Freeport and Lucaya are often referred to as if they were one city. Together they make up the development on Grand Bahama Island, but they actually started off as two separate places.
Freeport is the landlocked business center of the island, where you'll find offices, banks, shops and hotels. Lucaya is the waterfront development a few miles/kilometers to the east, where the newer hotels, shops and restaurants line a strip of land between the sea and a salt pond.
Visitors who haven't been to Freeport in a few years may have trouble recognizing the city. It underwent a massive reconfiguration and development project in the early 2000s, but in 2004 and 2005 sustained such major hurricane damage that its signature resort-casino has shut down and International Bazaar has only a few places of business open at its fringes. At this point its future looks bleak after having been sitting for so long and aging—both trend- and years-wise. One of the development's golf courses remains its only true tourism attraction.
Those who arrive by ship will be met by the modern cruise-passenger terminal, the Lucayan Harbour Cruise Facility, and its landscaped retail village. Old Bahama Bay on West End, the island's original tourist site and still its capital city, is now home to a marina and resort. One main resort, some smaller hotels, a casino and a bustling shopping center and marina keep Port Lucaya the island's most vital resort area.
Yachters seek out the beautiful ports and outstanding marinas of Freeport and Lucaya. The cities also attract couples, as the scenery is perfect for weddings in a tropical paradise.
Note: In September 2019, Hurricane Dorian inflicted severe damage on Grand Bahama Island. Recovery efforts are ongoing.
Freeport and Lucaya are located on the southwest part of the island between Hawksbill Creek to the west and the man-made Grand Lucayan Waterway to the east. The airport is conveniently situated just north of Freeport.
Freeport was developed several miles/kilometers inland from the ocean. There are several shopping strips along the two-lane East and West Mall drives. The downtown area is not inviting to stroll, because distances are too far to walk. The only points of interest for tourists are a golf course, the Perfume Factory and the straw market in the International Bazaar, a once vital shopping and entertainment area that is largely abandoned since hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 closed down the mega Royal Oasis resort next to it.
Lucaya was set up as a tourist center. Port Lucaya, the central point of Lucaya, lies on a 0.5-mi-/0.8-km-long rectangular peninsula between the ocean and a bay. The colorful architecture of adjacent Port Lucaya Marketplace offers a picturesque village atmosphere and great shopping and dining.
Despite being the fourth-largest island in the country, Grand Bahama was not settled until 1835. The first inhabitants besides the native Lucayans were mainly descendants of Spanish conquerors and freed slaves who made a living out of fishing and salvaging wrecks.
Thanks to its proximity to the eastern U.S., the western tip of Grand Bahama became a haven for gun-runners during the Civil War and rum-runners during Prohibition. The activities brought some prosperity to the island.
In 1953, U.S. financier Wallace Groves bought a small timber company that flourished under his leadership, making him the largest employer in the country. Groves asked the Bahamian government for 50,000 acres/20,235 hectares of scrubby and swampy land to create a new city, which would become a commercial center (later known as Freeport).
As industry grew, Groves focused on tourism: In the early 1960s, a resort and the island's first casino opened in Freeport. More hotels, golf courses and marinas followed, and tourism is still the major industry today.
Because Freeport and Lucaya have been constructed in the past 50 years, you won't find quaint old buildings or historic forts, although some historic homes and churches can be found in the smaller settlements east and west of the metropolitan hub. Visitors go to Grand Bahama Island not for the historical sites, but to shop, gamble, lie on the beach, and explore the underwater reefs and wildlife.
When the sun sets in Freeport, there's still plenty to do. You can dance, do a native show cruise or gamble into the wee hours—or, if you plan it right, do all three. If gambling is not an interest, there are a number of places to mingle, dance and listen to local music.
Although Freeport and Lucaya do not really have a long culinary tradition to draw upon, they offer a mix of Bahamian, American and international cuisines. If you want to escape from the obvious choices, there are some high-end restaurants committed to innovation in Lucaya.
For traditional fare, you will find lots of great seafood options, such as grouper, conch and lobster, as well as steaks and Bahamian dishes blended with Caribbean flavors. Be sure to try conch in its various forms—salad, fritters, grilled or in chowder—it is an important part of the local mainstay.
Expect to pay within these guidelines for a meal for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$15; $$ = US$15-$25; $$$ = US$26-$50; and $$$$ = more than US$50.
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