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Bahamas cruise guide: Best itineraries, planning tips and things to do

If you’ve cruised or are planning to cruise to someplace warm, it’s likely that the Bahamas will pop up on your itinerary — and for good reason. Found on both Bahamas-exclusive sailings and Caribbean voyages, Bahamian ports offer plenty of sun and sand, as well as opportunities for shopping, gambling and more.

The islands appeal to both new and seasoned cruisers. Their proximity to Florida makes them quick, easy and affordable to reach by ship, whether for a quick overnight trip or a call as part of a longer voyage.

Read on for all you need to know when planning a sailing that includes the Bahamas — one of the cruise industry’s most popular destinations.

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Why cruise to the Bahamas?

Two conch shells on a ledge overlooking the water with cruise ships in the background
SANDRA LEIDHOLDT/GETTY IMAGES

In the Bahamas, the people are as warm as the weather, offering greetings and friendly smiles at every turn. The main draws, however, are the beaches and bright blue waters, which offer plenty of places to snorkel and scuba dive or to work on your tan while sipping a cocktail or two.

One of the best reasons to visit is that the islands are close to Florida — the cruise capital of the world. The Bahamas are frequented by most major cruise lines and show up on a large number of itineraries, from two-nighters to longer voyages.

The takeaway: Passengers have lots of choices. If you want to travel to the Bahamas by cruise ship, you can easily find a cruise line, length and price point to meet your needs.

The Bahamas is a great place to visit, as long as you set your expectations. Nassau, which is the largest port and the country’s capital city, is often crowded with cruise ships. Locals will approach you with offers for everything from taxi rides to hair braiding. It can be overwhelming, so be prepared to politely decline if you’re not interested.

When do cruises go to the Bahamas?

Aerial shot of a Carnival cruise ship anchored in the water near a beach with white sand, teal water and palm trees
CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE

Cruise ships call on the Bahamas all year. However, midwinter is generally the best time to go. Prices are cheaper, there are fewer passengers because children are in school and the weather isn’t as sweltering as it is in summer. Plus, wave season — when cruise lines offer some of the best deals you’ll see all year — runs from January through March, so you could snag a last-minute bargain. You also won’t have to contend with potential itinerary changes due to hurricane season, which runs from June through October.

Weather in the Bahamas is generally mild, with temperatures ranging from the high 70s to low 90s Fahrenheit. As expected, the hottest months are found in summer, with lower temperatures during winter.

Related: The best time to go on a cruise

Best Bahamas itineraries

An aerial view of Atlantis resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas set in green vegetation in teal water with a blue sky with white clouds overhead
POLA DAMONTE/GETTY IMAGES

Islands in the Bahamas are featured on lots of itineraries, ranging from short, Bahamas-specific sailings to longer Eastern and Western Caribbean voyages.

Bahamas-only cruises tend to be anywhere from two to five nights, and they visit a port or two in the Bahamas, as well as a private island (see below).

Eastern and Western Caribbean sailings usually start at five nights and can run up to two weeks in length, but most usually last about a week.

On those voyages, you’re likely to see a mix of ports. In the Eastern Caribbean, expect to visit a combination of Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix) and the French West Indies (Martinique, St. Barts, Guadeloupe and St. Martin). If you go the western route, Belize, Honduras and Jamaica are common stops.

Additionally, cruisers can find Bahamas stops on sailings that depart from non-Florida ports on the East Coast, such as New York and Baltimore, and even Gulf Coast departures from Galveston, Texas. They are often seven or eight days in length and include calls on Florida and the Bahamas. Some also feature southern ports like Charleston, South Carolina.

Best Bahamas cruise lines

Several ships docked side by side in Nassau, the Bahamas
DANIEL PIRAINO/EYEEM/GETTY IMAGES

Due to the Bahamas’ popularity, the country’s proximity to the East Coast and the number of ships it can accommodate at one time, most major cruise lines visit the islands there.

You’ll mainly find sailings with the “Big Nine” brands — Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Virgin Voyages.

One unique outlier is Margaritaville at Sea (formerly Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line), which operates two-night voyages back and forth between Palm Beach, Florida, and Freeport, Bahamas. The cruise line also partners with a land-based resort there, allowing passengers to extend their vacations on land in the Bahamas if they wish to do so before returning to Florida on the ship several days later.

Because of how crowded and frenetic the main Bahamian ports can be, luxury lines tend to stay away. There are a few exceptions, though, such as Lindblad Expeditions. The line operates sailings to some of the Bahamas’ Out Islands, which are too tiny for larger, more mainstream vessels to reach.

Related: A beginners guide to picking a cruise line

Things to do in the Bahamas

A smiling Bahamian woman in a yellow shirt standing in front of a stall at the straw market in Nassau
MOMO PRODUCTIONS/GETTY IMAGES

As you would expect from a warm-weather destination, outdoor pursuits are the most popular. Cruise passengers can walk to the nearest beach to sunbathe, swim, snorkel or scuba dive, or book a banana boat, parasailing or party boat excursion.

For fun, affordable souvenirs, shopping abounds at local shops and in Nassau’s massive straw market, found on Bay Street. Just make sure you don’t buy from the first vendor you see, as many stalls offer the same wares. You might find a cheaper price if you wait or if you bargain for a better deal.

If you’re more the gambling type, take a quick taxi ride to Paradise Island, which is home to the famous Atlantis resort. Venture indoors to play table games or try your luck at the slot machines in the resort’s casino, or purchase a day pass to use the outdoor pools and waterslides.

For fabulous food, ask a local to point you in the direction of their favorite restaurant, and head off the beaten path to try some conch fritters (fried conch meat) and peas with rice. For dessert, don’t miss the semi-sweet bread-style johnnycakes.

Related: Shore excursions: What new cruisers need to know

Best Bahamas cruise ports

Colorful houses line teal water under a blue sky in Nassau, Bahamas
HENRIK LANDFORS/GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

The Bahamas has two main cruise ports: Nassau on New Providence Island and Freeport on Grand Bahama Island. Nassau offers plenty to see and do within a short walking distance from the port. However, Freeport requires passengers to book a shore excursion or take a taxi to most attractions.

Other Bahamas stops include Bimini, which is less frequented, and cruise line private islands that can only be accessed via cruise ship.

Nassau

Historic Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is the cruise industry’s most trafficked cruise port. It’s bustling and busy, and it can feel overwhelming to travelers on their first visit, especially when there are several ships docked at the same time.

But brightly colored buildings, expansive beaches and ample opportunities for shopping and dining quickly make up for the chaos.

Nassau is also a port teeming with culture. Formerly a haven for pirates, the city is now a history buff’s dream, offering easy access to monuments and buildings that were once the stomping grounds of swashbuckling scallywags.

Freeport

Freeport has a more relaxed vibe than Nassau. The slower pace of Grand Bahama Island, where Freeport is located, lends itself to lazy beach days and casual strolls through town for passengers in search of the perfect souvenir.

Water sports abound, and the clear, bright-blue water is exactly what you’d expect from an island paradise.

Unfortunately, Freeport has been hit by several tropical storms and major hurricanes over the years. Although it’s a lovely port to visit, you can expect to see reminders, even years later, as construction projects are abandoned and the island struggles to rebuild.

Related: The 10 biggest mistakes cruise ship passengers make on port days

Bimini

The island chain of Bimini, which is part of the Bahamas, is also home to a cruise port. Fewer ships call there than call at Nassau or Freeport. Apart from beaches and resort-style experiences, there isn’t much to do.

The port was thrust into the spotlight when Virgin Voyages developed its Bimini Beach Club on part of a property operated by Resorts World. When Virgin ships are in port, the only people who have access to the Beach Club are Virgin passengers. Cruisers who call on Bimini with other lines can purchase day passes as long as a Virgin ship is not docked that day.

Private islands

Cruise ship near to tall water slide tower.
ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Most of the cruise industry’s private islands are located in the Bahamas. These carefully curated swaths of land can only be visited if you’re sailing on a ship that has access.

When you’re ashore, you can expect clean facilities, pristine beaches, shopping opportunities, free buffet lunches (usually a barbecue) and a variety of carefully controlled water-sports-centric shore excursions. Some of the larger, more developed private islands also offer water parks, horseback riding, zip lines and pools.

Private cabanas, villas and bungalows are also available, but they come at a premium and usually book up quickly. Some are even reserved for cruisers booked in suite accommodations on their ships.

When to book a Bahamas cruise

A tropical beach with a palm tree in the foreground, two beach chairs with an orange umbrella in the middle ground and white sand with teal water and blue sky in the background
LEVENTE BODO/GETTY IMAGES

Since the Bahamas is a year-round destination and lots of ships call there, supply is plentiful. That means prices tend to be more affordable, particularly for shorter Bahamas-only voyages.

For additional savings, consider booking your sailing in the first quarter of each year during wave season, when cruise lines offer fare discounts and other added-value perks like free Wi-Fi and beverage packages, discounted airfare or onboard credit for extras like spa treatments, shore excursions or dining in restaurants that charge fees for meals. Also keep an eye out for Black Friday deals toward the end of each year.

You might also be able to take advantage of resident rates if you live in Florida, military discounts or “kids sail free” promotions.

Related: When is the best time to book a cruise?

What to bring on a Bahamas cruise

Wondering what to pack? For any cruise, you can’t go wrong with resort-casual clothing and something for formal night if you’d like to participate. You’ll also need underwear, toiletries, pajamas and footwear, as well as any travel documents required to board and clear immigration and customs.

For the Bahamas specifically, you’ll want to prepare for warm, sunny weather by bringing a bathing suit and cover-up; flip-flops or sandals; and sunglasses, a hat and sunscreen to protect yourself during time outdoors. For those not heading to the beach, sundresses or shorts with T-shirts or tank tops are suitable attire.

If you plan to shop while ashore, most places do accept credit cards, but you might want to bring cash. Dollars are accepted in the Bahamas, so there’s no need to exchange currency.

Bottom line

Three cruise ships docked side by side in blue water
BRAND X PICTURES/GETTY IMAGES

If you cruise, it’s almost certain you’ll visit the Bahamas at some point in your travels. Although it can be crowded, the experience is an enjoyable one.

If you’re looking for a fun warm-weather destination that offers plenty of beach time, active diversions, history and culture, shopping, gambling and excellent food, you won’t be disappointed with a trip to this popular cruise region.

Have more questions about Bahamas cruises? TPG has answers.