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The burnt-orange sun was slowly dropping out of the sky as I walked along the white-sand beach near the ocean’s edge on Grand Bahama Island.

I traveled to Freeport, Bahamas with more than 100 travel agents and meeting planners, most of whom were African Americans — but all of them ready to experience everything Bahamian. The two-day excursion was sponsored by The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, Vision Airlines and the luxurious ocean-front Radisson Resort Grand Lucayan and The Reef.

“Welcome to Grand Bahama Island!” Donna Mackey, Senior Manager for the Grand Bahama Island Film Commission, said to the travel agents as they stepped off the airplane. “I know you are going to enjoy your trip. We have an exciting two days planned for you.”

Mackey was right: She managed to combine good food, tours, music and culture into a brief 30-hour visit.

Grand Bahama Island – a relaxed, slow-and-easy (and safe) tropical locale — is one of the most popular, family-friendly islands in The Bahamas located just 55 miles east of Florida. Grand Bahama Island is home to several world-class resorts and hotels to fit every budget. The island is nestled among miles of pristine beaches and turquoise seas.

Ideal for nature activities, Grand Bahama Island boasts a range of offerings including kayaking, dolphin experiences, airboat eco-adventures, jeep safaris, scuba diving and bike tours.

And getting to Grand Bahama Island just got much easier — and faster.

Vision Airlines, the Florida-based economy carrier, is now flying non-stop routes to Freeport, Grand Bahama Island from Baltimore, Louisville, Raleigh/Durham and Richmond, Virginia.

“We certainly believe in the emergence of Grand Bahama as a destination that Baltimore and its surrounds will embrace,” said Gary Gilbert, Chief Executive Officer, of the Freeport Container Port, the Grand Bahama Airport Company and Freeport Harbour Company. “With very low cost and non-stop jet travel matched with winter weather around the corner in Baltimore/DC, Grand Bahama is the perfect getaway.”

Starting Nov. 3, Vision Airlines will offer customers $29 fares (each way) for non-stop flights to Freeport. (The fares do not include taxes and government fees.)

Here was the appeal for our trip: It was a two-hour, direct flight from Baltimore to Grand Bahama Island gate-to-gate. No more long connections in Miami or Fort Lauderdale and spending time unnecessarily in Florida airports. Vision Airlines’ flights will depart and arrive on Sundays and Thursdays.

“It has been very difficult and expensive to get to paradise,” said David P. Meers Jr., Senior Vice President of Vision Airlines. “Vision Airlines’ partnership with the Ministry of Tourism and the other stakeholders will change all of this beginning in November of this year.”

Never heard of Vision Airlines? Relax. Established in 1994, Vision Airlines, is the US’ newest big jet, low-cost carrier. Vision Airlines began with 1 airplane in Las Vegas, NV in 1994 providing Grand Canyon tours to tourists and presently operate a fleet of more than 20 aircraft expanding service to more than 15 US cities.

Today, Vision Airlines fleet consists of Boeing 767’s, Boeing 737’s, Dornier 328’s and Dornier 228’s. The 737’s seem to have a bit more leg room than other discount carriers; the flights were smooth and the crew was professional, safety-conscious – and fun. Vision Airlines has more than 450 employees and has offices in Atlanta, GA, Las Vegas, NV, Louisville, KY, Washington, DC and Destin, FL.

Bahamas Director-General of Tourism David L. Johnson said when Vision Airlines starts flying to Grand Bahama Island (GBI), tickets will be available for as little as $89 round-trip, plus tax, or $199 including tax. And for travel to GBI combined with minimum 3 nights hotel stay, ” Johnson said, customers will be able to fly free for taxes only. The airline will charge passengers $15 to check bags.

We stayed overnight at The Grand Lucayan Resort, which offers spectacular ocean views from some of the 540 luxury guest rooms and suites decorated in a modern Art Deco-inspired tropical style and situated on 7.5 acres of white sand beaches.

Guests can enjoy this Bahamas resort hotel’s daily activities schedule, two 18-hole championship golf courses, Las Vegas-style casino, spa services and three pools – one of the pools is an great infinity pool overlooking the ocean with a swim-up bar.

On-site dining options range from casual fare to fine cuisine, and the 90,000 square feet of meeting space provides the ideal setting for weddings and events. For a more elegant dining experience, the main restaurant offers steak, seafood and live music, and the cigar bar just off the main lobby is a great place to meet friends.

One of my favorite activities on Grand Bahama Island is horseback riding on a secluded beach – and riding the horses in the ocean. Trikk Pony Adventures, owned by French-born Eleonore “Leo” Munnings, is the only stable on Grand Bahama Island to offer all-beach horseback riding.

Leo only takes 6 riders per trip and picks up guests – with the horses in tow – from hotels and resorts before driving 15 minutes to a breathtaking placid beach for an incredible ride.

What makes the horseback riding experience so special is Leo and her horses. Leo, a fit and friendly woman with a warm, laid-back style, makes guests feel comfortable from the moment you meet her. Whether you’re a beginner or an advance rider, everyone will enjoy this ride. Her beautiful horses are gentle, impeccably maintained and Leo focuses on safety as well as fun. The 90-minute experience costs $125.

Looking for a unique aquatic experience? Sign up for the Dolphin encounter with the Underwater Explorers Society. At UNEXSO on Grand Bahama Island, see how remarkably intelligent and friendly dolphins are when you swim with them. Swim in between two dolphins and then hug and kiss them while a photographer takes photos of you. You may purchase your photos after the program.

If you’re interested in great beaches on Grand Bahama Island, here are a few exceptional beaches worth visiting:

*Fortune Beach is a quiet beach, five miles from Port Lucaya Marketplace. The beach got its name from a shipwreck worth $2 million which was discovered there. If you wish to visit Fortune Beach, you will need your own transportation, or you can purchase a tour that visits this beach. The Banana Bay restaurant is at this location.

*Gold Rock Beach is part of the Lucayan National Park and is protected by the Bahamas National Trust. Located east of the island, about 25 miles from Freeport, this beach is often secluded at low tide when it unveils its spectacular “welcome mat”. Gold Rock Beach can be accessed via tour bus or rental car. There are BBQ pits, picnic tables and benches available. North of the beach are the Lucayan Caverns, the world’s longest underground surveyed cave system.

*Lucaya Beach is located across from the Port Lucaya hotels (The Radisson Our Lucaya Resort and Our Lucaya Reef Village). This popular tourist beach has watersports and activities galore. Coral Beach west of Lucaya beach, a short distance away and is less crowded. Billy Joe’s snack shack is also nearby, here you can sample some of our island’s famous “roast conch.”

To quench your thirst, visit Grand Bahama’s newest brewery which opened in 2007 with the launch of its first beer –SANDS.

The 20-acre brewery is located on Grand Bahama Island and is a 100% Bahamian owned business. The brewery currently employs over 50 Bahamians. The Brewery is approximately 60,000 square feet and is built on 20 acres of land. The brewery also houses a brewery tour facility, retail store, gift store and a tasting room.

The beer is cold, refreshing and the brewery is also a wonderful way to learn some interesting facts about local history and island culture.

“It’s a great place to end a day of touring Grand Bahama Island,” said Mackey, as a lovely server filled our glasses with tasty beer straight from the tap.

For more information about Vision Airlines, Grand Bahama Island, Trikk Pony Stables, and SANDS Brewery, visit the following websites:

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