We Had A Fun Beach Day At Great Stirrup Cay In Bahamas
On the last day of our Caribbean cruise, we enjoyed a fun beach day at Great Stirrup Cay. There were lots of fun activities available for this port stop. But we were happy we chose to relax on the vast sand beach with a great view of the Caribbean Sea. When we needed some water fun, we donned our snorkel gear. It was interesting as we explored the underwater sculpture garden.
A Private Island For Norwegian Cruise Lines
On our travels to the Caribbean, we spent lots of time in the Bahamas. So we were excited when we planned our Caribbean cruise and saw a new Bahamas destination on the Itinerary. When we did some research about Great Stirrup Cay, we quickly learned that this was a private island exclusive to Norwegian Cruise Line guests. And since Oceania Cruises was part of the Norwegian group, we got access to this port stop.
Norwegian purchased the island from the Belcher Oil Company in 1977 and developed it into a private island for their cruise ship passengers. We learned it was the first uninhabited island ever to be turned into a private cruise port. But given how long it was around, we were surprised we had not yet visited Great Stirrup Cay on our many Caribbean Cruises with Oceania.
Great Stirrup Cay is a small island in the Berry Islands. Like many of the Bahamian islands, it was formed by tectonic and glacial shifting. The island was originally a coral reef under the water. Much of this coral structure was visible today and this porous rock explained why there were no rivers or lakes on these islands.
We learned that Great Stirrup Cay was not always an unoccupied island. In 1492 the Spanish arrived on the island. The British came after the Spanish around 1600. And then the well protected coves brought pirates. The island provided safe harbours for pirate vessels that plundered Spanish gold ships as they returned from South America.
The pirates kept these islands while the British moved to Nassau and the larger islands. But they were ultimately abandoned. Only to be re-purposed for holiday fun! We were certainly excited to spend a fun beach day at Great Stirrup Cay.
Lots of Fun Excursions At Great Stirrup Cay
For such a small spot, we were surprised at the number of ship excursions available for our beach day at Great Stirrup Cay. On the island, snorkelling and kayaks were offered. The snorkelling fee just provided the snorkel gear. We packed our own snorkel gear for this trip so we could enjoy the many opportunities for water fun in the Caribbean on this cruise. We did not want to commit to kayaking time, so we hoped we might rent a kayak once we got to the island.
The big attraction on the beach at Great Stirrup Cay was the zipline. There were a series of three flights starting 130 feet above ground from a replica lighthouse and the experience lasted about an hour. The first zip-line was 100 feet long. The second zip-line was longer at 600 feet and the final zip at 600 feet long took you back to ground level.
There were also excursions that took people off the Great Stirrup Cay island. A speedboat excursion went to Stingray City for a swim with huge southern stingrays. There was also another trip to swim with the pigs. When we stayed on Exuma one year, we enjoyed a fun trip to swim with pigs. So we passed on that trip.
We were ready for some beach time. So we booked no excursions for Great Stirrup Cay and planned to enjoy the beach and crystal blue waters.
Arriving For Our Beach Day At Great Stirrup Cay
We were quite excited to have a deserted island just for the passengers on the Oceania Cruises Marina ship. We sat on our balcony as the the island came into view. So we were quite surprised when we saw a large ship tied up to a dock on the island in front of us. We saw the Royal Caribbean logo on the ship and quickly determined that this island was CocoCay (once called “Little Strirup Island”).
CocoCay was the island privately owned by Royal Caribbean for its cruisers. Not only did it have a dock, but it also looked like there was much to do on the island. We learned the island had the tallest waterslide in North America! But that stop was not for this trip. When our ship turned, we saw Great Stirrup Cay right beside CocoCay.
We were prepared to be tendered to shore. But when a flotilla of boats headed towards our ship, we were happy when these bigger boats eased some of the constraints of tender transfers.
It was not long before we jumped on a boat and headed for our fun beach day at Great Stirrup Cay.
Arriving On Great Stirrup Cay
The boat trip was short and we soon arrived and headed along the path. It was strange to pose in front of the Christmas tree while palm trees towered above.
The Great Stirrup Cay replica lighthouse towered over the beach. It was the launch pad for the zipline. The lighthouse was modelled after the real lighthouse on the island that was built in 1863 by Imperial Lighthouse Service. That lighthouse was no longer manned after it was fully automated and solar powered.
As we got closer to the lighthouse, we saw bright and colourful marine wildlife painted on the tower. This masterpiece created by Guy Harvey included sea turtles, manta rays, dolphins, and more.
We found a pair of lounge chairs and settled down for our fun beach day at Great Stirrup Cay.
Enjoying The Beach Day
With only our smaller ship at Great Stirrup Cay, the vast beach area looked almost empty. The sand stretched out in both directions with rows and rows of lounge chairs.
We had no trouble finding a spot that was not crowded and had some shade too. One of the excursion packages actually provided access to the luxury cabanas on the island. This was great for small groups and families of 8-10 guests. There were only three cabanas rented during our stay. The cabanas had a front porch and comfortable furnishings. But the empty beach was perfect for us!
Right beside where we settled we saw the Bacardi sign on the beach bar. It had a sign that welcomed the Oceania Cruises passengers. We were reminded before we left the cruise ship to take our ship access card. We needed no money to get some cold beers since we just charged them directly to our cruise cabin.
There was a large buffet restaurant on the island and the lunch was covered in our cruise. The line ups were really long most of the lunch hour. So we finally decided to eat back on the ship. After all, we had the best cuisine at sea on the ship!
Snorkelling At Great Stirrup Cay
We always loved when we found interesting things underwater. On a visit to the Caribbean island of Grenada, we explored the Grenada underwater sculpture garden. Earlier on this trip, we snorkelled in St Maarten and found ship wrecks and an underwater helicopter. When we heard there were sculptures under the water at Great Stirrup Cay, we wanted to head underwater.
The beach was very long and there were several different rocky areas in the water. So we talked to the beach staff and found out where the underwater sculpture garden was. Of course they were at the other end of the beach from the quiet spot we picked to lounge. We debated walking the beach to enter the water closer to the sculptures. But ultimately decided a long swim was much better for us.
We entered the water and slowly swam out along the rocks. Small schools of fish entertained us.
Snorkelling Around The Underwater Sculptures
Once bored with the rocks and the fish, we headed across the bay towards the rocks where we were told the underwater sculpture garden was located. This is officially called the Sir Nicholas Nuttall Coral Reef Sculpture Garden. But we did not have a map nor a list of things to look for.
As we swam around, we found a number of Bahamian-themed artworks and statues under the water. We saw sculptures of fish and other things we could not really define.
Mermaids under the sea called to us. And the octopus arms were frozen in time. What looked like a sculpture of a broken piano drew in the fish.
We spent a bit of time as we swam around the underwater skull and what might have been a chest of treasure. We suspected this harkened back to the pirate days of this island.
It was a lot of fun as we slowly swam along and saw yet another sculpture materialize in the water below us. But we had no idea how many of the total underwater treasures we saw.
When we were waterlogged, we turned back for the long swim back. But we sure enjoyed our snorkelling time on the beach day at Great Stirrup Cay.
A Fun Beach Day At Great Stirrup Cay In Bahamas
After many hours at the beach, we finally headed back to the ship. We re-traced out path and boarded one of the boats for the short ferry back.
We originally planned to stay on board and not visit Great Stirrup Cay. On this Caribbean cruise, sometimes we loved having the ship quite empty. But we were so glad we went ashore and enjoyed such a fun beach day at Great Stirrup Cay. It was the last day on our cruise and the last chance to enjoy the hot weather before we head home to winter in Toronto. A relaxing way to finish our trip.
Have you enjoyed a beach day at Great Stirrup Cay in Bahamas? How did you spend your day?
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What a neat little island to visit. It sounds like you had a wonderful time on your cruise. I love snorkeling when we travel to tropical places.
We too love the chance to get out and enjoy the water. Even if there is not much to see, we love snorkelling and scuba diving for water exercise.
I didn’t realize Great Stirrup Cay is a private island exclusive to Norwegian Cruise Line. It’s awesome that food and drinks on the island are covered by the cruise. The beach image is gorgeous, I am shocked by how empty the beach is
We were delighted by how empty the beaches were. A great treat of being the only cruise ship there that day!
Great post on your itinerary at the Stirrup Cay, Bahamas. The marine life painting on the watch tower looks awesome and the underwater sculptures looked intriguing.Thank you for sharing.
We were sure glad we brought our snorkel gear!
This looks like so much fun! As a kid I loved nothing more than reading pirate books and I guess I’m still fascinated by the lives of those lawless murdering and plundering vagabonds of fortune. That zipline has my name written all over it and I’d definitely try the snorkelling.
We were sorry we did not try this zipline. But we were were glad we got in the water!
Dear Linda, the beaches on Great Stirrup Cay look amazing, but I guess that is how beaches in the Carribean look like….The snorkeling seems fun, although I would prefer that they do not place this statues in the sea. Convenient that you could charge your food and drinks directly to your cabin.
The beaches in the Caribbean are indeed quite amazing. We have seen many underwater statue parks that specifically were set up to help coral grow. These ones did not seem to be growing much! My pet peeve is people who stand on coral or grab at it!
Beach days in Bahamas sounds amazing! You lucked out with a near empty beach. I would love to the zip-line, a bit or snorkelling and wait for the sunset. Sounds like a great excursion while cruising.
This was indeed a surprise stop for us and provided a great relaxing day in the sun. Which we needed before heading back to cold Toronto!
Reading about beach day at Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas is reading about paradise when I have cold winter right now. I would love to be there right now! It’s great to know that it is a private island exclusive to Norwegian Cruise Line guests. It was such a great story that it was the first uninhabited island to be turned into a private cruise port. Snorkeling around the underwater sculptures seems like a perfect adventure.
We are now back in cold Toronto and re-living our cruise escape now. We were so glad we got this great beach day.
A beeeach day! I envie you sooo much. Normally, I’m going to the Canary Islands next month, but with the covid numbers here in Europe, who knows what will be in just a couple of days.
Somehow, I was never very interested in the Bahamas – although I love the Caribbean. But the beaches definitely look dreamy 🙂
We have visited quite a bit in the Bahamas but this was a new destination for us. Great to have a beautiful day to enjoy the sun and sand.
I would love to be here right now! The beach looks wonderful as does the colourful lighthouse. I’m scared of heights so would avoid the zipline but would do the snorkelling.
We were sure glad we chose the snorkelling. Lots to see as we enjoyed the beautiful Caribbean waters!
What a fun place to visit! I’d love to see the sculptures at Great Stirrup Cay! Snorkelling to admire the sculptures looks like such a unique experience, thanks for sharing it!
We were definitely glad we got to snorkel at Great Stirrup Cay. There was lots to see under the water.
That seems like such a fun place to explore! I would love to go snorkel around the sculptures under water. Now that it’s winter I am craving a warm destination like this. It’s also nice how much room there is on the beach and that you can choose any chair!
We were so happy we headed south and warmed up before the worst of winter set in at home in Toronto. This post sure brings back warm memories.
Woah, I have to admit, it blows my mind that an island can be owned by a Cruise Line. I mean it makes sense now you have mentioned it – but it is pretty strange, like if a company owns a mountain.
It looks like you had a fantastic day at Great Stirrup Cay though. The beaches looks so nice and quiet and snorkeling around those sculptures must have been great fun!
We did love our day on Great Stirrup Cay. And it was great to have it all for just our ship. The benefit of a private island for sure!
I have never been to the Bahamas, but your post really makes me want to go. I would love to snorkel around the underwater sculptures. They look so cool!
We always love to snorkel or scuba dive when we hit warm water. We are usually quite happy when we find interesting things like the sculptures underwater. And get some exercise too. A good thing on a cruise ship known for its great food!
You have inspired me to want to take a cruise one day! I’d especially enjoy a cruise like this that has its own private island. I’d love to do the zip line, and lounge on the beach after seeing all the cool underwater sculptures!
We were initially going to pass on going ashore on this island. But we were so glad we did not!
Beautiful warm waters and a beach that is private for cruise guest, yes please!! We have been planning a cruise and are waiting for the pandemic to calm down so we can get out on the sea. Thank you for showing us the island that is part of Norweigan, it’s a contender for sure!!
We were happy we slipped in our Caribbean cruise in early December before everything fell apart again. And outdoor spots like this gave us lots of space to ourselves. A must for our cruise excursion planning!
This looks so beautiful! Swimming with pigs sounds pretty exciting, not sure where else you can do that! And we love to snorkel so that looks like some great snorkeling!
We almost booked to do swimming with the pigs again. But in the end we were glad we opted to enjoy the beach and the water.
A smart idea for a cruise company to buy an island and use it for docking during cruises. You were fortunate to visit when there weren’t too many tourists around. Imagine during normal days. Those lounge chairs must be full, as well as the beach.
We were indeed happy to have an empty beach to enjoy. A very relaxing day. And a stop that almost certainly never gets cancelled!
I think you made a wise choice with snorkeling. The waters in The Bahamas are among the most beautiful anywhere! Those are cool underwater sculptures, especially the mermaids.
We loved the chance to get in the water and explore underwater.
I never knew that cruise lines would have their own private islands. But what a wonderful thing to have that pristine beach all to yourself!
It was indeed a great treat to enjoy this beach and great Bahamian waters.
I have never been to the Bahamas and have not been on a beach holiday for ages. This post is making me want to get on one. I like the idea of snorkelling even though I’ve never tried; it looks fun!
We really needed a beach break so were delighted with this stop on Great Stirrup Cay on our Caribbean cruise.
What a gorgeous and secluded spot! Just came back from the beach and already ready to be there again!
Back in Toronto we are sure missing the beach and hot sunshine!
I love islands like this that are reserved for cruising purposes. Great Stirrup Cay looks so lovely, and the history is so cool! Who wouldn’t want to visit a place that once had lots of pirate activity? What a great spot to make a cruise stop. It’s beautiful!
The Great Stirrup Cay was indeed a fun cruise port stop in the Caribbean. A lovely surprise and great way to finish our cruise.
What a fortunate pleasure you had in taking this trip even though you initially didn’t want to visit. Great decision after all! I can understand how tempting it is to just stay on board and enjoy the ship when it’s empty. I got curious about the underwater sculpture garden. Marvelous!
We were indeed really happy we enjoyed our beach day at Great Stirrup Cay!
Such an amazing place to explore and great for families I imagine! Like paradise! I’ve always wanted to go to The Berry islands and Whale Quay (Joe Carstairs used to own it) – that’s super high on my bucket list
It was wonderful to have the whole island to ourselves. A lot of fun on the beach, in the water and on day trips.
This looks absolutely stunning. I’ve only been to the Caribbean once but I’m so keen to go back, this has definitely inspired me
I am glad this post inspired you to plan a return visit to the Caribbean. In normal years, we would escape from Toronto to the Caribbean many times. So this brief trip was great.
We rented a cabana on one of our stays with a bunch of our friends. Having the cost split four ways made it doable. It was nice to have a place to relax, have food brought in, and keep up our stuff. Made for a perfect day at the beach.
I can see how a cabana would have been a great investment for a larger group. We were glad there was only a small group on the island when we were there. Definitely a place for a great beach day.
Stirrup Cay sounds amazing. A whole island dedicated to a particular cruise line with activities?! I would definitely go snorkelling.
We were so glad we packed our snorkel gear on this cruise as we went snorkelling whenever we had the chance. Great to be back in the warm water!
One of my favorite stops on my Alaskan cruise was a cruise company port, Icy Point Strait. Those spots are nice because there aren’t generally too much to do but lots of natural beauty to enjoy.
It is great that the cruise companies invest in some areas to add cruise ports that support the locals.
I’d love to visit the Bahamas one day. The beaches on Great Stirrup Cay looks beautiful and it’s nice that it wasn’t too crowded. I’d love to do some snorkeling and admire the colorful street art as well.
We were glad we decided to enjoy the beach and water on the last stop at Great Stirrup Cay. A fun and relaxing day.
I can’t get enough of the powdery sand and gorgeous waters of the Bahamas! I have been to a few private islands on cruises, but not Great Stirrup Cay yet! Thanks for the tour.
This was our second visit to a private cruise island. But it was a great treat and one we would surely repeat.
What an interesting destination! Ever since going to Nassau and Eleuthera, I’ve been obsessed with the Bahamas, and I can’t wait to go back. I’ve heard about these smaller cruise-owned islands, but I think I’ve read more about the one for Disney cruises. Great Stirrup Cay looks pretty, especially the wide open beach and all those fun underwater sculptures. I think I would also prefer Great Stirrup Cay over Coco Cay, but that water slide on the latter does sound exciting!
Our day on Great Stirrup Cay turned out to be much better than we expected. Especially with an empty island with only our ship there that day. Nice to have a relaxing day in the sun and water to finish our trip to the Caribbean.
I wish I saw this article before I went to Bahamas. Instead exploring so many beautiful spot, I remember I spent all my days just in the hotel beach…
We have been to the Bahamas many times and always found such great spots!
I cruise with NCL frequently and loved GSC. It was such a relaxing day and as you say, so many things to do!
It was our first experience at a private island. Nice to have it all to ourselves when we visited.