Fabulous beaches and relatively affordable prices continue to make Grand Bahama Island a year-round destination. Weather also enhances its continued popularity. Even though the island is in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf Stream's forever-warm waters make its beaches, particularly those at the western tip, desirable even in winter. The Little Bahama Bank protects the island from the storms that roar in from the northeast. Grand Bahama Island is also easy to get to, given that it's only 81km (50 miles) east of Palm Beach, Florida.

Despite some cutting-edge architectural development in the late 1990s near Lucayan Beach, the island may never return to its high-roller days of the '60s. In that era, everybody from Howard Hughes to Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack showed up to feud, play, act out, maneuver, manipulate, and overindulge.

However, recent improvements in Port Lucaya and massive redevelopment on the island's West End have brought a smile back to its face, which had grown wrinkled and tired in the late 20th century. But downtown Freeport is still blighted by the closure and continuing decay of a mega-resort that once flourished as its centerpiece, the Crowne Plaza. That scar has, regrettably, extended into the island's once-fabled shopping mall, the International Bazaar. Because of the lack of business and "the morgue" -- that is, the sprawling, storm-damaged corpse of the nearby Crowne Plaza -- the shopping area remains in a state of decline.

Still, Grand Bahama is the most popular tourist destination in The Bahamas besides Paradise Island. It's just 81km (50 miles) and less than 30 minutes by air off the Florida coast, and is the northernmost and fourth-largest landmass in The Bahamas (118km/73 miles long and 6.5-13km/4-8 miles wide).

Freeport/Lucaya was once just a dream. Wallace Groves, a Virginia-born financier, saw the prospect of developing the island into a miniature Miami Beach. Almost overnight in the 1950s, the low-lying pine forest transformed into one of the world's major resorts. Today, although the island's center of gravity has firmly shifted from Freeport to Lucaya, Groves's dream has at least been partially realized.

The Lucaya district was developed 8 years after Freeport, as a coastal resort center, and has evolved into a blend of residential and tourist facilities. As the two communities grew, their identities became almost indistinguishable. But elements of their original purposes still exist today. Freeport is the downtown area, attracting visitors with its commerce, industry, and resorts. Meanwhile, Lucaya is called the "Garden City" and pleases residents and vacationers alike with its fine beaches.

Grand Bahama is more than an Atlantic City clone, however. If you don't care for gambling or if shopping is not your scene, try one of the alternatives. You can commune with nature at plenty of quiet places, including the Rand Nature Centre. Lucayan National Park -- with its underwater caves, forest trails, and secluded beach -- is another major attraction. Just kilometers from Freeport/Lucaya are serene places where you can wander in a world of casuarina, palmetto, and pine trees. During the day, you can enjoy long stretches of beach, broken by inlets and fishing villages. Because the island is so big, most of it remains relatively unspoiled.

Reviews of Grand Bahama Island are definitely mixed. Some discerning travelers who could live anywhere have built homes here; others vow never to set foot on the island again, finding it, with the exception of Port Lucaya, tacky or uninspired. Judge for yourself.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.