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Trip Report Lobster, Heat & Banged Up Feet - Another Awesome Exumas Adventure

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Staniel Cay – a remote island in the Exumas chain that we fell in love with last year; and our vacation destination for 2014. We traveled August 10 –16 and neither hurricanes nor the Chikingunya virus made appearance during our vacation. We chose to travel at this time of year for two reasons – one, because school was out (and all the work Ellie had to make up from our May trip in 3rd grade last year wasn’t worth it) and two (and most important) was lobster season! I was cheated out if it last year and vowed to go in season this time. The puddle jumper flight on Flamingo from Nassau lasted about 30 minutes and we were treated to some fabulous eye candy as we flew down the Exumas chain. The colors of the water and the swirling sandbars are simply gorgeous from the air. Photos don’t do it justice. This was our 2nd stay at Staniel Cay Yacht Club and we enjoyed it as much as we did the first time. However, this is not a vacation destination for everyone. If you need TV, fast internet, shopping, pampering, or multiple restaurant options, this is not the vacation spot for you. If you like adventure, boating, deserted islands, breathtaking water, frolicking with sea creatures (and non-sea creatures), family style dining and disconnecting from the real world, you will be happy here.

We stayed in the Key Lime cottage with our daughter, Ellie (9), and the older kids stayed next door in Lavender. I adore the cottages, which are perched over the Exuma Sound…they are cute, comfy, beachy and smell great. Our friends (we traveled with fellow Fodorite and TA’er Blamona) stayed in Ocean Blue. We loved the two story cottages and while I preferred the décor in Key Lime, I actually would choose Ocean Blue next time. It would have been nice to be able to have a view of the docks and watch the goings on. The best thing about SCYC is the fact that Ellie can have the run of the place and we don’t have to worry about her. She gets up in the morning, pets the nurse sharks that hang out by the cleaning station, plays with Finnegan and the other island dogs, checks out the yachts, walks on the bulkhead, takes a bike ride, visits her friend in the other cottages and so on. This place feels like a second home to us.

Aside from lobster being on the menu, there were two main differences between traveling in early May vs August. Heat and “crowds.” I was never uncomfortably warm in fact, I didn’t even realize that the dining room was not air conditioned. August in the Bahamas is whole different beast. Even with the fans and misters, dinner was a muggy affair. Didn’t bother us so much though as we are warm weather lovers. But I could tell that some guests were not comfortable at all. Good news is that in September, they are closing the restaurant down and installing AC! Actually they are turning the current dining room into the kitchen and building a new restaurant off to the left overlooking the boat beach. The staff is very much looking forward to the update. Thankfully the vintage SCYC bar will remain unchanged for the most part. The cottages however have great AC units and stay nice and cool...when the power doesn’t go out that is (the charm of remote island living). The pool is also hot in the summer. I like my pools warm...90 is ideal. This pool must have been 95-100 degrees and was too warm even for me. But the Caribbean sea was a delightfully perfect temperature. When you are zipping across the water in your Whaler or the island breezes are blowing on the beach, it feels just fine.

I use the term “crowds” loosely because Staniel Cay will never be crowded when compared to anywhere else. But in comparison to May, it was packed. Last year, Ellie was the only child at SCYC. This year there were more. Especially after the lovely owners, David and Christine, arrived with their son Jameson and his friends. And Finnegan too. He was just as sweet and well-behaved as ever. He had a trick though. When he wanted to be left alone by the kids, he would simply wade into the water until he was neck deep and just stand there. Since everyone was dressed for breakfast or dinner, they couldn’t follow him in. Smart dog. The restaurant was packed every night and the marina was full. Weather was great every day except for one stormy afternoon, but that ended up working in our favor. I will explain that adventure later.

Food is very good. Stand outs again were the huge breakfast sandwiches, French Toast and the lobster salad for lunch…but most days were did a box lunch to eat on the beach, and the favorite was the BLT piled high with perfectly cooked bacon. Dinner is always a 4 course event. The soups are outstanding. I had lobster 4 out of 6 nights and catch of the day the other two (Mahi, Snapper or Grouper ). The spiny lobsters were huge. We also had lobster bisque 2 nights. The day we arrived, I had lobster salad for lunch around 3:30/4 PM, then for dinner, lobster bisque then a big ole lobster tail. Can you say lobster coma? Ellie ate ribs every night for dinner except one night of lamb. And the key lime pie is awesome. Our favorite server Rhonda remembered us from last year as did the dining room manager TC…both as sweet as ever. Another favorite is Filisha…always has a smile on her face. And the young bus girl named Tisca was just wonderful. Unfortunately our favorite bartender, David, was on vacation. And Nettie and Natajia are always helpful.

Arrival day – As soon as we checked in, we headed straight to the club for lunch (service even seemed slow for island time on this day), then the kids all took the paddle boards and kayaks out for a spin. Ramona and I were busy taking photos (shocker, I know). We enjoyed the beautiful sunset and waited for the 7:30 dinner bell. Every evening either before or after dinner (sometimes both) we would walk the docks and check out all of the yachts. At night they all have their LED lights on which turns the water electric blue and all of the sharks and fish swim around under and at the stern of the boats. Everyone was in bed by 9:30 or 10 each night even though the bar and the boats were hopping long after.

Day 1 – We had lots of OOPS moments this day. I woke very early this day so I sat on our 2nd floor balcony and watched the sun rise and the workers arrive by boat from Black Point. Since we had 2 cottages, that meant we got two boats (13’ Boston Whalers), but were able to trade them both in that day for 17’ boat. Our friends are not experienced boaters, so Mark took us all in the bigger boat while the teens used their 13’. Since high tide was in the morning that week and the sand bars wouldn’t surface until afternoon, we planned out each day accordingly. First stop was going to be the iguanas but the ocean cut we had to cross to get there was a bit rough, we decided to do that another day. So we headed off to see the swimming pigs. Earlier in the year piglets had been born but they were growing up fast! A few piggies were strolling down the beach but when they heard our boat motor, they all started darting out from the brush and clamoring to get into the water to greet us..and the food they hoped we brought. We fed them, petted them, swam with them and played on the beach with them. Ellie and Ava named them all…Bacon, Miss Piggy, Spotty, Tootles, Brewster, just to name a few. At one point we had the 3 big ones all halfway inside our boat. Good thing Whalers are unsinkable! Our first OOPS moment of that day was when Ramona tripped over a pig and almost lost her nice camera in the waves and sand.

We bid farewell to our four-legged friends for the day and headed to the next beach on Big Major Cay…Pirate’s Beach (or Cruiser’s beach as we called it). This was funky beach with lots of signs and “decorations” left behind by the Yacht folks anchored in the cove. We swam and explored and played skip ball in the calm water. Then we made our way to Sandy Cay…the pristine island with the lovely long sandbar. Two more OOPs events happened here. At one point a plastic bag flew off the boat and Mark stepped onto the small platform to jump in and get it. Well he slipped and landed hard on the edge. This resulted in a cut knee, a cut toe and gigantic contusion/bruise on his thigh that started out the size of grapefruit and grew to the size of melon. Then as I was walking on top of the cay to take some photos, I stepped on something and sliced my heel open. I limped the rest of the trip. Aside from that it was a lovely afternoon, and we enjoyed our picnic lunch on the sandbar. Last stop of the day was Twin Cay to look for sand dollars. We found dozens last year (both alive and dead) but only a few this year and they were all alive (well except for the one I stepped on ) so no sand dollars to being home this time (I had even packed bubble wrap). We did get a nice conch shell though. Everyone was now ready to head back to SCYC. Low and behold, another OOPs…the big boat wouldn’t start. The boys thought it was the battery. So we radioed in for help. We couldn’t reach anyone at first so a few of us decided to go back in the small boat and send help. Halfway back, we see a boat speeding out toward from behind one of the cays. Battery was fine…it wouldn’t start because it was in gear. Doh! Crisis averted. When we got back, Cerah and I took the paddle boards out and I found my first and only starfish of this trip.

Each afternoon was basically spent with a rum drink or a beer while relaxing in the pool (aka hot tub), then we showered and either hung out on the sun deck or in the bar chatting it up with new friends (we met folks from as far away as South Africa and as close as our home state of Maryland). This day I found Mark and Kyle at the bar after my shower and Mark was on his 3rd rum punch. They ordered one for me and after two sips I was buzzed. After the entire drink, I was feeling good all night. That is some potent punch. Not sure how hubby was still standing after those (in addition to Kaliks in the afternoon). Wine is still very expensive…$45 for the cheapest bottle. I had bought one bottle duty free in Nassau for $10.50. Wish I had picked up more. We also got 2 bottles of Bahamian rum – coconut and mango. They had Cruzan which I like, but we decided to support the Bahamian economy. Truth be told, Bahamian rum is not very good. At least not the brand sold in Nassau airport!

Day 2 – We had 3 small boats today and decided to visit airport beach (the calm bay we had found last year after that ocean cut had battered us). To get to it you must venture to the edge of the ocean cut and it was still rough so we aborted that plan and decided to head over to the area between Fowl Cay and Sampson where I had spotted a beach I wanted to check out. It was actually the back side of Fowl Cay…a bright strip of sand lining a cliff littered with palm trees. It was perfect. And the sand was so soft you sank into it. I have never seen such a breathtaking view as the one we were treated to from the top of Fowl Cay overlooking Sampson Cay…ribbons of different shades of turquoise. Next up we made our way to the third beach on Big Major which Ramona dubbed Rooster beach because of the resident bird that hovered as we ate our lunch. Then it was time for snorkeling at Thunderball Grotto (as seen in the James Bond movie of the same name). The current was strong at first but then subsided. At some point in the Grotto I banged my toe on a rock or piece of coral and ripped half of my big toenail off. My poor feet! Cole almost jumped through the opening on top of the grotto but chickened out at the last minute. Very jagged up there and the hole wasn’t very large. Next time! Last stop of the day was one of my favorites from last time…the little beach and sandbar at the East entrance to Sampson Cay. We sat in the clear, shallow water and just enjoyed our surroundings. Then pool, shower, bar, sunset, dinner, dock walk and bed.

Day 3 – Got one 17” boat again today which everyone piled into except me and Mark. We led the way in the 13’ boat to Compass Cay to swim with the sharks. Today the high tide worked to our advantage because the dock at CC Marina was underwater and the sharks were all lounging on it. We petted them for a bit but the tide was actually still a bit too high so we decided to take the boats and try to find Rachel’s Bubble Bath on the Northern tip of the island. I have heard many people rave about this natural pool and I wanted to see if for myself. After stopping at the wrong gazebo at first (that was my landmark), we finally found it. Big disappointment. Not sure what the fuss is all about. Maybe we didn’t hit at the right time but I wasn’t impressed. Pretty beach and surrounding area though. So we headed back to the sharks…by now the tide was perfect and the sharks were half in, half out of the water on the dock so we sat with them and petted them some more.

Then we made the 10 minute walk across the island to eat our lunch and spend some time on famed Crescent Beach. This beach is on the windward/Atlantic side of the island, so a new perspective in comparison to most of the beaches we visited. It definitely lived up to the hype. It was the best new experience on this trip. The beach is amazing. A long, wide, white crescent of soft sand with some neat rock formations in the cove. Absolutely no development except for a couple of weathered beach huts under which one could find some shade. And by this time, even us die-hard sun lovers wanted the shade. We found a tube of 50 SPF sunscreen that someone had left behind in our bathroom and we were all fighting over it. The sun is so much stronger here than at home. And while I had packed a lot of 3 oz 30 SPF sprays and a tube of face sunscreen, we were delighted to find this extra stash. Before heading home, Ellie and Ava snorkeled with sharks on last time. Since it was now low tide, we didn’t take the sandbar-laden Pipe Creek all the way back but cut out into more open water, and as we did we discovered the most perfect island off of Hattie Cay. I would love to spend the rest of my years on this private island - thatched roof house and huts, boat docks, private beach, swaying palms. We admired it from the huge sandbar across the way.

Day 4 – Another new experience for us, and our biggest adventure yet…we were going to venture to the Land and Sea Park. I knew from fellow travelers that we could make it there on one tank of gas but we were told we had to take an extra. Better safe than sorry. Kyle decided to stay back this day so Mark, Ramona and I led the way in one 13 footer and the kids followed in another. Our plan was to hit the Blue Hole at Honeymoon Beach on Cambridge Cay and then find “The Aquarium” at the Northern tip of Little Bells Cay. And depending on how things went we were also going to continue on to Warderick Wells to see the whale skeleton. Since this was new territory, we definitely needed our chart. The ride wasn’t as long as I was expecting though. We stopped in the area of Cambridge Cay for a break and consult the chart while not underway. Didn’t see the Blue Hole. No matter, we would find it on the way back. Off to the Aquarium. We noticed that the sky was starting to darken off to the West and we could hear some distant rumbles of thunder. We hoped it would stay away. This area of the Exumas was much harder to navigate because there are more cays, they all look similar and we were completely unfamiliar with it. We also opted to only bring the chart sheet vs the chart book. We should have brought it. As we were trying to identify the cays, we made a wrong turn and went off course to the West. Had we had the chart book, we would have seen what was not shown on the sheet (which only showed so much).

The storm was getting closer, the seas were kicking up and we were lost. In a 13’ boat. Very far from home. We had noticed a beach on our way to getting lost which had a Tiki hut, a catamaran and a few nice lounge chairs and umbrellas. We figured it was either a private island or a small resort. Our goal was to make it back to that beach and hoped someone would take pity on us. We pulled up on shore just as the skies opened up. The girls ran for cover under the Tiki hut while Mark and Cole secured the boats. Hmmm….this was a very nice Tiki Hut with pirate decorations, outdoor kitchen with Viking fridge and a big flat screen TV. Almost immediately, 2 men emerged on ATVs from the center of the island. We explained the situation and inquired as to whether it was resort or private island. Once they confirmed that we were not paparazzi, they said it was a private island. “May we ask whose private island?” Um yeah…very famous person. Ellie and Ava squealed, and we apologized. But the body guards/care takers were so nice and so gracious. They insisted that we stay until the storm passed. Due to their kindness, I am not going to reveal said famous person’s identity on a public forum. And there are quite a few celebrities with islands in the Exumas. Those familiar with this area will probably be able to guess though. Shhh. The two nice men then asked if Ellie and Ava would like to write a note to Mr. Celebrity, which they would deliver to him. They pulled out some really cool stationary and pens and the girls each wrote a nice letter complete with their email addresses. We don’t think he was on island (though he may have been getting ready to arrive since there were towels rolled up on the loungers and cups etc set out on the bar. Or he may have just had guests visiting). Our pilot on the way over had told us that if we don’t see his yacht docked, then he isn’t there. We didn’t see a yacht, but then again we were only privy to a small section of a rather large island. Then we asked directions to the Aquarium, thanked them profusely and were on our way.

We saw lots of fish…Parrot fish, Angel fish, Barracuda, some really neat black fish with turquoise spots and some tiny bright purple, orange and yellow fish. By now everyone was ready for lunch and the skies were looking threatening again so we decided to go back to try to find Honeymoon Beach. We definitely were in the right area, I just never spotted the Blue Hole (I did see it though from the plane on the way home). As we were eating, we watched lighting crack just to the North of us. We determined it was time to go. As we navigated the ocean cut between Cambridge and Compass Cays, the storm seemed to be following us. And then a water spout emerged and started growing in the black clouds. Good times. The rain was pelting our faces and we felt like storm chasers! Then as we made it into Pipe Creek, the skies cleared. But as we reached Sampson, that storm started gaining on us again. We booked back to the yacht club but never did it catch up to us. And we never tapped into that extra tank of gas. Good call not attempting to make it to Warderick Wells. We would have been in the thick of that nasty storm. We spent the rest of the afternoon at the pool and relaxing in the cottage.

Day 5 – We woke early and took a bike ride around the island. It’s always fun to check out abandoned Club Thunderball. Would be nice if someone decided to open it back up. By now everyone else seemed comfortable enough so we braved the ocean cut (which really wasn’t that bad) and visited the iguanas at Bitter Guana Cay. Then we decided to hit airport beach on the way back before heading to the Club for lunch. The tide was still kind of high though so there wasn’t much beach at our regular spot, and a boat was moored over the plane wreck so we decided to stop at the bigger beach on Lumber Cay across the way. Now were we warned about this last year but I had kind of forgotten until the next incident occurred. There is a small house on the island but we went to a beach around the corner. We were there about 20 minutes just hanging out at the water’s edge when we see a boat with a lone man in a boat racing over to the beach where the house is. Then he stomps over to us and tells us this is a private island and we need to leave immediately. Well Bahamian law says that ALL beaches up to the high tide line are public. Ramona informed the rude man that she knows the laws and we technically didn’t have to leave. He got angrier and angrier and started sputtering and waving his arms and yelling at us to leave. He and Ramona go at it for a while the kids just stare, wide eyed at this exchange. During all of this we were all either in the water or in our boats and not touching “his beach.” He finally says he is calling the police and Ramona yells that he doesn’t own the water! He stomps off with his phone to his ear. I think there is probably one policeman on all of the Exumas. Ellie is now worried that we will all be thrown into a Bahamian prison. We finally leave but not before contemplating anchoring right in front or the house, cranking up the iPod and cracking open a beer. I waved as we departed but he just ignored me. Had he been the least bit nice, we would have simply left without a word but since he was nasty, we gave it back to him. Not to mention, Lumber Cay is not listed as being private on the chart book. Last year at airport beach, we talked to a man who owned a home there are he warned us not to go anywhere near Lumber Cay (even though he said we had every right to be on that beach) because the meanest man in the Bahamas lives there.

After lunch, we went to spend the afternoon at Pirate Trap Beach on the North end of Staniel Cay. I just love this spot…especially the great lagoon. Same idea as Rachel’s Bubble Bath but much nicer in my opinion. One big bummer is that the tree swing is gone  Then Ramona and family headed off to visit the pigs and we went back to Pirate/Cruisers beach to relax and play some skip ball. We rode by the pigs on our way back to the Club and just like that, it was time to get ready for our last dinner on the island. I sure do miss that lobster.

The next morning we checked out, hopped in the golf cart for the short ride to the air strip and were on our way to Nassau by 9 AM. We will definitely be back one day...I can’t wait to see the new restaurant. It is supposed to be completed in 1.5 months. Considering how slow everything moves down there, I think that is a lofty goal, but we shall see. In the meantime there are more out islands to explore...the hard part is deciding which one to try next.

Here are links to my photos. The first is the smaller Facebook album and the second is my Shutterfly album on my Share Site with a lot more pictures for anyone interested. Enjoy!

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