$15M ad campaign puts focus on Out Islands

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NASSAU -- As part of its new $15 million ad campaign, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism is trying to focus visitor attention on its undervisited Out Islands, the 700 islands and 2,500-odd cays that stretch for some 100,000 square miles beyond the easily accessible, well-trod strands of Nassau/Paradise and Grand Bahama islands.

According to tourism officials, "These islands may not be in the mainstream, but they aren't beyond reach," with regular charter plane, ferry and even mailboat service from more frequently visited islands.

By sea

Bahamas Ferries runs three ferries from its base of operations in Nassau. Its Bo Hengy, a 170-passenger fast-ferry catamaran, offers daily service from Nassau to Spanish Wells and Harbour Island.

Meanwhile, sister ships Sea Link and Sea Wind ferry both passengers and cars to Abaco, Andros, Exuma and North Eleuthera; schedule and fare information is available online at www.bahamasferries.com.

In the Abacos sub-archipelago, three ferry companies provide interisland services between Great Abaco and the dozens of smaller cays surrounding it.

Albury's Ferry serves Hope Town, Man O War Cay, Scotland Cay and Guana Cay from Marsh Harbour; Green Turtle Ferry shuttles between Treasure Cay Ferry Dock and Green Turtle Cay; and Pinder's Ferry connects Abaco to Grand Bahama with service between Crown Haven and McLean's Town.

Ferry service is also available between Florida and Grand Bahama Island.

New ferry operator Bahamas Florida Express at (866) 313-3779 or on the Web at www.ferrybahamas.com, launched high-speed service between the Fort Lauderdale area and Grand Bahama last fall -- and pays agents 12% to 15% commission on bookings.

Meanwhile, Discovery Cruise Line at (800) 937-4477, or www.discoverycruise.com, continues to offer daily roundtrip cruises -- and hotel packages -- from Port Everglades to Grand Bahama.

And the high-speed ferry Cloud X at (866) 463-3779 or www.bahamasferry.com offers daily three-hour crossings from Port of Palm Beach, Fla.

Other options include chartering a private yacht through organizations such as the American Yacht Charter Association (www.ayca.net) or brokers such as Ed Hamilton and Co. (www.ed-hamilton.com).

By air

Island-hopping by plane offers great views of the Out Islands' turquoise waters -- and faster travel times.

Bahamasair (www.bahamasair.com) offers daily flights from Nassau to Abacos, Andros, Eleuthera, Exuma, Grand Bahama and Long Island as well as less frequent service to smaller destinations, such as Acklins, Cat Island, Inagua and Mayaguana.

Another, fun option is travel by seaplane; Chalk Ocean Airways (www.chalksoceanairways.com) flies between Florida and Bimini and Nassau/Paradise Island.

Agents looking to transport clients from Nassau to one of the Out Islands might consider a Bahamas-based charter airline, such as:

• Sky Unlimited, (242) 377-8993, serving Abaco, Andros, Bimini, Cat Island, Eleuthera, Exuma and Long Island.

• Southern Air, (242) 377-2014, serving Abaco, Cat Island and Eleuthera.

• Western Air, (242) 377-2222, serving Andros and Bimini.

• Cat Island Air, (242) 377-3318, serving Cat Island.

• BH Charters, (242) 377-0017, serving Long Island.

• Flamingo Air, (242) 377-0354, serving Exuma.

In addition, certain resorts -- such as Small Hope Bay on Andros, Fernandez Bay on Cat Island, or Stella Maris on Long Island -- can transport guests via their own private airplanes.

U.S.-based charter and scheduled air carriers operating from Florida to the Out Islands include Air Flight, Florida Coastal Airlines, Gulfstream Charters, Island Air Charters, National Air Transport and Sky Limo.

Major airlines with service to Out Island airports include American Eagle, with service to Abaco and Exuma; Bahamasair, to Abaco; and Continental Connection, Delta Connection and US Airways Express, all serving both Abaco and Eleuthera.

For more information on the Out Islands and transportation within the Bahamas, visit www.bahamas.com online.

To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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