A Travellerspoint blog

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 (3)

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)

Sunny With a Chance of Meatballs

A winter weekend in Key West

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Any trip that starts with a view of a colossal fuzzy flamingo riding shotgun in the plane has to be good.

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It was mid-January. The holidays were over. The fun was over. The eatfest and presents were over. It was just winter. Boring, cold, long soul sucking winter.

We have found that the best way to cure the winter blues is to simply fly away from them. A quick 4 hours from home, we were flying over turquoise water littered with emerald islands.

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It was time for a Key West Quickie!

We only had 3 days, so we didn’t waste a minute dumping our stuff at the lovely Air BNB rental we’d found above the South Pointe Gallery and heading straight for sunshine and libations at the Rum Bar, practically next door.

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We were sad to find that Bahama Bob had moved on to Papa’s Pilar Rum Factory on the other side of Old Town, but at least he was still there in spirit.

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It was a beautiful day to sip rum on a wide shady porch. One quickly turned to …..more than one..... and before we knew it, it was oyster happy hour!

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We had sunset sail reservations so we ducked into the White Tarpon, the closest oyster destination which proudly serves $1.00 oysters all day. Sure, you can get them cheaper during happy hour at other places, but we didn’t have time to wait. And “other places” don’t have the always amazing Key Lime Pie Martini.

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On our first trip to Key West many years ago, we booked a cheesy boozy cruise on the Fury Catamaran where we drank cheap champagne in plastic solo cups, danced to the live band, and watched a spectacular sunset.

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Despite the ultimate cheese factor, we loved it so much we repeated it on later trips and enjoyed it just as much.

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So, once again, we found ourselves getting in line for the sunset sail with the endless beverages and live band, Commotion on the Ocean.

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Unfortunately, there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing.” We found that the Fury Catamaran on a night when the weather has turned on you is simply a big boat that smells like deep fried wontons. Despite the lack of charm or sunset, we made the best of it and drank enough bottom shelf booze to make it seem amazing.

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Even if we were the only ones not huddled inside eating cheap egg rolls.

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Like the Fury Catamaran, Amigo’s following the sunset(less) sail is a tradition that has stuck.

What’s not to love about a place where you eat street corn, tater tots, and a giant bowl of nachos while staring out at the craziness of a Key West Saturday night?

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Saturday morning brought a sunrise that looked a lot like the sunset from the night before, but that didn’t stop me from taking a brisk early morning bike ride to the pier to watch the sun not come up.

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When I got back, Matt was up and about, so we headed downstairs to La Grignote for breakfast. How could we not? We could smell the freshly baked croissants from our balcony.

Set in a cute little conch house on the corner of Louisa and the quite end of Duval, the entrance to the artisan French bakery was filled with potted flowers and plants spilling over the railings with the maddening smell of freshly baked bread filling the air. We walked in and a bounty of baked goods and pastries waited for us behind a perfectly polished glass display counter. Chalkboard menus overhead boasted breakfast entrees like bacon Belgian waffles topped with whipped cream and a French Petit Dejeuner that came with coffee, toasted artisan bread with homemade jam and butter, and fresh Greek yogurt with berries, orange blossom honey, pistachio and homemade granola.

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We were seated at a warmly polished wooden table where Matt had the breakfast special which came with scrambled eggs, their own ground sausage mix, bacon, avocado, tomatoes, and a slice of their freshly baked bread.

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Unable to resist the pastry counter, I went for a croissant and baked egg cup with bacon. What is an egg cup, you ask? Why, it’s a little basket of puff pastry with béchamel sauce, crème fraîche and a cracked egg on top.

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Or a little cup of happiness, whichever description you prefer.

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The croissant was flaky, pillowy perfection slathered with real butter and jam.

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From there, we spent a leisurely morning enjoying the streets and shops of Key West.

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We spent the morning walking the still quiet streets of Key West, shopping, and enjoying all the things that make Key West unique.

Like this dog in goggles riding in a backpack that said “Spank Me.” .

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Or this house covered with teddy bears. Which was less charming than the dog in goggles riding in a backpack that said “Spank Me.”

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When I was a kid, I watched too much Twilight Zone and was certain my stuffed animals were going to come alive during the night and kill me while I was asleep. This house was like a giant nightmare. That doll alone was enough to make me sleep with both eyes open.

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We had afternoon brunch reservations at Hot Tin Roof and I couldn’t have been happier when I walked in and saw a personalized menu, all you can drink mimosa and bloody Mary bar, AND a huge wooden boat filled with BACON.

ALL THE BACON.

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The brunch at Hot Tin Roof is a thing of beauty. The menu is filled with delightful small plates and you can order as many as you like along with bottomless mimosas, until you explode, pass out, or simply give up in defeat.

While we perused the menu, they brought out chilled seafood and ceviche along with a bacon topped cinnamon roll as big as my head.

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They thought they were being clever bringing out that cinnamon roll to fill me up. Obviously, they had never seen me eat.

Asian noodle salad with wasabi seared tuna and sesame ginger dressing:

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Crab Louie deviled eggs with pickled veges:

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Fried chicken with a little jalepeno cheddar cornbread waffle and maple syrup:

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Coffee crusted beef medallion with angel’s potatoes and herbed butter:

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Oysters on the half shell:

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Corn flake crusted French toast with cinnamon syrup:

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A cute little sour cream pancake with banana rum sauce and praline pecans:

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Rum and brown sugar roasted banana with sweet mascarpone and toasted pecans:

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Oh yes, and mimosas….so many mimosas!

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After brunch, we headed over to the Hemingway Rum Company to see if we could find Bahama Bob.

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We did not find Bob, but we did find this oddly smiley dog.

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En route to our end of Duval, Matt was distracted by a “2 for 1 Mojito” sign, so we popped into Willy T’s for a mojito and a little live music on the patio.

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While our friends enjoyed some down time, I talked Matt into walking next door to the bar at La Te Da for their Sunday afternoon Tea Dance by assuring him that there would be a “mixed crowd.”

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I did not tell him he would be the heterosexual male providing the mix.

Men, women, old, young….it was a colorful crowd dancing to old favorites by the La Te Da pool. Lasting from 4:00 – 6:30, the Tea Dance was situated perfectly between boozy brunch and a proper Sunday night dinner.

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After a day filled with mimosas, mojitos, and too much champagne by the La Te Da pool…it was time for some FOOD.

I have heard Key West maven TraceyG talk up Abbondanza’s spaghetti with meatballs to a degree that led me to believe she had to be grossly exaggerating or was getting a % paid for each meatball sold. No meatball could be THAT GOOD. So, I finally had to try them myself.

Dear sweet heavenly sphere of awesome. That little meatball packed more soul and goodness into a square inch than anything that tiny has a right to. It was supernaturally good.

That meatball changed my life.

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We all slept in the next morning and decided on a late breakfast at Blue Heaven. Touristy or not, Matt can’t get enough of their banana bread and BLT Bennies. I just like their weirdness and mismatched garage sale coffee cups.

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I think my 3rd grade teacher had this cup.

Not a cup like it...THIS cup.

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We worked off all the bread and potatoes with long bike ride through Key West’s quiet streets, one of my favorite things to do.

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Matt was in need of another oyster fix, so we headed to Pepe’s for oyster happy hour. Pepe's happy hour is my favorite with the breezy patio, house squeezed margaritas, and their own homemade chunky cocktail sauce.

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Then it was on to Half Shell for some fish lips, beer steamed shrimp, and smoked fish dip.

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It definitely hadn’t been a trip for sunsets, but it didn’t stop us from continuing to try. This was the best we were going to get.

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We ended the night with key lime pie and giant glasses of milk.

When your night in Key West ends with a big glass of milk….it’s probably time to go home.

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We had planned to leave around noon, but a quick moving snow system thought otherwise. Matt roused us all up at 5:00 a.m. and gave us 30 minutes to get packed. All I could say was, “Thank goodness all we drank last night was milk.”

This is the face of someone roused out of bed at zero dark thirty to leave paradise:

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And this is the face of someone who just left paradise and found herself in the snow a few hours later:

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Until next time! And where is next time? Why, sunny Guana Cay, of course! Stay warm, friends!

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Posted by vicki_h 11:48 Archived in USA Tagged key_west florida_keys duval_street conch_republic Comments (6)

Ringing in 2018..... Guana-Cay Style

YOU CAN’T RAIN ON MY PARADE.

The flight to Abaco had been uneventful. It was the day after Christmas and Matt and I were en route to Bikini Hut to ring in the New Year.

Flying into Abaco is interesting. There is no flight control. There is no tower. Each pilot simply communicates on the radio with every other pilot to decide who is where and who is landing when. It doesn’t matter if you are a single engine Cessna Skyhawk or a commercial jet – it’s an act of cooperation and it amazes me every time to hear tiny 4 seater private planes coordinating with turboprops and jets to see where everyone is and what order they are landing in.

“This is Cessna 41-Mike,” we heard over the radio. “Has anyone made it into Treasure Cay in the last 15?”

It was raining, you see.

The flight was uneventful until this moment. Now…we were nearing the Treasure Cay airport in a downpour and many planes were having a hard time landing due to low visibility. The commercial planes had to turn back because there is no ILS approach and they required a higher altitude for visibility to land.

Just as we were considering turning back to wait it out at a drier airport, someone responded. “Baron 32-Alpha just landed. Clear of active runway.”

That said, we knew we could make it.

Landing in the rain is not my favorite, because it means unloading in the rain, getting a taxi in the rain, and probably getting on the boat in the rain, but what other choice was there?

We landed in the rain. We unloaded in the rain. We got into a taxi in the rain.

It was still raining when we reached the Treasure Cay Marina, where our boat was waiting. Rather than load the boat in the rain, we decided to wait it out with rum punches and fish burgers tucked inside the Tipsy Seagull where it was nice and dry and where our furry children were welcome.

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A few rum punches later, the rain dissipated and we loaded the boat to make our way to Bikini Hut on Guana Cay!

We were almost there.

Sure, we arrived later than expected, but we had plenty of time to unpack, get what few groceries we needed from the on island store, and get to Grabbers for sunset, that first frozen grabber of the trip, lobster bites, and mac n’cheese.

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It felt like a Welcome Home to me.

IT’S NOT WEDNESDAY, IT’S SUN DAY.

Sure, it was mid-week but the sun was shining and the day started off bright and HOT. This was fine with me because December in Abaco can bring anything from 50 degrees to 80. A high near 80 with endless sun was a perfect first day.

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We had nothing planned. A whole lot of nothing.

The morning started with a walk on the beach with my favorite girls. Bella and Rooby were happy to be back.

Rooby loves watching the sun come up.

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Our December trips are more about “to dos” than leisure, and Matt had a list of things he wanted to accomplish during our week at the Hut. I didn’t have much to do, so I opted for a lazy day at Grabbers. I knew it wasn’t going to be this warm all week and I wanted to take advantage of it while I could.

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I grabbed one of these….

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And stared at this….

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Until I was so sun drunk I could do nothing more than roll over every once in a while to ensure I burned evenly.

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Eventually, the lure of the sun was more than Matt could take and he joined me for lobster caprese sandwiches and fish tacos.

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And then a little more of this….

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We have become friends with several other homeowners on the island and everyone had finally arrived, so we agreed to meet up at one of the houses for dinner. We grabbed a sunset, a Grabber, and headed out to finish the day with our island family.

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IT’S A PINK NIGHTMARE.

It was another beautiful morning on Guana Cay.

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Matt had plans to do something fun like pour a cement ramp to the laundry room or rebuild the shutters, so I grabbed my beach bag and ran out of the house faster than you can shake a paintbrush.

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I had no intention of spending a beautiful day painting trim, so I parked myself on a lounge chair at Nippers, ordered a spicy bloody Mary, and watched the clouds go by.

Matt joined me for lunch and we agreed to share a healthy lunch and a fried pile of delicious crap so that neither of us felt too guilty. The seared ahi tuna salad was amazing….but so was the cracked lobster with fries.

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To avoid being labeled a total slacker….I spent the afternoon painting shutters.

Mainly because I had to soften Matt up.

You see, it was the night of the annual Guana Cay Christmas Golf Cart Parade.

We discovered last year that the golf cart parade is the most fun that can be had at 3 mph. Everyone dresses up in tacky Christmas attire and meets at the Lumberyard. From there, about 50 decorated golf carts roll through town, making stops at each of the 3 main restaurants on Guana where food is served and drinks are bought….ending the night at Nippers for a tacky Christmas dance party.

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“I look like a deranged Easter Bunny,” Matt said.

“You look AMAZING!” I lied. (actually....he DID look amazing....)

Matt’s favorite Christmas movie is A Christmas Story, but I still couldn’t believe he had agreed to my costume idea. He did, however, require a small dose of liquid courage.

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We met up with our island family first so that we could all head to the Lumberyard together to ensure we were lined up in succession during the parade.

I love these people.

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We made our way to the Lumberyard and waited for the parade to start.

Now….Matt might have been wearing the world’s largest pink onesie, but I was wearing HIGH HEELS. I never wear heels on Guana. High heels and Guana Cay go together like Rob Kardashian and Blac Chyna.

And much like Rob Kardashian and Blac Chyna, mixing the two leads to a greater than average chance of violence, bodily harm, ripped fishnets, and tears.

I proved this point when I got clever and decided to hold one leg up under my lampshade, you know, so I looked more like the one-legged lamp from the movie?

Rather than looking like a MAJOR AWARD…I got my heel caught in my hoop and immediately took a hard dive to the gravel.

This broke my fall:

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At that moment, I would have given anything to have been wearing a pink fleece onesie.

Instead, I brushed it off and screamed, “And she’s up!” I guess I am not so FRUH-GEE-LAY after all.

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FRI-YAY!

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The next morning, Matt had to make the Bunny Walk of Shame.

He had gotten our golf cart stuck at Nippers the night before, you see. Late nights, drinks, bunny suits, and golf cart parking do not mix.

With the golf cart secured back at the Hut, we decided it was a nice day to get the boat out. It was sunny, but the wind was acting up a bit, so we decided not to go far.

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Our plan was to simply hop over to Man-O-War and grab lunch and pick up a couple of new bags from the sail shop to add to our ever growing collection.

We stopped in at the Dock-N-Dine where we enjoyed the beautiful views and ran into more Guana friends.

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I like any restaurant in Abaco that veers from the traditional menu of: 1) Cheeseburger, 2) Fishburger, 3) Cracked Conch…all served with fries, peas n’rice, or mac n’cheese.

For starters, we enjoyed the black bean and lump crab cakes topped with goat pepper salsa and served with citrus yogurt. For lunch, I had the triple seafood pita club: a warm pita filled with fried lobster, shrimp and crab along with crispy lettuce, tomato, and bacon. Matt dove into the amazing Tommy Burger which is topped with crispy onions, spicy apple jam, white cheddar, and a rosemary BBQ sauce.

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We meandered through the sunny streets of Man-O-War until we reached Albury’s sail shop. This is a must stop on most trips to Abaco. We love their canvas bags and simply can’t get enough of them.

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In order to get Matt to knock off half a day and play on the boat, I had agreed to spend the afternoon working on the shutters.

That night, one of our island friends hosted dinner for the group and we all gathered for the end of another beautiful island day.

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MEET ME AT TAHITI

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After our morning walk on the beach with the girls, I convinced Matt to take a full boat day. We’d been working all week (in between having a little fun) and it was a beautiful day to be on the water. The sun was shining, the water was calm, the wind was down….it was a perfect day.

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We made our way to Elbow Cay and anchored at Tahiti Beach to watch the sand bar arrive.

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What we didn’t expect was an actual SAND BAR.

This floating bar showed up just as we were leaving, so I didn’t get a chance to try it. That just means something new for next time!

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I had my heart set on Lunch at Firefly. Without a reservation, you better get there early or you won’t be eating. We pulled in right at noon and scored an amazing waterfront table. By the time we left, they were literally turning people away telling them the list was too full to add anyone else for lunch.

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Firefly has the best cocktails and food around, so a meal there is always something to savor.

I started off with a smoky mezcal old fashioned, which was a nice change from the sweet tropical drinks I had been sucking down for the last few days.

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The lobster quesadilla with mango pineapple salsa was calling our name. Drizzled with chipotle sour cream, it was the perfect way to start lunch.

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Matt had the panko crusted fish cakes (which looked more like balls….just sayin’) served with mesclun greens and fruit salsa.

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I had what was quite possibly the best salad of my life: the naked cobb salad with coconut panko crusted lobster. Yes, I realize the bacon, blue cheese and deep fried lobster destroyed any chance that salad had of being healthy, but it was so delicious I did not care.

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After lunch, we hopped over to Hopetown Harbour where we walked around for a bit before relaxing with a drink at the Reef Bar at Hopetown Harbour Lodge. I never get tired of these views.

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With the shorter winter days, it was time to head back so we could make it in before dark.

We wrapped up the day with a blazing sunset at Grabbers and a pizza at Orchid Bay.

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THE PERFECT STORM.

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It was Sunday Funday at Nippers. It was New Year’s Eve. And it was the day the famed Bucketlust yacht group and their Bravo film crew had decided to descend upon our tiny little island.

It was the perfect storm.

We headed to Nippers early so that we could enjoy the beach bar before the crowds arrived. I admit that I am one of the instigators when I am with a group, but when it’s just me and Matt, we keep things low key. We were just there to be spectators today.

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The calm before the storm….

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The place was empty and beautiful, just the way I like it. We had some frozen Nippers, dipped in the pool, lay in the abundant sunshine, and shared a cheeseburger.

When things went from this:

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To this:

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We knew it was time to call it a day.

We did what old people do on New Year’s Eve….we went home and took a nap. How else am I supposed to stay awake until midnight??

Then it was time for NYE dinner.

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I tried to dress fancy for the occasion, but it had turned cooler, and within minutes, I decided to ditch the dress for jeans and a long sleeve shirt.
In case needing a nap in order to stay out late isn’t a sure sign you are old, another one is trading in a cute, sequin mini dress on NYE for jeans because it’s more comfortable.

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Normally, we spend NYE at Nippers, but we simply couldn’t resist the lure of being eyewitnesses to the debauchery promised by the Bucketlust NYE party at Grabbers.

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From what we gathered, Bucketlust is an international group that puts together outrageous party vacations for young schmucks who like to spend a week wearing inappropriate costumes, throwing garbage into the ocean, consuming copious amounts of alcohol, and dancing while partying aboard a flotilla of 25+ catamarans as they sail through some poor, unsuspecting island chain.

It was our lucky day. This ghastly group of people had chosen the Abacos as their NYE destination and had chosen Guana Cay as their first stop to host their extreme NYE party.

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In a very short period of time, our sweet little Grabbers was transformed into a den of debauchery, loaded with 300+ partygoers dressed in their best porn versions of your favorite Disney characters. They proceeded to litter the beach and ocean, tear up the hammocks, throw crap into the pool, and drink until they vomited or took their clothes off in front of strangers – which ever came first.

It was quite a show.

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One of the Bucketlust staffers actually approached us before midnight and advised that we leave just after midnight because ….”It will really get bad after that.”

At midnight, we left. We’d had enough. If what I saw was only the beginning….I didn’t need to see any more.

Sign 3 that I am getting old? Sure. After watching those young people, I wear my age with pride.

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ABOUT LAST NIGHT...

On our way to walk the dogs, Matt and I stopped at Grabbers because I wanted to get a look at the boats in the harbor (they had arrived after dark, so it was our first chance to see this massive group of boats).

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What I didn’t expect was the amount of devastation they left in their wake. Plastic cups, Styrofoam plates, straws, flip flops, and the remnants of costumes littered the beach, hung from the trees, and worst of all….floated all in the harbor. You could still hear the electronic dance music eurothumping from their boats AT 6:00 a.m.

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(Sign 4 you are old – you are up at 6:00 a.m. on New Year’s Day)

I’m sure the homes nearby loved listening to their music all night and into the morning. I’m sure Grabbers staff loved trying to get their dirty underwear out of the palm trees. And I’m sure the sea creatures loved swallowing their plastic straws and dodging their plastic cups in the ocean.

I sincerely hope Bucketlust was a “one and done” as far as the Abacos are concerned. The Abacos are family islands. I love a good party as much as the next girl, but these people were not respectful of this island, it’s people, or the environment. I say take your garbage and bare butts to Ibiza or Mykonos. Go to Cancun for God’s sake, but don’t bring it back here.

(Sign 5 you are old – you give a lecture to young partygoers for partying too hard on NYE)

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I will now climb off my soapbox and tell you about how we spent our last day on the island taking the girls on a boat ride to the lagoon.

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We drank strawberry daiquiris and ate chips and wasted the day away.

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We ended the day with a quiet dinner at Nippers – seafood fettuccine for Matt and grilled lobster for me.

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ARRIVE IN THE RAIN. LEAVE IN THE RAIN.

We had amazing weather while we were down, but we had arrived in the rain and I’ll be darned if it wasn’t pouring when we woke up to leave.

I have to brag on Matt here. The man is a saint.

We had to take the boat back to Treasure Cay. This meant loading the boat in the rain, driving the boat to Treasure Cay (an hour) in the rain, unloading the boat in the rain, loading the taxi in the rain, unloading the taxi in the rain, and loading the plane in the rain. He put me and the dogs in the dry and did all of this by himself so we wouldn’t both be wet.

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He’s a good man.

We arrived home to unreasonably cold temperatures, but with the warmth of our island home still in our hearts.

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Next up – we couldn’t handle the cold, so we ran off to Key West! Stay tuned!

Posted by vicki_h 13:25 Archived in Bahamas Tagged islands caribbean tropical bahamas abacos abaco guana_cay Comments (5)

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