06 NOV 2013: If ultra cool secret service agent James Bond can get in on the Bahamian magic then there’s got to be something worth sussing out. One Bond, Sir Sean Connery, fled his native Scotland eons ago, and as a long time Bahamian resident feels so strongly about its pristine beauty that he is a spokesman for Save The Bays, a national movement to protect and preserve marine resources and quash any unregulated development that may threaten the waters and marine life of the country.


For a sun destination that boasts over 700 cays (or Out Islands) there’s no sense of boredom for even a 007 type let alone clients insisting on unique city getaways.

On a recent visit with Air Canada Vacations (ACV) I zoomed into this sun spot via a short three and a half hour direct flight from YYZ and couldn’t believe what I discovered.

ACV Bahamas notes

Manon Leblanc, director of marketing and communications with ACV says this winter agents can book from a collection of 18 resorts ranging from the popular all-inclusives to an exclusive historic property located up the hill in Nassau by the revered Government House. She also says she observes a slight increase in Bahamas winter bookings over last year.

“From our exclusive relationship with the celebrated Graycliff Hotel to destination Atlantis on Paradise Island, to Sandals and beyond, stays can be split between all-in luxury and competitively priced resorts, or between beach time and adventure activities at more than one resort per stay. Or stay at the all-inclusive Sandals Royal Bahamian where everything is taken care of and with daily convenient flights out of Toronto, great for a quick getaway or a longer stay,” she explains.

While Nassau, located on New Providence Island, has been in the Air Canada Vacations sun line up for umpteen years (try 30), they only started selling packages to Great Exuma four years ago to help support a long-valued partner, Sandals Resorts, and its newly added Sandals Emerald Bay resort.

“It’s a unique and remote luxurious property that exceeds all expectations,” says Manon.

LeBlanc adds that agents who join the ACV & Me or ACV & Me Select programmes will benefit from a variety of rewards from complimentary seats to bonus air miles to other incentives.

(See http://www.aircanadavacations.com/en/login for more details).

Island Life of Exuma


This archipelago of 365 cays (the local saying is 'visit one cay for every day of the year') is close enough to Nassau (30 minutes) but still offers secluded getaways. That’s because the main island Great Exuma is sparsely populated, so expect lots of natural scenery and don’t be surprised by strange sightings of swimming pigs at a couple of other cays either.

Water-based activities are ‘the’ star attraction. Known for cave diving and fabulous fishing, I spotted some of the most heavenly azure blue sea in the most secluded spots.

The morning of my arrival to Great Exuma three private jets sat on the tarmac for a huge Celebrity Getaway and Golf Weekend at the Sandals Emerald Bay.

What were the chances of Mr. Sandals himself (Gordon “Butch” Stewart) being in the house?

Try 100 percent.


Butch Stewart on Exuma

There we were munching on our eggs breakfast in the glorious Il Cielo restaurant off the lobby overlooking the gardens. And there was Stewart, the founder of Sandals Resorts International, sporting sunglasses and that signature smile.

“Everyone feelin’ alright?” he smiles and cracks a joke or two.

Since Sandals took over this luxury property in 2009 (it was formerly a Four Seasons and still has magnificent structural remnants) rest assured it’s been Sandalized.

That’s a term I heard of a lot down there, “the Sandalization” of properties.

“This place is romance itself,” he tells me.

Bahamians on Exuma


Bahamians have a huge affection for Great Exuma and once a year the whole island nation and visitors descend on the sparsely populated cay to dance, dance, dance in the ultimate part-ay dubbed Bahamian Music and Heritage Festival held in March.

“We get visitors who become a Bahamian for a day; learn how to cook, dance and hear our distinct music. The whole island becomes a huge three day celebration,” laughs Petherina Hanna, acting general manager for Exuma Tourism Office during lunch at the Sandal’s beach bistro Barefoot by the Sea.

A big talent incubator, up and coming artists debut and Hanna adds many performers later become highly sought after artists. “Our music is unlike any other in the Caribbean we tell stories about our lives and culture.”

Now if you can’t figure out what clients should do once there, Hanna has a tip sheet:

The James Bond Islands

Head out on a 007 Thunderball cruise to locations used in the thriller James Bond flicks Thunderball and Never Say Never Again which were shot there. Snorkel for starfish and coral and swim with sharks and pigs, two popular animal swimming excursions. I’m told friendly nurse sharks swim in knee deep water. The pigs on the other hand are a phenomenon of their own. The porcine beasties swim to the boat but be prepared for possible Mother Nature accidents along the way as these animals are very well fed. Included in the 007 trip is stunning scenery as you pass by some of the most luxurious celebrity homes in the Bahamas. Hear names like Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Oprah Winfrey and Beyonce.

Snorkelling

Arguably the bluest water in the Bahamas due to a natural phenomenon Captain Andrew Clarke from Four C’s Adventures explains as living rocks known as Stromatolites. He says, “It gives off oxygen and keeps the water fresh and clear and is found in the Exumas and in Shark Bay in Australia.” Now that’s got big WOW factor.

Live on the edge

Get to this nautical mystery tour located between the calm glasslike Caribbean Sea and the dramatic swells of the Atlantic Ocean where sandbars spew geysers through incredible blowholes and feel some of the softest sand anywhere. See the prettiest beach in the chain Tropic of Cancer Beach.

Sandals Emerald Bay, Great Exuma

Situated in the Bahamian Out Islands overlooking the secluded emerald green sea the WOW factor is immediately noted upon arrival.

Themed in nautical tones and natural elements like a huge fish trophy on the wall the resort’s lobby conveys intimate, demure, boutique-ish – no sky high atrium typical in many mega all-inclusives -- just a low lying ceiling with dark chocolate hardwood floors and the aromatic smell of the salty sea.

Sandals Emerald Bay is the anchor property on the island with nearly all accommodations located directly on the beach and nearly half of them include butler service, hello.

“We added more restaurants, a pool (the pump works like magic), completely re-landscaped the grounds and a nightclub before there was no entertainment,” Stewart says describing some of the additions.

As an ideal couples getaway there are diversions to suit each side. The guys can hit the links and the gals can disappear in the oeuvre of the Red Lane Spa. Expect the typical Sandals inclusions but what sets this property aside from the rest I observed was the location - it’s pretty much off the radar.

The Greg Norman-designed 18-hole championship golf course with its six oceanfront holes jetting on the peninsula is spectacular.

Some perks:

⋅ All cabanas are first come first serve. They do not rent out cabanas like at other resorts.

⋅ Try only the biggest zero entry pool in the Caribbean. “There is a ramp that goes in the pool so all clients with disabilities can go in the water,” says Shamon, a Sandals Emerald Bay rep.

⋅ Can’t sail – don’t worry about it. “Anything you don’t know how to use we will take you out,” he says.

The goods

Air Canada Vacations packages include non-stop flights from Toronto and Montreal to Great Exuma and Nassau, Bahamas. Toronto also conveniently connects from major cities.

Schedule: From Toronto Nassau daily and Great Exuma Sundays year round and on Thursdays starting December 19 until February 20, 2014





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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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