The Bahamas is one of the more popular stops for Caribbean cruises, offered by nearly every cruise line out there. With so many options and cruise lines visiting the islands, how do you know which ones are among the best? If you're in the market to book a cruise to the Bahamas, here are five great options to consider.
Disney Cruise Line
Disney cruises to the Bahamas are ideal for families and for people who want shorter options, as they offer three-, four-, and five-night cruises that depart from Port Canaveral in Florida and stop in Nassau and Disney's private island, Castaway Cay.
For fans of Disney, both young and old, there is no shortage of things to do. There are lots of activities for teenagers and kids while adults will enjoy the spectacular dining and evening activities. And, there are character meet-and-greets of course. The downside according to some reviewers, though, is that with the popularity of the Disney brand, you can expect to find loads of lines. Lines for character greetings are to be expected, and others note the pools are often packed throughout the day.
Castaway Cay is a three-mile island that is owned by Disney and is perfectly themed, so it's great to go walking the long distance to the beaches to check out the details. There are three beaches:
- Family Beach: Open to all ages and where you'll find a majority of activities like Pelican Plunge, a floating water slide
- Teen Beach: For the teenagers on board and filled with lots of activities like volleyball and tetherball
- Serenity Bay: Adults-only beach
There are plenty of other things to do on Castaway Cay that cost money, including boat and cabana rentals, massages, drinks, and even snorkeling with stingrays at Stingray Adventure. Snorkeling at the Snorkeling Lagoon is free, but you will pay for equipment rental. Don't miss the Snorkeling Lagoon as there are even some "hidden" Disney elements here. Some people opt to go back to the ship to eat, but there is a BBQ available at no extra charge on the island.
One of the things that sets Castaway Cay apart from some other islands is that the Disney ships can dock right at the pier versus needing to anchor offshore and tender in, making it more convenient.
Purchase souvenirs here that say Castaway Cay as they aren't available onboard, but try to avoid sundries as they are extremely pricy. Check the Travel Mama's Castaway Cay post for more information on the do's and don'ts of the island.
Disney Cruise Pricing
An example itinerary is a five-night Bahamian Cruise from Port Canaveral with two stops at Castaway Cay aboard the Disney Dream. You'll have a day in Nassau, two opportunities to enjoy Castaway Cay, and a full day at sea. Rates for a June departure start at $3,865 for an inside cabin.
For the traveler that wants it all and wants to experience sailing on one of the mega-ships, consider Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas. Cruises depart from Cape Liberty in New Jersey, so you have some at-sea time to enjoy all the ship's amenities, including unique features like bumper cars, a skydiving simulator, and the North Star viewing capsule that extends out and over the water. You also get the opportunity to visit Royal Caribbean's own private island, Coco Cay. Travel + Leisure also included Anthem of the Seas on their list of top picks for best cruises to the Bahamas.
There are a lot of pluses to Anthem of the Seas, and Cruise Critic also rates it high, with an editor rating of 4.5 out of 5.0. Some of the cool quantum-class features are the rooms with virtual balconies that have floor-to-ceiling ultra-HD screens and feature real-time views of the ocean and ports visited. Family travelers will also take interest in this ship with its interconnected family staterooms while solo travelers will find studio staterooms with balconies are a notch above Norwegian's studio cabins.
With an overwhelming number of restaurants available, food travelers should look at Royal Caribbean's itineraries on Anthem of the Seas. Three restaurants were developed in association with celebrity chefs, and there is another one, Wonderland, that represents the cruise line's first experiment with molecular gastronomy. All these cost an extra fee, but they're worth it for the food travelers wanting a better experience than the standard dining room options.
CocoCay is a 140-acre island in the Bahamas' Berry Islands and it is open to guests on Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises. Check out Caylana's Aqua Park, Royal Caribbean's floating playground. Go parasailing, take an eco-tour, go kayaking, snorkel, or just relax in a hammock on the beach. Royal Caribbean has also made enhancements at South Beach with new amenities like complimentary shuttle transfer, lounge chairs, floating bar, bungalows, loungers, and beach beds.
Royal Caribbean Pricing
Royal Caribbean offers one of the longer cruise itineraries here with a nine-night Bahamas cruise that starts at $659 per person. This is the ideal itinerary to maximize your time on the ship as well as having ample time in the Bahamas. You'll stop in Orlando, Miami, Nassau, and CocoCay.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Cruise Line offers a seven-night Bahamian cruise departing from New York, which is great for those looking to combine a cruise with some time in New York City. This particular itinerary also stops at three different islands in the Bahamas, more than many other cruise options.
Norwegian is great for a variety of travelers based on your particular needs. Solo travelers love NCL as they often have a number of single studio cabins available on the ship which helps save money. Families and romantic travelers love the high percentage of cabins with balconies. USA Today includes Norwegian as one of their top picks for the best Bahamas cruise, noting it has one of the best value-for-dollar ratios in the industry.
Great Stirrup Cay
Great Stirrup Cay is NCL's private island in the Bahamas. It was the first private resort developed by a cruise line in the Caribbean. When compared to some of the other private islands, NCL's is the most cramped and has some rocky terrain along the water.
Norwegian lists a three-day Bahamas cruise from Miami on Norwegian Sky as one of their best cruises for singles. There is a free open bar and activities geared towards singles, like Sailing Solo & Mingle and Social Local Hours. This Norwegian cruise stops in Nassau and Great Stirrup Cay was also voted as best night life by Frommer's. Rates start at $399 per person.
MSC Cruises is known for its attention to detail with onboard amenities and catering to European travelers. The MSC Divina is more focused towards North American travelers and makes Travel + Leisure's list of best cruises to the Bahamas.
Families will also want to take a closer look at MSC Cruises with their liberal kids sail "free" policy. Starting Summer 2018, the policy includes two categories of children 11 and under who won't pay a cruise fare when sharing a stateroom with two full-fare paying adults. Taxes and fees are still charged, and the offer is only available on a limited basis. Kids aged 12 to 17 may also qualify for a free cruise fare when sharing a cabin with two full fare-paying adults. Fees and taxes still apply, and this offer only extends to select sailings during low and mid-season. MSC also offers a variety of babysitting and specialty services for adults with very young children.
U.S. Today Travel News rates the MSC Divina an overall 3.7 and rates the cruise line as their No. 5 pick for best cruises for families. Their negatives revolve around the fact that beverages (including soft drinks) are not included, shore excursions cost extra, and dining options are limited when compared to other lines.
Rates are very reasonable for MSC itineraries, with an eight-day/seven-night option departing from Miami starting at only $349 for an interior cabin. You'll also visit the U.S. Virgin Islands and Antigua and Barbuda.
Holland America Cruise Line, or HAL, is one of the preferred cruise lines for senior citizens and retired people. Guide for Seniors ranks it as one of their top five picks for cruise lines as well, because they can accommodate guests with special needs and medical conditions, have a medical facility with onboard physicians, offer wheelchair accessible staterooms, and they welcome service animals. HAL often offers special rates for singles and senior citizen discounts.
Half Moon Cay
Half Moon Cay is Holland America's private island in the Bahamas. According to Forbes, the island has been rated the "Best Private Island" by Porthole Cruise Magazine for 16 years. It's located on Little San Salvador Island and the rule is it must remain 98% undeveloped as an international bird sanctuary. Prior to HAL's purchase, the island was owned by Norwegian Cruise Line. Because Carnival is the parent company of Holland America, their ships use the island when HAL cruises are not there.
Guests to Half Moon Cay can snorkel, dive, parasail, kayak, windsurf, go horseback riding, rent beachfront cabanas, and more. There are also food facilities, several bars, a playground, and water park at the beach end closest to the tender pier. The bird preserve is at a remote part of the island.
Bahamas Cruise Pricing
Choose an 11-day Eastern Caribbean/Bahamas itinerary that departs and returns to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It's basically a combination of two shorter cruises put together. You'll spend two days in the Dominican Republic (Amber Cove and Samana), a day in St. Thomas, one in Half Moon Cay, and then sail back to Florida. You'll then head back to Half Moon Cay, Nassau, and back to Florida once again. Interior rates for a November departure start at $569 per person.
If you're looking for a more intimate cruise option to the Bahamas, consider cruising on your own chartered yacht. Aside from the ability to enjoy a private cruise with no one else on board, small yachts have the ability to visit other places large cruise ships can't. Moorings offers two options to visit some of the most beautiful parts of the Bahamas.
This lesser-known group of islands are located in the northern part of the Bahamas. You'll find shallow waters and gentle trade winds. The Abacos are a 120-long chain of islands that covers over 650 square miles. The area is full of small resorts and marinas. Some of the highlights include:
- Great Abaco and Little Abaco: Often considered the "mainland" of the Abacos
- Marsh Harbour: City amenities and downtown area to explore
- Treasure Cay: Pristine beaches and a beautiful golf course for those interested in playing a few holes
- Elbow Cay and Green Turtle Cay: Old English loyalist settlements with colonial architecture and Bahamian pastels
- Guana Cay: Check out a Sunday BBQ and the island's seven-mile-long beach
If you have flexibility in scheduling your itinerary, consider visiting over the Christmas and New Year's holidays where you can enjoy Christmas festivals, carnivals, and a special New Year's Day Junkanoo Parade.
An example of an all-inclusive package on Moorings with a captain and chef on board is around $17,990 for two passengers on a seven-night Abacos cruise in September. You'll be on a 4800 catamaran that has four cabins and sleeps up to 6 people. You can save a lot of money by sailing or manning a power boat all on your own for the journey, but the idea of a cruise is to be pampered and relaxed, so it's worth it to go for the crewed option.
Located about 35 miles southeast of Nassau, the Exumas is home to some of the most pristine areas of the Bahamas. The Exumas is made up of 365 islands and cays, the ideal location for an intimate leisurely cruise. Highlights in the Exumas include:
- Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park: One of the largest protected marine parks in the world
- Big Major Spot: Enjoy swimming around with the famous swimming pigs
- Compass Cay: Swim with nurse sharks
A seven-night all-inclusive cruise packages to the Exumas on Moorings can run around $17,930 for two passengers on a 4800 Catamaran, with four cabins that can sleep up to six passengers.
If the price of a Moorings private charter is out of your budget, consider the Liberty Fleet windjammer cruises. These are historic tall ships that offer the intimate cruise experience with only 24 passengers, but at a much lower cost than a private sailing charter. There is a cook on board who prepares all the meals, including seasonal seafood like lobster.
Days are lazy as you anchor off some gorgeous islands and turquoise waters. Enjoy wildlife viewing, interact with locals, and spend your day enjoying activities like paddle boarding, snorkeling, kayaking, and hiking. You can even partake in sailing as you work alongside the crew learning how to tend the sails or steer the boat.
Itineraries typically visit Eleuthera Island, Exumas, and some unnamed islands, with cruises starting and ending in Nassau. Cruises run from Sunday to Saturday and there is an age requirement of 10 and older on board. These are ideal cruises for people who aren't interested in all the onboard activities with large cruise ships and are perfectly satisfied with no set itinerary. Since these cruises are on a smaller vessel, the itinerary is determined by the winds and weather. What you may see on a cruise one week would likely be different a month later.
Liberty Cruise Prices
Solo travelers may be interested in the Windjammer cruises as well because pricing is based on single people in shared cabins. You can pay extra as a single and book a private cabin. Couples and parties should book a double, but need to book in even numbers. Cruises can fill up quickly, so it's good to book far in advance, especially if you want a private cabin. An example for a double cabin in February can start around $1,364 per person. Cruises only run from November through May, so factor that in your planning.
Weather in the Bahamas
The Bahamas is subject to Atlantic hurricane season, which typically lasts from June to November. The rainiest months in the Bahamas tend to be May and June, with the northern islands receiving about twice as much rain as the southern islands.
There is year-round warm weather with winter lows averaging around 70F and summer highs around 80-90F with high humidity. It tends to get cooler at night, dropping sometimes 5-7 degrees.
Choosing the Right Bahamas Cruise
Choosing the "best" Bahamas cruise is really a personal choice based on what is most important to you. Do you want a short itinerary, multiple days on a private island like Holland America offers, great theming like Disney, or to party all night on a mega ship like Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas? Maybe you want to be the only people around and visit small uninhabited islands that no one else has heard of. No matter which cruise you choose, you'll get to experience one of the most beautiful and pristine areas of the world in the Bahamas.