Stay on the ship. I had been to RCL's Labadee (private port), so I was OK with a beach day on Half Moon Cay. However, RCL knows how to run a smooth operation with a lot of options for all ages; Carnival (HAL), not so much. A brief synopsis.
We prepaid for two clamshells to have shade while enjoying the beach with friends, not expecting to trudge 2-tenths of a mile in the sand and hot sun to reach staff to set them up. Finally reaching the designated spot (Water Sports 2), we were told that too many tickets had been sold for the clamshells and we would have to hike back the 0.2 miles to Water Sports 1. Refunds would be issued on the ship.
Eventually, two clamshells were found and set up for us on the kiddie beach. Now, the kiddie beach is nice and, being Holland America (HAL), even during spring break, there weren't many kids and the ones present were no problem. But, we lost an hour of our beach day between waiting and trudging to and fro, and then couldn't see the beach from our clamshells cleverly set up behind the kiddie slide. All this to get the clamshells we had (we thought) prudently reserved way in advance.
The island staff desperately needs some adult supervision. There was much apparent joy-riding on the island staff golf carts (I emphasize, not the ship's well-trained crew). One driver almost backed over my husband; another was outrageously speeding on sandy sidewalks, possibly in an effort to impress his female staff companion. These employees are amicable enough, but they seemingly lack adequate training and supervision, basically pleasantly clueless. What happens in an emergency?
The lack of readily available drinking water is a serious problem. Also, one of our traveling companions experienced a serious problem with his glucose level dropping; his supplies were on the other end of the beach (a result of the earlier mentioned clamshell snafu). My husband had to run nearly the length of the beach to buy him a sugary cola and return.
His blood glucose drop was, of course, directly attributable to hiking in the hot sun looking for our clamshells. Diabetes is epidemic, particularly among the HA demographic, while dehydration can have serious ramifications at any age and the island is near equatorial. News to HAL? Could there be a few strategically placed crew passing out water and lemonade?
Again, with the older demographic of HAL, more care should be given to exposed tree roots and rocks on parts of the beach, which could be a setup for an elderly fall.
The barbecue was subpar. I even had to ask for a bun for my hot dog. Bun was stale. The rest of the food ranged from unremarkable to downright poor. Not remotely like the high quality available on the ship. Tables were filthy-- occasionally cleared of dirty dishes, but almost never wiped off. Smokers were no restricted to a separate dining area, even though it would have been trivially easy (a few signs?) to designate one of the pavilions as "smoking".
One last comment: The trams are such that riders are required to climb steps-- assuming you can locate a tram. We finally commandeered a golf cart to return us to the market area after the barbecue. Couldn't find a tram and further walking in the hot sun was not an option. The kind of trams found at amusement park car lots would be much more suitable for this crowd.
Yeah, I'd stay on the ship. Better food, avoids the frustrations and potential risks to the elderly endemic on the island, and you'll have the pool to yourself.