“You know, the only thing we absolutely HAVE to do on this trip is be ready to check out at noon on Thursday.”
As usual in my life, my husband Chris Fancher demonstrated the correct attitude in a single sentence. Sure, we were on a splash-out vacation because it was our 30th wedding anniversary – and we were on Harbour Island in Eleuthera because The Bahamas want visitors after Hurricane Dorian – but I did not have to feel guilty about having no plans or agenda at all.
Here are a few things that I learned about how to best experience the off-season on Harbour Island….
Buy Travel Insurance As Soon As You Book
Before the trip even started, we got a lesson in being careful about off-season travel.
Although we made plans to visit fairly soon after the devastation of Hurricane Dorian, we knew from Bahamas tourism that Eleuthera/Harbour Island were not hit like Grand Bahama Island or The Abacos. Still, there’s no getting around the fact that May through November is hurricane season (or “the stormy season” as we heard some Bahamians call it.)
We bought a OneTrip Premier travel insurance policy through Allianz Global Assistance for US$324. Since we were spending almost US$4,000 (total) to celebrate 30 years of marriage, we went for gold-plated protection to cover almost any eventuality.
Here’s what to remember about off-season travel when hurricanes threaten – insurance companies are all about avoiding risk. If some sort of disaster or crisis or illness can be foreseen ahead of a trip, the risk is high, and they don’t want to have to pay for cancelling or rescheduling that trip. With regard to hurricanes and major storms, once a storm is officially named by NOAA or a similar weather monitoring agency, it is a foreseeable event.
In our case, we bought our policy just after Hurricane Lorenzo had been named out in the Atlantic. The storm track showed no danger to The Bahamas (in fact it was so far east, it ultimately hit Ireland) but if Lorenzo had somehow wildly swung thousands of miles west and hit Harbour Island, our Allianz policy would not have helped.
Here are some other reasons that your travel insurance might not cover you. Lesson: know what you are buying, read the whole policy, and ask questions.
Lots Of Places Are Closed In The Off-Season
We knew before we arrived that many of the smaller Harbour Island businesses and restaurants board up their windows and owners leave during the stormy months. The visitor drop-off makes it hard for them to justify staying open.
The good news is that lodging rates at Pink Sands Resort, which our experts at Epperly Travel via Wendy Perrin recommended for us, were on the low side of what they usually cost. We were also upgraded to an oceanfront cottage at no additional charge.
Having most stores closed also saved us a lot of money shopping. We were fine with this – our house is already quite full of travel souvenirs – but others might find it frustrating.
The biggest problem we had was that there weren’t that many inexpensive eateries open. Although we had saved up and were ready to do a little splurging for this trip, we are not money trees. In the off-season, only the more high-end establishments seem to be able to keep operating (a relatively modest dinner at one restaurant cost us US$200 including VAT and tip – ouch!)
Although it would have been more cost-effective to go all-inclusive, and Pink Sands has two nice restaurants on-site, we decided that we’d rather spend our food money at multiple places around town. Since we chose to travel to this location to help the post-storm Bahamian economy, we wanted to follow the advice from Hello, Dolly! – “Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around….”
Normally there are a number of local coffee shops, sandwich/lunch places, and bakeries open on Harbour Island, like Bahamas Coffee Roasters, Arthur’s Bakery, and Sip-Sip. You can save on breakfast and lunch, then splurge on dinner. However, our off-season options were more limited.
We ate three meals at the only coffee shop that was open, Cocoa Coffee House, because they served affordable breakfasts and lunches plus the staff was wonderful. Get there before noon if you want pancakes.
There were a few cash-only, very casual dockside places that were open and often packed with locals.
We missed a chance to try Queen Conch on Bay Street, but we ate twice at Seaview Takeaway #2/The Shack, which had seafood and chicken plus some specials, and very good sides.
For our last night on the island, with our wallets pretty flat, we picked up a fish dinner to go, sat on our cottage back porch overlooking the beach, and finally popped open the anniversary celebration bottle of sparkling wine thoughtfully provided by resort staff when we checked in.
It’s standard budget travel advice to shop at local markets and groceries, put together inexpensive picnic meals, and cook in your room if allowed. This didn’t make much sense on this trip – we only had a small room fridge – but we did make a stop at what is apparently the only real grocery store on the island.
The odd spelling of Pigly Wigly is a giveaway (U.S. people in the South and Midwest know about Piggly Wiggly grocery stores) but we picked up some snacks and sundries and wandered the aisles to see what locals like to buy.
I love looking for unique grocery items in places outside the U.S. This store carried jerk sauce and spices made by Bee in the Bahamas, lots of bags and boxes of grits (?), Kerrygold butter all the way from Ireland, and jars of mincemeat and other items evocative of the islands’ British colonial history.
Off-Season Means Fewer Crowds – Yay!
I’ve mentioned a few rather discouraging factors related to off-season on Harbour Island, but I don’t want to downplay the many positive aspects of our trip timing.
We had the pretty resort swimming pool to ourselves. There’s a big hammock next to it, if paddling around becomes too exhausting.
We poked around the resort library, and my husband didn’t ever have to wait a turn at the billiards table.
We had the gorgeous pink sand beach to ourselves for morning and evening walks, and daily swims in clear, warm water (bring two swimsuits, so you can rotate as one dries.)
The hurricane and storms threw a bunch of debris and seaweed up onto the beach, but cleanup was ongoing while we were there. They’ve made SO much progress.
After a day or so of doing a lot of walking, we rented a golf cart (standard local transportation) and drove around town. Remember, you’ll be driving on the opposite side of the road than in the U.S., and you’ll find yourself waving at everyone because everyone waves at you.
The Bahamians were ridiculously friendly and kind, perhaps because they aren’t besieged by hordes of visitors at this time of year. Although we had hoped to help with Dorian relief work during this visit, the main activities were over on Nassau, and we couldn’t make ferry service timing line up. Here is how you can help relief efforts in the Bahamas.
The best evidence of a vacation well spent? Our relaxed, smiling faces below, as we took one more photo before sadly heading to the airport to return home….
Now we know why so many people love the Bahamas, and we are already making plans to return.
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