Have you ever looked at a friend’s Facebook pictures of frolicking fun on exotic islands and wondered how they could afford it?
You’re not alone.
Taking a tropical vacation with a limited budget is easier than you think. Carnival’s cruises to the Bahamas out of the cruise ports in Miami, Charleston or Jacksonville are affordable and fun.
The dreamy Bahamas, a coral-based grouping of 700 islands in the Atlantic Ocean, are renowned for their shimmering turquoise water, white-sand beaches and year-round delightful climate.
While the cost for flights and resorts on the islands can wreak havoc on your wallet, Carnival’s three-to-five day cruises start at just $189. That’s less than $100 a day and includes three (or more, if you’re so inclined) meals, your cabin, and a host of on board entertainment and activities.
The cruises dock at one or more of the following islands: Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama, Nassau on the island of New Providence, Paradise Island, and/or Half Moon Cay – Holland America’s (Carnival’s partner) private Little San Salvador Island.
In port, you don’t have to spend money on expensive shore excursions if you don’t want to. There are other options to have plenty of fun.
Freeport is on Grand Bahama, the archipelago’s northernmost island and the fourth-largest isle in the Bahamas’ 700-island chain. After you disembark, you’ll find shuttle buses and taxis ready and eager whisk you away to activities nearby.
Port Lucaya Beach
This small but picturesque beach is the most popular with the cruise crowd. One reason is the free admission. The other is the convenient location across from the Marketplace (see below) making it a two-for-one excursion. The beach is quite rocky which is great for photos but not for sunbathing. There are water sports available for rental at one end of the beach. If you want a beach with more amenities, you can buy a day pass at one of the adjacent resorts.
Port Lucaya Marketplace
Across from the beach, you can’t miss the iconic pastel painted shops, cafes, take-out kiosks, and bars. There’s always some kind of entertainment, from live music to live iguanas. At one end is a handicraft, jewelry and souvenir market.
Zorba’s Greek Restaurant
I had to include Zorba’s because I make it a point to go there every time I’m in Freeport. One reason is because I love their fresh-made conch fritters. The other, albeit the main reason, is to scoff down one of their over-sized pieces of melt-in-your-mouth baklava. Zorba’s is located in the Port Lucaya Marketplace.
If you are in search of a gorgeous, iridescent green-blue beach, take a short taxi ride to Taino Beach. There’s a big, festive, open-air restaurant on the beach with an active bar selling those must-have umbrella drinks. The restaurant streams cheerful calypso music. Beach chairs and umbrellas are available for rental. There is also a small pier for fishing or photo ops.
Nassau, on the island of New Providence, is the capital and largest city of the Bahamas. Arguably the most popular cruise-ship stop, it’s known for its beaches and coral reefs, and watersports. Charming pastel-colored British colonial buildings are located throughout the island.
Close to the cruise port is a small but nice beach that you can walk to. Just head out to the downtown area. At Senior Frogs, take a left and stay on the sidewalk for about five minutes and you’ll find yourself at this beach with soft sand and variegated blue and green water.
A five minute walk from the cruise ship will bring you to the Straw Market. Rows, stalls and kiosks of every type of souvenir await you to be bartered for with very friendly locals.
If your budget has a little leeway, Freeport and Nassau have options for excursions like snorkeling or ATV tours of the island.
3. PARADISE ISLAND
Paradise Island in the Bahamas is located just off the northern edge of the island of New Providence, connected by two bridges across Nassau Harbor. It’s best known for the mega Atlantis Paradise Island Resort and Casino with its nightlife, fine dining, water park and pools.
This beach was named by CNN as #6 of the Top 100 Beaches in the World. Isn’t that reason enough to visit? The turquoise water is mesmerizing. A taxi at the port will cost you a mere $4.00 to get to this gem. Put it on your bucket list.
Cruisers who can splurge on just one excursion will generally chose a day pass to Atlantis. In addition to a beautiful beach next to Cabbage Beach, you’ll have access to a plethora of fun activities at this mega complex.
Tube down the lazy river for a splashing good time. In my opinion, it should be renamed the “Crazy River.” It’s not to be missed.
The other highlight is the water slide called the “Leap of Faith.” I really didn’t want to do it. The near vertical drop from the top of the Mayan pyramid through a clear glass tube with sharks swimming around was intimidating. But I can never pass up a dare, so I did it. “You started screaming before you even started to drop,” said my sister, Aimee. She may or may not have been right.
4. HALF MOON CAY
Half Moon Cay is an idyllic deserted island paradise where you can channel your inner castaway. This is the ultimate chill on the beach opportunity and it won’t cost a penny extra to spend the day there. Located on 55 acres of the 2,400-acre Little San Salvador Island, Half Moon Cay has been rated as “Best Private Island” by Porthole Cruise Magazine for the past four years. The crystal turquoise water is great for snorkeling. Horses are available for riding on the beach.
On this last cruise, I made two new discoveries on board during my last cruise to the Bahamas….and they were free.
A rainy sea day on the return trip had me scouting the ship for additional things to do. I never knew that the ships had a library on board with books and games for passengers. I found and played a couple of rounds of Dominoes – reminiscent of playing with my grandmother as a small girl.
I always opt for the more formal nighttime dining option because the food is so good and I really like getting to know the other cruisers assigned to my table. But for lunch, I’d generally chosen from the buffet, hamburger grill, deli, or pizza. But my last ship had a Mongolian Wok. You select from a large variety of starches, veggies, meats, and sauces, which are thrown into a wok, seared, and cooked to perfection. I could not get enough of this savory, spicy option for lunch.
Signing off, from my temporary office….until my next cruise!