As Disney travel bloggers we thought we were pretty prepared for our very first Disney cruise to Nassau, Bahamas on the Disney Wonder. We did tons of research, looked at loads of pins, studied the checklists and after months of prep truly believed we were completely ready to maximize the best trip ever in a very short 5 days. We even researched Disney’s Private Island and booked snorkeling, biking and inner tubes. Little did we know there happened to be whole areas of the Cruise Lifestyle that were completely foreign to us! Tips that were omitted from all the checklists, pins, posts, etc. And while we have shared some tips for beginners, and what to do if you need a break from the kids or are just travelling with friends, we were completely unaware that many people just STAY ON THE BOAT! In fact, it seemed only newbie travelers actually disembark at the port of call in some destinations. Who knew?
Check your Disney Cruise Itinerary
We had the good fortune of being on the maiden voyage of Disney’s new itinerary which included a full day at Castaway Cay ( pronounced “key” ) and a half day at Nassau, Bahamas. Castaway Cay surpassed all expectations. They have a private adult beach, sprawling pristine beaches with loads of lounge chairs, bikes for rental, excellent food and pretty much everything you ( and we) have come to expect as part of the Disney experience.
Nassau, Bahamas, however, didn’t seem to get the memo regarding the Disney standard of living. No offense Nassau.
Hint: Get a Map Ahead of Time for your Port of Call
Find a map of the immediate area, or better yet, take your shopping guide up on the offer to go into town with them as a group. Wandering on our own in Nassau is not the same as wandering on our own in Charleston. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Bahamas. Last time I was there we stayed at the Pink Sands on Harbour Island, which is actually about an hour outside of Nassau. While I expected the pink sand beaches and a lot of nature opportunities, instead we got something entirely different.
We docked at port at 7:30am and were only able to be on the island until 2:30pm. This alone should have been our first clue that guests haven’t clamored for more time on the island.
But it wasn’t. We were still hopeful.
Should you book excursions?
We hadn’t booked any excursions because Atlantis would have taken the entire 7 hours we were allowed to be on the island. We had also been warned about the need to absolutely be back on the boat at 2:30- because they would leave without us if necessary as we were on a tight schedule with this new itinerary. In fact, at least one family from our cruise, did get left in Nassau!
We had wanted to see the Queens staircase but being unfamiliar with the island didn’t want to stray too far from the boat for fear of not being back in time.
And so, in classic vacation fashion Melanie, G and I got off the boat fairly early and entered Nassau eager to find an authentic cup of coffee, some cute souvenirs and maybe a nice beach. If nothing else we would see the sights and history. We were ready to explore!
Mind you we had been warned about the persistent nature of the sales people you have to pass just to enter the island. We weren’t however prepared for the zombie like attack from all directions. Grasping hands, heads down, and with a tunnel view of the large pink building ahead we somehow made it through. Michael, our on board shopping guide actually said this is the best strategy to clear the hoards- no eye contact. Once cleared we entered downtown Nassau which unfortunately, because of its duty-free fame, consists of many many shops that are all very high end, lots of jewelry shops, a few starbucks, and some very run down buildings. I know not all of the Bahamas is like this, so it was disappointing to see that the first impression for many was not great. Since we’re girls travelling alone with a child we tracked down things we knew would be safe, the church… the pirate museum, but even both of these came without much instruction or guidance.
Hitting a feeling of disappointment we quickly identified another Disney family who at least seemed to know where they were going ( a complete lack of maps was definitely an issue for us in Nassau). Unfortunately the best any of our fellow Disney cruisers could do was Junkanoo beach. Those of us brave enough to get that far literally grabbed some souvenir sand, dipped our toes lightly in questionable waters and tried to avoid the offensive phone conversations and smoking. Unlike Castaway Cay, lounge chairs weren’t free and the sand wasn’t clean. Yes. We are spoiled. We know. We had an ok view of this pretty lighthouse, but really, that was it.
Staying at the beach for 10 minutes was enough for us when we decided to hunt down coconut water ( in a coconut) on the way back to the boat. (If you knew us you’d realize how ludicrous it is that we stayed on a beach for only 10 minutes). Mind you… we walked slow, trying to figure out what it is people do when they dock here for an afternoon besides getting their hair braided and drinking at Senor Frog. *sigh*
Getting ready to board the boat we were once again met by the Disney standard with cucumber and lemon water, cooling moist towels and disinfectant, especially important since we never found the authentic coffee or treats we were hoping to find.
If you stay on the boat at Nassau Bahamas Port of Call
On the boat we found what quite a few people already knew. Things don’t stop just because people get off the boat! While the shops on board did have to close while we were at port, everything else was still happening.
If we stayed on the boat we could have:
had shorter lines at the waterslide and pool
been able to attend cool programs
taken advantage of spa services or massage
gotten a cup of awesome coffee at Cove Café
had shorter lines at the character meet and greets
watched one of the movies on the deck
had lunch at Cabanas without the crowds
We also returned to another lovely towel friend in our cabin, which is always a nice treat. And also proved that many weren’t necessarily just confined to their cabins but doing fun things around the ship.
Seriously, the more experienced cruisers seemed happy to just be on the boat. I wondered if they even cared at all where we stopped. In fact it was at that point (courtesy of cruise Wi-Fi) that I actually started researching “cruise mindset”…apparently it really is about the journey and not the destination.
Later as we shared dinner with our partner dining family, they too said they just popped off the ship for an hour and then got right back on it again. Very experienced cruisers they didn’t even seem phased that they spent the day on the ship. In general this goes against my natural belief which would be something like “we paid to be in the Bahamas, why are we just staying on the boat?” Yet… I am learning. It’s definitely a new way of thinking for us as we usually travel to see stuff, do stuff and try stuff. Rarely do we just hang out and soak up the sun not doing anything. As we did book a cruise to Alaska for next year we will, mind you, be getting off the boat to see the sights simply because I have a feeling it will be more than just some high-end duty free shopping. We will however probably approach it differently and relax a little more and learn about how cruise junkies actually vacation.