Shore Excursions at the Bahamas aboard the Carnival Sensation

Part 2 of my 2019 summer family vacation series is here. Part 1 was about all the vegan-friendly food I consumed during our Carnival Sensation Bahamas trip. This time, I will be talking about our shore excursions. I should point out that this is not a sponsored post, just an account of my first ever cruise experience. If you have not gone on a cruise before, read more below to learn about what we encountered during our trip.

So…the “ber” months are here! And on it’s first week, we had a Hurricane Dorian Tropical Storm Watch in effect, from which, we sustained minor damages restricted to our fence alone. This is minor in comparison to siding and roof damages our house has sustained in the past. We have been lucky because seeing Hurricane Dorian’s wrath in full force in the Bahamas left us saying a prayer for all that are affected and for gratitude that we didn’t see her while we were vacationing there back in August. We knew we were taking a gamble going to the Bahamas during hurricane season. Hurricane season in the Bahamas is from June 1 to November 30, the peak being between the months of August and October. Think about purchasing travel insurance if you do decide to visit Bahamas within this time frame. It might be worth the extra cost, as you browse through the pictures of the damages caused by Hurricane Dorian.

So, what did we do in the Bahamas?

We swam, played with dolphins, went deep sea snorkeling, lounged lazily by the beach with water so clear my cellphone can capture the fish while I take picture above water, shop, toured and learned a little bit of Bahamas history, and tasted a little bit of local food. A pretty successful 1st time trip to the Bahamas.

Did you know that $0.70 of every dollar comes from tourism in the Bahamas?

I learned that during my tour. I also learned that Sidney Portier, a Bahamian-American actor and film director, has a bridge named after him there. And I also learned that 1 US dollar is equal to 1 Bahamian dollar. Primary healthcare is free to children and senior citizens too.

Our cruise included 3 island stops.

3 islands in 3 days, 3 different days for shore excursion opportunities. We docked at Nassau, Half-Moon Cay, and Grand Turk. We did 2 out-of-pocket shore excursions on 2 of the islands.

Nassau (1st Island stop, 1st shore excursion)

We booked a shallow water dolphin excursion at Atlantis, through the Carnival website prior to our trip. The cost is $115/person. It was sold out during the cruise, so plan accordingly if you want to experience this.

Meeting time was at 8:30 am on the ship at Fantasy, so, I ordered breakfast room service to save time and not rush, since we only had one bathroom to work with in the room. Once all the excursionists were in attendance, we signed waivers and got our two sets of wrist bracelets, each indicating our shore excursion so that the mass of people can be easily separated and more organized. They know what they are doing pretty much! Don’t be late, it holds every body else up.

Once we reached the outside grounds, we rode a bus to Atlantis on Paradise Island. We had two tour guides, one for each way to and from the ship. The second one was more informative and talked more about Bahamas’ history and economy, which I certainly appreciated.

Admittedly, I didn’t do much research of the island before our trip. I left all the planning to my sister. Between her, my husband, and step-father, I figured I was in good hands. Haha. I was surprised to see the collections of high-end designer stores there, like Gucci and Cartier. I later found that there is a Starbucks on the island. Since I didn’t do my research before-hand, I missed an opportunity to buy a “You are here” Bahamas mug to add to my growing collection. Research, research, research before heading out! 

The bus ride to Atlantis is included with the paid Dolphin shore excursion. We got a tour of the island on the way and learned a little bit more about Bahamas.

Getting to the Dolphin cove was pretty easy because we were pretty much delivered at the gate; however, getting to the pick-up location afterwards was hard. I didn’t realize how big Atlantis was until we walked it from one side to another. Towels and wetsuits are provided for free, so you won’t need to bulk up your carryon for this shore excursion. We had to wait a little for our time with the dolphins, so we watched the others interact with the dolphins while we waited.

Once it was time, we were gathered to put on wet suits. All jewelries were asked to be removed. They have lockers to leave all our belongings in with a resettable lock feature so the combination is only known to me, for free. They have sizes for every one, pretty much, from what I could see. Wet suits are very slimming too so our family pictures came out really nice! Afterwards, we watched a short safety briefing to keep us and the dolphins safe.

Our personal dolphin was Echo. He is a rescued dolphin. I learned that dolphins in the wild lived to about 16 years. Echo is 33 years old. I don’t know how they know this, science, I guess. He really was amazing! We got to touch him, both top and under belly, take photos with him, cue him to do his show tricks. We got plenty of time with him. For me, it was definitely worth the money since it was my very first dolphin interaction. I’ve seen them plenty in the wild but never actually touched one, let alone, played with one.

Since we had plenty of time before heading back to the ship after our dolphin excursion, we decided to check out the open beach, which was a pretty long walk from the Dolphin Cove; but, we also got to see what else Atlantis had to offer. Once we reached the beach, we spent a couple of hours snorkeling in waist deep water before heading to the bus pick-up location, which is another long walk from the beach. It being our first time, we we got a bit lost and had to ask questions a couple of times.

Tip: Focus on the red giant Atlantis hotel building, pictured below. This is where pick-up will be, and it is not a straight line to either.

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I have to say, Atlantis is magnificent. I might try just staying there, if affordable, just to check out the whole area in the future. One day is not nearly enough to see all the things there, like the aquarium and the shops.

On our way back, we got a different tour of the town and learned a little bit more about Bahamas. We had to be at the ship by 4:30 pm. Otherwise, we might get left behind, which incurs a separate out-of-pocket expense. I personally have heard a story about the cost of being left behind from an extended family member. It is not cheap.

Once all passengers were accounted for, the ship headed to our next island destination.

Half-Moon Cay (Island stop #2)

On this island, we spent most of our day at the beach. This is Carnival’s private island and so our lunch were provided for while on the island. Although towels were available, it is also limited, so we brought our own towels from the ship. We had to ride a little transportation boat to get to the island from the ship and it was raining on and off during the earlier part of the day, so if you have motion sickness, like me, take your Dramamine (Dimenhydrinate). It’s a pretty short distance ride though. If you do not have any, the cruise line customer service sells them for $2 each, good for 12 hours.

Not much else to do on this island, so we headed to the beach. There is a small water park to the left of the beach. Because it was raining, we were prohibited to be in the water until the lifeguards cleared the weather safe. Eventually the rain stopped. Note: bring something to keep you belongings dry from the rain. Cabanas are available for a fee; but, the lounge beach chairs were free and already set up for anyone to use.

We mostly snorkeled. I have to say though, that the fish in the shallower parts were pretty sparse. By the wall near the slide hut, there were more colorful fish there. So we stayed mainly on that area, not wanting to go too deep with the kids.

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Lunch buffet area was a bit hard to find, the direction was limited. We were told it’s behind the pirate ship. Eventually, we just followed the sight of people with food. It is far from where we established ourselves at the beach, from one end to the other. One of our party member stayed to keep an eye on our belongings while we ate and brought food back for him. Each buffet tables features the same thing: fresh cooked burgers and hotdogs, bbq ribs, salad, chips and salsa, fresh fruits, baked goods, among others.

Beware of free-range wild chickens feeding off the food dropped on the ground. They were everywhere. 

Tip: We went to the beach early so that we can avoid the throngs of passengers returning to the ship later in the day. It’s not fun being around tired people. Haha

Tip: Lunch is only serve from 11:30-1:30 pm. There were a lot of  people who didn’t know that and rushed to get food. Soda, alcohol, and ice cream is not free.

Although this day was relaxing, there was not much to do on this island but hang out at the beach. There were Carnival led beach activities to participate in, which none of our party wanted to participate in that day. Had the sun been in full effect, I would have hated not having a shade. To be fair, the shades may have been available. I did not specifically ask for one since the weather was cloudy. There were also a few small souvenir shops. We bought items for families at home, like guava jam and a t-shirt or two for the kids. I paid cash. I don’t know if credit cards are accepted.

Grand Turk Island (Island stop #3)

On this island, we went deep sea snorkeling. It’s an out-of-pocket expense at $65/person, which included two snorkeling areas. One is deeper, “The Wall”, than the other. It was intimidating for sure to see that bottom disappear into the blackness! But it was so beautiful down below prior to the abrupt dive of the sea floor. I didn’t even need to fully submerge my body to see it all. The water is gloriously clear.

We walked to our tour destination from the ship. First thing we see are the hoards of shops and restaurants, including a Duty-free. We stopped by and shopped after our snorkeling excursion for some goods to take home.

All equipment necessary to go snorkeling is provided for; however, my family brought our own snorkeling gear. Aside from what we brought, we borrowed the available life vest and fins, as well as pool noodles to help keep afloat. Our boat was full and that is a great thing because there is safety in numbers. We had a 3-man crew shore excursion; but, there was another boat near us. There were a lot of us but not so populated that there were no room to swim and snorkel. The water was the perfect temperature as well. Oh, it was beautiful down below. I have to say, it’s similar to viewing an aquarium fish from outside the tank, very clear, vibrant and full of life.

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The other stop was in a shallower body of water. Still very clear water, pictured above. The fish here were a little bit more sparse than the first stop however. Supposedly, there is a giant eel that has lived there for a while. I’m happy our tour guide asked first if anyone was afraid of snakes. Sure enough, my hands went up. I was told to move away from the group for a little while as he conjure it out of its lair. Haha. No biggie.

There were no food available on our excursion tour and after a good swim, everyone was pretty hungry. Not even the free rum punch did the trick for the adults. We were finally brought to the shore near our cruise line and spend an hour at the beach where a restaurant was nearby. As far as I can tell, that was the only one in the area nearby. I paid cash at the place as well, so I do not know if they accept credit cards.

Tip: Bring towels. There are beach lounge chairs available for free, with and without shades.

Tip: The souvenir conch being sold by locals, I was told by our crew captain, won’t pass custom. Don’t waste your money.

Tip: It’s snorkel at your own leisure, no stress. If you, however, get in the water and realize it’s not your thing, you can always go back to the boat. There were at least 3 people that didn’t feel comfortable continuing with the group in the water. Totally understandable seeing that the bottom is so deep. It’s only naturally to want to feel the floor beneath you. The crew did a great job with trying to help my mom too, who was very close to panicking once she got in the water. Two of the crew were in the water with us. 

There are other things to do while on this island but our snorkeling excursion took most of our time before we needed to head back to the ship. I would have wanted to do more exploring. Perhaps next time. The deep sea snorkeling is definitely worth it for me. Scary at first but worth the experience.

Tips and notes

  • Beach shoes were helpful. The ones I bought were like socks and it replaced my flip flops while I go in and out of the water, wherever I needed to go while at the beach premise. They were very comfortable.
  • While snorkeling gear were included in a paid excursion, I bought one for each of my family member. I find the full mask better than the regular mask with the mouth piece. I could talk inside a full mask and was not bothered with keeping a tight seal on the mouth piece.
  • While I would have wanted to see more of the islands, shore excursions took most of our shore time. So, I felt rushed during the one-day time/frame, be back before 3 or 5 pm rule on each island.
  • Cruise trips 5 days or less, only allows for one luggage per passenger and 1 carry-on. We only had 1 luggage each, so be mindful of your luggage space when shopping for souvenirs.
  • I brought a backpack and a tote bag with us on our trip, which I used to carry all our beach gear.
  • Bring reusable water bottle containers and fill them with ice/water at the ship before heading out. The less trash, the better.
  • If you want to bring a cooler to bring food to the beach, buy a foldable cooler bag sold for cheap at most grocery stores. That way you won’t feel guilty leaving them during disembarkation day when space become limited in your luggage.

Final Words

I had a great first time visit at the Bahamas. Although I felt our day was rushed, it was a great introductory visit nonetheless. In summary, we were only able to do one excursion a day without needing to rush into doing more, we are a bigger party with different interests and needs. I would have wanted to see more of each island but unfortunately, we only had a day for each, which meant we needed to be back on board the ship by a certain time, some time schedules earlier than others too. Which is why it is important to be on time for each meeting time per excursion because when one is late, it holds the whole party, which also pushes the time schedule.

Would I go on a cruise again? Time will tell. Maybe on a Disney Cruise, if affordable. Would I go see Bahamas again, maybe. There are definitely other islands to see too for the same price and effort. Time and budget will tell.

Until next time.

Mabuhay!

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