Updated January 11, 2020
Half Moon Cay -- the private island in the Bahamas that Carnival and Holland America share -- looks like a movie set of a beach. The sand is pristinely white, with nary a scratchy shell or untoward piece of seaweed. The sea is warm, but not too warm, and turquoise, just like all the postcards you see of Caribbean beaches that you always assumed were fake. The cabanas are painted in bright, happy colors, and the bars have quaint thatched roofs and inviting Adirondack chairs -- or are set inside a faux pirate ship. You have to try to have a bad time there.
There are many ways to have a great time, however, depending on what sort of beach activities you enjoy. Based on our visit to the island, here are six great ways to spend your day in Half Moon Cay.
1. The Active Traveler
Book a tour to go snorkeling, kayaking, even horseback riding on the beach. We had wondered if excursions on a private island were worth it, but by all accounts, they are. We talked to people who saw sharks, barracudas and sting rays, as well as plenty of fish, just by kayaking in the lagoon. We did a three-mile bike ride that took us all over the island and even got us glimpses of the rays.
2. The Beach Bum
No need to plan -- just put on your swimsuit, grab a lounge chair and let the day go where it will. Thirsty? Kick back on the patio of the "I Could Stay Here Forever" Bar with a cold beer or daiquiri. Restless? Rent a water bike for an hour. Hot? Take a dip in that beautiful Caribbean water. There's no need to plan your day in advance.
3. The Family
If you've got little ones in tow, hit the beach and walk to your left (toward the tender boats). At the far end, there's a fabulous water play area for kids with water slides, a dump-and-spray area and even a giant shooting fountain. Pack a few sand toys and floaties, and you'll be here all day (or until nap time). If the weather is cool or you want to change things up, head to the pirate ship-themed playground on the other side of the road.
4. The Honeymooners
You don't need to be on your honeymoon, but if you want to get away from the crowds and the noise, head for the far end of the beach (to your right). Past the last lifeguard stand, you'll find a stand of trees with hammocks and shade -- and far fewer humans. Beyond that, you've got the beach mostly to yourself until the horseback riders come through. Just use caution when swimming.
5. The Party Animals
If you want to be where the action is, set up by the pirate ship, flag down a roving waiter for a bucket of beer or twister drink (corkscrew-shaped straw cups of fruity frozen beverages), dance in the sand to the blaring music coming out of the ship and go for the gold in the wacky beach games that take place here. Just arrive early to stake out loungers before the crowds descend.
6. The Group
If you've got enough people traveling together, and book early enough, you can snag one of the coveted two-story beach villas (for a fee). A, B and C are near the pirate ship action (and noise) -- D and E will get you away from the hubbub. Bring a football or Frisbee for some shallow water games, or make use of the snorkel gear and floats that come with your rental. If you feel so inclined, you can take a pretty wicked family photo here -- don’t forget your coordinated outfits.