Thanksgiving Weekend 2006 at Freeport, Bahamas

Day 1: For our Thanksgiving celebration this year we decided to take a trip over to Freeport. We had heard the good reviews from Rob and Linda and John’s trip was a smashing success as well, so it was our turn.  We came over to the Sheraton Our Lucaya, a sister property to the Westin, as it was significantly cheaper and you could still use all the amenities on both properties.

All of you from Florida know FB1-1.jpg we have had this little cold snap running through the area the past few days. While we all think of the Bahamas as warm and sunny, trust me when I tell you that the Bahama Breeze blows cool through the islands.  We made a mid-morning departure from X14 – just before 9 a.m. Wild Mama was in good form and with the cool morning and clean spark plugs, she was raring to go. We filed IFR as the weather channel showed some strange cloud formations just off the coast.

The morning air was fresh, the climb out was rapid and, by golly, we even caught a 10 kt tailwind. We leveled off at 5,000’ following the airway over PHK and PBI and only BR63 to cross the pond. The whole trip was to take only 1:05. The Bahamas are known for the “severe clear” skies . . . I suppose that is under the ceiling. FB1-2.jpg As we crossed HALBI intersection we were directed to maintain 4000’ which put us squarely in the cloud layer which we had seen on the weather channel and through the front windshield. Approach called for us to do the VOR 6 approach and handed us off to the tower who put # 2 for landing behind a Caravan. As we dropped below 2,700’ the cloud layer broke and we had a beautiful visual landing on 6.

Customs and Immigration in Freeport was a snap. I walked up to the lady at the desk and she told me the pilot needed to come in to fill out the arrival forms (2 pages of which we snagged spare copies for everyone coming with us in January 07). I smiled politely and tried to put my “pilot-looking” face back on. In less time than it has taken you to read this trip report, the paperwork was done for the plane and the passengers and we were on to secure the plane and pay the landing fees.

Here is where all pilots (whether you look like one or not) need to pay attention. . . BRING ROPE!  Tie down lines are made for low wings in some of the spaces. We squeezed in a very packed parking lot and secured Wild Mama for the weekend. Since we already had the prop lock and throttle lock, we used them along with the cover and the usual stuff. Neatly secured, Vern and I went on to schlep out stuff through the customs trailer and out the front door to our waiting cab.

OK, here is another opportunity to pay attention:  As much as I have traveled in my life –all over the world – you would think that this would not have been as issue, but it was one of not thinking ahead, if nothing more. BRING SMALL BILLS. A pile of $100’s will do you no good as you start getting back Bahamian change. The landing fee for the single engine was $20; the cab $22; tips another $7. FB1-3.jpg

The Sheraton Lucaya is a lovely resort. There are all sorts of activities which, apparently, change from month to month. It is a sister  property of the Westin but older and, consequently, lesser expensive, but you share all the same amenities. Even though our arrival was quite early to the hotel (about 11:00 a.m.) we checked in immediately, unloaded our stuff in our room and headed off for our first priority – lunch. We settled on the Prop Club (go figure) and were quite pleased with our selection. The décor was a mix of Airplane meets Gilligan’s Island with some disasters that not even our resident mechanic, Vern, could fix! Lunch was scrumptious and filling. Vern did the $100 Hamburger; Mario had grouper and I had a salad. Had it not been for the fact that people were watching Mario would have licked his plate clean. FB1-4.jpg

My next order of business was scuba diving. I had contacted Xanadu Divers who agreed to do a resort pick-up fort her shark dive this afternoon. I had never done a shark dive before and it would not have been my first choice for the mere fact that I prefer to swim rather than observe on my knees as I get too cold when I am not moving. The dive was great: cold, but worth the effort if you have never done one before. Tomorrow I will head out for some reef diving where I can be a more active participant.

Upon my arrival back to the resort, the boys were engaged in their second most favorite activity: napping. I gathered them up for a fruit blended non-alcoholic beverage in the marketplace then we headed off to dinner at China Beach. I think there were more staff there than patrons but only because the bulk of the tourists were parked at the Thanksgiving Buffet at Willy Broadleaf. The menu for our Chinese fare was varied and, again, quite good. We rolled ourselves FB1-5.jpg out of there in time to catch some line dancing before the bon fire. Now, here is a tip for all those of you wishing to join the Bahamas Burger Boogie in January 2007 –  please learn the ELECTRIC SLIDE and MACARANA. Yes, there will be a dance and there will be a camera. Mario opted out as he cannot see at night, but Vern got his first lesson. Suffice it to say, he will have another before the next trip!

So for our Thanksgiving, we sit here at the end of the day thankful for great weather, a tail wind, great friends, good food and returning from a shark dive with the same parts and pieces I had when the dive started. . . and tomorrow will be yet another glorious day. 

Day 2: Another beautiful day in paradise is the only way to describe the Bahamas. It is a lot like living in South Florida except the cell phone is not ringing off the hook and lotws of folks walk around saying “No Worries” and “Ya Mon”. The pace is slow


My day was to be another full day of scuba diving but the afternoon trip was not to materialize so I did the morning trip only.FB2-1.jpg After our buffet breakfast – eggs, hash browns, breakfast means, French toast, rolls, cereals, breads, fruit and a Rolaids, I scurried off to the dive boat and Mario and Vern took the over water route on the Glass Bottom Boat out of Port Lucaya. (I will note for the records that I did not actually EAT all that food but that was the selection available. I just had the French toast!)


The dives this morning were the Tunnels and Papa Docks wreck. The tunnels were a series of sand and surge channels running east to west along the shore line. They were very close to Shark Alley where we were the Thanksgiving appetizer yesterday so some of our old chums came by for a brief visit today checking for more hand outs. The marine life was plentiful – a turtle graced my presence as I was descending, several shark, grouper and a large variety of tropical’s and snapper.  Papa Docks wreck looked to be a old pleasure boat which went down in a storm. She is only about 35’ long and she has not yet developed many of the encrusting corals found on some of the older wrecks but she did sport quite a bit of marine life none-the-less. This dive was full of coral heads popping up from the sand like a mushroom patch and each coral head seemed to be in its own little thermo cline. FB2-2.jpg As I was starting to get quite cold (78 degrees is cold for this Floridian) I searched out the coral heads in the warmer water. Amazing as it might seem, 2 or 3 degrees makes a huge difference in water temperature.  Freshly shriveled and blue from the cold, we headed back to the docks.


I met up with Mario and Vern after lunch. We had seen the glass bottom boat out on the same site as we were diving but I did not realize at the time that they were on the boat admiring the same fish as the divers. . . they just saw them from a different perspective.  I was starving upon my return so we headed to one of the little café’s at the Port Lucaya Marketplace for a quick bite then continued on our explorations.


One of the goals of this trip is to find just the3 right place for the January 12, 2007 Bahamas Burger Boogie. FB2-3.jpg We stayed at the Sheraton and visited the Westin, the sister hotel. Some of the other divers stayed at Pelican Bay and they were quite happy, so we made a quick stop there to check out the accommodations: reasonable enough but more expensive than the Sheraton and not as many amenities. We came back to ye old faithful internet and found an ad for the Viva Wyndham about 5 miles to the east of the main Marketplace area. We hopped in a cap to investigate.


For those of you looking to join us for the trip in January, here is the part where you want to pay attention.  (John – photo numbers are 154-179.) The Wyndham is an all inclusive resort advertising rates of $175/night for the 12th and 13th. I was happy with this but want to try to do a bit better. Included are room, 3 buffet meals plus snacks, drinks (although there are some limitations on the alcohol), non-motorized water sports, snorkeling, tennis, gym, archery and a host of other activities on site. FB2-4.jpg There are free bicycles but the motor scooters cost about $36/day to rent. Stephanie took us on a tour of the whole property and it came to be the winner in my mind for the place to be. It is away from the Marketplace, but it is easy to access. There is a wide variety of activities including programs for the kids so this can be a nice family affair. We gathered about a dozen or so brochures to bring with us for the Sebring fly-out so please be sure to ask for one if you are interested in the January trip.


With brochures and telephone numbers in hand, we hopped a tour bus back to the Marketplace for a quick dinner and to try to catch the show that Rob told us about. On the way, the driver mentioned that 24/7 from any phone on the island dial 915 for the latest weather. Our tidbit for the day. We stopped at Pisces as it had been recommended by the locals. If it is pizza you want, this is the place. I have never seen such a variety of pizza in all my born days. But that is not where the menu ended: there were fish entrees, pasta, beef, sandwiches and food that ran the gamut. Conch fritters and pizza was enough. The fritters were good as the conch actually paid a visit to the fritter instead of just making the 50 yard dash through the batter.  After dinner, we wandered off to see the show but it did not start until 9 p.m. and my eyelids were growing heavy at 8 p.m. I will have to pass on the show.


On the way out of the Marketplace, I heard “Hey SWEETIE”. I turned around knowing that either SWEETIE or GORGEOUS must be somewhere near by. (That would be Rob or Linda from their trip here a month ago.)   Must be mistaken – had to be another Sweetie! Time to crash for now. We have our last day in this paradise before heading back to reality tomorrow afternoon. No worries, Mon, we be catch ya in the morning from the Bahamas!

Day 3: A glorious start to the morning as the cold front has finally passed and the sun was as brilliant as rumored in the Bahamas – just in time for our departure. We took a late start to the morning, enjoying our morning coffee in the room and taking our time getting our stuff together: somehow, dirty laundry takes up more space than clean.


We opted out FB3-1.jpg of the buffet breakfast fearing that our useful load was already straining under the weight of the dirty laundry and hotel materials and brochures and we wandered off to the Marketplace again for a little light(er) breakfast at Cally’s Café. This is a little Greek styled placed stuffed in the center of the Marketplace. A rather cheerful lady was trolling in the customers with her “Come, come, SWEETIE; here POP . . . and yes, MA’AM, come right here for breakfast” We now know who SWEETIE is!!!!  Our lighter fare was bacon and eggs, hash browns, toast and juice. I had a bagel. Full as ticks we made our last pass around the FB3-2.jpg Marketplace to see the juice lady who had been preparing a mixture of fresh mango, strawberry and banana juices in a smoothie styled drink. I justified it as a healthy alternative to ice cream. But she must have received a call from the FAA warning of our weight issue and our juice lady was nowhere to be found this morning. Port Lucaya Beach Club was our last hotel stop for the morning before we left. It was quite pleasant with advertised rates of $112/night for our intended time. After the Viva Wyndham, however, I was not that impressed.


Back at our room, we perused the place for the final time looking to make sure we had everything, loaded ourselves like pack mules and headed to check out and catch the cab for the airport.  Vern managed to locate a cart to schlep everything to the plane as I finished with the Customs and Immigration and filed the flight plan for our departure. Leaving the Bahamas is as easy as entering. You make a stop at the FBO counter and sign another copy of basically the same form used for your entry, pay $16 for 2 nights for a single engine for tie down; CALL CUSTOMS AT YOUR AIRPORT OF ENTRY IN THE U.S.; move to the next counter to file the flight plan (they request an hour but they will not hold you to that); then you pay a departure tax of $15/head at the last counter. Again BRING SMALL BILLS. Once you have made the mistake on the way in, it will plague you throughout the remainder of the trip. We finished there, walked to the plane then ready to go.


I will pause here FB3-3.jpg briefly to mention the customs and flight plan issue: first – if you are filing IFR to leave, you must file at least 6,000’- quick amendment, no worries. Second: the issue is not steadfast 1 hour with the departure from the Bahamas: the problem is the entry into the US. You want to be sure NOT to arrive at Customs in the US early. I told them 1:40, leaving me time to untie, load, etc.; when we completed all our preparations in 30 minutes, we were left to delay the departure so as not to hasten the arrival. So right on schedule at 1600 z we gathered our flight plan and headed for home.


The air was glass smooth and the skies below were clear, although there was a ceiling at around 7,000’. The turquoise blue water from the Bahamas sparkled like diamonds already beckoning us to return. Miami Center was having radar problems this day and had us make several position reports as we came in on BR62V. At 68 DME from Vero Beach VOR they completely lost radar contact. We continued on with the position reports until they got a firm radar lock on us. The dropped us down to 3000’ preparing to land on 32. There was a ceiling over the coast at about 3,800 but a very thin layer so penetration was quite rapid. At 3 miles from FPR, at 3,000’ with the field in site we were cleared to land.  FB3-4.jpgNOSE DIVE!!!!!!!!!! We turned to our final course heading and shot down at 1,500 fpm like a rocket. Still high around 1000’ we pulled the nose up to slow to 140 to throw out the speed brakes a/k/a gear and 10 degrees of flaps, and with a 70 degree 12 knot cross wind we put her down just past the numbers and headed to customs.


The customs officer greeted us at the plane and had us remove all the bags to take inside. He inspected the plane through all the doors and the baggage compartment and checked through the airplane equipment bags (cover, raft, etc). We filled out our arrival forms and handed them to a very quiet agent at the desk. He stamped us through and we were off in less time than I have typed out this paragraph.


Back to our favorite pastime – FOOD . . . and here we are back at the Tiki Hut. Now they say they have THE best hamburger. FB3-5.jpg I cannot say for sure it was the best (Winder still holds that distinction) but it certainly was good. There was a bit of commotion with lunch as a gyrocopter had just crashed on the far side of runway 9. The area was abuzz with emergency vehicles and activity and runway 9 was quickly closed. We departed on 32 with an uneventful flight back to LaBelle, breaking the coastline of Lake Okechobee several minutes in to our flight.


Back at home, we hear the call of the washing machine . . . we have to get the laundry done so we can depart for Tennessee in the morning. Get some rest, Wild Mama, more work in the morning!