In 1997, Holland America Line purchased Little San Salvador from its previous owners for a cool $6 million. Today, the 2,400-acre island is known as Half Moon Cay and serves as a private retreat for passengers on the line's Caribbean and Panama Canal sailings. (Carnival ships sometimes visit, too, as Holland America is owned by Carnival Corp.)
The line invested $15 million to spruce up Half Moon Cay, but just two percent of it has been developed. Located less than 100 miles southeast of Nassau, the island houses its passenger facilities on less than 50 acres; much of the remaining land serves as a preserve for migratory birds. Day-to-day operations are handled by nearly 100 employees who reside on nearby islands.
Physically, the island boasts a 2.5-mile-long crescent-shaped beach -- the source of the name Half Moon Cay. Facilities are divided into three sections: the welcome center, Bahamian Village and Tropics Restaurant. The welcome center features an information booth, restrooms, a bar, a Bahamian straw market, an ice cream shop, a post office, a first aid station, an island shop and tram stop.
Visitors can choose from massages or one of several more active pursuits. A visit to any of three on-island water sports centers will allow for the rental of snorkeling equipment, aqua bikes, windsurf boards, kayaks and beach floats. Or, you can pick from several shore excursion offerings that include horseback-riding, water-scooter rides, stingray adventures, deep-sea fishing (catch-and-release), eco tours, parasailing, and guided bike and kayak tours.
For kids, check out Half Moon Cay's Half Moon Lagoon water park. It's got large water creatures for climbing, water cannons and a pirate-ship waterslide. A playground with slides and two wooden pirate ships is also available for children to use.
Several full-service bars are located throughout the island and on the beach. There is also a quiet bar near the facility's interior lagoon. Additionally, Holland America debuted Captain Morgan's On the Rocks Island Bar in early 2011. It's positioned near Tropics Restaurant, which provides a free buffet-style barbecue for passengers. The Captain Morgan bar looks like a washed-up schooner and features outdoor rum-cask seating, cannon water misters and plenty of history on the captain and his exploits. It also includes a performance area, where a band often plays.
A straw market and island shop are both situated near the welcome center. They each offer typical Caribbean souvenirs.
A gratis buffet lunch is provided for island guests.
You'll pay extra for alcohol, souvenirs, many activities and shore excursions, which include a new glass-bottom boat tour and horseback-riding. Passengers can also rent private air-conditioned cabanas or two-story beach villas ($550 for up to eight people) if they want to escape the crowds. Many expenses -- such as drinks, activities and souvenirs at the line's island shop -- can be put on passengers' onboard accounts. However, for purchases at the straw market, you'll need cash.
See photos of Half Moon Cay taken on a Holland America Line Eurodam cruise.
The island offers a 25-passenger tram for easy transportation, a 5K running course and a chapel, which can accommodate up to 20 people for wedding ceremonies and vow-renewals. Half Moon Cay has also been voted "Best Private Island" 11 years in a row by "Porthole Cruise Magazine."