. All I am trying to say is that a little human decency goes a long way. These are animals. They are hungry, thirsty, and slightly apprehensive of all the human attention. Enjoy them from a distance, take a picture rather than grabbing a piglet by the tail, put food in the trough rather than throwing it in the sand, don’t chase them if they are afraid – let them come to you if they choose, give them some water. Be decent. That’s all.

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Once we had our piglet fix, we headed to Green Turtle. We had always pulled into New Plymouth on previous visits, but decided to pull into the dock at Coco Beach and make the short walk to the Green Turtle Club.

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It was a great way to wrap up a short trip.

Beautiful beach, wonderful food, strong drinks.

Great friends.

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BUT WAIT….THERE’S MORE….

Because Matt and I headed back down with newbies less than 2 weeks later!

Online friends Mark and Kristen became real friends back in October when we met in the flesh in Maryland. Somehow, we didn’t scare them off and they actually agreed to come to Abaco for a first visit.

Despite many trips to Exuma, they had not yet taken the plunge and visited Abaco so we offered to take them with us and show them around. It was a way for them to dip their toes in the water without making too much of a commitment.

It felt like “déjà vu all over again” as we lay in a near comatose state, sun drunk on the beach loungers at Treasure Cay.

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Champagne was followed by cocktails. Cocktails were followed by lunch. Lunch was followed by the beach.

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And…much like two weekends prior….that was followed by sunset at Grabbers and dinner, except that this time, I managed to stay in the golf cart.

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The next morning, we discovered that the winds were still up. That meant we couldn’t go very far comfortably.

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We settled on a trip to Elbow Cay (dang, this feels familiar). Our first stop was the beach at Man-O-War where we looked for starfish and shells, lounged in the sunshine, and enjoyed strawberry mimosas and bloody Marys.

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Next stop was Firefly for a decadent lunch and a revisit of those glorious frozen cocktails.

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Then it was on to Tahiti Beach for the sandbar party and boat drinks (or, more appropriately...lounging in the water drinks).

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Last stop was Hopetown for a quick shopping trip and a cocktail at Hopetown Harbour Lodge.

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That night, Mermaids helped me surprise Kristen who had celebrated her birthday just before the trip with a mermaid themed birthday dinner. Mermaids is TOPS!!

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Sunday Funday dawned bold and beautiful.

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We felt like Mark and Kristen needed the Nippers experience for their first visit, but we didn’t want to waste a gorgeous boat day, so we made a quick trip to the lagoon.

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We sipped strawberry daiquiris and snuggled some warm beach dogs while we watched the water turn every shade of blue around us.

Then it was back to Guana for lunch at Grabbers. I love their tuna poke and wings! Yeah okay, I also love the Grabbers!

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It wasn’t a super crazy Sunday at Nippers, but that’s good. That might have been a bit much for a first timer.

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It was just busy enough to enjoy some drinks, do some pool dancing, make some new friends, and hang out on the beach.

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For dinner, we cleaned up and headed to Orchid Bay for pizza (my favorite Sunday Funday dinner!).

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Our last day proved to be another windy one, so we didn’t want to venture very far. While I really wanted to show them Green Turtle, No Name, Munjack, or Pete’s…we settled for Man-O-War.

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We enjoyed some seriously good cracked lobster burgers at the Dock & Dine.

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Then we wandered down to the Sail Shop, Joe’s Studio, and my favorite….Sally’s Seaside Boutique where I can always find something adorable made from her traditional Bahamian fabrics.

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Craving just a little more beach time, we stopped at my favorite little beach for some sunshine and afternoon cocktails.

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Don’t worry….this little guy is in the water….it’s just that clear!

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Too soon, our last day was over so we drowned our sorrows with frozen Grabbers, a final sunset, and a quiet dinner at Nippers.

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But don’t feel too sorry for me just yet. Coming on the heels of back to back trips to Guana is an anniversary trip to Anna Maria Island! Stay tuned friends!

Posted by vicki_h 11:38 Archived in Bahamas Tagged islands tropical bahamas nippers abaco elbow_cay guana_cay grabbers marsh_harbour lubbers_landing Comments (3)

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