The youngster waited patiently alone in the shallows, seemingly looking for some company. While the sight might have been worrisome if it was a child, this was a wild bottlenose dolphin and I was definitely ready to play. Several of us entered the water and watched from a distance as the dolphin swam tantalizingly close, watching us with bright eyes and that adorable facial "smile."
I couldn't help laughing as the dolphin circled almost within an arm's reach, cocking its head and gazing at us curiously. Suddenly, it sped away like a rocket and leaped into the air in a perfect arc - not just once but twice, before heading back in our direction. To our delight, this back-and-forth game went on continually as we bobbed and treaded water. A young girl ventured out to see the dolphin and I held her on my shoulder so she could see.
Our impromptu wild dolphin interaction lasted for almost an hour. Encounters like this are rare, but on our trip to the Abaco Islands, it was simply the icing on the cake. These tantalizing slivers of sand are where magic happens.
A Pristine Family Paradise
Located in the Out Islands of the Bahamas - just 165 miles off the coast of Florida, the Abaco Islands are one of the world's best boating locations. These islands are filled with spectacular beaches, quaint historic towns, casual resorts, cool beach bars, and unique shops and artist colonies. The fishing in the region is legendary, as is the snorkeling and diving. Families will find that there's something for everyone here.
Although many travelers associate the Bahamas with their bustling capital city, Nassau, The Abacos are a world apart. These unspoiled islands are a relaxing getaway perfect for escaping life's stresses and kicking back with those you love. At the same time, they offer just the right amount of action for those looking for excitement and adventure.
If you want to get away from crowds of tourists and take the kids on the road less traveled, you're not alone. Vacations to uncharted spots are just what many families are seeking. If you still need to be convinced, here are a few reasons why The Abacos should be a top choice for your next family vacation:
Easy island hopping. Part of the unique appeal of an Abacos vacation is exploring some of the enchanting islands that make up this archipelago chain. Each of the cays has its own personality and special charm. Ferries depart Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island several times daily for places like historic Hope Town on Elbow Cay, colorful Man-O-War Cay and Great Guana Cay.
Amazing wildlife. In addition to pods of wild dolphins playing in the waters, Abaco is home to wild Spanish mustangs and an outstanding variety of birdlife including the colorful endangered Abaco Parrot which resides in South Abaco's pine forests. The seas around Abaco are filled with brightly colored fish and a wide variety of marine life, including conch and lobster. The Abacos are also known as the "Whale Watching Capital of the Bahamas," and these gentle giants can often be seen as they migrate through the area.
Postcard-perfect beaches. Shimmering white sands, iridescent turquoise waters, tropical palm trees swaying in the breeze, and a pastel-painted beach bar serving up a cold Goombay Smash or two - Abaco's silky strands are the stuff of Jimmy Buffett dreams. Every island has plenty of these lovely beaches, all easily accessed by boat or ferry. Find your personal favorite.
Incredible eco-adventures. While water-based activities are paramount in The Abacos, those who explore these islands on land will find excellent birdwatching and even tantalizing blue holes just begging for a swim. On our tour with Bahamas National Trust tour guide Ricky Johnson, we enjoyed close sightings of Abaco Parrots and other species, hiked through the mangroves and pine forest, and took a swim in a captivating blue hole where a dip in the aquamarine water felt like rubbing up against shimmering silk. Biking, hiking, and kayaking excursions are also available, as are trips to the area's three national parks.
Watersports of every kind. The Abacos are renowned as a mecca for boaters and sailors. The destination's annual calendar of events is filled with regattas and boat races. It's also a major sportsfishing capital, with multiple tournaments held each year. Families who love swimming, diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, kayaking, waterskiing, surfing, and generally being on the water will find their own little slice of heaven here.
Fascinating people and places. The Out Islanders living in the Abacos are some of the nicest, most interesting people you could meet. Spend some time with Joe Albury and watch him craft wooden boats by hand at Albury Brothers Boats on Man-O-War Cay. While you're there, pop into Albury's Sail Shop for one of their canvas bags. Stop in at Cracker P's Bar & Grill on Lubbers Cay to chat with owner Patrick Stewart and sample their smoked fish dip, conch burgers and Bahamian Peas 'n' Rice - they're delicious. Visit historic Hope Town on Elbow Cay, settled after the American Revolution by colonists still loyal to the British Crown, and make sure to climb the candy-striped Elbow Reef Lighthouse for a spectacular view.
Convenient access. Unspoiled island paradises are generally hard to reach, making them difficult vacation destinations for families with kids. Not so with The Abacos, particularly Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island. A quick 50-minute flight from Miami, Fort Lauderdale or West Palm Beach will bring you straight to Marsh Harbour where you're only one stoplight away from escaping reality.
Great family-friendly resorts. Usually families don't think of "kid-friendly" when they're considering vacationing at a resort on a remote tropical island. Yet at the Abaco Beach Resort at Boat Harbour, parents will find a special place where the focus is on watersports, great food and activities, and keeping families happy. This is a resort where parents and kids will make great vacation memories - both together and apart.
Perfect for Bonding
The Abaco Beach Resort at Boat Harbour seems uniquely designed for family relaxation and bonding. Set on forty beachfront acres within Marsh Harbour, this haven of laid-back luxury offers families a comfortable and convenient home base for exploring all that The Abacos have to offer. Once here, though, parents and kids might find it hard to break away.
Families can choose from a wide range of accommodations at this waterfront property, making it an equally good choice for a week-long family vacation, a quick escape, or a multigenerational family reunion. The resort's 72 spacious oceanfront rooms feature private terraces and balconies. For those seeking more room to spread out, the resort's one-bedroom suites have full kitchens and pull-out sofas for the kids. The five two-bedroom villas on property, all with full kitchens, are perfect for large families and multigenerational groups. For the ultimate in luxury, rent one of Abaco Beach Resort's posh one-, two- or three-bedroom condominiums if they're available. In addition to land accommodations, Abaco Beach Resort at Boat Harbour also has the largest marina in the Bahamas with almost 200 slips accommodating yachts up to 200 feet.
Out Island dining at Abaco Beach Resort is excellent. Waterfront Angler's Restaurant served some of the best seafood I've had in recent memory, including conch, local grouper and lobster. Prime cuts of beef and other meats are also available for landlubbers. Fish freshly caught by guests can also be specially prepared by the resort's executive chef. The terrace café at the Pool Bar is a great choice for casual dining.
It's generally pretty easy to tell if a resort caters to families by checking out its amenities and activities - and Abaco Beach Resort doesn't disappoint. The resort offers guests two outdoor heated pools, a beachfront children's playground, volleyball courts, tennis facilities, a small fitness center, kayaks and snorkel equipment. In addition, the resort can arrange a wide variety of guest activities including diving and snorkeling, fishing excursions, day sailing and sunset cruising, whale watching, birding and eco-tours, golfing and shopping excursions, watersports activities, national park visits and much more.
One of the resort's leading activities for families is its Bahama Buddies kids program for children primarily designed for ages 5-12, although the program can be designed for kids ranging up to 15 years of age. Many parents are seeking opportunities for their children to learn on vacation and make cultural connections, and Bahama Buddies provides the chance to do just that. Abaco Beach Resort's Bahama Buddies program allows kids to learn about life in The Abacos from Bahamian children of the same age. Led by a trained counselor, the Bahamian kids teach their guests about authentic island activities such as cracking a conch, catching fish and peeling a coconut. Other activities include scavenger hunts, nature explorations, snorkeling, walking and biking island tours, and arts and crafts. At the end of the program, kids can exchange e-mail addresses to stay in touch.
Holidays are a family affair at Abaco Beach Resort. Holidays are perfect for gathering together at the resort with loved ones for family celebrations and multigenerational events. Festivities abound during holiday times such as Christmas and New Year's, Independence Day, and other prime family vacation periods. No matter when you visit, however, a family vacation here will create loads of picture-perfect memories to treasure.
If You Go
For more information on Abaco Beach Resort, visit www.abacobeachresort.com. If you're planning to stay at the resort for five nights or more, check out the resort's free boat package. The excellent deal provides a free center console boat rental to cruise the Sea of Abaco, oceanfront accommodations, and children ages 12 and under stay free. Other packages are also available - check the resort's website for more details.
Abaco Beach Resort's Bahama Buddies program lasts from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and must be booked 24 hours in advance. A small daily fee per child covers the program, a Bahama Buddies t-shirt, souvenir and photo CD. Contact the resort for additional information.