Keeping Island Time

Who says time flies when you're having fun? Here at this cozy Bahamian hideaway, the pace slows to a sea turtle's saunter.

Abaco Dolphin Resort
Photo: Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn 
 
would-be passengers scurry to Marsh Harbour's dock as the 1:15 ferry pulls away. Staring helplessly out to sea, they watch the boat point its bow toward tiny Great Guana Cay 30 minutes away. With an hour to kill until the next ferry, the left-behind tourists huddle to discuss options. Should they catch a cab into town or take a quick boat trip to a nearby island?

Having witnessed this scene countless times, a clerk at the harborside dive shop shakes her head and volunteers advice: "Da ting ta do is chill," she says in her beguiling accent. "Chill at da bar 'til da ferry comes." Her suggestion could very well be the motto of the Abacos, a cluster of islands at the northern tip of the Bahamas.

   
  Interactive Color: Caribbean Hues 
 
   Play with the bright Caribbean hues found on the walls of this Bahamian hidaway.
 
 

Tropical breezes and welcoming locals make relaxing a likely proposition here. But never more so than at Great Guana, a slender 7-mile-long cay sandwiched between the Sea of Abaco and the Atlantic.qWith fewer than 100 full-time residents, the island has no bank, no post office, and no police station. It does have 5 miles of downy-soft beach, a stunning marine playground for divers, and exceptional lodging in its Dolphin Beach Resort.

Fanned out over 10 acres, the oceanside inn mingles a laid-back Bahamian attitude with upscale Caribbean ambience. Managing partners Nancy and Bruce McDaniel anticipate every need, but also arm folks with enough knowledge to explore Guana on their own-that is, if they ever leave the resort.

Here, lush vegetation lends a feeling of seclusion. A labyrinth of boardwalks and sandy paths links seven handcrafted cottages with the main lodge and common areas, including a freshwater pool, game room, and gift shop. Cottages are sited for easy access to the deserted beach, one of the Bahamas' best.

Nancy's obsession with detail legitimizes Dolphin Beach's "resort" status. Fresh-cut flowers and a bottle of Chardonnay await guests upon arrival. Beach chairs and umbrellas mysteriously appear in front of the cottages each morning. Under the McDaniels' gentle guidance, the 25 staff members provide personal attention with broad smiles. "They appear to be part of one big family," says first-time visitor Art Garrett, "from the managers on across."

The cottages combine the rusticity of summer camp with the casual charm of a Ralph Lauren retreat. Vibrant furniture sits atop striped rag rugs and painted floors. As befitting a true hideaway, Dolphin Beach conspicuouslypomits in-room phones, alarm clocks, and cable TV (though cottages come equipped with VCRs and CD players). And there are no black-out shades. "After a while, everyone switches to island time," Nancy says. "Like farmers, they wake up with the sun and go to bed with the sun."

s enchanting as the cottages are, guests spend little time in them. They're lured outside by the sun and sea-and the activities around them. A low-impact option includes beachcombing. For the more adventurous, on-site Dive Guana offers scuba and snorkeling excursions to the area's majestic coral reefs. Dolphin Beach also provides complimentary bikes, surfboards, sea kayaks, and kiteboards.

Guests who eventually do leave the resort rent golf carts, the island's main form of transportation, and explore the Settlement skirting Kidd's Cove (named for the infamous pirate, who-according to local lore-frequented the isle). Rugged roads lead to the colorful clapboard homes of locals, mainly descendants of British Loyalists who fled Virginia and the Carolinas during the Revolutionary War. Sitting on their front porches, hospitable natives often wave tourists in for a snack or beverage.

Those in need of the latter will find no shortage of places to get one. Nippers Beach Bar & Grill, a short walk from Dolphin Beach, is wildly popular (emphasis on "wild"), attracting day-trippers from nearby islands.

Around 5 p.m., Dolphin Beach guests trickle down the sandy path that leads to the resort's Landing Bar & Grill. Here, under a sweeping buttonwood tree, patrons chat as the sun slips behind the horizon. One visitor couldn't find her husband on their first day. "Two and a half hours later, I went looking for him," she says. He was there under the tree, "kicked back with a Kalik [Bahamian beer], talking it up with the locals. You'd have thought they'd known him all his life."

Offering an equally authentic yet more upscale experience, the resort's brand-new Blue Water Grill and Red Sky Lounge serves delicious Bahamian fare with breathtaking bay views. Executive chef Dietmar "Didi" Uiberreiter, who hails from Austria, runs the kitchen alongside Abaconian chef Debbie MacIntosh. Together they create diverse menus featuring the freshest seafood.

Sated and sleepy, many people head back to their cottages after dinner. Others linger a while, heeding the words of the dive-shop clerk: Da ting ta do is chill.

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