Boats and Ferries
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 5 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 $81 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 Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line sails from the Port of Palm Beach in 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 up to 30 feet and $300 for boats longer than 30 feet, which includes fishing permits and departure tax for up to three people. Each additional person above the age of three will be charged the $25 departure tax. Stays of longer than 12 months must be arranged with Bahamas customs and immigration officials.
Boat and Ferry Contacts
Bahamas Ferries. 242/323–2166; www.bahamasferries.com.
Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line. Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line sails overnight from West Palm Beach, offering a more traditional cruise-ship than ferry experience, with two-night Grand Bahama hotel packages available. 1 E. 11th St., Riviera Beach, Florida, 33404. 800/995--3201; 800/374--4363; www.bahamasparadisecruise.com.
Balearia Bahamas Express. Port Everglades, Terminal 1, 33316. 866/699–6988; www.ferryexpress.com.
Potter's Cay Dockmaster. 242/393–1064.
Resorts World Bimini Superfast Ferry. The ferry leaving from Port Miami is operated by Resorts World, but you book a one-way ticket (which typically costs more than a package), you can have transportation only and aren't required to buy an accommdations package, but the cost does not include any meals or accommodations on the 3-hour trip. The total fare is approximately $251 round-trip, including all fees and taxes. 888/930--8688; rwbimini.com/plan-your-trip/cruise-itineraries.