Pros: Nice beach
Cons: Few restaurants, few entertainment possibilities, shabby island.
My wife and I recently went on vacation to the Bahamas. Wed been to Nassau in the previous year, and wanted to experience one of the outer islands. We found the Fast Ferry website, which has daily service from Nassau to Eleuthera to Harbor Island (also known as Briland) and, after reading some websites (http://www.myharbourisland.com) we decided to take the Ferry to Harbour Island.
I should say our first night was at the British Colonial Hilton in Nassau. Since we were only staying our first and last nights there, we looked for the cheapest major hotel. The Hilton was great, at $140/night, the rooms were clean and elegant.
Next, we tried to find accommodations on Harbour Island. On the internet, there appears to be perhaps 20 hotels/resorts on the island, none of which have more than 10-25 rooms available. Perhaps 7 of those resorts are up to US standards, as Ill explain later. As a few internet narratives had described, Harbour Island is expensive, and one (supposedly) can hope to bump into the rich and famous, the likes of Robin Williams, Julia Roberts, and Tim Robbins, whove been spotted on the isle. The resorts prices range from $250 to $750 (Pink Sands) per night. No small change.
The Pink Sands was a bit out of our price range, and the travel sites suggested either the Coral Sands or Romora Bay Club, both around $300 a night. Both resorts had nice websites and a few reviews, but .. well .. I admit, I watch TV to fill time, and the Coral Sands rooms did not come with TV, while the Romora did. The Romora Bay, however, was on the Harbor side of the island, where the famous pink sand beach was about a 5 minute walk away.
We chose the Romora Bay, knowing wed only be on the island for 3 days, and since the islands preferred transportation was rented golf carts, we knew getting to the beach would be a short ride.
Speaking of the golf carts, if you go to Harbour Island, rent one immediately at the Fast Ferry terminal. The carts go for about $35-45/day. There are dozens of people trying to rent them to you, and theres just no reason to take a taxi anywhere. We made the mistake of taking a taxi to the Romora Bay, then renting a cart near the hotel, which was a mistake, since we then needed to take another taxi back down to the ferry. Sure, the island is only 3.5 miles long, but thats a long way to walk with luggage.
Im not sure how to describe the Romora Bay, other than to say it sure doesnt look like a $300/night resort! The lobby and common areas are small and somewhat dingy. Additionally, the landscaping around the campus is far from manicured, for example, the steps leading around the resort are cracked, broken, and dangerous. There is no fencing around the resort, which means the islands colorful roosters are a constant in the courtyard.
We were given a room overlooking the harbour, which, by the way, is quite nice. Certainly, its not as nice as overlooking the beach, but you are mere steps away from the ocean and its not like looking at a crummy marina, as theres a large gap between you and Eleuthera. Our room, about 20 feet from the small pool and deck, seemed nice as we entered. We had A/C and a small TV (with broken remote!) and a phone and simple bathroom. I cant say that the room was clean, up to US standards, as the floor seemed dirty, as were the bathroom walls and sink, which my wife really disliked. Overall, Id give our room a B-.
The Romora Bay did have a restaurant, but we counted only 1 couple who actually ate there. Im not sure, but I think it only had one set menu for each night, usually a seafood item, which was why we chose to explore the islands other restaurants.
The Romora Bay did have some entertainment amenities, like a broken old pool table (balls kept dropping out of the pockets, etc.) some checkers & chess boards, along with some board games. My wife retrieved their copy of Trivial Pursuit one night, only to find out it was in French, as were many of the books in the library. They did have several dozen relatively decent movies one could watch on the TV/VCR in each room.
When we checked out of the Romora Bay, I was surprised to be given a $120 bill, since Id pre-paid the room already. What was the extra amount? $30 in tax, plus $30 in gratuities each day. Suddenly, our $300 a night room was really $360. Unreal. The only service Id been given is that my bags were delivered to my room, and, I suppose, two maid services, which was basically a quick make-the-bed / fold the towels event.
Certainly to be noted, every restaurant you go to in the Bahamas will automatically insert a 15% gratuity on your bill AND give you ample opportunity to tip even more. I have to say I really dont like that. Im a good tipper and like to reward good service while tipping less for poor service. I really hate not having that ability in the Bahamas.
All in all, Id have to give the Romora Bay Beach Club a thumbs down. If it was marketed as a discount resort, I could understand, but $300 (plus $60) a night gives an uninformed visitor the idea that this place should be a 3-4 star hotel, when in reality, its more like a 2 star club. On another note, I was chatting with a local, who suggested that the Romora was disliked on the island, as the management was crooked and few wanted to work there. This was simple gossip, of course, but it wouldnt surprise me.
I want to make a few other comments about Harbour Island itself. Honestly, I really dont understand why people go there. Seriously. From the internet reviews, it would seem like its a place the rich and/or famous might go to relax. I suppose this is true, as the pink sand beach is quite nice. But really, thats the only thing the island has to offer. There are, perhaps, 7 restaurants on the island, which do indeed, serve excellent food. (As always, dining is expensive, as lunch for the two of us was usually around $40, with dinner around $80.) After 2-3 days, youve hit every restaurant on the island. Ok, sure, there are a dozen places the locals go for food, too. But quite frankly, there are many shabby establishments on Harbour Island.
I think the basic rule of thumb for Harbour Island is that any business, house, or resort thats directly on the ocean is nice and well maintained, while the other 90% of the island is nothing short of a DUMP. -- Im talking about dozens upon dozens of dilapidated buildings and dirt poor housing. Im talking about roosters and stray dogs walking around the island, eating trash out of garbage bins. It is not a pretty sight, and since none of the resorts are big or captivating enough for you to stay put, youll certainly want to explore the small island, which takes perhaps 15 minutes to circumnavigate on a golf cart going 12 MPH. I understand the standard of living is different in tropical areas, but for an exclusive island, I expected more than semi-squalid conditions.
Want to spend some money and go shopping? Ok, you can go to one of the two decent shops on the island and buy some stuff. Sure, there are a dozen other dilapidated shacks that sell Shells n Tings but quite frankly, they are too seedy looking to go into.
I should reiterate that my wife and I had a halfway decent time with our vacation on Harbour Island. There are some pretty areas, the beach is quite nice, there arent a zillion people on the island, and it certainly isnt touristy. That being said, we were spending about $500 per day for food and lodging for two people (who dont drink or eat much!) and, while Im no travel agent, there are dozens of islands in the Caribbean that have nice beaches, a variety of food, a modicum of shopping, and more entertainment possibilities than a few local bars that serve rum, that will cost you $500/day or less.