If you're adventurous and have time to spare, take a ferry or one of the traditional mail boats that regularly leave Nassau from Potter's Cay, under the Paradise Island Bridge. Although fast, modern, air-conditioned boats now make some of the trips, certain remote destinations are still served by slow, old-fashioned craft. Especially if you choose the mail-boat route, you may even find yourself sharing company with goats or chickens, and making your way on deck through piles of lumber and crates of cargo; on these lumbering mail boats, expect to spend five to 12 or more hours slowly making your way between island outposts. These boats operate on Bahamian time, which is a casual unpredictable measure, and the schedules can be thrown off by bad weather. Mail boats cannot generally be booked in advance, and services are limited. In Nassau, check details with the dockmaster's office at Potter's Cay. One-way trips can cost from $35 to $100.
Within the Bahamas, Bahamas Ferries has the most (and most comfortable) options for island-hopping, with air-conditioned boats that offer food and beverages served by cabin attendants. Schedules do change rather frequently; if you're planning to ferry back to an island to catch a flight, check and double-check the departure times, and build in extra time in case the weather's bad or the boat inexplicably doesn't make the trip you'd planned on. Ferries serve most of the major tourist destinations from Nassau, including Spanish Wells, Governor's Harbour, Harbour Island, Abaco, Exuma, and Andros. The high-speed ferry that runs between Nassau and Spanish Wells, Governor's Harbour, and Harbour Island costs $65 one-way, and takes about two hours each way.
Local ferries in the Out Islands transport islanders and visitors from the main island to smaller cays. Usually, these ferries make several round-trips daily, and keep a more punctual schedule than the longer-haul ferry.
It's possible to get to Grand Bahama by ferry from Florida. Balearia Bahamas Express sails from Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades (Terminal 1) and provides fast-ferry service, making a day-trip possible, while Celebrations Cruise Line sails from Riviera Beach and is more like a small cruise ship, though hotel packages can include transportation to Grand Bahamas.
If you're setting sail yourself, note that cruising boats must clear customs at the nearest port of entry before beginning any diving or fishing. The fee is $150 for boats 35 feet and under and $300 for boats 36 feet and longer, which includes fishing permits and departure tax for up to four persons. Each additional person above the age of four will be charged the $15 departure tax. Stays of longer than 12 months must be arranged with Bahamas customs and immigration officials.
Bahamas Ferries (242/323–2166. www.bahamasferries.com.)
Balearia Bahamas Express (Port Everglades, Terminal 1, Fort Lauderdale, FL, 33316. 866/699–6988. www.ferryexpress.com.)
Celebration Cruise Line (1 E. 11th St., Riviera Beach, FL, 33404. 800/314–7735. www.bahamascelebration.com.)
Potter's Cay Dockmaster (242/393–1064.)
A cruise can be one of the most pleasurable ways to see the islands. A multi-island excursion allows for plenty of land time because of the short travel times between destinations. Be sure to shop around before booking. Virtually all major cruise lines call in either Nassau or Freeport, and many of the major cruise lines offer "private island" experiences somewhere in the Bahamas.
From Florida, the Discovery Cruise Line departs for Grand Bahama Island at 9:30 am daily, except Wednesday, with its 1,100-passenger Discovery Sun, complete with swimming pool, casino, live entertainment, disco, and buffets. Passengers can make it a day trip, arriving in the Bahamas by 1:30 pm and departing at 5:15 pm, or they can stay on the island for a few days. Round-trip fares, including two buffets and drinks, start at about $80, plus a surcharge of $35 per person to cover fees and taxes.