The Fun Side of Freeport
It’s hard to believe but this morning Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Pride came alongside our last port of call: Freeport, Bahamas.
Freeport is one of the most polarizing Caribbean ports of call. Some people love it. Others can’t wait to see it recede into the distance as they sail away.
Ships dock in a very industrial area that has little more than a planned shopping pavilion for disembarking guests. The actual town – and most of the other amenities, like beaches and the Port Lucaya Market – are a fifteen-minute taxi ride away.
Despite having a massive history here on Grand Bahama Island that dates back to the times of Columbus, there’s just not that much to do if you’re not into the whole beach-shopping-drinking spectacular. If you are, gear up: it’s going to be a fun day filled with rum runners, conch (pronounced conk) fritters and high-pressure sales that seems to be typical of the Bahamas.
I’d seriously considered staying on the ship this morning. After all, we’re only docked here until 1:30 p.m. before we set sail again. Would I really be missing anything by skipping Freeport? I decided that yes, I would be. Even if I end up hating Freeport, I owe it to myself to at least set out and explore it. So, I booked the one excursion I was truly interested in: the $44.99 Brewery, City and Downtown excursion.
At three hours in duration, this excursion stops at a local perfume factory (Island Fragrances) before travelling on to the Port Lucaya Marketplace for some retail therapy. Then, it continued on to the Bahamian Brewery; a 100-percent Bahamian-owned brewery opened in Freeport back in 2007, for a tour of the facilities and – most importantly – a tasting of the company’s authentic Bahamian brews.
I also picked it primarily because of the overwhelmingly-positive reviews of the excursion on Carnival’s shore excursion site. Carnival invites guests to leave comments about their shore excursion experience, and makes no attempt to censor them if guests are unhappy. It’s a bit like TripAdvisor, but for shore excursions.
There were two highlights of my tour: our guide, Tiny; and the Bahamian Brewery.
Tiny was fun, knowledgeable, and a wonderful ambassador for his country. He was high energy, authentic, and easygoing. He was one of the best guides I’ve had in the Caribbean, and he was quick with a joke. To get everyone in the mood, Bahamian and traditional Caribbean-themed music was pumped over the bus speakers between stops.
The Bahamian Brewery is a real Bahamas success story. This was one of the only things I saw – aside from the very industrial port – that is a clear economic driver for the island. We were invited to taste five different brews, from their Light ale to the rich, dark Stout, and then we were allowed to enjoy a few complimentary pints.
While the perfume factory was interesting, it was really a thinly-veiled shopping stop. Ditto for the Port Lucaya Marketplace; the saving grace here was that we only had 30 minutes at this stop before heading off to the Brewery.
In the end, I enjoyed my tour, thanks largely to Tiny’s insights into all things Bahamian. I have a better respect for the Bahamas now, and a greater appreciation for Freeport because of him.
As a cruise port, though, Freeport’s a flop. There’s little to do for the average guest who doesn’t want to take an excursion, and although it feels vastly safer and less pushy than Nassau, I heard more than one guest complain about being ripped off by the local taxi service.