18 Secrets You Must Know Before You Visit Half Moon Cay

The idea of exploring a private island is definitely quite luxurious, but it’s not completely out of reach – just book a cruise to Half Moon Cay, Bahamas. True, you have to share the island with the rest of the passengers on your ship (and sometimes another ship too) but it’s still a really pleasant destination.

Imagine all of the quality hospitality you’re used to on your ship, but extended to a tropical resort. There are no pushy salespeople walking up and down the beach to pester you, the food is free, and the beaches are pristine.

Here are some of the best secrets and tips to help you make the most of your time on Half Moon Cay. You won’t have long, so make the most of it!

1. Half Moon Cay is Owned by Carnival Corporation

There are a handful of islands in the Caribbean owned by cruise lines, and Half Moon Cay is one of the highest-rated. It’s owned by the Carnival Corporation, although it was previously owned by Norwegian Cruise Line, when it was known as Little San Salvador Island.

As the Carnival Corporation now owns it, Half Moon Cay is visited by two of the company’s cruise lines – Carnival Cruises Line and Holland America Line.

None of the other major cruise lines owned by the company like P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises or Seabourn have cruises scheduled to visit the island in the next few years.

2. The Food is Free at Half Moon Cay

When you cruise to Half Moon Cay, the food is completely free. Because the island is owned by the cruise line, food on the island is considered part of your cruise fare. The exception is ice cream, while sodas and alcoholic drinks are also chargeable.

Guests can enjoy a full barbecue lunch buffet on the island, but only from 11.30 am until 1.30 pm. After that, guests can pick up a small snack from the bar.

The barbecue is pretty extensive and includes hot dogs, hamburgers, ribs, jerk chicken, chips and salsa, potato salad and more, along with sweets such as banana rum cake, tort, brownies and fresh fruit [Source].

food on Half Moon Cay

3. You Don’t Need a Passport To Go to Half Moon Cay

If you’re a US citizen then you don’t need a passport to sail to Half Moon Cay, providing you’re sailing from the US and you aren’t travelling to any other country. You’ll need a birth certificate and guests over 16 will also need a state-issued ID. A birth certificate alone is enough for guests under 16.

When leaving the ship, if you’ve sailed with your passport you can leave it on the ship and just take your Sign and Sail card with you, as this is needed to track who has left the ship and who has returned. You can also charge drinks to your cruise account using the card. [Source]

4. You’ve Probably Been Pronouncing Half Moon Cay Wrong

The correct pronunciation of ‘Cay’ is ‘Key’. The world is translated from the original Spanish and so locals will pronounce it as ‘key’. You can use either, and the cruise line announcements themselves may use ‘cay’. But ‘key’ is the official pronunciation.

The word ‘Cay’ comes from the Spanish ‘Cayo’ which means key, and it’s been used to describe islands since 1707 [Source].

5. There Are Sharks at Half Moon Cay

There have been some sightings of sharks at Half Moon Cay, although more commonly they are smaller sharks such as lemon sharks. There aren’t any reports of any Great White Sharks or other dangerous species swimming around the island.

Having said that, if you do want to go for a swim, it’s always best to stay alert since there will be aquatic wildlife around you. Follow any safety advice you are given. The waters at Half Moon Cay are crystal clear, so it will be easy to keep watch without having to be ultra vigilant. You’ll still be able to enjoy a swim! [Source]

Suggested read: Do Sharks Swim Around Cruise Ships?

lemon shark

6. There Are Plans To Build a Pier at Half Moon Cay

Currently, cruise ships visiting Half Moon Cay anchor at sea and use tenders to transfer guests to the island. But there are plans to add a proper pier to the island. The addition of a full-size pier will make it much easier and faster to load and unload guests on the ship.

The plans were originally announced in 2019 but then things got held up due to the global shutdown. A confirmed date is still yet to be announced but the plans haven’t been shelved, as far as we know.

Half Moon Cay tender boat

7. Your Drink Package Won’t Work on Half Moon Cay

If you have a drinks package already on your ship, this won’t extend to your time on Half Moon Cay. Holland America Line passengers can buy an island drinks package for $25, but this offer isn’t available to Carnival guests, who have to buy drinks individually.

The Half Moon Cay drink package for Holland America includes up to 15 drinks but can only be used for a single person. It does include soda and water as well, so even if you’re not planning on drinking a lot of alcohol it can be good value at that price.

Half Moon Cay beer bucket

8. There is No Cellphone Service on Half Moon Cay

There is no regular cellphone service on Half Moon Cay, although there is a mast which some cruisers say they have been able to connect to if they’re on an international plan. There is also no WiFi, so don’t plan to spend the day browsing social media.

Half Moon Cay is designed as a tropical resort where you can enjoy the beauty of nature (and the great food and drink). So try to embrace the lack of technology for the day! If you need to make any kind of emergency call then you’ll be able to get support from any of the bars or stores on the island.

9. You Should Take Water Shoes for Your Visit to Half Moon Cay

Some of the areas where you access the beach on Half Moon Cay are quite rocky, and in the water there are some rocky surfaces on the seafloor as well. So it’s recommended that you take water shoes with you when visiting the island.

Water shoes aren’t super thick but they will protect the soles of your feet from jagged edges. The last thing you want to do is be one of the first to get to the beach to reserve a hammock, only to need a trip to the medical services to treat a cut.

These water shoes from Amazon are good quality and come in lots of different colours and sizes.

10. Half Moon Cay is Pretty Big

Half Moon Cay is small compared to some other islands in the area, but at 2400 acres, it’s still pretty big. The main Half Moon Cay beach is 2.5 miles long, while there are activities such as water sports and horse riding further afield from the tender dock too.

So bear that in mind when you’re enjoying yourself – don’t leave too long a walk to get back to the tenders in time for departure! 

Half Moon Cay

11. Some Souvenir Vendors Only Accept Cash

When buying drinks on Half Moon Cay, you can use your Sign and Sail card to have them charged to your cruise account. But souvenir sellers on the island often only accept cash, so if you want to pick up a gift then you’ll need to take cash with you.

While the official currency is the Bahamian dollar, you should be fine paying with US dollars. The straw market on the island definitely accepts them.

12. There Are 9 miles of Beach on the Island

As well as the main Half Moon Beach close to the tender dock, which runs for 2.5 miles, there are another 6.5 miles of beach that guests can access on Half Moon Cay. Some of these beaches are a couple of miles from the tender dock, and tend to be quieter.

Of course, because they’re further away it also means you can’t just sip on a drink from the nearby bar. And you have to remember to make it back for the return tenders to the ship. But if you like the idea of peace and quiet, consider exploring further beyond the first beach you come across.

Half Moon Cay beach

13. There’s a Pirate Ship on the Island

It’s not a floating ship, but Captain Morgan’s is a three-storey pirate ship bar situated on Half Moon Cay. The first two storeys are the bar, where you can enjoy drinks and some snacks. The top deck is more of a popular photo-op, giving great views of the surrounding island too.

Captain Morgan's

You’ll also find a shipwreck-themed splash zone for kids complete with squirting water cannons.

kids water park

14. You Can Hire a Private Cabana

You can hire a private beach villa on Half Moon Cay. These are designed for up to eight people and cost around $600 per day. For that, you get access to a private hot tub (with space for five people), your own refrigerator, air conditioning (which can be valuable) and a misting shower.

You also get free snacks including fruit and soft drinks along with bottled water. Snorkel gear is also provided for the guests if you want to enjoy a swim in the ocean – which your hut is just yards from.

Half Moon Cay cabana

15. 95% of the Island Hasn’t Been Developed

While Half Moon Cay is a lively destination, most of the island hasn’t been touched. 95% is still natural forest and beach, along with the lagoon near the centre. Carnival Corporation has announced plans for further development of the island, but details are yet to be announced.

For now, guests can enjoy some beautiful nature walks through the undeveloped areas of the island.

16. You Can Ride a Horse Through the Sea

There are some fantastic Half Moon Cay excursions available, but one of the most popular is with Holland America where you can ride a horse on a trail through land and into the ocean. The horses are safe as the trail is never too deep, and special saddles keep guests safe.

It’s a very popular excursion just for how unique it is, and it’s open to anyone – even if you’ve never ridden before. It’s a moderate activity lasting for around 75 minutes (with 45 minutes of riding) and costs around $100 per person.

horse back riding Half Moon Cay

Other excursion options include various water sports, glass-bottom boat tours, bike trails (with bicycle and eco-bike hire) and more.

17. You Can Swim With Stingrays

Half Moon Cay has a special facility called Stingray Cove where guests can snorkel amongst stingrays. It’s surrounded by netting to keep other marine life away, meaning you can just focus on enjoying the stingrays themselves.

swimming with stingrays half moon cay

18. The Island Has a Tram Service

While Half Moon Cay is pretty big, you don’t have to walk everywhere. You can hop on the free tram service if you want to get to some of the further afield excursions, such as the stingray swimming experience or horse riding trails.

Everything on the island is within walking distance – no more than 30-40 minutes really – but if you’ve got tired kids with you at the end of a long day of fun, hopping on the tram back towards the tender dock can be a bit of a lifesaver.

To Conclude

There’s a lot that you can enjoy on a visit to Half Moon Cay, some of which may surprise you. Because of that, it is a popular port for guests to disembark, so you may want to make sure you’re up early if you want to reserve a deck chair or hammock. The island will get busy with cruise guests, especially on days when there are multiple ships visiting.

Have you been to Half Moon Cay? I’d love to add your own top tips to this list as well, so leave a comment and let me know what you’d recommend.

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Cruise Mummy

Jenni Fielding is the founder of Cruise Mummy. She has worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and has taken over 30 cruises. Now, she helps over 1 million people per month to plan their perfect cruise holidays.

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8 thoughts on “18 Secrets You Must Know Before You Visit Half Moon Cay”

  1. We will be taking a cruise to the Bahamas later this year (Half Moon Cay is on the list of stops) and I was hoping someone would be able to answer a few questions I still have and can’t find answers to.

    How frequently do the tenders relay passengers to and from the ship?
    Do you have to pay for an excursion to be able to travel to the island from the ship or is everyone allowed?
    Are there chairs/umbrellas/covered areas near the water for everyone to enjoy, or do you have to rent/pay to use them?
    Are there souvenir opportunities here?

    Thanks in advnace!

  2. I had great TMobile service all day there two days ago…not that you want to stay on your phone the whole time but you can shoot a couple of pics to folks back home sooner than you think. It is SO beautiful.

  3. This may sound silly to some. But, I have a great fear of the sea. I was banned from my home and community in 2021 and had to move to a new town, instead I moved from PA to a town in Arkansas called Mena. I really want to travel though. I’m financially able to now and would love to go on a cruise. Here’s the “May Sound Silly” part. I have had a great deal of nightmares where I am on a cruise and I somehow always end up on an island, alone. Scared, no one but myself and no way to get help. I don’t watch TV at all. I’ve just now recently started using the internet as well as a smart phone and learning about the internet. I actually came across this site from google by looking up cruises. I was just wondering a few things. I hope I will receive kindness and not hate.

    1. Is there any tracking devices that the cruise lines have for each passenger so that in the case of an emergency like a passenger or even a child, gets lost or say, pushed off the cruise or falls off, they can track them easily. If not, maybe a cruise ship can create them.

    2. Is there Doctors or Emergency Responders on the cruises. Or like a medical department of some kind?

    3. Is there protection of any kind on the ships, For Single girls? I’m only 20. 21 July.

    4. When getting off the ships to explore islands, can there be a personal bodyguard or some type of person to make sure of my safety.

    5. What is best to pack for a cruise?

    6. Can a former Amish girl even go on a cruise? I’m no longer Amish.

    I just got my License 2 weeks ago. But I was told I couldn’t get a passport. That’s why I asked if I am allowed to go on a cruise.

    7. What happens in the event of a hurricane or tsunami or any other major storms.

    8. I’ve read about the Bermuda triangle, and I was wondering how cruise ships travel around that?

    If you have read this far I would just like to say thank you.

    Grace Yoder

    • Yes they do have medical on the carnival cruise ships, they have staff everywhere so u shouldn’t have problem as far as safety, they don’t have anyone to get off ship with u an watch u. I suggest getting a friend to cruise with you . U can take a cruise to most ports with ur driver’s license an birth certificate. They do monitor the weather an keep you away from the path of the storms. As far as what to pack for cruise, you can find a list of things u can and can’t take on the website. Definitely take an adapter for plug in cause u only have 1 single plug

  4. I don’t understand why but you can float on your back effortlessly! At home in RI I can float only if I am holding my breath.

    • Could be the extra salt in the sea?

  5. Catch the first tender out in the am, walk down the beach for a good distance and set up under the shade trees. Bring a cheap blow up float. Lots of fun. Eat lunch early. Wear a t shirt, hat and 45 sunblock for lips. Perfect day, don’t forget a cheap digital camera that can go under water.

  6. Well-written article. Very informative – thank you.

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