Half Moon Cay is an idyllic castaway island in the Bahamas with a white sandy beach lapped by calm cerulean blue waters. Privately owned by the Carnival Corporation, this port of call is exclusively used by cruises that include this heavenly hideaway on their itinerary.
Although there’s some steep competition from other private cruise-owned islands, Half Moon Cay is frequently listed #1. This is mainly due to the extensive beach with its super-soft white sand and diverse activities such as horse riding.
Formerly known as Little San Salvador Island, this laid-back island covers 2400 acres (less than 4 square miles) and much of it has been left as a nature preserve with native vegetation for nesting birds and wildlife.
Currently cruisers are transported ashore in tenders, but a new deep-water dock is planned for the near future. Once ashore, expect to enjoy a beautiful day on the beach with plenty of activities for watersports, boat trips, swimming, snorkeling and relaxing in the sun.
The island has a Welcome Center with information and excursions, a church for weddings, an ice cream parlour, bar, food pavilion, and restrooms. Look forward to shopping for souvenirs, local crafts, and beachwear at the Straw Market, visit the watersports center, go horse riding on the beach or book a treatment at the Half Moon Salon. Young visitors can enjoy the Half Moon Lagoon Aqua Park with slides and pirate ship.
Cruisers can book private cabanas, stingray encounters and water-based adventures ahead of time. It’s the perfect beach day with all the delicious food, cocktails and fun you would expect onboard, but transferred to this beautiful island. So sit back and read on to enjoy a virtual visit to Half Moon Cay!
Where is Half Moon Cay?
Half Moon Cay is located midway between the islands of Eleuthera and Cat Island in the Bahamas. It is about 100 miles (160km) southeast of Nassau, the Bahamian capital, and 277 miles southeast of Miami.
History of Half Moon Cay
The private island of Half Moon Cay was formerly known by the less romantic-sounding name of “Little San Salvador Island”. The name was changed to reflect the spectacular crescent-shaped beach at the west end of the island which is used by cruisers.
Half Moon was also the name of the ship belonging to 17th century explorer Henry Hudson which features on the Holland America logo, providing a nice connection between the island and the cruise company.
The cay was originally bought by Norwegian Cruise Line and sold in 1996 for $6 million to Holland America Line (HAL) which is part of the Carnival Group. HAL developed around 50 acres as an exclusive private luxury resort for its cruise passengers and manages the remaining 2,400 acres as a natural habitat for wildlife.
The island had no infrastructure so construction involved installing electric generators, reverse osmosis water plants for freshwater, sewer treatment, and incinerators. A marina was dredged and a pier constructed for the tenders and the developed areas were raised by 14 foot to be above the flood plain.
Future Plans to Develop a Port at Half Moon Cay
Future developments include developing a deep-water dock allowing cruise ships to moor right next to a new pier. Currently the shallow waters mean that visiting cruisers must use a tender (motor boat) to transfer from the cruise ship to the island.
However, in 2019, Carnival Corporation signed an agreement with the Bahamas government to construct a new port at Half Moon Cay, at an estimated total cost of $90 million. The work was due to start mid-2020 but has been delayed. The plans exceed the requirements laid down by the USCG in order to withstand even Category 5 hurricanes.
Which Cruise Lines Visit Half Moon Cay?
Half Moon Cay is frequently visited by Holland America cruise ships and some Carnival cruise ships. Not all itineraries include Half Moon Cay as a port of call, so check the details before booking your cruise.
What’s the Weather Like at Half Moon Cay?
Like the rest of the Bahamas, the island enjoys a cool summer Mediterranean climate with daytime temperatures very rarely exceeding 90°F (32°C) in summer. The island enjoys an average of 320 days of sunshine each year and maintains warm seas and balmy temperatures tempered by sea breezes.
The island has two seasons: a wet season from May to October and a dry season through winter and spring which coincides with the main months for Caribbean cruises. The northeast trade winds keep the island pleasantly fresh.
Winters are dry and sunny with temperatures averaging 77°F (25°C). In summer, temperatures reach 87°F (31°C) with some heavy afternoon storms at times.
Hurricane season officially runs from June to November, but tropical storms most likely affect the Bahamas between July and October. The island has been affected by two hurricanes in the past: Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Hurricane Dorian in 2019.
Getting to Half Moon Cay
Half Moon Cay is surrounded by shallow waters and reefs and there is no currently deep-water dock for the cruise ships. Passengers have to be ferried to and from the cay using tenders (ship’s lifeboats) which takes about 20 minutes.
It can take a while to get everyone ashore so the best advice is either to get up early and be one of the first in line or hang around enjoying a leisurely breakfast and relaxing until the rush is over.
Plans have been approved by the Bahamian government for a new port and pier to be built. This will allow future cruise ships to dock and passengers can walk ashore.
The advantages are many. It will provide more time for passengers to enjoy the island and supplies can more easily be transferred ashore to stock the bars and eateries. Also, a permanent port will avoid any problems associated with rough seas which can affect ship-to-shore transfers by tender.
Things to Do in Half Moon Cay
One of the best features about the private island is the powder-soft white sand stretching around the 2.5-mile-long Half Moon Beach. It is nicer than some other private islands such as Princess Cays which has coarser sand and some rocky areas.
The further you walk from the ship, the quieter the beach will be so if you’re looking for your own private spot, you will find it here.
There are plenty of lounge chairs and hammocks dotted around the island for relaxing, napping and absorbing the gorgeous views.
Surrounded by clear warm waters, the cruise line private island is perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving. Close to shore there are not much fish due all the visitors but you can join a boat trip to go snorkeling and diving in these clear warm waters.
Other watersports activities that you can sign up for include parasailing, fishing, glass-bottom boat rides, jet skiing, sailing Hobie catamarans and sunfish sailboats, stand-up paddle-boarding, and kayaking.
Near the church there’s a sports center where you can rent snorkels, floats and sports equipment or sign up for some team beach sports.
Sailing and Watersports on Half Moon Cay
If you are a lover of watersports and whatever is listed so far doesn’t fit your bill why not sail on a Hobie cat, sunfish sailboat or a windsurfing sailboat? You can hire any of these watercraft from one of the three water sports centers available on the island. Alternatively, hire water bikes for a fun time on the water or go kayaking at Bonefish Lagoon.
Sports and Games
The cay has volleyball and basketball courts, horseshoes, shuffleboard and walking trails so there’s plenty for active cruisers to enjoy.
Your cruise entertainment crew will organize some team games and fun activities while ashore so get ready to join an impromptu game.
Take a Hike
Half Moon Cay has a contrasting mix of green vegetation, white sand and blue sea. Out of the 2400 acres of natural beauty, only 2% ( about 50 acres) has been developed, leaving at least 2350 acres of indigenous flora and fauna to explore.
There are nature trails all over the island either on hard pavement or sandy trails. These paths lead to some of the island’s shore excursion start points such as Stingray Cove, Bonefish Lagoon and the Pegasus Ranch where they keep the horses.
The cay has nature trails for spotting visiting sea birds and there’s a fitness trail with exercise stations along the way.
There are numerous native birds and waterfowl species in the Bahamas for birdwatching fans. There are at least 47 different species of birds spotted at Half Moon Cay between 1982-2012, according to a survey by Majestic Feathers.
The most common birds are gulls and waterfowl such as sooty terns, roseate terns, and noody terns. Other birds include wading birds such as egrets, ruddy ducks, herons and Caribbean coots. These can be spotted in the brackish lagoon which has been designated as a bird preserve by the Bahamian National Trust.
Don’t forget those binoculars for watching close up!
Get a Massage
Get a professional massage by a professional therapist in an air-conditioned cabana. The team of beauticians aboard Holland America Line offer professional massage services while on the island.
If you like interacting with other cultures then enjoy the diversity of the Bahamians by engaging in some of their cultures such as hair braiding.
Half Moon Cay is uninhabited so locals from the nearby island of Eleuthera ferry across to the island when there are cruise visitors. They teach you their ways, dance culture and also braid your hair to provide a more local look.
Pirate Fun for Youngsters
There’s plenty of fun for young cruisers at Half Moon Cay. There is a special lagoon aqua park with island-themed action fun area where kids can play in the safe shallow water.
They can enjoy being sprayed with water from the pirate ship’s cannons or play on the shark, dolphin, whale and octopus-shaped water toys provided.
There’s also a playground nearby that is fully equipped for climbing and scrambling. You might want to buy or bring your own small beach toys such as a sand bucket and spade for children to make sand castles on the beach.
Getting married as part of your luxury cruise to Half Moon Cay is a great way to have a memorable wedding ceremony without it costing an arm and a leg! When you step off the tender ship and walk towards the island’s welcome center, you will notice a beautiful white church built in Bahamian cultural style.
This is for those who plan on getting married on the island or perhaps want to renew their vows. You can do this at the church, have your special event captured with professional photographs and then have your reception on the island. The rest of the cruise is the perfect honeymoon!
Note: If you’re planning to get married or renew your vows on the island, you need to book with your cruise prior to sailing. You will be required to provide all necessary documentation as this is a legal wedding ceremony.
Half Moon Cay Cabanas
Cabanas on Half Moon Cay are particularly advantageous with luxury lounge chairs in a prime beachfront location. They include air-conditioning, table and chairs for dining, a refrigerator stocked with snacks and drinks, ceiling fan, misting fans, snorkel equipment and floating mats.
At a cost of around $319 for up to 4 guests, it can be good value for those wanting their own peaceful chunk of paradise.
Upgrade to the Private Oasis Cabana and you’ll get your own two-storey luxury beach shack complete with iPod docking station, grill, showers and misting station.
It comes with a fridge stocked with drinks and a butler to pour them for you! If that doesn’t impress you, perhaps the 8-person hot tub will! You need to pre-book and the cost is around $1500 for up to 12 guests.
Shopping is all part of any port of call and Half Moon Cay has some interesting local stores and retail services. There is a small Post Office where you can buy beautiful Bahamian stamps and postcards. You may even want to go the extra mile and mail one to yourself as a memoir of your vacation!
A convenience store is also located near the Welcome Center where you can purchase snacks, sunscreen and other beach essentials.
Souvenirs are a great way to remember your trip and the Straw Market is the place to source them during your visit to Half Moon Cay. You will find some very unique gifts including beachwear and locally made ocean-themed costume jewelry.
You can even purchase clamshells that are farmed nearby and contain natural pearls. Purchase and open your clamshell and have the beautiful pearl made into a ring or pendant while you wait. It’s a unique and lovely way to celebrate your visit to the Bahamas.
Half Moon Cay Cruise Excursions
Part of the fun of cruising is joining in some tours and excursions at ports of call to try something new. Half Moon Cay is no exception. You can sign up for any of these tours and activities ahead of time to ensure you get a place.
This experience takes place at Stingray Cove where you will be given an informative orientation about stingrays from a professional guide.
They will then take you to an area where you can interact with these amazing marine creatures by stroking their velvety wings as they swim by.
These snorkeling expeditions include use of a snorkel, mask and fins. A boat will take you further offshore where you can visit the coral reef which is bursting with colorful marinelife, fish and anemones.
It has many beautiful corals which are home to a wide variety of sea creatures. A professional snorkeling guide will assist you and help you identify the sea life in their habitat.
One of the most unique shore excursions at Half Moon Cay is horseback riding. Explore more of the island along a winding trail to the highest point for panoramic views. On the return trip you can ride the horses through the shallow waters in a thrilling beach ride.
Eco Bike Tour
With 2400 acres of beautiful island to explore, what better way to get around than a bike and hike combo? Enjoy scenic views of the island while cycling to Pegasus Ranch before hiking past Bonefish Lagoon and Stingray Park.
Tram Calypso Tour
Join the one-hour tram tour around Half Moon Cay visiting many of the highlights and off-the-beaten-path attractions.
Join a local guide on a 90-minute walk seeing nature at its best. Learn about the cay’s pirate history and identify different plants, herbs and animals including native sea grapes, tropical sea palms, bananaquit birds and curly-tailed lizards.
Food and Drink on Half Moon Cay
Restaurants, beach barbecues and bars at Half Moon Cay are all run by crew members from the ship. You get the same high-quality dishes and superb choices on the island as you would expect onboard, but the island’s surroundings are particularly special!
Cruisers can dine free at the Food Pavilion which has open-air seating and serves a range of dishes including burgers, salads, hot dogs and fresh fruit. There’s also a complimentary beach barbecue.
In addition, there’s an ice cream parlor for ordering your favorite sundae and a Lobster Shack, both requiring an additional fee which is charged to your stateroom keycard.
The Lobster Shack has a mouthwatering menu of grilled spiny lobster with rice, Caribbean coconut beans and salsa (pineapple or sofrito), so why not treat yourself? Prepared by chefs from the ship, it’s a great chance to enjoy a magnificent lobster feast for around $20.
If you fancy a fruity cocktail, icy beer, frosty frozen drink or soda there are several bars dotted around the island including the Rumrunners Bar, Lookout Bar, Bell Bar and the “I Wish I Could Stay Here Forever” Bar! The traditional Bahamas drink is the rum-based Bahama Mama or the non-alcoholic lemon-lime drink called Switcha.
Be aware that you will have to pay for all drinks while on Half Moon Cay, even if you have purchased an all-inclusive drinks package. This is because the island bars do not have any computers.
Other Cruise-Owned Islands
With the growing popularity for cruises with ports of call on private islands. other cruise lines also have their own private islands in the Caribbean.
Half Moon Cay FAQs
Half Moon Cay is in the Bahamas, midway between Eleuthera and Cat Island. It is about 100 miles (160km) southeast of Nassau and 277 miles southeast of Miami.
Half Moon Cay is uninhabited. Developed as a luxury beach resort, it is used as a private port of call for Carnival and Holland America cruisers. About 100 locals work on the island and arrive by ferry from Eleuthera when there are visiting cruise ships.
Half Moon Cay is fairly small, covered 2400 acres which is less than 4 square miles. It has a 2.5 mile long crescent beach of white sand which is the main focal point for cruise activities.
Half Moon Cay is used primarily by Holland America cruise ships and by some Carnival cruises when not required by HAL.