June 18, 2024

Half Moon Cay – A Bahamian Paradise

Half Moon Cay has a beautiful and soft white beach on which to enjoy a long walk.

The palm-fringed cays of the Bahamas have long attracted a motley assortment of inhabitants – from pirates and salvagers to today’s seclusion-seeking celebrities, including Johnny Depp and the Aga Khan. For those of us who can’t afford such tropical solitude, the good news is that several cruise lines also own private Bahamian islands for the enjoyment of their passengers.

Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line pioneered the concept of the private island experience when it purchased Great Stirrup Cay in 1977. Other cruise lines have since followed suit. Royal Caribbean acquired the neighboring island of Little Stirrup Cay and changed its name to Coco Cay. Disney Cruise Line owns Castaway Cay, which was called Gorda Cay when Tom Hanks first encountered Daryl Hannah here in the 1980s movie Splash. Princess Cays, owned by Princess Cruises, is a private beach resort located on the southern tip of Eleuthera Island. Nearby is Half Moon Cay, voted Best Private Island for 16 years running by readers of Porthole Cruise Magazine.

Holland America Line ship at anchor near Half Moon Cay.

Half Moon Cay is the private island I visited one March on an 11-day roundtrip cruise from Fort Lauderdale aboard Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam. This was our first port of call en route to the Panama Canal and the day ashore at this idyllic island proved to be the perfect place to kick back and unwind at the start of our cruise.

Like most seaborne arrivals, our first glimpse of Halfmoon Cay was at dawn when a cluster of low-lying Bahamian islands gradually revealed themselves in the pearly pink glow of a rising sun. Only a few fellow passengers were on deck to watch while our ship slowly approached this small island lying between Eleuthera and Cat Island, where Sidney Poitier grew up.

As the ship’s anchor was lowered, Bill and I headed to the lido for breakfast. While lingering over our morning coffee and croissants, we observed the first tenders taking passengers to the island. We hadn’t booked a shore excursion, so there was no need to rush ashore – which is just as well when you’re cruising with teenagers. By the time our boys were up and ready to go, there was no line-up for the tenders and we were soon disembarking at the island’s marina.

Map of Bahamas shows location of Half Moon Cay.

Half Moon Cay, originally called Little San Salvador when purchased for $6 million by Holland America Line in 1996, was renamed for the 17th-century Dutch sailing ship captained by Henry Hudson. Upon acquiring Half Moon Cay, Holland America transformed this uninhabited island – used solely by nesting seabirds – into a unique port of call with its two-mile-long, crescent-shaped beach and shoreside attractions that include interpretive nature trails and a straw market run by locals from neighboring Eleuthera.

Best of all is the fact that Half Moon Cay’s pristine beauty has not been compromised. Designated a Wild Bird Reserve by the Bahamian National Trust, the island’s brackish lagoon is an important nesting ground for terns, shearwaters and herons. Only two percent of the 960-hectare island has been developed, with the rest preserved as a bird sanctuary.

The sailing and watersports off the beach are safe and fun.

After strolling the pathways that lead from the welcome center to various attractions, we headed toward the far end of the island’s beautiful beach and settled into some loungers near a watersports center. We’re a boating family and spend our B.C. summers out on the water, so the sight of Hobie Cats and Sunfish sailboats for rent by the hour immediately caught our attention. Bill and our younger boy, John, were soon pushing off from the beach in a Hobie Cat. They had a pleasant sail, tacking back and forth in the steady trade wind, enjoying the warm breeze before turning the boat’s bow back toward shore.

At one point a tropical rain shower temporarily drove us from the beach to the shelter of the nearby Captain Morgan on the Rocks bar. Designed to resemble a washed-ashore pirate ship, this open-air bar was a great place to enjoy a refreshment and listen to live music provided by the ship’s band. At mid-day a barbecue luncheon was served in the nearby dining pavilion.

By early afternoon it was time to leave Half Moon Cay. We caught one of the last tenders back to the ship, sorry to leave but soon talking about our next port of call as the Zuiderdam raised anchor and sailed for Orangested, Aruba.

For information on Holland America cruises to Half Moon Cay visit: Holland America

Avatar photo About Anne Vipond

Anne Vipond is the author of several guidebooks to cruising destinations around the world. She draws on an extensive sailing background to impart her enthusiasm for cruise travel. From her home port of Vancouver, she travels by cruise ship to a wide range of destinations to keep her books current and useful for her cruise readers. Her cruising articles have been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and over seas.