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Cruise Port Review
Half Moon Cay

Holland America Line's Private Island

by Alan Walker

Half Moon Cay Beach

Holland America's private island in the Bahamas, Half Moon Cay, is as pretty a tropical island as you're ever likely to see. This full-day stop on almost all of Holland America's eastern and western Caribbean cruises - as well as its Panama Canal cruises - is a delight for water sports enthusiasts, bird watchers, beach bums and for anyone who likes a day ashore without dealing with the locals. The only "locals" at Half Moon Cay are your fellow passengers.

Getting Ashore

The only real complaint one could have about Half Moon Cay is that there's no dock, so passengers must deal with getting ashore on the ship's own boats ("tenders"), with resultant line-ups -- unless you're patient. On eastern and western Caribbean cruises, you'll likely visit Half Moon Cay from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Those who have signed up for early shore excursions will be taken ashore first. Other passengers who are in a hurry to get ashore will need to get a tender "ticket" at a designated lounge on board, and wait their turn. I've always found that if you wait as little as an hour and a half, the need for a tender ticket is gone, and you can simply hop on board the next available tender.

Holland America has built a canal from the bay to a modern tender dock to make loading and unloading on the island easy and safe, and safety is an important consideration for Holland America and all cruise lines. The unhappy result of safety concerns is that it doesn't take a lot for waves to be too high for safe embarkation on the tenders, so it's possible that your Half Moon Cay stop could be canceled. If you look at Holland America's brochures, you'll find the fine-print comment that visiting the island is subject to "conditions permitting."

The Island

Half Moon Cay is the privately-developed part of Little Salvador Island, about a hundred miles southeast of Nassau, and was once a refuge for pirates. Holland America purchased the island in 1997, and has developed only 45 acres of the 2,400 acre island, with the goal of maintaining as much habitat as possible for wildlife, and the island is a significant nesting area for waterfowl.

While Half Moon Cay's name could be derived from its gorgeous, white sand crescent-shaped beach, it really comes from Henry Hudson's ship, the Half Moon, which is part of Holland America's logo. It's almost ironic to note that Henry Hudson was an Englishman, but on the third of his four great voyages of exploration, he was employed by the Dutch, and on that voyage he sailed up the Hudson River to the present site of Albany, and claimed the area for Holland. Ten years later, the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.

Half Moon Cay Beach

On Shore Facilities

The six main facilities ashore are within easy, if hot, walking distance. The "Welcome Plaza" at the tender landing dock has an orientation kiosk and a cocktail bar (there are bars everywhere!). Shops and services are available at the "West Indies Village," designed in a Spanish and Bahamian architectural style. Facilities include an ice cream shop and frozen drink bar, a casual wear shop, a straw market, post office, first aid station and a chapel.

The Watersports Center near the Welcome Plaza is the place to get snorkeling equipment, and arrange for paddle boats, Banana Boat rides, Sunfish sailboats, Aqua bikes, wind surfers, Hobie cats, parasailing, beach floats and beach gear for rent. Children have a separate playground called "Club HAL," and there's a sports area where volleyball, basketball, shuffleboard, horseshoes and tug-of-war contests take place.

Last but not least, the Food Pavilion features a buffet-style food center with up to six service lines and 15 separate open-air dining shelters where you may enjoy an uncrowded lunch. There'll likely be entertainment from a steel drum band.

Half Moon Cay Dining
Dining Pavilion in background

While all the facilities are reasonably close to each other and are connected by proper pathways, if you get tired you can catch the 24-seat passenger tram which runs continuously on a separate path between the Welcome Center and the Food Pavilion.

Do-It-Yourself Shore Excursions

If you want to do more than swimming and snorkeling (which have separate designated areas), you can rent equipment, either pre-arranged on board (to avoid disappointment) or at the Watersports Center. Prices (as of May, 2000) were, per person per hour, $50 for Hobie Catamarans; $40 for Sunfish sailboats; $30 for Aqua cycles; $40 for windsurfers; $25 for one person kayaks; $45 for two-person kayaks; and $15 for view boards. A floating foam mat could be rented for the day for $6.

You can explore the island from marked trails which have interpretive signs with descriptions of featured trees and plants, as well as vantage points for watching the many variety of birds. The trails are also handy for those wanting to keep fit by jogging or walking.

Half Moon Cay Watersports

Organized Shore Excursions

These choices were available when I was cruising on the Zaandam in May, 2000 (all prices are per person, US dollars, except where noted):

  • Advanced Snorkeling by Boat - two hours, $36. Equipment provided.
  • Beginner's Snorkeling $16 ($10 per child). Duration not stated. Designed for those who have never snorkeled before.
  • Glass Bottom Boat Trip - one hour, $24 (a good opportunity to appreciate the unique coral formations as well as the tropical fish)
  • Certified Scuba Diving - two hours, $69. Features a shallow one-tank dive. Must have open-water certification (C-card).
  • Parasailing -one hour (although only a five-minute ride). $39
  • Banana Boat Ride - $12 per adult, $6 per child, for a 10-minute ride on a huge, inflatable craft in the shape of a banana, pulled behind a speedboat. "Not for the faint of heart."
  • Deep Sea Fishing - two hours, $109. Look for barracuda, wahoo, snapper and grouper on a catch-and-release basis.
  • Flats Fishing - three hours, $99. The warm shallow waters of the island's interior lagoon make for "excellent bone fishing."
  • Historic Nature Walk - 1 1/4 hours, $14. A mile and-a-half walk with an island Naturalist.
  • Tropical Kayak Adventure - A 1½ hour tour for $34 in the company of an island Naturalist on Bone Fish Lagoon.
  • Treasure Hunt For Ice Cream - For children 6 - 12. One hour, $14.
  • Beach Party for teens 13 - 19, 2 1/2 hours, $24.

Exhausted by all these choices? Perhaps you might simply want to visit the massage station or, if you have any, get your hair braided.

All facilities on shore are designed with physically challenged passengers in mind, including wheelchairs with umbrellas and balloon tread for use on the sand. This is just another example of Holland America's efforts to make the day at Half Moon Cay the highlight of a Caribbean cruise.

Oh, I almost forgot: the word "Cay" in Half Moon Cay is pronounced "key," which is a cay fact to remember.

View from Chapel
Zaandam, viewed from the Spanish Church on Half Moon Cay

Photos courtesy of Alan Walker.


Alan WalkerOriginally from Australia, Alan has for some time been permanently settled in Vancouver where he is a practicing Attorney. He has been a SeaLetter columnist, reviewer and our resident humorist for some time now.

To find all of Alan's SeaLetter columns, featured and humorous articles, and cruise and port reviews, use the SeaLetter Search Engine entering "Alan Walker" as your search phrase.

Alan loves email, and can be reached at: Alan@sealetter.com.

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