Four Seasons resort makes the Out Islands 'in'

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NEW YORK -- A new chapter begins in the story of Bahamas resort development this month with the debut of the long-awaited Four Seasons Resort Great Exuma at Emerald Bay, the first luxury property in the unspoiled Out Islands.

The $400 million, 183-room resort -- set on 470 private beachfront acres less than two hours from Miami by air -- looks set to steal some of the leisure-travel limelight from resorts in better-known Bahamian destinations such as Grand Bahama and Nassau, according to industry insiders.

Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, deputy general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, said he believes the opening of the Four Seasons on under-visited Grand Exuma "will put that island on the map."

As a result of the opening, Wallace said, several airlines already have expressed interest in starting or increasing service to the 40-mile-long island, which is home to only 3,200 or so inhabitants -- although it's the largest of the 365 islands in the Exuma chain.

"That just shows the power of branding," he said. "The Bahamas is ... not a single destination; we are a big geographic area, and we are interested in product development throughout [that] geographic area."

All 140 oversize guest rooms at the Four Seasons Resort Great Exuma boast a terrace or balcony with a view of Emerald Bay. Ramesh Sadhwani, general manager at the Four Seasons Exuma, said he envisions the property, now in a soft opening, becoming a leisure travel magnet for U.S. travelers of all kinds, from honeymooners and families with children to small incentive groups and corporate meetings -- largely thanks to proximity and uniqueness.

"We're unique not only because we're the largest resort development in the Out Islands but also the first luxury one," he said.

Sadhwani expects Americans to account for as much as 85% of clientele at any given time.

But before paying clients check in, Sadhwani and his staff will be busy hosting dozens of travel agent and operator guests on fam trips and site inspections through the second week of December.

"The site inspections not only give us the opportunity to showcase the resort but also to practice on our colleagues before guests come in," he said.

Forty travel agents are scheduled to visit until the hard opening, and Four Seasons is "actively working on getting as many more agents in here as we can," Sadhwani said.

Although officially open as of Dec. 17, the resort is sold out for the holiday period through Jan. 3; hence, reservations availability as of press time was only for stays beginning Jan. 4 "because there's nothing left to sell, which is a nice problem to have," Sadhwani said.

That said, travel agents with clients eager to stay at the property should check with Four Seasons reservations, as the word is some rooms may open up for late December stays.

A resort for all seasons

When considering a stay at the Four Seasons Resort Great Exuma for clients, agents should consider the following:

• Despite its Out Island locale, the resort is accessible via daily commercial and private flights into nearby Great Exuma Airport from Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Nassau.

• According to Sadhwani, Great Exuma gets great weather. "Even in the rainy season, it never rains for very long, lasting 45 minutes or so before the sun comes out," he said.

• Guest accommodations -- 140 oversize (512-square-foot) rooms and 43 suites -- are located in a crescent-shaped cluster of three-story buildings with Bahamian Colonial design; each features a terrace or a balcony with an ocean view.

Thirty-six executive suites and six one-bedroom, beachfront suites boast separate living rooms and two full bathrooms; the three-bedroom Royal Villas have a private pool and patio courtyard.

In-room amenities include oversize towels; bathroom telephones; CD and DVD players; down pillows and duvet comforters; hypoallergenic soaps; irons and ironing boards; and twice-daily housekeeping.

• Crescent-shaped Emerald Bay offers white-sand beaches and shallow waters for swimming and snorkeling.

Sailing enthusiasts will enjoy the 17-acre deep-water marina adjacent to the resort. It can moor yachts of up to 200 feet in length; boating, diving and bone- and deep-sea fishing expeditions can be arranged.

The marina also offers catamaran charters and day excursions, such as a two-hour boat ride to the Exuma National Land and Sea Park, a 176-mile sanctuary for reptiles, birds, fish and flora.

• For landlubbers, the resort features three swimming pools, two for adults and one for kids.

• Golf legend Greg Norman designed the resort's 18-hole, par-72 golf course. The 6,880-yard course features six oceanside holes.

• The resort's 32,406-square-foot spa and fitness club offers therapies using local salts, herbs, flowers and oils. A Zen garden is the setting for the wellness program, which includes yoga and meditation.

• Four Seasons resorts always pay mind to the palate. The property has two gourmet eateries, both with views of Emerald Bay.

The main dining room serves Northern Italian cuisine, while the poolside grill specializes in local seafood delicacies cooked up in a brick, wood-fired oven. In addition, room service is available 24 hours a day.

• Four Seasons Resort Great Exuma offers a full range of children's indoor and outdoor activities as part of its free Kids for All Seasons program.

The property also boasts a kids' recreation room and a shaded outdoor playground adjacent to the children's pool.

• Corporate and incentive travelers have the run of eight interior meetings rooms totaling 13,020 square feet; all open onto outdoor areas.

Four Seasons Resort Great Exuma pays agents 10% on bookings. To book, call (800) 819-5053 or visit www.fourseasons.com/greatexuma.

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

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