Just back a week since our first stay in Eleuthera (June 15-23, 2014). We were travelling with two children - 9 and 6 and a half - showing them their first experience ever in the ocean. Our 9 year old son is a good swimmer but our 6 year old daughter is still learning to swim. By the end of the week, both kids were avid snorkelers and the off-the-beach experiences were some of the best my wife and I have ever seen. Since there are not a lot of trip reports that focus on snorkeling with kids, I thought this focus might be useful. Pictures are available here: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjZiG81f
We flew in on AA via Montreal - Miami - Eleuthera (ELH). Everything was very smooth. One caveat: departing was no problem because you pass through US customs in the Montreal airport, which means no more security in Miami and your bags go straight through to Eleuthera. On the way back however, we had to clear customs in Miami, get our luggage, re-check it and pass through security again. Leave at least an hour for all this. We had around 2-hour stop-overs in Miami, which was perfect. I managed to get the tickets for around $550 CDN per person (all in).
We packed 2 duffel bags of clothes (mostly t-shirts and bathing suits), one duffel bag of food (including small cooler with cheese, butter, hot dogs, sausages, etc. - no problem, stayed frozen) and one bag with beach stuff (two boogie boards for $10 ea. at Walmart, our snorkel gear, some cheap air mattresses, sun screen, bug spray, ...).
We rented a Honda Pilot from the caretaker, Lord Byron Rolles. As other people have mentioned when renting a vehicle in Eleuthera, don't expect anything new. You get a basic contract and off you go. Our rental's transmission was starting to slip, the engine light was on, and I don't know if the 4WD actually worked but otherwise it ran fine and the air conditioning worked. Just take a deep breath and off you go - there's no rush anywhere on the island so just go with the adventure. Despite the small issues, the vehicle was great and dependable and was as good as anything else on the road. Pickup and return was easy and problem-free at the ELH airport - thanks Byron!
We stayed at Bonefish Barbi's bungalow on Airport Beach South and it was lovely with breathtaking views and all the necessities. It was nicely situated just a few kilometers from both James Cistern and Governor's Harbour. The pictures really don't do it justice - the views from the wall of windows is arresting. A quck word on distances in Eleuthera: they are laughable by Canadian standards. If you and your kids survive daily half-hour commutes in a Canadian city, you can easily reach most parts of the island within the same time from Governor's Harbour - and with virtually no traffic. There's one highway in decent shape, and from our location, we travelled regularly up to the Glass Window to the north and passed Palmetto Point to the south without annoying the kids. Compared to Canadian gas prices, they were comparable ($5.60/gallon = $1.40/L).
The weather was sunny and hot the whole time, with spots of rain overnight and one pop up rainstorm. The first five days, the winds came off the Atlantic; the last three days had winds coming across the island from the Caribbean side, so the the Atlantic side was beautifully calm.
We accepted early on that we would not be exploring the whole island - you just can't drag kids around hopping from one place to the next. We were hoping to visit at least 5 or 6 beaches in close proximity during our 8-day stay, with enough variation to keep the children interested and excited. We visited Airport Beach, Alabaster Bay, Gaulding Cay, Twin Sisters Beach, Ten Bay Beach, and Kemp's Cove during our stay. We tried to reach Holmes Bay, but couldn't find a public access route. Every place we went was fabulous, with something to offer.
Swimming and 'beaching': Ten Bay and Alabaster Bay beaches - both on the Caribbean side - were as picture perfect as you can imagine. We visited Alabaster twice, once at high tide and for a late afternoon sunset swim at low tide. The one time we visited Ten Bay was at low tide. These were soft sand beaches with very shallow warm water - stunningly gorgeous and water more blue and clear than most swimming pools. At low tide, it is ankle deep for the first 25 meters. At high tide, the air mattresses came out and we just floated ... ahhhh!
Snorkelling: without a doubt, Twin Sisters and Gaulding Cay (we visited both places twice) were phenomenal snorkelling experiences for us and our children. They are very close to each other, very secluded (we were always alone), with the same gorgeous sandy bottoms of Ten Bay and Alabaster Bay. However, they both have these small coral outcropping that you can literally walk to at low tide and the fish and coral life was breathtaking: Tangs, angelfish, massive schools of small fish, lionfish, porcupinefish, trumpetfish, wrasses, snapper, fans, starfish - stunning. So close to the beach and so calm that the kids enjoyed both places for hours. Added bonus: great shelling too. Add at least an hour for stolling up the beach looking for keepers. Twin Sisters and Gaulding Cay are also spectacular beaches - but we remember them most for the snorkelling.
Kemp's Cove: we also stopped here for a snorkelling experience and although not very 'child friendly', it was our daughter's favorite. There is no beach here at all - all sharp coral rock getting in. However, you will see things you will see nowhere else here. The schools of small fish (anchovies?) must have numbered in the tens of thousands, groupers hiding under the small coral outcrops all around the cove, a young barracuda, quite shallow at the mouth of a mangrove swamp, another fantastic and totally unique snorkelling spot, but use caution getting in and out.
Special mention for Airport Beach: probably our favorite beach (mainly because it was right outside our house), this beach was really beautiful with a bit of everything including pink sand. During the first four days, this was our body surfing/frollick in the waves/go for a walk beach. We all spent many hours swimming in the surf and having a great time. During the last four days however, it calmed down and the whole family explored the fabulous reef just a few feet from our beach.
This was the one Atlantic Beach we visited and we explored several kilometers in both directions. On the Atlantic side, the bottom drops out much quicker, and the coral reaches depths of 30ft within 25 meters of shore. We spent at least two days exploring the various coral reefs and outcroppings visible from our deck. Sitings here include a large eagle ray cruising the shallow, huge rainbow parrot fish (at least 3ft long), squirrelfish, canyons and underwater coral caves packed with schools of fish, and much larger coral cliffs than what we saw on the Caribbean side. In the evenings, the kids loved walking along looking for crabs, birds fishing in the dusk, or watching the cruise ships light up in the distance.
In summary, Eleuthera was a magical place to introduce our kids to the ocean. They quickly built up confidence on the Caribbean side a with its shallow bottom and calm waters and there is off-the-beach snorkelling *everywhere* on the Atlantic side once they are comfortable floating along the top. Our daughter used arm floats and we had an inflatable ring with a net in the hole where she could catch a break or adjust her mask. We would normally go out for 2 hours at a time. At Twin Sisters, we arrived at 10am and stayed and snorkelled for almost 5 hours.
We ate at the Rainbow Inn for dinner (very nice but a bit pricey), Daddy Joe's for lunch (right across from Gaulding Cay - wonderful with $8~$14 burger platters, thanks Sandra!), and Kell-D's in James Cistern for pizza, chicken and conch fritters (delicious, hot and reasonably priced). We shopped at the general store in James Cistern, Burrow's and the Shell station in Governor's Harbour. Milk varied in price from $4.50 to $7.50 (in the same store ... based on day of the week? expiry date? who knows - just check the prices!). We bought milk, some cereal, bread, a couple of tomatoes, some juice - not much but enough. We stopped at the bakery behind Burrow's in Governor's Harbour and bought tons of stuff - bread, coconut danishes, cinnamon rolls, and several patties (conch, beef and chicken) - everything was awesome. We also stopped at the Island Farms to the south and another road side fruit/vegetable stand just north of James Cistern where we picked up mangoes (in season, cheap, delicious!), watermelon, onion, lettuce, arugula, hot sauce, and produce. We bought bottled water in town, but the water from the tap seemed okay (centrally plumbed, not cistern).
Finally, we spent most of our gift/souvenir money at Pam's Island Made Gift Shop in Gregory Town - lovely local stuff with nice gifts for family and friends. All the towns were friendly and quaint - Governor's Harbour (the largest we visited), Alice Town, James Cistern, Gregory Town. People were all friendly and helpful. Special note for Canadians: there was a Scotiabank, a CIBC and an RBC in and around Governor's Harbour.
Eleuthera was a great choice for our family and we loved every moment of it (except the no-see'ums - no-like'ums! Bring baby oil/Skin So Soft - these are not mosquitos or black flies - the oil repels them more than DEET). It is not for everyone - it is not a 'resort' and its level of development is less than Canadian standards. Internet and/or phone outages happened regularly, sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes hours. Selection of fresh fruit and vegetables was limited and expensive (soft drinks, pasta, sauce, etc. were moderately expensive but not exceedingly so compared to Canadian prices). But it is safe, private and stunningly beautiful. It is cottage country in the Caribbean and we are already thinking of a second trip.Edited: 10:02 am, July 01, 2014