Looking for some Half Moon Cay tips? You’ve come to the right place. There are some must-try activities on this island and some things you can skip.
Half Moon Cay (Little San Salvador Island) is a crescent-shaped private island owned by Carnival Cruise Line and used seasonally by Holland America Line.
Carnival cruise ships make over 200 stops a year at this picturesque private resort, and it’s one of the most popular stops for cruises in the Bahamas.
In fact, for many cruisers the stop at Half Moon Cay is the highlight of their cruise. With a variety of cruise shore excursions to choose from this is a private island with something for everyone.
RELATED: See the 5 Best Cruise Private Islands as voted by our readers.
What is There to Do in Half Moon Cay?
In this post we will guide you through the best things to do on the island and give you more than enough reasons to get off the ship.
Swimming, snorkeling, diving, deep-sea fishing, parasailing, sunbathing, and horseback riding are just a few of the excursions you can enjoy on Half Moon Cay. Our full list is below.
There is a straw market on Half Moon Cay where residents from nearby islands will come and sell some souvenirs and local goods. While this can be a convenient place to pick up some gifts for people back home, keep in mind that it’s not a very big market, and it has limited variety.
But if you want to do some shopping this is the place on the island to do it.
Where’s the dock? Well, there isn’t one right now. You will have to take tenders back and forth from your ship, but it’s a short 15 or 20-minute boat ride on some of the most pristine water you will ever see. Just look at it as a free excursion.
Once on the island you will see an entrance saying “Welcome to the Pirates Cove”, and the pirate theme is very evident.
Some Information About Half Moon Cay
First, let’s learn a little about this private island before we get into all the wonderful things you can do here.
Located almost 100 miles southeast of Nassau, Bahamas, Half Moon Cay is one of 700 islands that make of the archipelago of the Bahamas.
The island is over 6 square miles in size, but only about 2% has been developed in order to maintain as much wildlife and natural fauna as possible. Many cruisers don’t realize that there is more to Little San Salvador than just the heavenly beaches.
Is Food Included at Half Moon Cay?
Yes. Whether you are sailing with Carnival or Holland America there is a free buffet at the dining pavilion that offers a variety of food, including Caribbean barbecue. More on this below.
Ultimate List of Things to Do in Half Moon Cay
Check out some of the excursions and free activities I recommend when cruising to this exotic patch of land.
1. Visit Half Moon Beach
Some have called this beach the closest thing to an untouched Bahamas that you can find. Not only is it clean, beautiful, and accommodating, but there are convenient places nearby to get a refreshment or use the facilities.
The sand is fine and soft, and Half Moon Beach is the first thing you will see as your tender approaches the island. There are usually plenty of loungers to choose from, but the further down the beach you walk the less crowded it will be.
This can be a great excursion-free visit, and you don’t have to worry about any pushy vendors trying to sell you souvenirs while you relax. There are, however, plenty of Carnival or Holland America staff nearby to help with any issues you may have. If you need some beach time on your cruise, this is definitely the place to enjoy it.
If you get off the ship early you will find plenty of loungers available, but the area of the beach closest to the tenders will fill up fast as the day rolls on.
You can rent a clam shell so you have some shade at the beach, but you will want to book that in advance to make sure they aren’t all taken. There are a few trees that offer shade further down the beach, but they also require that you are further away from the water.
Half Moon Beach is about 2 miles long but there are about 10 miles of beach around the island.
2. Enjoy Captain Morgan’s Pirate Ship
The iconic Captain Morgan pirate ship can easily be seen from your ship before you ever get to the island. Go ahead and check it out. There are 3 levels to the ship. The bottom 2 levels are part of the bar and the top deck allows for great photo-ops of the ship and the pristine blue water.
No trip to Half Moon Cay is complete without boarding the Captain Morgan and bellowing out a few of your best pirate-impersonating expressions.
Note: There are 3 other bars on the island as well, including the main bar near the Welcome Center and the “I Wish I Could Stay Here Forever” bar which also makes for a great photo-op.
3. Go All-in on a Private Beach Villa
Some of the coolest cabanas in the Bahamas can be found on this private island. But if you want the ultimate in beach-front luxury you can upgrade to the Beach Villa.
These are 2-story cabins, brightly colored and perfectly fitted for a reprieve for your day at the beach. These villas have a 5-person hot tub, A/C, a refrigerator, a dining area, a misting shower, and a private balcony on both levels.
Fresh fruit, veggies, chips, and snacks will be provided for you as well as soft drinks and bottled water.
Even floating mats and snorkel gear are provided for you while you have this villa to your group all day.
All of this and it’s only steps from the water.
The cost is $599 and is good for up to 8 people with a surcharge for any extra guests. It might seem like a lot of money, but it averages out to about $75 per person and offers a much more relaxed and convenient time at Half Moon Beach.
You can also get a standard cabana for rental starting at $359 that has space for up to 4 people.
4. Splurge on the Private Oasis
A lot of people don’t even know about this option. The Private Oasis is a 1,620 square foot private cabana that has a walkway that leads right into the pristine turquoise water. The hot tub, hammock, loungers, and full wet bar along with barbecue area all offer a perfect exclusive environment for up to 12 people. The cost is about $1,600 but most groups that have booked it have said that it’s worth the price tag.
Carnival’s website explains what comes with the Private Oasis:
“Your package includes the services of a butler, personal chef, bartender, cabana Steward, and lifeguard along with the following:
Whole fresh fruits, chips & salsa. Beverage Package with select Imported and Domestic Beers; Wines by the Glass; Tropical Cocktails including Bahama Mamas, Rum Punch, and Margarita, Frozen Classics including Pina Coladas, Banana Coladas and Strawberry Daiquiris; as well as Virgin Pina Coladas, Virgin Strawberry Daiquiris and Virgin Banana Coladas.”
5. Take a Nature Walk
As we mentioned, over 95% of Half Moon Cay has not been developed so there are some great nature trails to enjoy the wildlife.
You can do this on your own or take a $19 excursion with a tour guide that will walk you through 1.5 miles of the trail. The guide will point out the tropical palm and sea grape trees, curly-tailed lizards, and Bananaquit birds of Half Moon Cay.
Hiking around the island is a great low-key exercise for just getting some cardio in while enjoying the sights. The dune paths are clearly marked, and you will find some informative signs next to the plant life along the way.
6. Do the Island Bike Tour
You can kick things up a notch with a bike tour of this crescent-shaped island as well. This will allow you to see a little more of the island than the previous tour.
The bike tour will take you by the welcome center, the Bahamian church, Half Moon Beach, the stable of the swimming horses, and a 700-acre lagoon. You will even learn how the they desalinate the ocean water and generate electricity on the island.
There is also a bike and hike tour if you’re interested in both.
7. Get Up Close with the Stingrays
Some people don’t realize that Half Moon Cay has a great Stingray encounter as well called Stingray Cove. It’s just a short tram ride away or you can walk if you’d like.
After a briefing you can put on some snorkel gear and see the stingrays in their habitat and even feel how silky-smooth they are. A net keeps other marine life from getting into the enclosure.
8. Go Swimming with Horses
Even if you have never ridden a horse before you can try this activity on Half Moon Cay. The horseback experience will tour some of the island and take you to the highest point. From there you can see 360 degree views of the island as well as some of the other Bahamian islands.
After that the guides will let you get something to drink while they prepare the horses with a special “saddle” for their swim. It is a specifically designed pad and rope halter. This is definitely a bucket-list item.
There are about 20 horses that are kept at Pegasus Ranch. Even if you don’t book a horseback riding excursion you can follow the path to see the horses and see some beautiful flowers along the way.
9. Kayak the Lagoon
For nature-lovers the kayaking on Half Moon Cay is epic. There is not a ton of exercise involved though, as you will only kayak half a mile or so at most.
Bone Fish Lagoon takes up a massive 1,400 acres of habitat that is protected. You can see some exotic seabirds and appreciate the water’s clarity as your guide will point out all the other wild life around you.
There is a stop along the way to see starfish, jellyfish, sea cucumber, and conch. The guides are fun and make it fun for the whole family so it’s a good family activity to try on the island.
Note: You can also take a glass-bottom boat tour of Bone Fish Lagoon if you want a more leisurely activity.
10. Snorkel by Boat
The water around Half Moon Cay is stunningly clear, so snorkeling allows for amazing visibility in seeing the coral and marine life.
You can bring your own snorkel gear and check out the main beach area, but there isn’t really much to see there, except for crystal clear turquoise water that is.
A boat ride can take you to a site off the coast of the private island so you can see an abundance of marine life in the Caribbean waters. You might even see a stingray in the wild
11. Play Some Games
Are you so excited to be on a cruise vacation that you just have to get some energy out? Why not play some beach games on Half Moon Cay? You can enjoy activities like basketball, beach volleyball, horseshoes, and shuffleboard. Just check out the necessary gear from the Sports Center located near the Bahamian Church.
12. Let the Kids Hit the Playground and Aqua Park
Maybe it’s the children that need to vent some energy. Half Moon Lagoon Aqua Park is located right on the main beach and has a couple water slides and a pirate ship that shoots water from its canons. There is also a fountain of water providing a cool mist as it sprays into the air. The aqua park is free to use.
Half Moon Cay also has a playground without the water, and once again there are pirate ships involved which act as play areas. There are several slides, swings, teeter totters, and a more restful picnic area for the adults to enjoy a reprieve.
13. Take the Aqua Trax/Jet Ski Adventure
Jet skis are called Aqua Trax on the island and cruisers can rent them to explore the amazing saltwater lagoon. Some parts of the lagoon are off-limits, and you must have a driver’s license to enjoy this water adventure.
Personally, I enjoy jet skiing out in the ocean because you can hit the waves and catch some air. In Bone Fish Lagoon the water is very calm so it’s a smooth ride.
14. Eat at the Lobster Shack
Yes, you can eat free burgers and BBQ at the Island Barbecue for lunch. But the dining pavilion is typically only open from 11:30am to 1:30pm. So, if you’re a little hungry outside of those times or you just have a hankerin’ for some delicious crustaceans, the Lobster Shack is the place to be.
One thing to note is that these lobsters are not New England lobsters, but they are local and fresh. That freshness is obvious after the first bite. The cost is $20.
Note: Some of the other food items offered at the free buffet also include hotdogs, ribs, Caribbean jerk, chili fried rice, banana rum cake, titi shrimp and more.
15. Rent a Hobie Cat (a small catamaran)
There have been mixed reports as to whether or not these are still available at Half Moon Cay, so let us know what you find when you get to the island.
Sailing around in a Hobie Cat on a beautiful sunny day can be the highlight of your day. These small catamarans can be rented from the water sports shack near one of the bars.
The cost is about $50 an hour last time we checked.
16. Go Birding on Half Moon Cay
Because only a small percentage of the private island has been developed there is still plenty of wildlife to enjoy in its natural habitat.
As part of the sale agreement of Half Moon Cay Holland America Line agreed to maintain the island as a nature preserve and a wild bird sanctuary. Besides finding nesting seabirds in the wild, birders can also discover almost 50 different species of birds.
Some of the types of birds to be found on the island include burrowing owls, white-crowned pigeons, Roseate, Sooty, Bridled, Brown Noddies, shearwaters, Bahamian pintails, ospreys, Bahamian, Great blue heron, snowy egrets, merlin, pintail, morning, ringed neck and tobacco doves.
Visitors on Half Moon Cay are encouraged to document reports of bird sightings to social media and websites like ebird.com to help maintain efforts to protect this habitat.
Check out this aerial view of Half Moon Cay shot in 4k
What About the CHEERS Drink Package While on Half Moon Cay?
While there are many places to get a beverage to drink on the island, you will not be able to utilize Carnival’s drink package. You will have to go back to the ship for that.
So yes, even with the drink package you will have to pay out of pocket for every beverage.
What About massages on Half Moon Cay?
I’ve heard some people ask about getting a massage on the island so I wanted to address this as well. This is a private island, so it is operated by the cruise line and any massage appointments will typically go through the cruise line.
In most cases you can book your massage through the spa front desk and see if there are any openings. The massage hut is right by the water. Just make sure you check with your cruise line to see if this service is still offered.
5 Tips to Make Your Half Moon Cay Visit Even Better
- Take the free tram to get around the island easier.
- Don’t skip the beach. This place is known for its incredible sandy beaches so whether you rent a cabana or go for a swim, soak in Half Moon Beach. Walk further down the beach to avoid any crowded areas.
- Do everything early. This means get on the first tender, be the first to the lunch pavilion, and if you’re going to rent a clam shell, cabana or villa do this well in advance of your cruise.
- Keep lathering on the sunscreen. You can go from being in paradise to being in pain in a hurry if you don’t protect yourself from the Bahamian sunshine.
- Take advantage of all the great photo ops. The popular selfie with the ship in the turquoise water just in the distance is always a good one to get people jealous back home.
See more general cruise tips here.
History of Half Moon Cay
The island was known as Little San Salvador when Holland America Line purchased it for $6 million dollars. Holland America (Owned by parent company Carnival Corporation) then proceeded to invest $15 million into developing and enhancing the island.
The official population of Half Moon Cay is zero, although some of the cruise line’s employees will be stationed there throughout different times of the year.
What Kind of Weather Can I Expect at Half Moon Cay?
The Caribbean Sea provides year-round temperatures on the island that are very hard just about perfect.
During the hottest months of the year in June through September the temperature will top out around 88 degrees Fahrenheit. The lows in December through February will be around 64 degrees.
August and September will be the rainiest months of the year with about 17 days of at least a little rainfall each day.
See the current forecast for Half Moon Cay here.
Map of Half Moon Cay
What Half Moon Cay Excursions do you enjoy when you visit this private island?
What have you done on Half Moon Cay? Let us know in the comments below so our readers can benefit from your cruise wisdom.
You can also feel free to leave your Half Moon Cay reviews in the comment section. We’d love to know what you thought about your experience.