Room Key: Four Seasons Resort Great Exuma

Address: Queen's Highway, Great Exuma, Bahamas

Phone: (242) 336-6800; (800) 819-5053

Rooms: 140 rooms, 43 suites and 18 multibedroom residences

Rates: From $295 to $6,800 per room, per night, double, depending on season.

Commission: 10%

Thanks to a last-minute flight cancellation, which resulted in a six-hour layover in Fort Lauderdale, my family and I were all cranky when we boarded the tiny, 19-seater to Great Exuma in the Bahamas. "We spent a whole day traveling," groused my usually easy-going teenage son. "All I can say is, it'd better be good."

It was.

After enjoying aerial views of some eye-popping scenery of the Exuma cays -- there are 365 of them spread over 120 miles -- our good humor was restored by the time we arrived at the diminutive airport in George Town.

We breezed through immigration and climbed into a van for the 15-minute drive to the Four Seasons Resort Great Exuma at Emerald Bay.

The reason for the bay's name didn't hit us until the next day when we looked beyond white-sand beaches to the teal-green water. Not wanting to waste any time getting into that water, we signed up for a catamaran excursion aboard the 63-foot Emerald Lady, which took off from Elizabeth Harbor for an hour or so of snorkeling among colorful fish at a barrier reef.

After a few turns on the boat's water slide, we set sail again for Stocking Island, where we ate lunch and logged some serious time in hammocks and beach chairs.  After lunch, we waded into the crystal clear water to cool off.

My daughter nudged me. "Look, a trumpet fish," she said, pointing to one and then several nearly translucent, slender fish swimming within a foot of where we were standing.

"Never mind them," said my son, looking over his shoulder.

Two enormous stingrays were swimming nearby, their wings furling as they skimmed the sandy ocean bottom. We stood still as the rays swam toward us, but they veered away and headed for shore.

The rays seemed intent on positioning themselves near the grill. Sure enough, the cook tossed a few pieces of fish toward the rays, which explained the reason for their visit.

The only thing that would have made the day any more perfect would have been a spa treatment. With this in mind, I abandoned the kids, ages 14, 15 and 17, to my husband's care and made my way to the Four Seasons spa for a 50-minute Balinese massage.

Meanwhile, the kids found the teen center in a building just behind the casino. The center had a flat-screen TV, pool tables, air hockey tables, a dance arcade game, video games and several computers. A room key is necessary for entry.

Families with younger children can take advantage of the Kids for All Seasons program, which includes a playroom decked out with pint-size furnishings and a pool.

A golf course and tennis courts round out the offerings for guests who want diversions beyond the beach and pool.

There are three pools in all: the kids' pool, a central activity pool and a pool set apart from the main action for adults looking for peace and quiet. There also are several outdoor hot tubs.

The property has three restaurants, and during our stay we hit them all. Il Cielo is the gourmet eatery, complete with fresh seafood and Italian fare. An extra touch: pashmina shawls on loan for women shivering at their seats.

The Sea Breeze Grill offers buffet breakfasts and casual sit-down lunches and dinners. Ting'm serves small plates and drinks by the ocean.

Guest rooms have one king-size bed or two double beds. The two-story Royal Villa has a private plunge pool.

Our family of five was comfortably housed in a two-bedroom junior suite connected by a living room with a pull-out couch. The suite had a private balcony and three bathrooms.

As we had during our stingray experience, we were struck by the lack of crowds everywhere we went, which lent a private island sense to the experience. Part of the reason for that: Our visit took place at the end of June, considered low season. The hotel was at 40% occupancy.

But even with a full house, the island is uncrowded, with only about 6,000 inhabitants and a smattering of hotels.

When we made a trip into George Town to see the sights, we discovered the island's infrastructure was not designed to handle mass movement. A scaled-down straw market lines the main street. While we saw a few small stores along the main street, this is not an island for the born-to-shop crowd.

This destination likely won't be hosting cruise passengers anytime soon, partly because of the shallow water along the coast and the lack of suitable cruise ship facilities, according to Jim Kostecky, general manager of the Four Seasons.

What growth there is on Great Exuma is taking place along Emerald Bay in the form of townhouses and upscale homes. Kostecky noted that the quiet atmosphere is one of the main draws for resort guests.

Weddings and families make up the bulk of business at the property. "We have seen an increase in destination weddings, which is a market we've gone after, as well as multigenerational family groups in the last few years," Kostecky said.

The resort works with local vendors to supply activities. One of the most popular excursions for couples, said Kostecky, is the Castaway Getaway. Two guests are transported to an uninhabited island for the day with a gourmet picnic lunch, drinks, chairs, umbrella, snorkel gear and a radio or cell phone.

Bonefishing and deep-sea fishing outings with local guides are available, as are multiple scuba diving adventures through Dive Exuma. Other favorites are glass-bottom boat tours and sea kayaking excursions in Moriah Harbour Cay National Park.

To contact reporter Felicity Long, send e-mail to [email protected].


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