Doing The Bahamas on a (Tight) Family Budget
Family vacations don't come cheap, or easy, nowadays, but our family bareboat charter in the Bahamas' Abaco Islands last summer gave me the ultimate test of living the champagne charter lifestyle on a beer budget. In the end, a boatful of seven (four adults and three hungry kids) enjoyed nine days of tropical living for less than $200 per person, per day (good luck finding that at any all-inclusive family resort!).
The recently renovated base has all the essentials: a relatively upscale (island-wise) restaurant, a dive shop, a hotel (think more the lines of motel . . . but you're not there for the "room" anyway), and of course, any kid's favorite place-the pool. A boutique liquor store with great wine selections-and even better rum-is directly across the street. A 10-minute walk gets you to one of a few "big-box" grocery and liquor stores should you decide to provision yourselves, as we did.
A word on provisioning: I know a lot of charterers, particularly first-timers, prefer to have all their food delivered to the boat and are willing to pay the higher price for provisioning, but for me, shopping is part of the adventure, and an easy way to save. With every charter I've done, I've planned a detailed daily menu and an organized shopping list so we can get in and out and back to the boat. Planning like this also eliminates waste at the end of the charter. We also import what we can. In our case, with three young kids we knew we were going to plow through plenty of macaroni and cheese, so we brought plenty of it; discarding the cardboard boxes at home to cut down onboard trash.
When it was all said and done, we got out of the grocery store for less than $600. We'd planned on having all of our meals on the boat, so that wasn't too bad given what we'd heard of the Bahamas ("Bring a credit card.") The liquor tab hit us at $160 for three liters of rum, two cases of beer (beware the $40 cases), and a liter of vodka. We carried in our own wine-four boxes of the perfectly drinkable and affordable Black Box label (it's actually good!). As with the mac & cheese, we unboxed it, and the spigot-bags packed well.
As a group, we enjoy cooking so we did eat on the boat every night; plus what's the point of dragging kids to a restaurant after they've been in the sun all day. I like to feed 'em , put 'em to bed, and have a relaxing adult dinner.
As with arriving, I also believe in booking a room on the last day of the charter. It is a vacation after all, and our savings elsewhere offset the cost of a one-night stay. Because the boat has to be back to the base at 11 a.m., the typical charterer is always rushed on their last day, anxious about getting back to the base on time, getting the boat cleaned, bags packed, and then sit and wait for a depressing day of travel. In my experience, you're already planning your exit strategy on the last night of your charter when you're supposed to be relaxing.
Sunsail Marsh Harbor Base Stats
(Accurate on March 1, 2009) The Sunsail fleet in Marsh Harbour consists of Sunsail 36i and 39i monohulls (new for 2009) and Lagoon 380 catamarans. There are bareboat, skippered, and flotilla vacations there. The cats and 39i's are very popular, so advanced booking highly recommended.
The seasons are as follows:
High Season Feb 16-June 27 and Dec 20- Jan 1
Mid Season June 28- Aug 8 and Oct 11 - Dec 19, Low Season Jan 2-Feb 15 and Aug 9 to Oct 10
Sunsail special offers:
Single Reef Weeks: Get away with 15% off charters of 5 days or more from April 18 to 25 and from May 16 to 23, 2009.
Double Reef Weeks: Get away with 25% off charters of 5 days or more from March 14 to 21 and May 23 to 30, 2009.
Summer Reef Weeks: Save 15% off 5 to 13 days or 25% off 14 days or more, on charters from June 1, 2009 to September 30, 2009.