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Half Moon Cay — Holland America’s Private Island in The Bahamas

I stood shoulder-deep in the cool turquoise water and could see clear to my bare feet on the soft sand.  The glowing descriptions I’d heard of Caribbean beaches weren’t poetic exaggerations after all; they were true.

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Half Moon Cay is one of about 700 islands that comprise The Bahamas, the most popular destination country for premium cruisers, according to the cruising Web site CruiseCompete.

Holland America acquired Little San Salvador Island in 1996 and renamed it Half Moon Cay.  Its spectacular beach has the shape of an acute crescent.  A cay is a small tropical island atop a coral reef.  But the name really comes from the Halve Maen, a flyboat captained by Henry Hudson, who explored northeastern North America for the Dutch East India Company during the 16th and 17th centuries.

What to Do on Half Moon Cay

My family and I spent most of our time enjoying the beautiful beach, with its crystal-clear water and powder-soft sand.  It made for a relaxing day after the stressful weeks before our Caribbean cruise on HAL’s Nieuw Statendam.

We’d reserved a two-storey beach villa.  It featured a kitchen, a hot tub, and a 3/4 bathroom.  It also came supplied with snorkel fins and floating mats for everyone in our group.  Throughout the day, pleasant and polite staffers came to check on us.  They frequently replenished our bottled water and soft drinks and brought snacks including fresh fruit, plantain chips, and shrimp cocktail.

A call at Half Moon Cay also includes a complimentary barbecue buffet with Caribbean staples like jerk chicken, guava-braised short rib, Jamaican rice, and tropical fruits.  There are also a Lobster Shack, an ice-cream parlor, and several bars, including “Captain Morgan on the Rocks”, which resembles a shipwrecked three-masted schooner and flies the Jolly Roger.  The Bahamas were an enclave for pirates, as well as privateers, during the 17th and 18th centuries.

There are also souvenir shops, including a Bahamian straw market.  Active excursions include snorkelling with stingrays and horseback riding through the surf.  Some of my family spent time bird-watching.

As for me, I was happy alternating among reading on our villa’s porch, soaking in the hot tub, and wading in that crystal turquoise water.

What to Know before You Go to
Half Moon Cay

Half Moon Cay is a private island for the exclusive use of passengers cruising with Holland America or its parent company Carnival.  All Caribbean cruise itineraries for HAL ships departing from Fort Lauderdale include stops at Half Moon Cay.  There is a welcome center with an information booth on the island.

Half Moon Cay has no deep-water pier, so cruise ships must weigh anchor in the harbor.  This means that you will have to take a small ferry boat, called a tender, to the island.  The ride is about 10 minutes long.  Follow the crowds and the crew instructions, and you should be fine.   Just don’t miss the last tender at the end of the day!

Annual temperatures on Half Moon Cay range from the high 70s to the low 90s.  The sun is strong even in winter, and the beach offers little natural shade.  You may rent:  a villa (like the one our group of eight enjoyed), a smaller cabana, or a “Clamshell Sunshade”, which covers two lounge chairs.  Open lounge chairs are plentiful and complimentary.

If you book a shore excursion that requires special clothing, footwear, etc., that information should be included with its description.  If, like me, you just want to relax:  Wear your bathing suit, a nice cover-up, flip-flops, sunglasses, a big hat, and high-SPF sunscreen.  Bring a beach bag with sunscreen, reading material, a beach towel from your stateroom (do not leave it behind or you may be charged for it), and your ship key-card and cash and/or credit cards in case you want to buy something.

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