One of the most popular destinations in the cruising world is the Caribbean, including the Bahamas. Taking a three, four or five day cruise out of Florida is a great way to sample cruising at a very inexpensive price (some 3 and 4 day cruises are as inexpensive as $200 to $300* per person). Royal Caribbean and Carnival have a number of these itineraries sailing out of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Port Canaveral year round. In addition to these two cruise lines there are a number of other lines in the market with many of them sailing only seasonally.
The Bahamas cruises are the most economical and usually include a stop in Nassau or Freeport and a day at one of the “private islands”. If you are booking one of these cruises and can swim, one of the best excursions you can take is a snorkeling trip. Everyone should experience this at least once in their life because there is nothing to compare to gliding over a coral reef watching marine life swimming all around you.
If your stop is Nassau we would recommend going over to Paradise Island and visiting the Atlantis resort. There is a daily admission fee but it includes sea life exhibits, beaches, a water park, casino, restaurants and bars. (Most cruise ships offer tours.) In addition you can walk thru Nassau town and shop for souvenirs, duty free watches, jewelry, clothes and liquor (see customs rules below). The private islands offer a day of beaches, barbecue, water sports and more.
There are also west-bound short cruises which usually include Cozumel, Grand Cayman and often Key West. Our favorite stop is Key West with its’ shops and restaurants and our favorite attraction, a small aquarium, is only a short walk from the pier. Unfortunately, cruise ships must sail well before sunset so you will miss the sunset celebration at Mallory Square which is the best show in town. (The large ships would block the view of the setting sun.)
Stopping in Cozumel offers some duty free bargains including silver, onyx and tequila (see customs rules below) and good pricing on vanilla. The cruise ships will offer tours including beach trips and snorkeling but our recommendation is to take a taxi to Chankanaab Beach Park and pay the admission. You’ll save a lot of money and can go and return when you want. There is a bar, food, snorkeling rental and beach chairs and the water is great. Reefs are a bit of a swim out though.
There are two cruise ship areas in Cozumel. One is downtown and only a short walk to shops and Senior Frogs. The other is a bit north (actually two piers) with shopping areas dedicated to cruise passengers. There is also a smaller version of Senior Frogs which actually has a good snorkeling area right next to it. If your group includes teenagers beware. one of the local pastimes is pouring tequila into young Americans, so keep a watch on how much alcohol is consumed.
Grand Cayman is the other usual stop on these itineraries and offers probably the best duty free shopping on the cruise. You tender rather then dock but the tenders drop you off right in the center of Georgetown. Grand Cayman is dotted with great beaches (one seven miles long), terrific snorkeling and diving and many American chain restaurants. Our recommendation for a great day is a tour to “stingray city”. Pick an excursion that visits the stingrays and also a coral reef for snorkeling. It is advisable to book the tour through your ship as the day runs long and you can get dangerously close to missing the ship’s departure time .
A cautionary note here regards the Cayman dollar. It is permanently fixed to the US dollar with the exchange rate being one Cayman dollar equaling US$1.25 so everything is 20% more expensive than it appears. Always be sure to ask if the quoted price is in Cayman or US dollars.
Duty Free Shopping
There is a lot of confusion about bringing back duty free liquor and how much and from where. The following is from the web site of U.S. Customs:
Please note, only one liter of alcohol purchased in a cruise ship’s duty-free shop is eligible for a duty-free exemption, although if at least one bottle purchased on board is the product of an eligible Caribbean Basin country**, then you will be allowed two liters duty free. If you buy five liters of alcohol in – say – the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), and one of them is the product of the USVI, then you would have reached your duty-free limit. Any additional purchases made on board in a duty-free shop would be subject to CBP duty and IRS tax.
If you buy four bottles in the USVI, one of which is a product of the USVI, then you could purchase one additional bottle from the onboard duty-free, and it would be eligible for duty-free entry.
Additional bottles will be subject to a flat duty rate of 1.5% and subject to Internal Revenue Service taxes.
** Most Caribbean Basin countries are considered beneficiary countries for purposes of this exemption. (Anguilla, Caymen Islands, Guadeloupe, Martininque and Turks and Caicos are not eligible)