We had planned to go to Paradise Cove Beach Resort on our own and snorkel at the reef right off the beach, but we were all beached out. Instead, we walked around and visited a few shops right at the ship. A lady approached and asked if we wanted to go to Port Lucaya where there was more shopping. It was $5 each way per person (No charge for younger, lap babies), and we took a rickety, 15 minute van ride. We were a little wary, but it turned out OK.
There were many more shops like the Nassau Straw Market that were mostly selling the same things. We purchased a number of souvenirs from the ladies who liked to call us over with words like "beautiful," "sweety," and you do feel for those who are trying to eek out a living. It was obvious though that they throw out a high, ridiculous price first, and then start lowering it when they see the look on your face or you start walking away. After you do this a few times, you will figure out their lowest, common price, and it's obvious that they have all agreed on that.
We stopped by a restaurant for a very water-down Bahama Mama shot and then happened upon another walk-up bar. I told the bartender that I didn't want a watered-down drink, and if he made it worth it, we would tip well and come back often. He delivered, and we were happy with our Bahama Papa and Zombie drinks.
We could have walked across the street and taken the public walkway beside the police station to the beach, but we were ready to get back to the port. We had to go into the little building where we were dropped off and tell them that we were ready to return. A van took us back and we shopped a little more. As I took the toddler back onboard, my husband and oldest son stayed for a little bit at Senor Frogs. They came back raving about the place and wishing they had stayed there the whole time. It was one big party with great drinks, a conga line, etc. Quite the scene!
We signed up for the Balmoral Island excursion on 10/3/13. It took entirely too long to get the group organized and walk over to the boat to take us to the island. On top of that, it was so hot, and my toddlers were having a hard time waiting in line to board the boat. Many people commented that it was too many people for that boat, and we didn't think we would all fit. The staff packed us in like sardines, and there was barely enough space to even look for a seat. And the fact is, not everyone got a seat, which meant there probably weren't enough life vests. When I asked the Carnival staff about additional seats, I was told to go below and look for seats. There were no seats below, and people were tightly packed on the boat. I was then told to sit in the wheelhouse with the captain. There were two seats, not enough for me, my husband and three children. The captain ignored me when I tried to talk to him and cast off anyway.
Some nice passengers offered us their seats so that we could sit down with our two toddlers who were overheated and getting sick. It was one of the most miserable experiences we've ever had! The boat ride was slow and hot, which didn't help after the long wait. When we arrived, it took at least 20 minutes to get everyone off the boat because (as with boarding) there was no step stool, and people had to take a huge leap with the help of the staff - quite an insurance liability!
Once on the island, our experience was much better, but we only had about two hours to spend there! The water was beautiful; the food was good (but expensive), the drinks were strong, and swimming with the rays was mostly a nice experience. One aggressive ray bit my finger when I was feeding it with the fish they give you, and it then bit my toe. It didn't break the skin, but I didn't want to do it again. They were fun to watch and feel.
However, we had to endure the loading and unloading procedure again (all of which took valuable time from our excursion), which ruined a good part of the experience.
My husband got off to pick up our pre-arranged rental van and came back to pick us all up. It was a smooth process, but a long, flat walk for my in-laws. We had to get a wheel chair on the return for my MIL. We drove to Cocoa Beach to Alan Shepard Park. (You can also take a shuttle from the port to the beach if you don't want to rent a car.) There was a $10 parking fee, and a company with two big trailers was on the beach renting chairs, umbrellas and boogie boards. We rented 3 chairs and an umbrella all day for $30 plus a $10 deposit. They obviously come out when a cruise ship is in port because they wanted to see our Sign & Sail card. There was a drink machine, bathrooms, showers, restaurants and a long pier in walking distance, and it felt very safe and comfortable. There are several area shopping malls, but we just went to lunch a few miles away at Long Horn and stopped by Wal-mart on our way back to the ship. You would need a rental car to do those things. It was a nice, easy day.