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Best Bahamas cruise tips for first-timers and repeat visitors alike

June 2 2022
8 min read
Exterior of Atlantis Paradise Island
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While many seasoned cruisers (like me!) return over and over, the Bahamas are often a destination of firsts.

In my case, this collection of over 3,000 islands and uninhabited sandy cays was part of my first cruise and my introduction to snorkeling. The first time I went scuba diving with sharks was from the capital city of Nassau, which was the first place I ate conch.

If you’re contemplating taking a Bahamas cruise for the first time (or planning a return visit), I can assure you that you’ll have tons of fun in, on and under the turquoise waves as well as eating, drinking, playing and exploring shoreside. But if you’re nervous about making the most of your cruise vacation, let me offer you my best Bahamas cruise tips for booking, packing, staying safe and enjoying the islands.

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Take advantage of an abundance of short Bahamas cruise options

Enchantment of the Seas. (Photo by Debbie Ann Powell/Shutterstock)

Many Bahamas cruises are short — between two and five nights. Short cruises are perfect as weekend getaways, add-ons to land-based vacations, trial runs for new cruisers and even “obligation” trips with people you don’t want to travel with for a full week (family reunion with the in-laws, anyone?).

If you’re looking for a longer cruise to the Bahamas, never fear, you can find them, particularly from non-Florida ports or on cruises that combine stops in the Bahamas with Caribbean ports of call.

Related: The best time to cruise to the Bahamas

Drive to your departure port to save money

Sailing from a port close to your home can save money, and you can find Bahamas cruises departing from numerous cities around the U.S. Look at Galveston, Texas; Baltimore; Bayonne, New Jersey; New Orleans; Charleston, South Carolina; Norfolk, Virginia; and even New York City, as well as the popular Florida cruise ports. Just don’t forget to include port parking fees in your calculations, as they may be higher than you expect.

Pick a cruise based on ship, not itinerary

If you’re looking for my top Bahamas cruise booking tip, I’d say to choose a trip based on the cruise line and ship, not the itinerary. Most Bahamas sailings visit the same ports (Nassau, Freeport) and the cruise line private islands all provide amazing beach days.

That means you should look for a ship you think you'll enjoy, so your fun extends across every minute of the trip, not just when you are in port.

Related: A beginners guide to picking a cruise line

Water-loving families can continue their wet fun on board ships with slides, raft rides, splash zones and multiple pools. Shop Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, MSC Cruises and most Disney Cruise Line ships. Those same cruise lines work well for couples seeking a megaresort atmosphere.

Young couples and singles craving a not-your-grandmother’s-cruise-ship vibe should explore Virgin Voyages, which stops at Bimini on most of its Caribbean cruises, or Celebrity Cruises, which offers short sailings to Key West, Florida, and the Bahamas. And for the Parrot Head partiers among us (you know who you are), don’t forget the newly rebranded Margaritaville at Sea cruise line which sails from the Port of Palm Beach in Florida every other day to Freeport, Grand Bahama Island.

Pack for fun in the sun and sea — without the burn

(Photo by Peter Cade/Getty Images)

The sun in the Bahamas is brutal. Return home sans the sunburn by packing UV protective clothes like rash guards, hats and cover-ups, then use reef-friendly sunscreen on all exposed skin. Consider wearing a shirt or rash guard when snorkeling or swimming, so your back doesn’t burn. Reapply your sunscreen every few hours, or more often than you think you need to.

Pack double the swimwear, so you have a dry suit to wear while you wait for the other to dry. If you're an avid snorkeler (or hope to become one on your cruise), you might want to bring your own gear for a better fit and to avoid rental fees.

Related: Bahamas cruise packing list: What to pack for the islands

Bring your passport

If your cruise starts and ends at the same U.S. port, you don't technically need a passport to cruise. You can set sail to the Bahamas with only a certified birth certificate and a valid state ID. My advice is to bring a passport anyway.

Applying for a passport may seem like a lot of hassle and extra money for a short hop to the Bahamas, but it's a lot less hassle than managing the chaos if something like an accident, illness or mechanical problem with the ship leaves you stranded in a foreign country without a passport.

Invest in a cheap digital camera

There's not much need to lug around expensive camera gear in the Bahamas, but an inexpensive, compact, waterproof digital camera might keep you from losing or damaging your far more expensive smartphone.

Sure, you can buy housings that allow you to take your phone underwater, but as a long-time snorkeler and diver I can tell you it's incredibly easy to get caught up in an exciting moment and let go of (and lose track of) a camera in the water. Do you really want that to happen to your new iPhone, or would the loss of a $69 (or even a $400) camera hurt a little less?

Plan your island time in advance

(Photo by Henrik Landfors/Getty Images)

You can make the most of your time ashore by planning. Book shore excursions in advance (either through the ship or through third-party operators). Often, just knowing what your options are will save time standing on the pier wondering what you should do. For example, Nassau is a walk-off port if you want to shop, but pretty much everything else you’d want to do there requires transportation. There’s even less to do within walking distance of the pier in Freeport.

You’ll find there are plenty of last-minute tour offers at the docks, but handing your money to unvetted tour operators can be a risk that might lead to a fun adventure or to a sad tale of things that went wrong on your cruise.

Related: Best shore excursions for Bahamas cruises

Be aware of your surroundings

You may hear tales of crime and even violence against tourists in the Bahamas, but most crimes reported in the islands are pickpocketing and drug-related problems. The best way to avoid theft is to maintain a heightened awareness of your surroundings and travel with clothing and bags that deter nimble fingers. Obviously, decline any offers of drugs.

On my first cruise to Nassau (decades ago), my two friends and I were all young and naive. We were offered marijuana within steps of departing the ship. We thought the dude wanted to give us shell necklaces to welcome us, but his overtures quickly turned into a conversation about the necklace being a bonus available only to his weed customers. Just stopping to talk to him could have ended badly for us; a bit of wariness regarding strangers in port who approach you goes a long way toward enjoying a fun and safe cruise.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured photo by (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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