Visiting Exuma With Kids

If you want to escape the crowds flowing out of oversized cruise ships into the major tourist centers of the Bahamas, it’s time to visit the untouched islands of Exuma. There, isolation brings serenity and the beaches and marine life make Exuma perfect for kids or even the pickiest traveler.
Exuma consists of 365 individual islands with Great Exuma and its main village of George Town as the gateway to surrounding isles. You can fly or arrive by boat but the effort of getting there is rewarded by crowd-free beaches and perfect sunsets.
When to Go
Exuma is a tropical destination you can visit year-round, with consistent temperatures in the high 70s to 90s. Many people prefer to visit from December through May,  when it’s dry and a pleasant escape from winter elsewhere, but it is also the peak travel season.
The months from July through October are hurricane season with an average temperature in the high 80s but you could experience high winds and cloudy days. Be sure to buy travel insurance if you visit during hurricane season. If you’re looking to save a few bucks with less risk, travel to the Exumas in the beginning of July or the end of October.
Photo by Jessica Rooks
How to Get There
Flights arrive at Exuma International Airport at George Town (GGT) on Great Exuma, or you can connect via boat from Nassau (NAS). Flights are available on American Airlines, Bahamas Air, Delta Air Lines and Silver Airways (a United Partner). Look for JetBlue’s flash sales when prices are ultra-affordable or try booking a United flight with your MileagePlus miles.
The Silver Airways flight leaves from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and availablity looks wide open in late autumn. If you can get to FLL from your city, the entire trip should be 17,500 miles one-way in economy. This is a great price going directly to Great Exuma.
Screenshot via United Airlines
You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to your United account instantly at a 1:1 ratio. Just remember to log into your United account before searching for award availability since flyers with elite status and holders of cobranded credit cards like the United Explorer Card get access to additional award options.
After landing at George Town or Nassau, you can get to the other islands by high-speed boat. Most families stay on the main Exumas and make daytrips to other islands, most of which don’t offer accommodations or are owned by celebrities.
What to Do in Exuma With Kids?
Sightseeing tours by boat from Great Exuma start at $250 per person. Yes, that’s pricey for a family but most shared tours offer a full day of attractions with lunch included. You’ll need to rely on tour operators to see and do most activities.
For children, the recommended age to travel on a high-speed boat is 4 years old. Our daughter was 3 when we visited Exuma but she has traveled on similar boats before. A few things to keep in mind as a first-time traveler on a high-speed boat is that the water isn’t always calm and the sun will beat down on you if there’s no sunshield or roof on the boat. Bring a jacket for the wind and lots of sunscreen.
Photo by Jessica Rooks
 
Look to the Chase travel portal for outfitters that offer a variety of the tours we mention below. You can pay cash or use your Ultimate Rewards points to pay for activities offered via the portal.

Or, earn 2 American Airlines AAdvantage miles per dollar spent on tours booked through Viator.com

Hit the Beach
Here are the best beaches to visit with kids on Great Exuma:

Coco Plum Beach: This public beach is free to visit and has a sandbar directly off its shoreline. Coco Plum is a great spot to collect sand dollars. The only downside is that there are no amenities, beach bars or restaurants.
Stocking Island: Across from George Town, this amazing beach stretches for three deserted miles. You’ll likely have it all to yourself, all day. There are also a few dining options on the island. The public beach is free but to get here, you must take a water taxi for $15 per person round-trip.
Jolly Hall Beach: There’s plenty of shade at this free public beach on Augusta Bay on the main island close to George Town.
Hoopers Bay: If you want to see turtles, visit Hoopers Bay. There’s no charge to see the turtles that come ashore to nest. There’s plenty of free parking across from this free public beach if you decide to drive.

Go Kayaking
Rolle’s Sea Kayaking on Great Exuma offers a variety of watersport services in the area. Tours are $70 to $90 per person.
Snorkel
If you want to snorkel without time constraints the freedom to explore where you want, rent gear from any of the dive shops on Great Exuma. Or book a snorkel tour.
Here are the best waters to snorkel:

Stocking Island: Off Great Exuma, take a water taxi ($15 per person round-trip).
Three Sisters: Off Queen’s Highway close to George Town in Moss Town (Great Exuma), this beach offers shallow reefs with schools of fish.
Thunderball Grotto: Take a boat tour or private charter to get here. It’s quite a trek from Great Exuma.
Jolly Hall: On Augusta Bay on the main island close to George Town. This reef is filled with schools of grunts and yellowtail snapper.

Try Paddleboarding
If you want to rent a paddleboard in Great Exuma, it will cost $25 per hour, $65 for a half day or $90 for the full day with Exuma Kitesurfing. The company also offers group lessons, free pickup and drop-off.
Visit the George Town Straw Market
At the straw market (open 9am–5pm, Monday–Saturday), you’ll find handmade Bahamian crafts such as straw bags, dolls, hats and shell jewelry.
Swim With Nurse Sharks
You need to take a guided tour boat or hire a private charter from George Town to swim with the nurse sharks at Compass Cay (quite a distance from Great Exuma). it isn’t cheap but the experience is worth it! I recommend taking a shared tour with Exuma Cays Tours. A full-day tour includes visiting Compass Cay for the nurse sharks, Pig Island, sandbanks, Thunderball Grotto (the James Bond film was made here and the grotto is great for snorkeling/diving) and a local island like Staniel Cay for lunch. The tour rate is $250 per person (same price for adults and kids) or you can choose to take a private charter (up to 12 people) for $1,700 to $2,000.
Feed Endangered Bahamian Iguanas
This activity also requires a guided tour boat or a private charter from George Town so your kids can feed the indigenous iguanas. Exuma Cays Adventures offers a variety of stops along the way to Iguana Island. Pricing is the same as the nurse-shark tour mentioned above.
Photo by Jessica Rooks
Feed the Swimming Pigs
You’ve probably heard about the famous swimming pigs of the Bahamas. Families can see them by taking a private or shared tour to Pig Beach (close to Compass Cay). Various tour companies can get you there.
Photo by Jessica Rooks
Visit Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park
The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is only accessible by a private charter or boat tour. Admission is free and you can paddleboard and kayak with no equipment rental fees. This is a bit far from Great Exuma.
Photo By Jessica Rooks
Where to Stay?
There are no points-friendly hotels in the Exumas. Your two options: 1) Pay cash for your hotel and “erase” some or all of the statement charges with a credit card like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard, or 2) Book through a portal where you can either earn or use points (more on that in a minute).
Here are three hotels to consider on Great Exuma:

Hideaways Exuma is a beachfront hotel in an ideal location six miles from the international airport and less than a 10-minute drive to the main town of George Town. The property offers one-, two- and three-bedroom villas and cottages. Suites have two bedrooms with spacious king or queen beds that accommodate families of up to six people. There is no twin bedding available at the Hideaways Exuma. On site, there is a restaurant, outdoor pool and a variety of water activities for the family. The starting price for a two-bedroom is $187 per night.

Book via Hotels.com/Venture with your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to earn 10 miles per dollar on your hotel stay, which is up to 20% back in total rewards.

Exuma Palms is a beachfront hotel in George Town that offers an on-site restaurant and complimentary breakfast each morning. The bedrooms offer twin and queen beds that can accommodate a family of four. The starting price is $128 per night.
Peace and Plenty Resort has an outdoor pool, restaurant and spacious rooms. Rooms with ocean views and more than one bedroom are available and can sleep up to six people. This property offers rooms with twin, queen, and king beds to chose from. Peace and Plenty Resort is also located in George Town.

Redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards: Many hotels in the Exumas, including the three I mentioned above, can be booked through Chase travel portal. (See the screen shot below for even more options.) Pay cash and earn points — at a rate as high as 1.5 cents per point if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve — or use your Ultimate Rewards points to redeem for nightly stays.

Bottom Line
If your family is planning a getaway to the Bahamas, I recommend the pristine waters of the Exumas. The white-sand beaches are breathtaking and the surrounding waters offer a host of watersport opportunities and abundant sea life to explore.

Extended Stay Hotels Are Made for Business Travel But Perfect for Families

Finding an incredible hotel that ticks all the right boxes is challenging enough for a solo explorer but it’s an even taller task for families with infants. I recently traveled with my wife and newly adopted son to New York City and wound up really appreciating a hotel that was designed for someone else: the long-term business traveler. The Home2 Suites by Hilton Long Island City not only saved us a bundle compared to hotels in Manhattan but also provided essential amenities that would have been hard to come by on the other side of the East River.

In This Post

Extended Stay Hotels are Cheap(er)
Chains like Home2 Suites by Hilton, Extended Stay America, Residence Inn by Marriott, Candlewood Suites and Staybridge Suites aren’t exactly aspirational. These are neither hotels that you save points for years to splurge on nor the type of hotel where you’d necessarily want to burn a free night certificate from a credit card. But that’s OK — they are great solutions for those willing to turn their nose down a bit and appreciate them for what they are.
Home2 Suites by Hilton Long Island City
During my three-night stay in New York, I paid $238 per night (plus local taxes/fees) for a suite with a king bed, a pull-out sofa and 657 square feet of space for stretching out. For comparison, diminutive rooms with one-third of that space were going for $500+ in Manhattan for the same nights. Yes, we gave up being in the middle of it all, but the hotel was just three quick subway stops away from Central Park. In less urban destinations, where you need a car to explore regardless of where you stay, there’s even more reason to consider a property like Home2 Suites.
Ah, The Amenities of Home
Our 3-month-old infant is (thankfully) a pro traveler. He’s visited seven states and conquered eight flights in his short amount of time on Earth. Still, he requires things like formula, clean bottles, a suitable bathing station and frequent access to a washing machine. As it turns out, the amenities required to serve those needs are essentially the requirements of long-term business travelers as well. And, the hotel had a crib we could borrow for the duration of our stay so we didn’t have to bring one from home. (Just realize that some hotels don’t promise the availability of cribs or other baby amenities.)
Not an apartment. I repeat, not an apartment.
Our suite was equipped with a full-size refrigerator and freezer, a dishwasher, a stove and a microwave. That made it simple to clean his bottles and keep open containers of formula refrigerated. There was also a huge sink that doubled as a great bathing station after we asked for extra towels to create a soft basin. The stove enabled us to heat and boil water, while the microwave proved useful for heating up a neck pillow.
I also found myself surprisingly giddy at the notion of having legitimate silverware. I’ve tried on many occasions to use a plastic knife to slice an apple in a ritzy hotel room. While you could always ask room service at other hotels to bring you real utensils, extended-stay hotels typically offer dishes and silverware right in the room. My suite had enough for an entire family, which made slicing the free apples offered 24/7 in the lobby delightfully simple.
It’s easy to lose track of all the little things a family leans on at home when it comes to infant care, but staying in a typical hotel room brings them to light quickly. Extended-stay hotels attempt to re-create the setting of home for those who will be away for long periods of time, which winds up being a boon to families visiting for just a few nights.
Base Rooms Are Still Suites
At most hotels, reserving a suite means shelling out big bucks or lots-o-points. Many chains won’t even let you use a reasonable number of points to book a room with niceties like dishwashers and pull-out sofas. But when a hotel is designed to feel more like an apartment than a shoebox, even the standard rooms are great.
Traveling with a baby can mean lots of stuff, so the space of a suite is very much appreciated.
The base room at Home2 Suites by Hilton Long Island City is marketed as a “studio suite,” which meant that I didn’t have to pay extra for a massive space. I have Diamond status within the Hilton portfolio, an included benefit of the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. While there was no available upgrade beyond that available, I was assigned a room on the highest floor of the hotel with an excellent view of Manhattan. A hot breakfast was included for my family for free.
Exploration Is Encouraged
While our massive-for-NYC room was ideal for families who just want more space, it wasn’t located in the hottest of spots. Extended-stay properties are generally built in safe but generally unremarkable areas. I view this as a positive, as it creates a roomy, comfortable home base that is not so attractive that you forget to leave the premises.
New York City is a big place, might as well explore!
In our case, the Home2 Suites by Hilton Long Island City was just three short blocks from a brand-new subway station (39th Avenue–Dutch Kills) with multiple lines running to Manhattan. We could reach Central Park within 15 minutes of leaving the room. For those who prefer private transit, there was no shortage of Lyft drivers available to whisk us across the Queensboro Bridge. (I use Lyft because of its partnership with Delta, enabling me to earn SkyMiles with each ride.)
For perspective, our Long Island City hotel was closer to Central Park than the citizenM New York Bowery Hotel that I reviewed late last year, even though the citizenM is in Manhattan.
Bottom Line
My family enjoyed our stay at Home2 Suites by Hilton Long Island City. My wife wasn’t exactly impressed by the residential surroundings, but it was cheap (for NYC) and easy to get from there to the main tourist spots. While we paid cash, it is often bookable for 50,000 Hilton Honors points per night. As a plus, the location ensured that we weren’t awakened during the night by the pulsing sounds of the city.
Home2 Suites leave plenty of room for a Doona stroller — a favorite amongst TPGers with kids.
The layout also made things effortless when it came to caring for our infant. We didn’t lack for space or amenities, two things that are mighty hard to come by for a reasonable sum in the Big Apple. Paying less than half of the going rates for hotels in Manhattan enabled a family like ours to spend more on activities and meals while still enjoying Diamond perks thanks to the property’s affiliation with the Hilton portfolio.
You’ve no doubt heard that priorities tend to shift once you become a parent (or grandparent!). As a new parent, I’m currently more interested in things like refrigerators, dishwashers, quiet neighborhoods and ample space in our hotel selections than I am rooftop bars and marble bathtubs. Don’t get me wrong — children and adults alike can appreciate glass-bottom floors in French Polynesia, overwater bungalows in the Maldives and all the finer luxuries of travel. I’ll just make sure our son has graduated to solid foods before planning those reservations.
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All images by Darren Murph / TPG.