When we started planning our Bahamas cruise and realized that we’d have the opportunity to visit a
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Freeport Cruise Port
Freeport, on Grand Bahama Island, is the second largest city in the Bahamas. If you’re cruising in the Bahamas, you’ll likely stop in Freeport or Nassau or perhaps both, like we did. Freeport is the industrial capital of the country, but the island also boasts quite a bit of natural beauty.
The cruise port can accommodate several ships, but is not nearly as developed as some other ports, including Nassau. You will find a few shops and restaurants by the ships, but the main shopping area, Port Lucaya, does require a short taxi or bus ride. Alas, we spent most of our day on the excursion and did not visit Port Lucaya.
One interesting sight at the cruise port is the nearby shipyard. Grand Bahama Shipyard does dry dock and floating repairs on cruise ships and other large vessels It may not be a scenic sight, but it is interesting none-the-less.
After doing a little research, we quickly decided that Freeport/Grand Bahama Island would be the place to splurge on a shore excursion. Thankfully, Norwegian’s Lucayan National Park Kayak Experience was exactly what we wanted. It got us to a national park, included a new activity for us (kayaking) and got us onto one of the best beaches in the Bahamas.
Lucayan National Park Kayak Experience
Because I know that cruise ship shore excursions are not always the best prices or option, I did a little research before booking this tour. I found a few other tours through independent operators, but none were as inclusive or as interesting as this one offered by Norwegian. Despite the high price tag (about $150/person), we felt that it was the best deal.
As we checked in for the cruise, we found out that Norwegian changed the ship’s itinerary. Thankfully, since we booked the excursion through Norwegian, we didn’t have to worry about rescheduling anything at all. I have to admit that is something that I have not considered in the past when we’ve booked outside tours.
We were really excited to go on this excursion and the change of schedule definitely bummed us out a little. Still, it was only a four-night cruise, so we didn’t have to wait too long.
Getting to Lucayan National Park
If you’ve ever been on a cruise, you probably know that the time spent getting the groups together and to the right place can be a bit frustrating. This was no different. It’s not that the ship or the tour operators did anything wrong… they are just trying to get a lot of people to a lot of different places and that isn’t always easy.
We first waited at the pier for a bus to get us, along with everyone else doing an excursion. Thankfully, the organizers set up a tent so the sun didn’t completely cook us. Then we boarded a charter bus to take us to the Grand Bahama Nature Center where we split into our three separate tours. Along with our kayak
During the 20-minute ride, we got an overview and brief history of Grand Bahama Island. While it may not be fun being shuttled around in a large group, we do enjoy the information that you get when on a tour.
Once we arrived at the tour center, we quickly switched to a smaller bus with just the folks on the kayak tour and headed to the National Park. It took about another 30 minutes or so. During the drive, our tour guide, Sam, took time to ask our names and where we were from. That personal touch definitely started off the tour on a good note!
Lucayan National Park
The Bahamas established Lucayan NP in 1982 and it consists of about 40 acres. The park is tiny compared to most US national parks. Still, this small park boasts all of the Bahamian vegetative zones and quite a few impressive sights.
The park includes one of the longest charted underwater cave systems in the world, the last intact mangrove wetland on the southern shore of Grand Bahama Island and a beautiful unspoiled beach. And we got to see it all!
Once we arrived at Lucayan NP, we took a not-so-quick bathroom break before we began our explorations. I say not-so-quick because there were only two toilets for about 20 people. Interestingly, the toilets are composting. There are buckets of wood shavings for users to scoop into the toilet to help break things down.
While it might sound a little gross, it really wasn’t bad at all. Certainly no different than the pit toilets you find at many national parks in the US. The bathrooms were clean and did not smell any worse than a normal bathroom.
After the potty break, we headed off to explore the caves!
Caves and Trails
Our first stop was Ben’s Cave, which the locals named after a famed local diver, Ben Rose.
We entered Ben’s Cave by climbing down a small spiral staircase to a wooden platform. Once inside, Sam spent a few minutes telling us about the history of the cave and
The clear water that is visible is freshwater, which floats on top of salt water. The bright blue color, where the sun hits the water, is gorgeous! With about 9 miles of underwater passages, divers have quite a bit to explore here.
This cave is also home to a rare new class of crustacean that resembles a swimming centipede. Sadly, we did not spot any.
Connecting the parking lot and caves is a short and easy to navigate loop trail. While the trail is not paved, it is mostly smooth and very easy to walk. Anyone with decent mobility should be able to enjoy a walk here.
As we continued around the loop, Sam pointed out various plants and shared how locals use the plants to treat various ailments.
Kayaking in Lucayan National Park
From here we took a very short bus ride to our kayak starting point. I have to admit, the ocean here was a bit rough. Thankfully, the water in Gold Rock Creek, where we kayaked, was nice and calm!
We all got a quick kayak lesson from Sam before getting in and paddling through the mangroves. Our group had a wide range of previous kayak experience. I would say most of us had done some kayaking before, but there were a few newbies. Everyone was able to make it through the creek, but some were moving a lot faster than others.
Grant and I had both kayaked before, but it had been many years and we had never kayaked together. Thankfully, we did a good job of communicating and working together and didn’t have too much trouble.
Honestly, the hardest part was just staying out of the mangroves. Admittedly, trying to take pictures while paddling didn’t make that any easier!
Seriously though, the creek was VERY narrow in some places and even the smallest off-centered movement would send you straight into the branches. We just had to work together to get ourselves going in the right direction.
Paddling through the mangroves really was a great experience, even if it did make the kayaking a bit more difficult. We enjoyed the little bit of shade and the roots and branches kept it interesting!
The last bit of kayaking was in a more open space. The paddling here was easier since we had more “wiggle room” and the view was certainly different. Still, I think I liked the mangrove portion the best.
Gold Rock Beach
After storing our kayaks and grabbing our bags from the bus, we headed off to Gold Rock Beach for lunch and some play time.
To get to the beach, we first crossed the creek on a unique floating-pulley-ferry-bridge thing. It basically looked like a floating dock, but there was a rope that we used to pull it across the water to the other side. Even with about 20 people on the platform, it seemed to move with ease. My perspective may be a bit different from Grant’s though, as he was one of the guys doing the pulling!
Once across the water, a short trail led us to Gold Rock Beach, one the best beaches in the Bahamas! The color of the water here is so blue it is difficult to describe. There is nothing here other than a shelter and a few benches for the various tour centers. This is truly an unspoiled beach, which is exactly what I prefer.
Lunch was basic but adequate. We made our own sandwiches with options of turkey, ham, cheese
And with the view we had, it really didn’t matter what we were eating!
After eating and lathering up with sunscreen, it was time to hit the water! Generally, I am not a huge fan of any kind of open water, but I do sometimes enjoy wading in if the water is clear. This was the perfect place for it, especially since the water was not very deep (but, yes, it was deeper than the picture below shows!).
There were a few other people on the beach, in addition to our 20-person group, but we had plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the beach on our own. Grant and I walked along the shore, splashed in the water and enjoyed taking pictures with our waterproof camera.
This beach is fairly remote and there isn’t anything on it… not even a bathroom as far as I know! This quiet, remote, unspoiled beach
Since I sunburn very easily, I don’t typically spend much time on the beach. Thus, for me, having about an hour of beach time was just about right. With an umbrella or beach tent, though, I could have sat there for hours with a good book!
Alas, eventually we had to head back to the cruise ship.
Of course, with such a great day, something had to go wrong. On the way back to the ship the bus did have some tire trouble. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but one tire got messed up and Sam had to call a backup bus to rescue us.
Thankfully, we only had to wait on the side of the road for about 10 minutes. And, at least the air conditioner was still working! That experience would have been a lot more harrowing if the air had gone out, no doubt about it.
While I’m sure some people would get upset about having vehicle troubles, we know that things like this just happen sometimes. Our guide/driver checked things out and kept driving for a little bit. Ultimately, though, he realized he was going to need a new bus. I’d much rather wait for a new bus for a few minutes than actually get into an accident or have something worse happen.
Another driver brought us a replacement bus quicker than I ever could have imagined and we were back on the road, still with Sam by our side. He was not going to pass us off on someone else.
All in all I think we lost about 10-15 minutes with the entire ordeal. Not bad at all. It truly was about as good of an experience with something going wrong as we could imagine. Sam and the Grand Bahama Nature Center handled it perfectly.
Returning to the Ship
We arrived back at the ship well ahead of the all-aboard time. That is another reason to book excursions directly through the ship: if things run late they won’t leave you behind! If you’re booking a tour on your own that is certainly something to consider.
As we got back, we took a quick walk through the few shops at the pier. We did stop in at one liquor store, but didn’t find any good deals. And, honestly, they didn’t even have much of a selection at all. There were a few souvenir shops but we skipped them. If you’re looking for a t-shirt, postcard or any other memorabilia, you will have some options right by the ships. For major shopping, though, you’ll want to go to Port Lucaya as mentioned previously.
Gear for Lucayan National Park Kayak Experience
The best thing about this excursion is all the different things you get to experience – a drive around Grand Bahama Island, caves, kayaking and beach time. Of course, with several different activities, you’ll also need different gear and clothing. Thankfully, you’ll have access to the bus along the way and anything you leave on the bus will be secure.
First of all, you’ll be visiting a beach, so you’ll want a bathing suit if you plan to get in the water. I suggest you wear your bathing suit as there are no changing rooms at the beach. You should also bring a towel. We were able to bring a pool towel from the cruise ship.
Despite the fact that we did NOT tip the kayak, we did get quite wet while paddling. Yes, water will drip down the paddles and into the boat. Or maybe we were doing something wrong. Either way, I’d wear lightweight, quick drying clothing over your bathing suit.
For the caves and trails, you’ll want some decent shoes. The walking is not difficult though, so don’t feel like you need hiking shoes. For kayaking, you’ll want shoes that can get wet. We chose to wear our Vibram Five Fingers and they worked out great. Teva sandals or something similar that can get wet would also be a good option.
While walking, kayaking and playing on the beach you’ll be exposed to the sun, so bring a good sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. I also like to wear a long-sleeve sun shirt as an extra layer of protection. This one from Columbia is super lightweight and, surprisingly, isn’t that hot. It definitely feels better than having the sun beat down on your arms and shoulders!
I’d also consider something to cover your legs while kayaking. Grant’s knees and thighs did get quite a bit of sun. You probably don’t really want pants, but either a quick-drying towel or an extra shirt would do the trick.
If you want to take pictures (and you should) you’ll want a waterproof camera. I suppose a waterproof phone case would work, but the risk just isn’t worth it for me. The water isn’t deep while kayaking, but still, I’d really hate to lose my phone in the water.
We took the Fujifilm FinePix XP120 Digital waterproof camera and it worked like a charm! The Nordic Flash Waterproof Camera Float made it easy to keep secure and offered flotation in the event it was dropped. This combination made taking pictures a breeze without worrying about the water.
Speaking of water, being outside in the heat for much of the day will make you thirsty. I’d suggest bringing a water bottle to sip along the way. Maybe not too much, though, as bathroom breaks don’t happen often.
Of course, you’re going to need to carry everything in some sort of bag. We have tried several daypacks over the years, and have recently fallen in love with Eddie Bauer’s Stowaway 30L Backpack. This backpack packs into its own pouch and opens up to carry quite a bit of stuff, including 2 water bottles. The large beach towel even fit in here with plenty of room to spare.
The tour guide also provided dry bags for everyone as we started kayaking. I honestly didn’t feel like I needed to take much with me in the kayak, but it was nice to have a dry bag just in case. You shouldn’t need much more than some sunscreen, maybe a water bottle and perhaps a towel or extra shirt. I left my phone and wallet on the bus and everything was just fine.
Final Thoughts on the Kayaking Excursion
The Lucayan National Park Kayak Experience tour was one of the most expensive excursions offered by Norwegian on Grand Bahama Island. We chose to splurge since it was a great experience at a National Park. Indeed, the experience proved worth the splurge and we enjoyed every minute of it.
Kayaking may not be the most exotic activity, but it’s not something we do everyday so it was something special for us. Indeed, kayaking through the mangroves was something that I will not forget. You just don’t get to experience nature like that often.
When you’re in the Bahamas, you have to spend time on a beach somewhere. That may not be an official rule, but I think it should be. And I generally don’t like the beach all that much. Getting to go to one of the best, most remote beaches in the country is certainly something to get excited about.
Our tour guide, Sam, with Grand Bahama Nature Tours was friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. He truly made our experience that much better.
I don’t know if other cruise ships or cruise lines offer this same excursion, but if you have the opportunity to take it, I highly suggest you do. Any visit to a national park is special for us. This experience truly was memorable not just for the location, but the overall experience.
To be clear, no part of this cruise or this excursion was sponsored. All activities were done on our own and, as always, all opinions are ours.