Passengers who are lucky enough to cruise the Bahamas on Princess, Holland America or Carnival ships will probably see a stop at Princess Cays or Half Moon Cay show up on their itinerary.
These destinations, unlike others that are filled with intense sightseeing excursions, are favorites of beach-loving passengers for their singular focus on rest and relaxation. Sure, you can book a few excursions on these islands, but you're on island time -- so doing absolutely nothing is perfectly OK, too.
Let's explore the amenities on Princess Cays and Half Moon Cay to help you pick your next cruise itinerary.
Princess Cays and Half Moon Cay are both located in the Bahamas, both owned by the Carnival Corporation (which owns Princess Cruises and Holland America) and are located just 15 miles from each other in the Atlantic Ocean.
Getting there: Both Half Moon Cay and Princess Cays require a tender to access their shores. Because of this, these ports are occasionally canceled if seas are rough or conditions are windy.
Crowd potential: Carnival, Holland America and Princess ships all visit Half Moon Cay. Though it doesn't happen very often, this can result in more than one ship porting here on the same day; a less common (but still possible) scenario is more than one ship calling on Princess Cays.
Freebies: You'll find free beach chairs and hammocks at both of these island destinations, as well as a standard island barbecue buffet. It's always complimentary to go for a refreshing ocean swim.
Cabanas: One of cruisers' favorite parts of visiting these destinations is renting cabanas for a private island getaway. Half Moon Cay offers colorful cabanas that are air-conditioned (starting from $280 per day), as well as two-story villas (from $500).
Princess Cays offers similar colorful Caribbean-style bungalows, which are also air-conditioned, starting from $200 per day. There is also an adults-only area at Princess Cays, with bungalows available.
Dining: Turns out there is such a thing as a free lunch, and you'll find it in both of these places. Half Moon Cay's Tropics Restaurant serves burgers, chicken, tacos and more, plus there's the Lobster Shack, which charges for a la carte seafood entrees. At Princess Cays, two pavilions are filled with burgers, hot dogs, ribs and salads at lunch time.
Rentals: You can rent equipment for snorkeling, kayaking and floating, plus beach clamshells and bungalows at both locations.
Island size and characteristics: The first difference you'll note is that Princess Cays is a 40-acre beach area on the southern point of the island Eleuthera, whereas Half Moon Cay is a 2,400-acre totally private island reserved exclusively for cruise passengers.
Beaches: Passengers love the soft, powdery sand of Half Moon Cay. On Princess Cays, the sand runs a bit more coarse, with some rocky beach areas. Tip: Bring your water shoes if you intend to go exploring on the shores of Princess Cays.
Shore excursions: Both islands offer snorkeling and stingray encounters, as well as additional water-based activities and other tours, but offerings are unique to each private island. Half Moon Cay offers horseback riding, biking and hiking. Princess Cays features coastal cruising, fishing and a clear-bottom kayak tour.
In addition, because Princess Cays is attached to a Bahamian island, you can explore outside the realm of the designated cruise area. Some passengers enjoy visiting Eleuthera's villages, such as Rock Sound and Tarpum Bay. Passengers visiting Half Moon Cay will be limited to what's provided by the cruise line on the island.
Island transportation: On Half Moon Cay, you can catch a tram from the Welcome Center to the buffet area and back throughout the day, while on Princess Cays, a motorized cart delivers passengers to their private cabanas (available upon reservation).
Bugs: Passengers have noted that flies and other bugs can be a bit of a problem on Princess Cays, so consider bringing insect repellent.
Bars: You won't have a problem ordering a frosty beverage at either locale. You'll find five different bars at Princess Cays: Reef Runners Bar, Coconuts, Palm Groove, Bahia Bar and Banana Beach Bar. There are four on Half Moon Cay: Rumrunners, I Wish I Could Stay Here Forever Bar, Captain Morgan's (on a pirate ship!) and Bell Bar.
One difference is that on Princess Cays, the unlimited drink package you may have purchased on the ship will be valid on the island, while on Half Moon Cay, you'll buy drinks separately. (Cruise lines sometimes offer a separate drink package that you can purchase exclusively for use on the island.)
Shopping: You can purchase trinkets and local handicrafts in both destinations. There's a Tropical Treasures boutique on Princess Cays, where you can use your cruise card to make purchases -- or you can venture outside the cruise area to find more shopping and crafts from local artisans. (Obviously, you will need to pay cash here; U.S. currency is accepted.)
On Half Moon Cay, you'll find small shops selling cruise line-branded gear and jewelry, as well as a straw market that offers Bahamian-made art and other goods.
Many passengers prefer Half Moon Cay's powdery beach and seemingly endless rustic beauty that is truly secluded from the rest of the world. If you're a beach-lover, you just might find that HMC is your favorite cruise port.
Snorkelers seem to give a slight edge to Princess Cays, and cruisers also like the proximity of the bars to the ocean. People also like the option to explore the rest of Eleuthera if they tire of the beach life. But depending on the time of year, bugs here can be a nuisance.
Updated October 10, 2019