Bahamas Experience

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Cruising to the Bahamas

More tourists cruise into Nassau and Freeport than anywhere else in the Caribbean region. The islands are just a couple of hundred miles off the coast of Florida, so cruise lines are able to schedule short excursions over, or make it the first or last port of call on longer trips venturing into the eastern or western Caribbean. In 2009 the Bahamian government completed an extensive dredging project to make Nassau Harbour deep enough to accommodate the new supersize cruise ships. The first to hit the high seas, Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, made its inaugural voyage to the Bahamas in December 2009.

With Bay Street and historic sights just steps away from the cruise docks, Nassau is a great place to disembark for even just a few hours. Your first stop is Festival Place, a vibrant marketplace right on the wharf, complete with live Bahamian music and a variety of small shops designed to look like clapboard houses. You can get around downtown on foot or you can take a taxi, scooter, or horse-drawn surrey. If you have a full day, buy an Atlantis day pass and enjoy the waterslides, casino, walk-through aquarium, and beaches.

Freeport's cruise-ship port is a bit farther from town and the beaches, so you'll need to take a taxi or tour bus to explore. Port Lucaya is the no-brainer stop for shopping and a bite to eat. If you have a longer stopover, book an organized tour or take a taxi to Lucayan National Park and explore caves and Gold Rock Creek beach across the road.

Your cruise ship will likely offer tours and excursions that can be booked in advance. Unless you're dead set on doing something in particular and are concerned there might not be space, you might consider waiting until you disembark to book something with a local operator. Many times this is a cheaper option.

In addition to Nassau and Freeport, some cruise lines have leased private islands in the Bahamas. All have stunning beaches lined with lounge chairs and umbrellas, motorized and nonmotorized water sports, casual waterfront bars and restaurants, live entertainment, nature trails, and pricey souvenir shops. Disney Cruise Line stops off at Castaway Cay in the Abacos, Holland America visits the 45-acre Half Moon Cay between Cat Island and Eleuthera, Norwegian Cruise Lines has Great Stirrup Cay in the Berry Islands, and Royal Caribbean stops off at Coco Cay between Nassau and Freeport.

Most cruise ships offer just one or two stops within the Bahamas as part of a wider Caribbean itinerary, but there are a few smaller lines that offer cruises through the Bahamas chain. Pearl Seas Cruises ' (800/983–7462 www.pearlseascruises.com) eight-day Bahamas cruise on board a 335-foot, 210-passenger ship stops in Grand Bahama, the Abacos, Harbour Island, the Exumas, and San Salvador. The American Canadian Caribbean Line's (800/556–7450 www.blountsmallshipadventures.com) 183-foot, 100-passenger Grande Caribe has a 12-night tour through the Bahamas, stopping in Nassau, north Eleuthera, and the Exuma Cays.

Updated: 12-2013

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