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Half Moon Cay, Final Phase

woman on horseback

Just when it’s starting to feel like our own backyard

Our third and final visit to Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s private island, is also the first stop on our third and final leg of our 35-day voyage. When we left Half Moon Cay on Sunday, it was a warm, beautiful day with winds strong in the morning decreasing throughout the day.

What a shock to arrive the next morning in Ft. Lauderdale where it is 50 degrees at 7 a.m. and winds are strong. Did I hibernate through the winter and wake up on an Alaska cruise? The only time it was ever this cold there was when our ship was next to a glacier.

So it’s nice to be back at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, where this morning it’s in the high 70s and winds are the calmest they’ve ever been.

3 half moon bch cover   3 half moon riding sea

More Island Background Info:
Unless there are two ships present and the larger vessel gets priority, the tender boats stationed in the protected Half Moon marina provide easy access for everyone, including those in wheelchairs and strollers. It’s because the upper level of the double-decked tenders are almost level with the gangway, as opposed to a steeper descent down to the Maasdam’s own tenders.

3 half moon fort   3 half moon shell fountain

After docking at the tender pier, you enter through the archway of Fort San Salvador, though technically this island’s name is Little San Salvador. The Bahamas’ real San Salvador is where Columbus may have landed, though the Turks and Caicos Islands claim the same honor.

Once inside the archway, you enter a plaza with an information kiosk, restrooms, a fountain surrounded by conch shells and a handful of shops. There is supposed to be a straw market, but if there is one it must be hidden in the gift shop, which I’ve never visited. From the plaza, you can see the replica of a small Bahamian chapel. The plaza also is where you board the shuttle trucks (with shade canopy) to different activities and to the Island BBQ at the Food Pavilion (served 11:30-1).

As for the BBQ, don’t feel the need to give up your beach time for to attend it. You’ll find the same hamburgers and dogs and bratwurst and fries at the Terrace Grill back on the Maasdam until 6 p.m., but not all the salads and fruits. Since the last tender departs around 2 p.m., just eat a big breakfast and grab some apples from the buffet for a snack.

At the same time, the buffet is not all that crowded when only one ship is anchored. When there are two, it can feel like a feeding frenzy and you may want to flee back to the ship.

Also consider the Lido Restaurant closes at 2 p.m., although the deli—which closes for a brief time and then reopens about 2:15-2:20 after a fresh restocking—stays open until 5.
3 half moon sand castle   3 half moon church   3 boy on slide

Moon also has a mini Aqua Park for youngsters 2-5, but the kids seem to ignore that as much as they do swimming in the Caribbean. From what I’ve witnessed, the kids prefer building sand castles and digging in the sand and turning their holes into wells with sea water they scoop from the sea. The huge (pirate?) ship mentioned in my first Half Moon Cay post is much closer to completion than when we first saw it 24 days ago. It’s now so prominent it’s easily seen from the Maasdam at anchor well offshore. And it dwarfs people on the beach.

3 half moon ship   3 half moon kids running

For those with mobility issues concerned about visiting Half Moon Cay, the busiest areas have three handicapped-accessible areas joined by hard-surfaced pathways. In addition, all the island’s facilities meet and exceed ADA requirements, including beach and jitney trams.

Here’s a summary of all the activities and facilities on Half Moon Cay.
Special Features:

  • Aquasports center with beach gear and watersports equipment
  • Fully-equipped Club HAL children’s playground
  • Free beach chairs
  • Volleyball, shuffleboard and horseshoes
  • Par course trail with exercise stations
  • Network of nature trails with interpretive signs
  • Bridges across dunes for beach access
  • Designated Wild Bird Reserve (you won’t find signs to it)
  • All facilities meet and exceed ADA requirements including beach and jitney trams
  • Hard-surfaced pathways connecting venues

3 half moon bch bottom

Half Moon Cay Part II

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Thanks to HAL’s Digital Workshop, I can show it to you now

I also provide much more detail about where and what HAL’s Half Moon Cay is. The real name of the 2,400-acre is Little San Salvador, which Holland America purchased in 1997 and shares with some Carnival Cruises.

This was an uninhabited island, 17 from the nearest landfall. With nine miles of beach, the island is little developed except in a 45-acre section bordering the mile-long crescent-shaped bay near the tender dock,. There is no cruise dock here.

The Half Moon Cay name is based not only on the crescent shape of the beach here but Holland America’s logo, which depicts explorer Henry Hudson’s ship, the Half Moon. From my point of view, they could just as well name it Paradise Beach or any combination of descriptive terms and they would be accurate.

I’ve seen most of the Caribbean’s major beaches and many out-of-the-way ones, so I feel qualified to say this one is truly spectacular, no hype.

Since we visit Half Moon Cay almost back to back, there to Ft. Lauderdale and then back again, I’ll wait to describe the facilities in that post. Let shut up and let these images show you the island.

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None of these images do justice to the beach.  Will try to do better today.

A Half Moon Day

OK, I now understand its appeal

     Virtually every Holland America Caribbean cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale includes a stop at Half Moon Cay, the cruise line’s private island in the Bahamas.  Which is why I’ve avoided short Caribbean cruises on HAL. I’d rather be spending time on one of the islands instead of what essentially is a water sports playground for adults and kids.
     So it’s ironic that 3 days on this 35-day cruise will be at Half Moon Cay. Which, after actually seeing it instead of making a biased assumption about it, I won’t mind going back to Half Moon Cay. No way you can see it all in one day and the activities are a capsule of the best Caribbean attractions: horseback riding on a beach, feeding stingrays, mangrove kayaking and fast jet-ski excursions.
     Most of all, there is the truly spectacular one-mile long white crescent beach bordered by bird’s egg blue waters.  It is a remarkable blue color, which I remember seeing in only one other place, in the Dominican Republic.  But that beach was bare of trees where Half Moon Cay’s has a thick shade canopy thanks to the casuarina (Australian pine) trees flanking it.
     If you know Caribbean beaches, think a combination of Seven-Mile Beach on Grand Cayman and Grace Bay Beach in the Turks and Caicos.  Only Half Moon Cay is better—no high-rise condos or development anywhere except for 15 brightly colored wooden shade canopies clustered in a small section of the beach.  They look like mini Bahamian homes, so they fit right in.
     HAL is known for appealing to an older age group but construction at Half Moon Cay disputes that. The playground with mini-galleons Linda mentions in her post look new. They are being joined by a huge wooden Spanish galleon under construction well back from the beach. It is large enough to handle scores of kids or adults.  Put a big pirate flag on this impressive vessel and it is a definite winner.
    There’s another new exhibit on the way, which I’ll tell you about on my next Half Moon Cay visit.  You won’t hear much about my third visit there. I intend to spend all my time in one of the shaded beach hammocks.   
    Seeing made me a believer in Half Moon Cay. Besides all the activities, I know we won’t see a better beach for the rest of the entire trip. Something everyone else will realize at the end of their cruise, whether they’re aboard for a mere 14 days or the full 35.