The Bahamas are a hot cruise destination for many reasons, but one reason is because the islands are so close to the Southeast coast of Florida! You can book a quick 2-3 night weekend getaway, or you can choose to have a few more days in paradise and book a 4-5 night cruise.
If you’re not into cruising, consider booking your own vacay — did you know that Southwest Airlines flies to Nassau now?!
When you hear “The Bahamas” do you think it sounds a little too expensive and out of your budget? Guess what, it doesn’t have to be!
There are a lot of fun things to do in The Bahamas, and many of them are free! YES, I SAID FREE.
I recently went on a 5 night Royal Caribbean Bahamas cruise and our ports of call were Freeport, Nassau, and Cococay. Unfortunately, our ship was unable to dock in Cococay because of severe wind, but having an extra day at sea wasn’t so bad! With all of the activities available onboard, there is plenty of fun and relaxing to be experienced.
Freeport, Grand Bahama Island, Bahamas
Freeport was our first port of call and was honestly a little bit underwhelming. That being said, we only got off the ship for a couple of hours and didn’t leave the cruise port. There were several options to book shore excursions, which can be a lot of fun but also pretty pricey depending on what you choose. I recommend doing some research on what to do and where to go if you go to Freeport, because staying at the ship port is not worth it. I regret not doing that, because there must be something that makes it a popular destination! At the cruise port there’s a handful of restaurants and a straw market where you can buy t-shirts, bags, and all kinds of touristy trinkets. That’s about it and it’s not that pretty. The beach and the town are a bus/cab ride away.
Nassau, New Providence, Bahamas
Here’s a quick bit of Nassau history for you:
- Nassau is the capital city of the Bahamas and makes up 70% of the entire population of the islands
- In the early 1700s, pirates outnumbered the citizens 1000 to 100 and was considered a “pirate republic. The infamous Blackbeard was among those pirates using Nassau as their base.
- Founded in 1670 by British Noblemen and formerly known as Charles Town
- Columbus first landed in the Americas on the beaches of the Bahamas in 1492
- The Bahamas gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1973
Nassau was my favorite port-of-call and the highlight of my cruise!
I could have easily spent my day on the beach relaxing, which would have been totally amazing. But, my urge to wander around with my camera and explore was just to great to ignore! I wish I would have had more time, because I know there was so much else to do and see. I didn’t even make it to the Historic Charles Towne in Olde Nassau and there are many more forts to be explored.
Just a conch shell’s throw away from the cruise port called Festival Place, Downtown Nassau has tons of shopping for the “I have to find a postcard and a t-shirt” types like myself, and awesome food and beverage options for the “I must eat like a local” types. I recommend Pirate Republic Brewing Company! The “Gold & Haze of Piracy” Belgian White Ale was good enough to walk the plank for matey (like a Blue Moon, but better)! Speaking of pirates, you should definitely check out the Pirates of Nassau Museum. It’s a wax exhibit museum celebrating the history of pirates and Nassau’s role as the Pirate Republic. It’s not free, but $13 ($6.50 for kids) isn’t too bad if you plan on doing mostly free things aside from this.
There is so much history and culture to be found in Nassau!
One of the most popular attractions in the Bahamas is the Atlantis Paradise Island resort and waterpark. I didn’t go there, but you can see it from miles away and it looks spectacular. However, I heard it is quite expensive from some friends on the cruise that spent their day there. If you’re looking to splurge on an amazing day of beach luxury, family fun, or a romantic getaway — this is probably the place you want to be. I’m not gonna lie, I would have loved to do that! But, I was traveling solo in Nassau and in total explorer-on a-budget mode.
So what did I do and see?? I’m so glad you asked!
Junkanoo Beach is just a short walk from Downtown Nassau and the cruise port (called Festival Place). It’s a free public beach with dozens of vendors serving authentic Bahamian foods and cocktails out of colorful beach huts. There’s sand volleyball, snorkeling, beach bumming and dozens of other activities. It’s a public beach, so I would recommend wearing shoes of some sort when you’re not right in the water. You just never know…
You could spend a whole day here honestly, but I just wandered around for a little bit and grabbed a drink. I wanted to see more of the city! Oh! Don’t forget to take some cash. Most places will take cards, but many of the beach huts prefer cash and may charge a credit card fee. You can use American money!
The Queen’s Staircase, Fort Fincastle, & Parliament Square
The Queen’s Staircase was one of my favorite sites! It’s one of the most popular historic sites in Nassau, and the 102ft staircase leads up to Fort Fincastle. Also known as the 66 Steps, the stairs were hewn out of solid limestone by slaves between 1793 and 1794. The stairs are named in honor of Queen Victoria and her 65 years of reign because of her drive for the abolition of slavery. I learned about the history from a local guide sitting at the entrance of the steps, giving out information for tips. He was very passionate about his city’s culture! This site is located at the top of Elizabeth Avenue, which was actually pretty difficult to find. To give you a reference, if you see the local hospital and feel like you’re in the wrong place — you’re actually pretty close! It’s just behind the hospital complex. It was about a 10-15 minute walk from the cruise port.
When you reach the top of the staircase, to your right is Fort Fincastle, which was also constructed in 1793. The stairs were built to provide a quick route to the fort in case of invasion. For over a century, the fort served as protection and as a lighthouse for the island. You can do a self-guided tour of the fort for free, there are plenty of historic signs along the way! There are also locals that give tours for tips during the day. There are amazing views of the city and beaches from this point! You can see Atlantis to the right if you are facing the ocean, and it looks pretty magnificent.
The Government House at Parliament Square is a really fabulous pink colonial building constructed in 1815. The buildings are still currently in use for government meetings and the judges and lawyers dress in traditional British wigs and robes!
My last bit of advice:
I spent this entire day and saw all of these sites alone. Though I am very independent and capable of enjoying a trip like this by myself, I wouldn’t recommend doing this alone. I was by myself because my husband had to leave the cruise early for work (his work was also what got us on the cruise in the first place, SCORE!) and I stayed for the entire cruise. Otherwise, he would have been there exploring with me. Traveling alone is just not always the smartest thing to do as a woman in a foreign country, unfortunately. Since I was on a cruise I literally had nothing to defend myself, you can’t take a pocket knife or a stun gun onboard, obviously. But, I was on high alert and VERY aware of my surroundings at all times and super careful about where I went and who I spoke to. You can never be too careful when it comes to your own safety. So, if you can explore with a buddy I would very highly recommend that. If not, just be very careful and TRAVEL SMART!