Sunday, June 5, 2011

Finding an Authentic Bahamas

I've never been a fan of mega beachfront resorts, which line former pristine swaths of sand. To me they represent development gone awry. So when I was planning my trip to the Bahamas, I wanted to steer clear of any chain properties as well as those that featured gambling, water parks and the like. So, I focused my attention on the Out Islands of the Bahamas, which are particularly popular with fishermen and boaters. I finally decided on Long Island because it offered a nice mix of low key activities with plenty of authenticity. (My article and accompanying video slide show on pristine Long Island recently appeared in the Huffington Post.) But I realized that I'd have to overnight in Nassau because of flight scheduling issues. And this is where I was in a predicament, wanting an economical hotel that wasn't far from the airport and yet was laid back and charming.

It looked like these were tough criteria to meet and yet I thought I read about the Orange Hill Beach Inn. Then I started reading TripAdvisor and, curiously, the reviews were more all over the place than usual, with some saying they couldn't wait to return, that the staff couldn't have been friendlier and that it was a true hidden treasure, while others said it was filthy, the staff was rude and that the rooms were overprices. Wow, what a disparity. But, after looking at the expensive, glitzy alternatives, I decided to take the chance and I'm so glad I did.

I stayed two nights, one on each end of my trip to Long Island and I so wish that I had a week, that's how much I adored the Orange Hill Beach Inn. Yes, it's got a rough-around-the-edges feel. But it's also homey, and the staff was warm and welcoming. Yes, it's very low key but the setting, a lush garden expanse with all manner of blooming foliage, can't be beat. It's located literally across the street from a long sandy beach that I found perfect for walking or sunning with little in the way of crowds. My accommodation, which was one of two private cottages, was spacious with a wee kitchen and a small balcony where I sat and enjoyed the view from my mini-hilltop retreat. There's even a tiny man-made waterfall outside my door!

They have a small pool but my favorite activity was sitting in one of several wooden swing chairs amidst the palms, frangipani and other colorful and fragrant foliage. Among the other tropical plants on the property, we found bougainvillea, banana trees, sea grapes and dozens of other with blossoms in myriad hues. In the early morning, it was a delight to get a cup of coffee and sit amongst the foliage listening to the twittering birds, which were in abundance.

At first I thought that the location -- literally a five-minute cab ride from the airport -- would be noise (Not) and that it would be isolated (Not). In fact, the hotel does a daily grocery run giving you the opportunity to buy dinner fixings that you can cook if you're staying in one of the cottages. They can, sometimes, drop you off at a nearby restaurant that's also within walking distance. But, if none of that works for you, there's also a mini bus that runs along the coast that goes to and from downtown.

One of the best things about this inn is the food. They serve three meals but dinner is the real treat. The short menu changes nightly and during my two-night stay, they served chicken or shrimp fajitas, jerk chicken or tuna, grilled grouper, cracked conch, shrimp with pasta, and Bahamian lobster tail. My favorite was the Bahamian combo of chicken, ribs, and grouper fingers.

This is a family-owned business -- Judy, the owner, has had the place for 31 years. And they have a real following with guests returning year after year. In fact, it's not unusual to hang out in the bar, dining room or outside the reception area and find people you met on your previous visit.

So, where did all those bad reviews on TripAdvisor come from? Maybe some guests couldn't deal with some peeling paint, a faucet fixture that wasn't working properly or the shower that didn't heat up very fast. Remember, I said it was rough around the edges. Don't go expecting a palatial retreat. Go expecting to relax and enjoy the low-key Bahamian vibe, eat some tasty food, and maybe make some friends. That's what I did and I can't wait to return next year.

31 comments:

Brette Sember said...

We stayed at the Sheraton. I loved the island very much and for a Sheraton it was just fine. We took several long drives around the island and it is simply beautiful

jcreaturetravel said...

Hi Brette, Glad you enjoyed your stay on the island. It's certainly beautiful.

kerry dexter said...

J,
your description of Orange Hill reminds me of a place I often stay in Ireland. rough around the edges sometimes goes along with a warm welcome and a real gem. sounds as though you found one, and I am making note of it for when I next visit Nassau.

jcreaturetravel said...

Hey Kerry, I'd love to know about the place you stay in Ireland. And I totally agree that a rough around the edges place can often be one that's homey and friendly as well. You'll love it, now that you know what to expect.

Sheryl said...

Sometimes rough around the edges translates to charming and homey if it's combined with other attributes, like friendliness, atmosphere and good food. You just have to have an open mind. Sounds like a great place.

JTravel said...

Hi Sheryl, I couldn't agree with you more. Having an open mind is key when you're traveling.

merr said...

The Bahamas are a fave of friends who live on the east coast who head down there for long weekends and longer vacations - and cruises. Sounds lovely!

Living Large said...

I love little family owned places.

jcreaturetravel said...

Hi merr, This was my first time to the Bahamas. But now that I've discovered these charming places, I hope to return and to check out other venues in the Out Islands.

jcreaturetravel said...

Hi Living Large, Family-owned places, whether restaurants or accommodations, are faves of mine, too. They usually have plenty of character.

Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart said...

Oh, boy. Since there is no vacation in my future, I'll have to say that I'd take any version of the Bahamas ... authentic or otherwise. :o)

JTravel said...

Hi Roxanne, LOL. I see what you're saying and, considering the horrid weather we've been having on the east coast, I totally understand that any Bahamas is better than no Bahamas.

ruth pennebaker said...

I'm always fascinated when reviews are all over the map -- but rarely test them the way you did. This sounds like my kind of place.

Vera Marie Badertscher said...

That's definitely my kind of place.

Alexandra said...

This sounds like a marvelous place to stay. In my experience, Trip Advisor is not a good reference. I run a B&B and saw they had posted to our review page the review of another B&B, not even in the same town. I told them so. It is still up three years later. Another B&B in town suddenly had 10 reviews, all written by the same person. I mean, gee. Don't they understand readers are smarter than that? What a cheesy operation!!

JTravel said...

Hi ruth, I've never seen an accommodation with such disparate comments. I must admit that I was nervous before I checked in but was so pleasantly surprised.

JTravel said...

Hi Vera Marie, I'm partial to family-owned businesses and don't at all mind a rough around the edges look either. As long as it's friendly and clean with yummy food.

JTravel said...

Hi Alexandra, Agree on all accounts. I was in Malta and booked an accommodation that everyone raved about on TripAdvisor. It couldn't be further from the truth. I hated my three days there and, once I returned, I posted all the sad details why the place was horrid on all levels.

Steve said...

Let me know when you find the holy grail in the Bahamas! I feel like much or the islands have been so commercialized, at leat the ones that are easy and affordable to get to.

Jane Boursaw said...

Low key works for me. It doesn't need to be a palatial place for me to enjoy a stay there.

MyKidsEatSquid said...

This sounds like my kind of place--character not glitz. When we went as a family to the Bahamas we rented a house there and had a snippet of beach all to ourselves. It was wonderful

MyKidsEatSquid said...

This sounds like my kind of place--character not glitz. When we went as a family to the Bahamas we rented a house there and had a snippet of beach all to ourselves. It was wonderful

Jennifer Margulis said...

When we travel, we try to stay someplace less touristy and more authentic. I love international hostels for that reason. I don't take much stock in bad reviews on TripAdvisor. Wish I could go to the Bahamas with you!

JTravel said...

Hi Jennifer, It'd be fun to travel with you too. I always seek out the less touristy sights.

JTravel said...

Hi Steve, Well, for me, right now the Holy Grail as such would be Long Island. It had just enough development to make it fun but not too much so that you felt they ruined the natural environment. We'll see how long that lasts.

JTravel said...

Hi Jane, No, palatial definitely isn't necessary for me either.

JTravel said...

Hi MyKidsEatSquid, Your family trip sounds like it was lovely. Glad you guys enjoyed the Bahamas without the glitz too.

Kris @ Attainable Sustainable said...

So long as it's clean, I actually *like rough around the edges! This place looks darling.

JTravel said...

Hi Kris, Of course, clean is important. Darling is a perfect word to describe this place.

Melanie Haiken said...

So often when you travel it's a trade-off, and I'll take a broken faucet, homey vibe and good food over perfect accommodations in a bland could-be-anywhere hotel every time. Just curious; did you make it to the Juncaroo museum in Nassau? Absolutely amazing place run by a woman who lives and breathes Bahamian history.

JTravel said...

Hi Melanie, Thanks for mentioning the Juncaroo Museum. I didn't make it there. But I'm intending to return to Nassau and hope to check it out at that time.