View from porch of lavender bungalow at Staniel Cay Yacht Club

I think this winter will go down in history as the longest. winter. ever. Snow, sleet, icy roads, frigid temperatures, $400 heating bills — I’m over it. If you, too, are officially ready to tell this winter to suck it, I’ll let you in on a little secret that’s helping me get through to spring.

I’m talking about going to the Bahamas.

Stunning airplane view of the Bahamas en route to Staniel Cay from Nassau

This is my kind of watercolor: Bahamas-style.

OK, maybe not right now. I mean, if you can swing it, go for it. But let’s assume you can’t just hop on a plane and leave endless winter behind for tropical paradise. Just go to the Bahamas in your mind.

Susan in a Bahamas state of bliss

I was fortunate enough to go for real in December, and we took a lot of photos during the trip so we could capture paradise and bring it back to Ohio with us. See how happy I was? I literally had this smile on my face for the entire trip. No kids. No work. No wifi (to speak of). No laundry, cooking or other housework bullshit. Just pure bliss.

The view of our dock from the Staniel Cay Yacht Club bungalow we called home.

The whole experience was like a dream. We left the kids at home with our amazing neighbors (possible candidates for sainthood?), and joined my parents, aunt and uncle, cousin and her husband, and my brother and sister-in-law for a week on Staniel Cay. Staniel Cay lies approximately 75 miles south of Nassau and 250 miles of southeast of Florida. The island itself is less than 2 square miles in area.

Water-side view of Staniel Cay Yacht Club bungalows

Each couple had our own bungalow on the water at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, an all-inclusive resort that’s small, authentic, low-key and impossibly gorgeous. Staniel Cay (pronounced “key”) is part of the Bahamian island chain called the Exuma Cays, so all you need is a boat (which came with our cottage) to explore the nearby islands, uninhabited beaches and snorkeling spots.

Snorkeling at Thunderball Grotto

I’ve never snorkeled before. My first experience happened at Thunderball Grotto (featured in the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball), just a brief boat trip from our resort.

I was blown away. Once you put on that mask and breathing tube and start exploring what’s beneath the water’s surface, it really feels like you’ve entered a different world. Sounds corny, but I really felt like I was “just one of the fish” swimming around.

Inside Thunderball Grotto
Swimming into the actual grotto (which is an underwater cave) was a bit of a challenge (the current can be strong) but totally worth it. There’s a whole coral reef ecosystem in there, and plus there’s the whole “I’M SWIMMING IN A FREAKIN’ CAVE” effect. We had to be careful not to touch any of the coral or sea life with our fins — it’s so fragile and we humans don’t need to screw things up with our clumsy ways.

Snorkeling with your best dog friend

How cute is this dog snorkeling with his person? What a trooper.

Bahamian sunset
The rumors are true. Sunsets in the Bahamas are, indeed, breathtaking. (Sunrises, too, for that matter.)

The Bahamas night sky is no joke. Lack of light pollution means stunning views of constellations.

Without light pollution to interfere, here’s a view of the night sky — more constellations than I knew existed!

Our family gathered on the beach in the Exuma Cays

My family cruised around in our respective boats seeking the next amazing beach. There were more to discover than we could possibly explore. Sand here feels like the silkiest, smoothest grains of sugar. And just about everywhere we went? No people. Just us. Totally eliminated my stereotyped view of the Bahamas as one big cruise-shippy tourist trap.

Stingray doing his thing in the Exumas Land and Sea Park

I much preferred checking out this enormous stingray from the comfort of our boat, rather than swimming with him. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t bother us, but just the same, the barbed stingers on that massive tail are nothing to mess with.

Surrounded by colorful fish while snorkeling in the Exumas

Underwater photos of the fish, coral and other sea creatures don’t do justice to the array of colors we saw while snorkeling. Something must happen to light when it goes through water, allowing human eyes to see a rainbow-like spectrum but limiting cameras to fewer colors.

Happy people are a 2-minute walk from anywhere on Staniel Cay.

The people of Staniel Cay are part of this island's charm.

Walking and cycling around the island, we noticed a lot of charming, rustic signs. They represent the people we met on Staniel Cay quite accurately — everyone was just as friendly, down-to-earth and welcoming as their signs.

Reading and relaxing by the pool at Staniel Cay Yacht Club.

I don’t know about you, but I never have enough time to read in regular life. During this vacation, I made up for lost time by tearing through two novels and a book of short stories my mom (retired English professor and avid reader) recommended. The club’s pool provided an ideal spot to recline and read to my heart’s content.

Although small, Staniel Cay has most of what anyone could need: a church, post office, library, three small retail shops and a marine supply store.

Hiking the rugged and beautiful north ridge of Staniel Cay, you can glimpse the strip of land between the rough Atlantic ocean waves and the more serene side blocked by the island.

Hiking the rugged and beautiful north ridge of Staniel Cay, you can glimpse the strip of land between the rough Atlantic ocean waves and the more serene side blocked by the island.

We may have loved Pirate Beach on Staniel Cay more than all the other beaches we tried.

view-from-pirate-beach

One of the Staniel Cay's most delicious dishes: Conch Fritter Po-Boy Sandwich.

My cousin Morgan (who just finished her first trimester of pregnancy when we arrived in the Bahamas) chowed down on one of the club’s most delicious dishes: Conch Fritter Po-Boy Sandwich. Good thing she was eating for two, ’cause those Po-Boys were huge!

Staniel Cay Yacht Club has been an established part of the Staniel Cay community since 1956.

The bar inside the Staniel Cay Yacht Club has so much rich history (established in 1956), as evidenced by the burgees hanging from the ceiling and all the historic photos and memorabilia displayed on the walls.

We opted not to swim with Staniel Cay's famous swimming pigs--cute as they were--because, well, you know what they're probably doing in the water around you. Still, look at that snout! Awwww...

Brought by locals many years ago to Big Major’s Spot, Staniel Cay’s famous swimming pigs do greet you when you arrive in your skiff. We opted not to swim with these guys–cute as they were–because, well, you know what they’re probably doing in the water around you. Still, look at that snout! Awwww…

The clock hanging behind the yacht club's bar pretty much summed up our vibe on this vacation.

The clock hanging behind the yacht club’s bar pretty much summed up our vibe on this vacation. Looking at our photos makes me want to go back, like NOW! Until next time the magical alignment of the stars allows this trip to happen again, I’ll have to settle for going in my mind.

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