Christmas at the Abaco Inn

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Since buying the Irie Joe my parents have been spending more and more of their time here in the Bahamas. We joke with them that they might as well just move here but they say Texas is still home. Over their many trips they’ve learned that staying one extra day after packing up the boat really takes the sting out of leaving.

Their absolute favorite place to stay over is the Abaco Inn on Elbow Cay, just a few minutes down the road from Hopetown. When the boat isn’t being used it lives in Hopetown Harbour, which made transferring our bags to the Inn a cinch.

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During the Christmas holiday the Abaco Inn has a four-day booking minimum, turning what would usually be a quick stopover into a vacation in and of itself. Staying here was so relaxing, even more so than being on the boat. It’s a small boutique hotel made up of 20 or so small cabanas that surround the pool, restaurant and bar. What makes this place unique is its location on a very narrow section of the island. It is so narrow that the Inn is literally the only thing that fits between the ocean and White Sound. From the porch you can see both the breaking waves of the Atlantic and the calm shallow water of the sound. 

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The place is beautifully maintained and perfectly located but what really makes it special is the staff. Everyone is so fun and welcoming. And my parent’s have stayed there so many times now that the staff knows them by name. As we walked up people started coming up to my parents to hug them and say hello. It wasn’t like we were checking into a hotel. It felt more like we were visiting an old friend at their home.

Tom, the manager, and most of the staff have been there for years. There is even a painting of Tom in the dining room! You can tell they all know each other well and get along.

My mom has become particularly attached to a few staff members. Ellen, a waitress and mother of teenagers is always smiling and always  happy to take home the extra groceries after we’ve packed up the boat. There are always leftover paper towels, ketchup, and other pantry goods that would be a waste to throw out. The two greet each other like old friends and mom starts asking questions about Ellen’s kids. The oldest is currently planning to go to college and study medicine.

And of course, there’s everyone’s favorite bartender, Daphne! (photo below)

Me and Brandon think Daphne is our favorite bartender of any bar we’ve ever been too. That’s a pretty strong statement but we just loved her. We seriously talked about coming back here just to hang out with Daphne (as if we needed another reason).

Something we loved about the Abaco Inn was that it wasn’t just a hangout for the hotel guests. The locals and staff also liked to stop for a drink after work. By the end of our four-day stay we felt like regulars. This place is basically the Bahamian version of Cheers.

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The Abaco Inn also has something you won’t find anywhere else in the islands, a grand piano. Piano’s don’t last long in the tropics. The salty moist air warps the wood and strings, constantly bringing them out of tune. And piano tuners are hard to come by somewhere without many pianos. So my mom has been trying to play the Abaco Inn piano as much as she can while it lasts.

Singing carols is a Christmas tradition in my family. We all gather round on Christmas eve, pass around a set of tattered old songbooks, and sing about Rudolph, Santa, and Frosty. My  mom plays the piano or accordion and my dad plays the Mexican bass guitar. This year we brought the tradition to the Abacos. It was a huge hit and really made it feel like Christmas even  though we were wearing shorts and sandals.

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We didn’t spend all of our time at the Inn, however. We also rented a 24 ft. Albury skiff. Honestly, this might actually be the best way to tour the Abacos. You can get just about anywhere in about an hour with one of these. We went to visit a few of the places we had missed when on the Irie Joe.

We checked out Firefly Sunset Resort, which had great food but we found all of the drinks to be too sweet. The place is owned by the Firefly liquor company out of South Carolina that makes sweet tea flavored vodka. They make lots of other liquors too but they are all syrupy sweet. Not really my cup of tea.

We also stopped by Cracker P’s, another beach bar and restaurant that many people love. They had beach volleyball and a ton of yard games but we found the food and drinks to be mediocre. And the rumors of shark attacks right off the beach were a little concerning.

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We found this boat while putzing around in our skiff and it’s available for rent! We saw a family moving on board as we went by. Looks like a really fun boat! Probably pretty pricy to rent though the website doesn’t list a price. Check out the interior at www.barcelonaexplorercharters.com.

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My personal favorite outing was the day we went snorkeling at Tilloo Bank. This huge shifting sand bank is very shallow and has minimal vegetation. You can generally stand up and in places the water is only knee-deep. People come here to dive for sand dollars and sea biscuits. I found dozens of perfect sand dollars and the biggest sea biscuit skeleton I’ve ever seen!

But what really put this over the top were the sting rays. Brandon could spot them from above in the boat and direct me toward them. We found four of them, one of which swam right up to our boat and hung around in the shadow. Swimming with a creature that was bigger than me was incredible. Their wingspan looked to be about as wide as my own outstretched arms. I was careful not to get to close and spook them. Unfortunately, we didn’t have our underwater camera with us that day and we missed the epic photo op!

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After nearly a month in the Bahamas and almost a week in Hopetown, we still had not climbed to the top of the famous Elbow Cay lighthouse. We had taken countless pictures of it and I wrote about it here (it’s one of only three remaining hand-crank lighthouses in the world), but we had never gotten off the boat to go have a look. A trip to the top seemed a fitting end to our Bahamian adventures. My dad didn’t go with us (that many stairs would be too tough on his bad back) but my mom was a trooper and made it all the way to the top!

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After hiking up 101 metal stairs you climb out of a tiny door placed awkwardly near the floor before stepping out onto a metal walkway that looks more sketchy than it actually is.

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The  view from the top is incredible. Even if you have no interest in history or rusty old buildings you should come here just for the view. And be sure to leave a donation to the keepers of the lighthouse on your way out. The place is run entirely by volunteers and donations.

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This has been the most incredible trip but even the best adventures must eventually come to an end. Our bags are packed and ready to go. We’ll be flying back to Texas where we’re planning to spend the month of January shopping for our own little slice of Texas. Updates on that coming soon!

We’d like to extend an extra special thank you to some of the people we met in the Bahamas.

Ron and Jane, who take care of the Irie Joe and were so helpful in diagnosing our mechanical troubles — It was so much fun to finally meet you! We really enjoyed dinner with you guys at the Abaco Inn!

Pete and all the other folk of Little Harbour  — Don’t change a thing! We’ll be back soon!

Tom, Daphne, and the staff of the Abaco Inn — Thank you for putting up with our shenanigans and spontaneous sing-a-longs at the bar. You guys are the best.

And all the other countless people we met along the way, both tourists and locals — The Bahamas are beautiful but the people here are what really make it special.

And finally, a big thank you to my parents for making this whole trip possible. You guys are way too good to us. We’ll be your travel partners anytime!

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