A cruise to The Bahamas conjures images of sugar-sand beaches and crystal-clear water, but the islands have much more to offer than a chance to bask in the sun. The port cities of Nassau and Freeport are stepping stones to a wide variety of Bahamas shore excursions, from world-renowned snorkeling and scuba diving to foodie and cultural tours that take you off the beaten path. And of course, you can still have that picture-perfect beach day.
Check out the top Bahamas shore excursions in each of these popular ports -- all of which can be booked either through your cruise line or independently.
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For those who don't mind getting a little dirty, ATV rides are a popular Bahamas shore excursion in Nassau. The outskirts of Nassau are replete with four-wheeling adventure opportunities such as "The Caves," a network of large limestone caverns, and Clifton Heritage National Park, where dirt trails lead riders to a beach -- perfect for a refreshing swim. Note: Age requirements vary by tour, but are usually 21 to drive (with a valid driver's license) and at least 12 to ride.
The hauntingly beautiful Underwater Sculpture Garden off New Providence is home to the world’s largest underwater artwork, Ocean Atlas, depicting a Bahamian girl carrying the weight of the ocean above her, by artist Jason deCaires Taylor. Taylor, who is famous for crafting underwater sculpture around the world, created a 60-ton, 18-foot sculpture that was unveiled in Nassau’s Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation (BREEF) at the Sir Nicholas Nuttall Coral Reef in 2014. Other sculptures include Lucayan Faces by Andret John and Virtuoso Man by Willicey Tynes.
The great thing about this Bahamas shore excursion is that participants do not need to be certified divers. In fact, travelers don’t have to dive, they can stick with a snorkel since its location is just 16 feet below the surface, 450 feet offshore. Though swimming is of course a requirement, as is wearing a snorkel and vest, though diving equipment will allow you to spend longer viewing the underwater sculptures. Participants must be over 12.
Get to know the history of The Bahamas' capital on a walking tour and visit Government House, Parliament and Rawson squares and the historic Fort Fincastle. This central limestone fort was built in 1793 in the shape of a paddle-wheel steamer on the peak of Bennet's Hill. It’s here you'll find Queen's Staircase, overhanging with tropical vegetation. These 66 steps were carved out of limestone by as many as 600 slaves between 1793 and 1794 to create an escape route from the fort.
There is plenty to see and do on a Bahamas shore excursion to Clifton Heritage National Park, a former plantation site in the southwest of New Providence. The area was once home to the Lucayan, Loyalist and African cultures and is steeped in history. Visit the former plantation carriage house, now a gift shop, once used to store crops, and ruins of The Great House, the former master’s quarters, built in 1788.
Dedicate time to wandering the twisting trails that lead through a coppice forest, rocky shorelines, coastal wetlands and velvety beaches. A must-visit is the breathtaking Cliffs of Clifton, where the coastline plunges 40 feet into the Atlantic Ocean. Admire Sacred Space, also known as Genesis Garden, with its collection of African female statues carved out of timber tree trunks. After, laze on the white sands of Johnston or Flipper beaches and snorkel in the sublime turquoise waters.
Beyond its staple dish, conch, the Bahamas serves up sumptuous delicacies ranging from spiny lobster to guava pastries and Johnnycakes. For those who want an authentic taste of the islands, consider a culinary tour. These local guide-led Bahamas shore excursions take passengers outside Nassau's touristy cruise terminal hub, usually to the city's historic district, for a series of tastings at family-owned restaurants. Along the way, sample tasty dishes such as peas and rice, cracked conch, Bahamian fish stew, baked-stuff crab and rum cake. Stop at John Watling’s Distillery to sample island-made rum and savor hand-made chocolates at the historic Graycliff, where experiences also include a cigar factor tour and wine blending.
Looking for a place to kick back and indulge in frozen umbrella drinks, or play with some water sport toys? While Nassau's Atlantis resort has long stolen the spotlight, there's another day trip option that's quickly growing in popularity -- and we can see why. Balmoral Island, just a short boat ride from the port, offers an exclusive beach experience with everything from island jams and grub, to snorkeling and a stingray encounter; there are also kayaks available for rent.
Anglers from all over the world are drawn to the Bahamas for its fishing scene, and Freeport is one of the many places you can rent a boat to try your luck at hooking a marlin, tuna or wahoo. Your boat captain will take you to the island's top fishing spots and provide all the equipment. Be sure to choose a half-day tour, so you don't have to worry about rushing to get back to your ship. A handful of charter companies also factor in additional time for swimming and other activities.
The waters of Grand Bahama Island teem with coral reefs and other marine life including stingrays and sharks. The reefs are also home to several shipwrecks. Many of these iconic snorkel and dive sites are easily accessible via a short, guided boat ride. The best part: You can enjoy views from the surface. Thanks to a shallow bank bordered by a barrier reef that runs along the island's shoreline, clear water from the depths where the banks drop off provide excellent visibility. Bring your own gear, or rent onsite.
For the perfect balance of adventure and relaxation, look no further than the pristine Lucayan National Park. Bahamas shore excursions to this park generally include activities like kayaking through mangroves and walking on boardwalk-style nature trails, with some time to relax on the beach. The most sought-after feature, though, is its majestic caves; Lucayan National Park is home to one of the largest underwater cave systems in the world. Two caves are open to the public, and even though swimming in them is prohibited, they are well worth the visit.
While there is plenty to do in The Bahamas for more active travelers, visitors wanting to relax and kick back on a beach are spoiled for choice. Plump for the dreamy Taino Beach, on Grand Bahamas Island's south coast, just outside of Freeport. Enjoy delicious ocean swims in the crystalline water and laze on the flour-soft sand. Dine on chef Ranwaat's catch of the day or shrimp ‘n’ grits at The Stoned Crab and sip on heady rum cocktails at Bernie's TikiHut. Parasols and sun loungers are available for hire and there's also a zipline and fun-filled activity area on the shore.