Many of the big cruise lines now offer a stop at their own “private island” as one of their ports. They all have nice beaches, a little shopping, plenty of watersports and a list of on-shore excursions. If you’re sailing on Carnival or Holland America, however, and you’re a true beach junkie, you’re in for a real treat. Their 2400-acre Bahamian island, Half Moon Cay, provides a beachfront oasis, complete with clear blue water, a delicious buffet, several quaint bars and enough activities to keep you well entertained.
Hop on the ferry and head over to a little slice of Bahamian paradise!
Originally purchased by Holland America in 1997 for $6 million USD, “Little San Salvador” was renamed “Half Moon Cay by the cruise line due to its 2.5 mile, crescent-shaped stretch of white sand beach. Situated in between Eleuthera and Cat Island, only a small portion of the land has been developed, leaving the rest as a natural wildlife sanctuary.
Two-story ferry boats will bring you back and forth from the ship and you’ll dock near the central downtown area. Here you will find the excursion desk, an expansive outdoor bar, the restrooms and a variety of shops, including a jewelry store, t-shirt shop and locally made souvenirs. Wander on down to the beach, start a stroll along one of the nature trails, or do some quick shopping to start your day. There’s plenty to explore here or you can simply grab a free lounge chair and enjoy the view.
First stop… the beach!
Every island has a beach. Half Moon Cay has an incredible beach. No rocks, no seaweed, plenty of space to spread out and all the amenities you need. The water is as clear, calm & blue as a swimming pool. And the sand is as soft as baby powder. If you’re a shell seeker, you won’t find any here… just miles of white sand to leave your footprints in.
The main beach, closest to where the ferry docks, can get a bit crowded, although there are plenty of lounge chairs for everyone. There is a small waterpark for the kids and a water sports desk where you can rent floats and tubes. Continuing further along this beautiful stretch, you can rent a small sailboat or stop in at Captain Morgan’s Ship for a cocktail. If it’s privacy you’re looking for, just keep walking… You’ll find scattered chairs and hammocks all along the way or simply spread out your towel and enjoy your own private spot with the water all to yourself.
Need some modern conveniences? Half Moon Cay has you covered!
If you need a little shade, some air conditioning and the essentials from home, Carnival offers 2 types of Cabana Rentals. Starting at 279 USD, the smaller, open air cabanas are furnished with an air conditioner, fridge, table with chairs and an assortment of snacks, soft drinks & bottled water. Outside, enjoy the view from your private terrace & cool off under your own misting shower. For real luxury, the 2-story “Beach Villas” offer all of the above plus a 5-person hot tub, additional indoor seating, upgraded snacks & drinks and the use of floats and snorkel gear for 499 USD.
The beautifully painted cabanas are centrally located, just past Captain Morgan’s. They’re a great option if traveling with small children or you have a large group that can share the cost. They do sell out quickly however, so plan to book online through the cruise line’s web site as soon as you book your cruise.
Dive right in with an activity booked through your ship…
When sailing with Carnival, there are many excursions to take advantage of on Half Moon Cay, including the usual snorkeling, kayaking & boat tours. For a great overview of the island and its history, book an early “Island Tram Calypso Tour.” This informative 45-minute ride will give you a general lay of the land, with a few stops for pictures and an introduction to several of the other noteworthy activities you can enjoy here. This is a great way to start your day on the island.
If you feel like interacting with the wildlife, there are 2 popular excursions you may wish to try. For only 29.99 USD, the 1-hour “Stingray Adventure” brings you right into the water for a firsthand look (and feel!) of these amazing creatures. Learn about their habitat, their feeding and breeding habits and more. If you’ve ever wanted to ride a horse on the beach, “Horseback Riding by Land & Sea” will give you that amazing opportunity for 99.99 USD. Ride along the nature trails up to the highest point on the island for an incredible panoramic view and then venture along the beach and into the water for a swim. The horses and stables are in great shape and provide a unique 1-hour ride.
Lunch is served with enough choices to please everyone in your party…
Lunchtime on some of these islands can be disappointing. Not so on Half Moon Cay. A buffet lunch is included in this beach day, and is surprisingly delicious. Served from 11:30am to 1:30pm, you’ll want to head over early to the “Tropics Restaurant” to guarantee little waiting and plenty of seating. From the grill, they offer hamburgers, hot dogs & jerk chicken with accompanying tomatoes, onions and pickles. Sides include chips & fresh salsa, a couscous salad, grilled vegetables, cole slaw, potato salad, fresh fruit & a variety of desserts. Drinks are the standard ship offerings of lemonade, iced tea & water. Everything is fresh and tasty and the dining area is very clean and well serviced.
If you need a cocktail to go with your lunch, grab your ship’s charge card and head to one of the island’s 4 bars. The most interesting and spacious is Captain Morgan’s Bar, a 3-story pirate ship right on the beach, complete with cannons and a stained glass portrait of the Captain himself. Several other small spots will also provide a quick cocktail… for a great photo opportunity, have your picture taken under the sign at the “I Wish I Could Stay Here Forever” bar.
A day to relax... and to remember!
The real attraction here is simply what the Bahamas are known for… sun, sea and sand. The crystal clear water, with an aqua blue reflection from the sky, and a white sand beach that seems to go on forever make this spot a tropical haven. Whether you decide to swim, sunbathe or explore… It’s hard to find another cruise line’s private island that competes with the unspoiled landscape and variety of offerings found at Half Moon Cay.
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