[Shane – Below is an the article I wrote for my monthly column on the Bahamas that is found in All At Sea: South Florida edition and should now be available. I hope you enjoy it and if you are in the south Florida area I would love if you picked up a copy for me. Thanks]
In most sailing magazines the articles are about sailing your own small boat to idyllic, deserted coves rimmed with powder sand beaches and palm trees. We read about the fantastic snorkeling, playing on the beach until our hearts are content, and finishing the day off with a sundowner in our cockpits.
Well this article is no different, except we are talking about ginormous cruise ships with thousands and thousands of people aboard. Actually, let me rephrase that. We are talking about the private islands of those ginormous cruise ship companies.
While many cruisers want to stay as far away from cruise ships as they can, I say let’s join them. At least for a while at their private islands, of which there are five in the Bahamas (albeit with new names).
- Castaway Cay (originally named Gorda Cay) can be found at the edge of the Bight of Abacos and is owned by Disney Cruise Line
- Half Moon Cay (originally Little San Salvador) is at the north end of Cat Island and owned by Holland America Line
- Coco Cay (originally Little Stirrup Cay) is found at the north end of the Barry Islands and is owned by Royal Caribbean
- Great Stirrup Cay (surprisingly the actual name) is right across the bay from Coco Cay and is the Norwegian Cruise Line island
- Princess Cays is not even cays, but on the southern tip of Eleuthera Island and is where paradise is found for Princess Cruise Line
You might be thinking that since these islands are private and owned by the cruise ship companies then they are off limits to us small boat cruisers. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, you are legally allowed to anchor at any island and the beach is public to the high-water mark. Even with that said I have never had an issue when I dinghy or swim ashore to any of the cruise ship islands and several times I was welcomed and told to enjoy myself.
Even though you will be with thousands of passengers, there is much to do besides laying on the beach. I have spent hours wandering through the straw markets looking at an interesting array of souvenirs for sale by locals. Off of Coco Cay I snorkeled an airplane wreck that was hauled several miles from the crash site to make it easy for the passengers. Of course, I found this out after spending an afternoon spent looking for the shipwreck in the original, and charted, location only to stumble upon it here.
While you will not be able to get a drink (cash is not accepted since the passengers use wristbands or room keys) I have even been offered to partake in the lunch buffet provided on the island. Also, many of the islands have large arrays of blow up toys like rock climbing walls, slides, trampolines, and the like. I have marveled at the line these generate even with the hefty price tag associated. As with alcohol the guest pay for this through an account, so I could not join them…..until the cruise ship left. Then we swam over and played until our hearts were content, while the staff sat on the beach playing volleyball.
That bring us to the best part of visiting a cruise ship island. Holding up a cocktail at the end of the day toasting the departing ship and its passengers as they head off and you are once again left in paradise alone aboard your floating home. Bon voyage.