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Bahamas Cruises and Cruise Lines - Choosing A Bahamas Cruise

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Comprised of nearly 700 islands and cays, the Bahamas are situated only about 60 miles off the coast of Southeast Florida. Bahamas cruises typically depart Miami or Port Canaveral for short cruises to Nassau or Freeport, but a Bahamas cruise vacation may also visit a private island operated by the cruise line. Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line all operate private islands for the exclusive use of their cruise guests on virtually every cruise. Carnival Cruise Lines call at their private island on some of their 5 day cruises.

On a typical cruise to the Bahamas, ships often dock in Nassau’s busy harbor. Be sure to visit the Straw Market, or head over to the beaches of Paradise Island or the casino at the Atlantis Resort.

You’ll notice a British ambience mixed with Caribbean cool in the Bahamas, as the islands were formerly a British colony, until 1973 when the Bahamas became an independent nation in the Commonwealth. Experience the Bahamas exotic culture and try some of the local delicacies harvested from the clear blue waters. For a real treat, try one of the many variations of conch, such as conch chowder, conch fritters or scorched conch.

A Bahamas cruise literally takes cruise passengers to paradise on a short journey from bustling South Florida.

When To Cruise?
Bahamas is a year-round cruise destination.

Ports of Departure
Bahamas cruises depart from Miami, Port Canaveral (near Orlando) and Jacksonville in Florida, from Charleston, South Carolina, and from New York, New York.

How Many Days?
Bahamas cruises are all short getaways of 3 to 5 days, except for Norwegian Cruise Line's 7 day cruises from New York.

Paradise Found: Cruise Line Private Islands on Bahamas Cruises

Disney Cruise Line's Castaway Cayby Ralph Grizzle. An award-winning travel writer, and recognized cruise ship expert.

Talk about a Caribbean cruise, and one of the first images that jumps to mind is a sun-drenched beach where children splash in the clear, blue water while adults watch and relax, alternating between sips from refreshing beverages and dips in the gentle surf. Quite understandably, people love the idea of a peaceful tropical paradise where the only pressing concern is how much sand is stuck to their feet when they slip back into their sandals.

Only a handful of cruise companies feature a long day docked at a private island, providing one of the favorite days of the trip for many passengers. These islands are owned (or leased) and operated by the cruise lines for the exclusive use of their guests.

Because private islands typically cater to only one ship a day, they serve as a perfect paradise that’s free of the crowds and the hassles that occasionally diminish the quality of visits to other ports of call. A day on a private island is a relatively hassle-free day, as there are no shuttles to meet or schedules to keep – other than catching the last tender back to the ship. Meals on the island are included, and anything else can be billed to the shipboard account.

A big plus for parents: The cruise lines run complimentary kids’ programs for each age group, making it easy for adults to grab a little time for themselves. The kids and teens are just as enthusiastic because they can hook up with friends they’ve made on board, joining a beach volleyball game or a treasure hunt.

Besides providing a picture-postcard setting complete with beach chairs, umbrellas and shaded hammocks, the private islands are set up for every sort of fun that can be organized on a public beach. The cruise lines provide beachside bar service specializing in tropical mixes, and they also offer a multitude of water sports, ranging from snorkeling to parasailing. Frequently, there are massage and spa services available, and a band will provide a pleasant soundtrack.

But perhaps more importantly, the private islands are notable for what they lack. On the private islands, cruise passengers will get none of the hard-sell from street peddlers who are often working other stops on a Caribbean cruise. And as the islands accommodate one ship at a time, with few exceptions, congestion and overcrowding are not problems.

Family Fun on Castaway CayCastaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line operates Castaway Cay, situated in the Abaco Islands, and the only private island where the ship docks, allowing guests to walk ashore without time-consuming tendering.

With long white-sand beaches, including a secluded cove just for adults, Castaway Cay offers snorkeling, jet-ski tours, kayaking, miles of bike paths, walking trails or just a relaxing day at the beach under the beach umbrella. Biking and hiking are so popular that a second nature trail was recently added. At the adults-only Serenity Bay, open-air cabanas serve as treatment rooms for massages.

Numerous excursions can be booked, with activity levels ranging from more passive glass-bottom boat tours to blood-pumping parasailing.

Royal Caribbean's Coco Cay is a 140-acre island located in the Berry Island chain between Nassau and FreeportOf course Mickey, Minnie and the gang make frequent appearances for photo-ops, and the entire island is, typical of Disney, landscaped and equipped just right. For instance, the 12-acre snorkeling course, with separate areas for beginning and experienced snorkeling, are sprinkled with amusing Disney characters that the fish use as habitat.

Coco Cay - Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean's Coco Cay is a 140-acre island located in the Berry Island chain between Nassau and Freeport. Known originally as Little Stirrup Cay, the island is within view of Great Stirrup Cay (NCL’s private island) and the snorkeling is just as good, especially around a sunken airplane and a replica of Blackbeard’s flagship, “Queen Anne’s Revenge.”

Both kids and adults enjoy Caylana’s Aqua Park — the largest in the Caribbean — where you can jump on an in-water trampoline or climb a floating sand castle before digging into a beach barbecue or exploring extensive nature trails.

Great Stirrup Cay is Norwegian Cruise Line's island paradiseGreat Stirrup Cay - Norwegian Cruise Line
The original private island operated by a cruise line, Great Stirrup Cay is just as much of an island paradise as when it was acquired by Norwegian Cruise Line in 1977. The Cay’s white sand beaches are fringed by coral reefs and offer an ideal spot for snorkeling among the large schools of tropical fish.

Permanent facilities have been added to and improved during the past three decades, but the vegetation — bougainvillea, sea grape and coconut palms — continue to serve as colorful tropical backdrops.

To control erosion and preserve the environment, a sea wall was erected along the waterfront. A straw market, water sports centers, bars, volleyball courts, and food pavilion round out the facilities. Activities include kayaking, parasailing, hiking, ping-pong and volleyball. The massage hut near the beach provides a legendary shiatsu treatment, and the hammocks strung between the palm trees beckon to those who want simply to slow down and relax.

Half Moon Cay - Carnival Cruise Lines
Little San Salvador, a Bahamian out-island, was renamed Half Moon Cay to reflect the beach’s crescent shape.

Even with development, the island is still so unspoiled that it has been named a Wild Bird Preserve by the Bahamian National Trust. Excursions include a guided kayak adventure on Bone Fish Lagoon, a protected habitat and home to numerous native species of flora.

Of special note, the Horseback Riding by Land & Sea excursion sets out on a ride along winding trails up to the highest point on the island for a panoramic view before your horse is “dressed” up for swimming in a special saddle pad and a rope halter (no saddle), after which you venture into the ocean for the sensation of riding a horse while it’s swimming.

Half Moon Cay also has a water park with waterslides for family fun, and air-conditioned private cabanas can be rented for your own beachfront retreat, with or without the services of a personal butler.