Half Moon Cay Weddings vs Family Vacation vs Family Reunions ... and 5 more
Edited by Kathy McGraw, Maria Quinney
Half Moon Cay is a private island in the Bahamas that belongs to the parent company that operates the two cruise lines, Holland America and Carnival Cruises. The island is a dedicated port-of-call for their Eastern Caribbean cruises. The island used to be known as Little San Salvador Island before the company bought it in 1997. Although it has invested $15 million to build up a portion of the island, the majority of its 2,400 acres remain untouched and act as a preserve for birds and other animals native to the region. The island's new name comes from its crescent shaped beach which stretches for 2.5 miles.
Method 1: Weddings
Whether you are on a Carnival or Holland America Cruise, you have the option of a destination wedding at Half Moon Cay. Create wedding memories that you'll never forget as you share your special day with family and friends on this beautiful private island with its pristine sugar sand beaches, pale aqua water, and warm weather. Although you must book your wedding with the Cruise office at Carnival or Holland America, the wedding planning will be handled by Royal Ocean Events, the exclusive wedding services provider for both cruise lines.
- 1Island Breeze package at Half Moon Cay. Choose this package to have your ceremony on Half Moon Cay. It includes a special tender for the bride and groom, a choice of two island locations, the wedding officiant, wedding coordinator, one bottle of sparkling wine for a wedding toast, and help with getting your marriage license and the license fee.Advertisement
- 2Choose between a wedding in the chapel or the beach. The non-denominational Bahamian Church's chapel is small and quaint, but due to its size, is best suited to smaller weddings of no more than 20 guests, while a beach wedding can accommodate a much larger wedding party and guests.Advertisement
- 3Half Moon Cay is not a guaranteed port. Since the ship cannot dock at Half Moon Cay and tenders must ferry passengers to and from the island, there is no guarantee that your ship will call there if weather conditions prohibit it. The Captain makes this determination on the morning of the ship's arrival based on current weather conditions. If weather prohibits a call on Half Moon Cay, you will be married aboard the ship.
Method 2: Family Vacation
From snorkeling to water cannons, to riding a horse into the sea, and much more, there are plenty of fun activities for the whole family at Half Moon Cay. Book a cruise on Holland America or Carnival for your next family vacation and get the opportunity to visit a tropical playground where your children can play, explore, and have new learning experiences that they will remember for the rest of their lives.
- 1Visit the Half Moon Lagoon Aqua Park. In this watery playground for kids of all ages, your children will have fun clambering figures of various sea creatures from whales to octopi and a pirate ship that shoots water from its cannon will keep them cool as they play. Ashore nearby is a children's playground with the usual assortment of swings, merry-go-round, monkey bars, and slides.Advertisement
- 2Have a mother and daughter bonding session over authentic Bahamian hair braiding. Local Bahamian stylists located in the village will braid your hair in Bahamian style. Not only will you and your daughter look marvelous, but this hairstyle will also keep you cool in the tropical heat.
- 3Pet the stingrays at Stingray Cove. Don't worry, they're not dangerous. These tame Southern Stingrays, members of the family of skates and rays, are docile creatures that glide along the bottom of their special shallow water home and love to be stroked by guests as they swim by. Not only will your children have the opportunity to interact with them, but they will also learn about them in a singular experience that they won't soon forget.
- 4Go snorkeling. The waters off the main beach and nearest the Welcome Center are quite shallow and appropriate for snorkelers of all ages and levels. Opposite the Welcome Center and about 70 to 100 feet out are deeper waters with a coral reef; however, since there is no one around to help swimmers and snorkelers who get into trouble, it should only be attempted by strong swimmers and advanced snorkelers and is inappropriate for younger children.
- 5Take a hike. There are numerous trails and paths all over the island to explore with your family. Pay close attention as you walk along and perhaps you might spot a few of the birds that nest there, including sooty terns and Bahamian pintails.
- 6Rent a cabana or a clamshell. Get out of the sun and rest in comfort in your own private cabana with air conditioning and complimentary snacks. Catch a nap on one of the lounge chairs while your children play in the sand in front of your little shack in paradise. If the $280 cost of a cabana is too steep for you, consider renting a clamshell, a collapsible tent-like structure that you can raise anywhere on the beach to create your own little shelter away from the sun.
Method 3: Family Reunions
Share a day of fun on the beach and in the water with your relatives for your next family reunion at Half Moon Cay. Relax on the beach and reminisce with family members or go for a bike ride or hike through the island. Take a snorkeling cruise out to a reef where anemones wave in the soft currents as clownfish weave through their tentacles or go horseback riding through the surf.
- 1Contact the cruise office to see if you qualify for group discounts. Before booking your family reunion cruise, contact the cruise office at Holland America or Carnival to see if there are any group discounts available. Every little bit of savings helps when planning events such as reunions.
Method 4: Excursions
Excursions are tours and activities that cost an additional fee. They include access to Stingray Cove as well as horseback riding, and snorkeling off a boat, among others. Of course, you won't have time to do them all, and you can still have a great time without paying anything beyond the price of your cruise ticket, but going on one or two of the excursions adds a bit of extra fun to your stay on the island.
- 1Island Adventure Sightseeing and Snorkel Tour. Take a 20-minute boat ride around the island to Treasure Chest Island, an isolated cove sheltered by limestone rock formations and a cave where birds nest. Snorkel in the waters of this sheltered lagoon where you can see myriad species of fish and the beautiful coral formation known as Elkhorn Reef. This tour costs $69.99 for adults and $54.99 for children.
- 2Horseback Riding by Land & Sea. Swim on the back of a horse in this one-of-a-kind island adventure. Plunge into the ocean on horseback and feel the strong movements of your horse beneath you as it powers through the water after a ride to the highest point on the island where you can take pictures of Half Moon Cay and the surrounding seas. The cost is $99, and children must be age 10 or older to participate.
- 3Combo, Eco Bike & Hike Tour. Combining a bike ride and a good hike, see the inner workings of the island as well as a saltwater pond where settlers worked, and the ruins they left behind dating from the 1700's. Hike up to a location where you can get views across Bone Fish Lagoon, Stingray Cove, Goat Cay, Long Rocks, and Cat Island. It costs $37.99, and children must be at least 10 years old to go on this excursion.
- 4Stingray Adventure. Enjoy an encounter like no other at Stingray Cove where you will first learn about the gentle Southern Stingray before strapping on some snorkeling gear and heading out into the shallow waters of the cove where the stingrays of Half Moon Cay live. You can stroke these docile creatures as they swim by as well as feed them from your fingers. The Stingray Adventure costs $34.99 per person and children must be at least six years old to participate.
- 5Tropical Kayak Adventure. This excursion has you kayaking over Bonefish Lagoon, which has 1,400 acres of sanctuary for the plants and animals that make up its brackish ecosystem. You'll see seabirds and native flora such as the red mangrove and silver buttonwood tree as the island's naturalists explain the natural history of the region. It costs $49.99 per person and children need to be at least 6 years old to attend.
- 6Aqua Trax Watercraft Adventure. Speed past the shoreline on a guided ride aboard a personal sit-down watercraft. Thrill to the twists and turns as you glide around reefs, rocks, and through inlets and deserted coves. Don't forget to be on the look out for sandbars! This journey costs $89.99, and the minimum age is 16.
- 7Island Tram Calypso Tour. This comprehensive tour takes you through the major aspects of the island: the back of the house, the marina, the coastline, the ruins of an ancient settlement, and much more in just one hour. It's perfect for people with mobility issues who still want to see more of the island. It costs $24.99 for adults and $17.99 for children, and all ages can participate. Children under four ride for free.
- 8Half Moon Cay Snorkel by Boat. Take a boat off the coast of the island to a beautiful tropical reef where a variety of coral, fish, and other sea life abound. A snorkeling guide is there to lend assistance if you need it. Experience the ocean as its denizens do, with the light from above dappling the seabed and the coral from above, the waters clear and free of murk. This trip is $59.99 per person and children must be at least eight years old to participate.
- 9Historic Nature Walk. In this gentle guided walk, learn about the flora and fauna that surround you, from the tropical palms casting shadows from above to the curly tailed lizards and other creatures that call the island home. Learn about the history of the island, from its first inhabitants, through the slavery period, and up until today. This excursion is just $19.99, and children under four require no ticket.
- 10Island Bike Tour. This bike tour takes you all over the island and delves into the inner workings of the island, including how staff desalinate sea water and make electricity; it's the only tour where you can see this aspect of the island. Journey to Bonefish Lagoon and Stingray Adventure, as well as the stables where the swimming horses live. Your friendly guide lectures you on the history of the region, discussing the animals, plants, and its history, from the time of the first settlers to current times. This excursion costs 19.99 per person and children must be at least 12 years old to participate.
- 11Eco Lagoon Tour. This journey aboard a glass bottomed boat takes you around the island to the nursery where stingrays, several varieties of shark, bonefish, and other creatures live. Then, out into the open sea, you go where you can survey coral reefs and all of the creatures that inhabit them through the safety (and dryness) or the glass bottomed hull. You will also have the opportunity to see a re-built Arawak Fishing Village. This trip is $39.99 for adults and $29.99 for children. Kids under four years old ride for free.
- 12Massage. Let the masseurs of Steiner of London pamper your body with a relaxing massage. The masseurs provide this service in two air-conditioned cabanas on the beach, where you can get all those nasty kinks worked out before showering and returning to your day of sun and fun.
- 13Watercraft rentals. From Hobie Cats and paddle boats to aqua bikes and kayaks, you can rent a variety of watercraft for use in the lagoon and seas surrounding the island. There are even sailboats and windsurfing boards you can rent. If you're in the mood for a real workout, try kayaking across the wide expanse of Bonefish Lagoon. Watercraft is available at several locations on the island.
Method 5: Free Activities
Although many of the activities on Half Moon Cay cost an additional fee, there are some things you can do there that won't cost you another nickel. If your budget is tight, consider taking part in some of the free activities, such as the following:
- 1Snorkeling. Snorkeling on your own in the waters off the main beach costs nothing. Beginner snorkelers and children should stick to the area beside the Welcome Center where the water remains relatively shallow. Strong swimmers and advanced snorkelers may want to hit the area across the water from the Welcome Center and about 70 to 100 feet offshore where the water is deeper, and the coral reefs start. However, be careful because there is no one here to help you should you get into trouble, and never swim or snorkel without a dive buddy. You can get snorkeling equipment from any of the Water Sports Centers on the island.
- 2Birdwatching. Half Moon Cay hosts a variety of birds every year. From sooty terns to shearwaters and roseate terns, there are many species that nest on the island. You have the best opportunity to see them if you hike around the trails near Bonefish Lagoon.
- 3Walking/hiking. The trails and paths that traverse the island are free to explore at your leisure. Each has clearly marked signs regarding which trails they are and their level of hiking or walking difficulty. You can pass by Bonefish Lagoon, the Pegasus Ranch, the seaplane landing area, and much more.
Method 6: Itinerary
9:00: Arrive at the island
9:30-12:00: Stingray Adventure or Combo Eco Bike & Hike Tour, some snorkeling, and a massage. Perhaps throw in some hair braiding in the village if there's time.
1:30-3:30: Horseback riding, Snorkel By Boat, or Kayak Adventure. If you want to save money, go on the one-mile loop hike or do some bird watching by Bonefish Lagoon.
3:30-5:00: Shopping in the village and relax on the beach before returning to the ship.
Method 7: Restaurants and Bars
There are two restaurants, one of which is new, and four bars for your dining and drinking pleasure on Half Moon Cay. While most of the food, water, and lemonade is complimentary, alcoholic beverages and soft drinks cost extra.
- 1Tropics Restaurant. This is the main restaurant on the island. It is a buffet-style affair where you can get hamburgers, hot dogs, fish, sausage, and of course, the ubiquitous island barbecue. Various salads, fresh fruit, and sweets are also served here. There is an open-air pavilion under which to dine, as well as picnic tables where you can enjoy your food, or if you rented a cabana or villa, you're free to take your food back there to eat.
- 2Lobster on the Beach at Lobster Shack. As the name implies, this restaurant features a meal of lobster, rice, coconut beans, and a choice of two salsas to go along with it. Unlike the food at the Tropics Restaurant, the lobster will set you back $20 per plate.
- 3There are four bars on the island. Each bar has a different theme and vibe. Make sure you have your stateroom key or Sign and Sail card so that you can pay for your drinks.
- Rum Runners Bar
- The "I Wish I Could Stay Here Forever Bar
- Captain Morgan's Bar
- The Lookout Bar
Method 8: Private Retreats
Half Moon Cay offers three dwellings that you can rent as your own private retreat while you are on the island. They range from the ultimate in luxury, the Private Oasis, to the small but well-appointed cabana. If you want to rent one of them, you must do so before you set sail, and there is no guarantee that you will be able to get one. In fact, if this is your first cruise, it is unlikely that you'll be able to reserve one; however, you can try and see what happens. Cancellations occur all the time.
- 1Beach Villa. The beach villa has three stories and is appointed with a hot tub, refrigerator, a dining table on each floor, and lounge furniture. Additionally, it has a ceiling fan, misting shower, and private sun deck. The villa rent includes snacks of fresh fruit, veggies with dip, chips, and more. There is also snorkeling gear and floating mats in each villa, so you don't have to go to the Water Sports kiosk to pick them up.Beach Villa rent is $499.99.
- 2Cabana Rental. Much smaller than the Beach Villa but no less luxurious, the cabana becomes your own private space while you're on the island. You can relax in air conditioned comfort and store drinks as well as fresh fruit in the refrigerator for consumption later on in the day. Each cabana comes with a table, chairs, deck chairs, and misting shower on a private terrace. Like in the Beach Villa, snacks and drinks are provided, and there is snorkeling equipment supplied, as well. Rent for a cabana is $279.99. This covers four people, and a maximum of six people can be in one cabana. The fifth and sixth guest cost an additional fee, however.
- 3Private Oasis. The Private Oasis is the ultimate in luxury on Half Moon Cay. If a cabana is a regular single family home and the villa is a McMansion, then the Private Oasis is a palace. The Private Oasis is set away from everything on a point overlooking the water and features a humongous 1,620 square foot grand cabana with two decks, one that is covered and one open to the sun. It also has an eight-person hot tub so you and your family and friends can relax in style. Included in your rent is a butler, yes, you read that right, a butler, a bartender who is at your sole beck and call, a personal cabana steward, and even a lifeguard. There' s much more that's included, which you can read about on the Carnival or Holland America websites. For all of this, you pay a grand total of $1495.99.
- Bring a towel with you because there are no towels on the island
- Bring sunscreen
- Insect repellant for nature trail and when beach areas overrun by sand flies
- Bring Sign and Sail card or stateroom key card and cash. You will need cash to buy from the Straw Market
- Bring a water camera
- Wear your bathing suit and a light top or cover up. Dress is very casual on the island
- Bring your sunglasses and a hat in case you need them
- Wear flip-flops and bring your walking shoes and a pair of socks for hiking and if you are going horseback riding
- Although the tenders run back and forth from the island to the ship, you will want to make sure you have all your items with you when you embark from the ship
For more information
For more information about the cruises and Half Moon Cay, consult the companies' websites, Hollandamerica.com and Carnival.com. Additionally, you may find it helpful to read about other people's experiences with the cruises and the island on the following forums: