A Happy Holiday | December
It's no wonder that with crystal waters, hidden coves, and quiet harbors, the 365 cays of the Exumas have long been considered a cruiser's paradise. Truth be told, the first time I set course for the islands in December, I was skeptical. You see, I fancy myself a hardcore New Englander. I want my winter months snowy and cold. Come December I like to hit the ski slopes, not the high seas. So how did I take to spending my first winter weeks in the Exumas? I haven't longed for a white Christmas since.
One of the great things about cruising the Exumas is that with so many cays, it's possible to have a different experience every time you go. But my favorite island is Staniel Cay. As far as I'm concerned, Staniel strikes the perfect balance: It's secluded but not remote. There's an airstrip, Internet access, and a few grocery stores, but there's also privacy galore and Staniel Cay provides real variety for boaters. You can opt for the megayacht-lined docks, which are hopping this time of year, or you can anchor in one of the many protected bays.
Photographs of Staniel often feature the colorful cottages of the Staniel Cay Yacht Club (SCYC), which dot the shore like pieces of candy. When I see them from the water, I'm in instant nirvana: I've arrived. The yacht club is one of the island's few restaurants and its most popular watering hole. In December it pulses with locals and visitors alike. I challenge you to try polishing off a conch burger and a Kalik without becoming fast friends with the proprietors. Like most people you'll encounter on Staniel, the yacht-club staff is almost absurdly friendly, and within a few days they'll be greeting you Cheers-style.
Staniel's best-known attraction is the Thunderball Grotto, so-named because of its starring role in the classic James Bond flick. This hollowed-out rock is just a short dinghy ride from the yacht club. Run over at slack tide for a unique snorkeling experience that puts you smack dab in the middle of a literal fishbowl. You'll be surrounded by angelfish, puffers, and French grunts, to name a few. Best of all, the roof of the cave has eroded, creating natural skylights that highlight the marine life below.
There are so many attractions in beautiful Staniel, it's difficult to name only a few. Make your way over to pig beach, where the only company you'll have is a porcine friend. Or, if you're a jet junkie, spend a few minutes at the airstrip marveling at the impressive collection of private planes. Just be sure to follow the lead of the passengers who disembark already barefoot and clad in shorts: Relax and let yourself be lulled into island time. If you're anything like me, after a few days you'll be wondering how you ever spent December anywhere else.
Destinations To Die For
January: Plymouth Harbor, Dominica
February: The Spanish Virgin Islands
March: Mazatlan, Mexico
April: Man-O-War Cay, Bahamas
May: Southport, North Carolina
June: Greenport, New York
July: New York, New York
August: Penobscot Bay, Maine
September: Block Island, Rhode Island
October: Panama City, Florida
November: Key West, Florida
December: Staniel Cay, Bahamas
This article originally appeared in the December 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.