Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

Great Stirrup Cay is the private isle of Norwegian Cruise Line located among the Berry Islands in the Bahamas. This haven from reality is filled with amenities and activities plus free food and drinks. The best features, however, are the white, sandy beaches and warm aquamarine waters.

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Norwegian Sky Cruise Ship at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

This cruise ship was originally designed as the Costa Olympia but was purchased by Norwegian Cruise Line before its launch in 1999. For four years, she was the Pride of Aloha sailing the Hawaiian Islands and then renamed the Norwegian Sky in 2008. NCL’s oldest ship now specializes in carrying over 1,900 passengers on three and four night cruises in the Bahamas. This seems fitting because the Sky’s port of registry is Nassau, Bahamas. The public company’s headquarters are in Miami-Dade County, Florida.

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Ferry Boat at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

Whether your vacation to the Bahamas is aboard Norwegian Cruise Line for three, four or seven nights, one port of call is typically to Great Stirrup Cay. Experienced cruisers may roll their eyes when they learn the ship anchors off shore. They imagine waiting in long lines for a crowed tender. But your experience on NCL’s private island is wonderful before you even arrive. Lines are minimal before 10:00 a.m. Transportation to shore takes about ten minutes aboard one of several comfortable, double-decker ferries. Grab a top level seat for the best photos of the island and the ship. Then feel the anticipation mount as you enter a sheltered harbor and dock at the marina.

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Welcome Gate at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

This gate welcomes you to Great Stirrup Cay, the private island of the Norwegian Cruise Line. After purchasing the 250-acre islet in 1977, NCL invested over $30 million to transform it into a one-day paradise for their passengers. The cay is part of the Berry Islands, an archipelago of over 130 mostly uninhabited isles clustered across thirty miles in the Atlantic Ocean. Together they are called the Fish Bowl of the Bahamas. The island is located about 120 miles east of Fort Lauderdale.

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Poseidon Sculpture at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, is the official greeter as you walk towards the beach. Surrounding the deity’s head is his son, the merman Triton. Prior to a recent hurricane, a statue of Neptune occupied this spot. He is the Roman counterpart of Poseidon. This artwork is just for starters. If you like snorkeling, you will love exploring the island’s underwater sculpture garden.

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1 Weather Forecast at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

Great Stirrup Cay’s tropical climate is perfect for a day at the beach regardless of when you arrive. The average air temperature in the winter months is 77° Fahrenheit and above 80° during the rest of the year. Not surprising, the water temps are the same yet may feel warmer because of the shallow water formed by the breakwaters. Equally important is abundant sunshine. The island experiences overcast conditions less than five days a month.

Great Stirrup Cay, The Bahamas
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Beach Alternatives at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

NCL introduced Freestyle Cruising. This means you can dine onboard when and where you want. This concept extends to their private island. Great Stirrup Cay has four beaches. The main one in the background is Bertram’s Cove. In the foreground is Cabana Beach. The other two are named Lighthouse Beach and Bobolink Beach. The further you are willing to walk from the tender dock, the smaller the crowd. If you disembark early, you can enjoy some of these distant beaches virtually to yourself.

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2 Bertram’s Cove Namesake at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

Great Stirrup Cay’s main stretch of sand is called Bertram’s Cove in honor of Captain Allan Bertram. The British Navy captain was commander of the HMS Tweed. When he died in 1834 at the age of 44, his wish was granted to be buried on his beloved island facing this beach. In 1979, NCL placed a marker on his grave near the flagpole.

Great Stirrup Cay, The Bahamas
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Boardwalk at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

A recent addition to Great Stirrup Cay is an extended wooden boardwalk. This walking path stretches about a half mile parallel to the beaches. This is ideal for handicapped cruisers to reach all of the island’s amenities. It is also an attractive feature for those who do not wish to suffer the intolerable inconvenience of getting sand in their sneakers. Heaven forbid you have such a traumatic event spoil your otherwise perfect day.

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History of Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

Great Stirrup Cay is uninhabited except for cruising day trippers. But that was not always true. Its first residents were the Lucayans dating back to 600 A.D. These Indians lived and farmed throughout the Caribbean. Their name means “people of the islands.” Most of them were removed and enslaved by the Spanish during the 1500’s. From the mid-17th century until 1730, the island was a hideout for seagoing bandits during the Golden Age of Piracy. Beginning in 1815, it became a settlement for British slave traders and a couple of plantations. During the American Civil War, the Confederates and Unionists engaged in several sea battles here. At this same time, the existing lighthouse was built in 1863. During WWII, this was an American base which used underwater cables to detect German subs. From about 1940 until 1991, the US Air Force used Stirrup Cay as a tracking station. In 1977, the Belcher Oil Company sold the property to the Norwegian Caribbean Line (the original name for NCL).

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Cabana and Hammock at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

Cabanas are available for rent for those who want a sheltered, beachfront view away from the crowds. Each comes complete with a hammock, a comforting place to read a book or take a nap. Since mid-2017, guests can also opt for a lagoon retreat featuring air-conditioned villas with room service, a spa, private beach, swim-up bar, shaded terraces and an upscale restaurant called the Silver Palm. A private room for up to 75 people is also available for special occasions like a destination wedding.

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Couple Under Atlantic Coconut Palms at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

As you and your partner enjoy the idyllic setting of Great Stirrup Cay, you will notice the shoreline is lined with palm trees, the quintessential symbol of the tropics. Yet these Atlantic coconut palms are not indigenous to the Berry Islands. They were imported centuries ago for their value as food and rope plus during the 19th century for oil. Then NCL added more to the groves for sheer decoration.

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Crew Carrying Paddleboards at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

If you prefer gliding over the island’s turquoise waters, you have plenty of options. Paddleboards, mats and floats are available for rent at reasonable prices. You can also sign up for a guided kayak tour. If you prefer not to get wet, then consider enjoying the eco-adventure boat tour. Want adrenalin-pumping action? Then parasailing will provide a rush and fantastic views from 400 feet in the air.

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Bacardí Bar Sign at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

Most NCL Bahama cruises offer complimentary liquor. Those cocktails keep flowing at Great Stirrup Cay. The main place for adult refreshments is the Bacardí Bar where you can sip at shaded tables while listening to entertainment. If you prefer enjoying your drink at your chaise lounge, you can quickly order from either the Bertram’s Bar or Patron Bar. As of this writing, plans are underway to be add a LandShark Bar & Grill sponsored by Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville.

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Geological Evolution of Shoreline at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

As you walk along the rocky shoreline of Great Stirrup Cay, look down to appreciate its geological evolution. The island’s formation began about 300 to 400 million years ago during the tectonic shift of North America away from Africa. In the Jurassic era, about 160 million years ago, dead marine life began building up as sentiment. These deposits formed into oolite, a substance used in cement and glass making. Within the last 900,000 to 120 years, this material became reefs and then the mass emerged from the sea as islands. A close inspection will reveal fossilized shells and tiny skeletons. This historical evidence is more pronounced during extreme low tides when the sea floor can be exposed for miles at the south end of the island.

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Idyllic Getaway at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

Norwegian Cruise Line is justifiably proud of their private out-island. Since 1977, they converted an overgrown rock into an idyllic getaway. From 2010 through 2017, they spent another $20 million to add more facilities, adventures and beautiful landscaping. This means you can expect to enjoy something new each time you visit. But two things will remain constant: pristine beaches and turquoise blue water. Those alone are the definition of paradise.

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Lounge Chairs and Claimshells at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

Free reclining lounge chairs are available across the shores of Great Stirrup Cay. If you have had too much sun during your vacation, clamshell protective chairs can be rented for a small free on Bertram’s Cove, the main beach. When sun tanning and napping builds up your appetite, follow these people to the Jumbey Beach Grill. The 8,500 square foot facility provides a free buffet-style lunch. Two alternatives for a bite to eat are at the Abaco Taco Bar or the LandShark Bar and Grill.

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Susan’s Rock Snorkel Center at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

Several sections of Great Stirrup Cay’s waterfront are protected by breakwaters. This makes the clear, aquamarine water ideal for snorkeling. If you did not bring your gear on the cruise, it is not a problem. Masks, fins and snorkels are available for rent from Susan’s Rock Snorkel Center. Soon you will be swimming among colorful marine life and the underwater sculpture garden called Fate of Fancy. Make sure to ask for a waterproof map. This rental center is named after the daughter of an early settler, Captain Bertram.

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Swimming in the Cove at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

NCL constructed a series a breakwaters to compliment the small natural ones just off shore. The results are shallow, protective coves of warm water in a spectrum of blue and green shades. What a perfect setting for swimming, snorkeling or just standing among your friends, family or romantic partner. You will fondly remember this lovely experience after returning home to the snow and cold.

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Volleyball Game at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

A court is available for an impromptu game of beach volleyball. Assemble your friends or organize teams among fellow cruisers. You don’t have to be skilled. Just be willing to have fun. If one-on-one competition is more your style, then grab a couple of paddles for a spirited contest of ping pong. A basketball court is also available.

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Wave Runner Tour at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

While some people are content sitting on the shore while soaking up the sun, the active types are excited by the sight of anchored wave runners just begging to be fired up. Why resist the temptation? It is your vacation. Sign up for the 45-minute guided tour of the Berry Islands aboard your own personal watercraft. The scenery is beautiful and the ride is exhilarating.

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Yoga Session at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

Since yoga began in India over 2,500 years ago, the practice has promoted spiritual, mental and physical rejuvenation. Without question, those benefits are enhanced along the shores of a tropical island. So grab a towel and join a session conducted by an instructor. Feel the joy as reality slips away with each successive stretch.

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Berried Treasures Bazaar at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

These colorful huts are a small straw market called Berried Treasures Bazaar located near the tender docks. No, the sign is not misspelled. The moniker is a play on words of the Berry Islands where Great Stirrup Cay is located. Shopaholics may be disappointed by the selection of clothes, crafts and souvenirs. Yet you may find a perfect memento to take home as a remembrance of your Bahaman cruise. The merchants live in the neighboring island of Great Harbour Cay and are independent of NCL. Consequently, purchases cannot be added to your room account but U.S. dollars are gladly accepted.

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