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Great Stirrup Cay On Your Own

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The 10 Top "On Your Own" Things to do on Great Stirrup Cay

Great Stirrup Cay is a deserted island paradise where, as in the Cinderella fairy tale, life is wonderful for a day, and then you have to leave. But you can always come back!

  1. Enjoy Some Time on the Beach. It's the one "must do" excursion in Great Stirrup Cay--and it doesn't cost anything.

  2. Go Swimming. It's the way you cool off after too much exposure in the Bahamian sun.

  3. Explore the Undersea World of Great Stirrup Cay on a Snorkeling Expedition. The water is clear, and the snorkeling is good.

  4. Take a Hike. The 3-mile nature trail will take you away from civilization for an hour or two.

  5. Enjoy an Adult Beverage. With six bars on Great Stirrup Cay, you have no excuse for not drinking a Coco Loco.

  6. Grab a Floating Mat or Raft and Just Chill Out. You have too much stress in your life; release a little bit of it as you gently float on the water.

  7. Get a massage. No other massage you'll ever get will feel as good.

  8. Enjoy the BBQ Lunch. Not only is it free, but it's fun dining al fresco.

  9. Buy a Souvenir at the Straw Market. A straw hat is not only a good keepsake of your time on the island, but may also prevent your nose from peeling for a week.

  10. Connect with Your Inner Kid and Ride Down the Hippo Water Slide. Whether a kid or an adult, it's actually a lot of fun.
Happy Swimmer
© istockphoto.com/Studio1One


Getting Around Great Stirrup Cay

Your ship will lay anchor off Great Stirrup Cay, and you'll take a tender aboard a double decker tender boat; the tender takes between 5 to 10 minutes to bring you from ship to shore. You'll disembark at the island's Tender Pavilion, located at the marina basin on the north side of the island. From there, it's a short and easy walk to any of the island's beach areas.

NCL is spending $25 million to make upgrades to Great Stirrup Cay. Work began on Phase 1 of their improvement program, and was completed in early 2011. Phase 2 is ongoing, and is scheduled to be completed prior to the end of 2011.


General Orientation As you arrive on the island, the area in front of the Tender Pavilion is the focal point of Great Stirrup Cay. The path from the Tender Pavilion will take you to the island's main beach. As you look at the beach, the dining facilities are to your left. The Island Bar is at the south side of the beach, and the Hippo Water Slide is at the north side of the beach. Near the Water Slide is the Dive Hut, which also contains the First Aid station.

The main beach area is in a sheltered lagoon with white sand extending out into the turquoise water. It is used for swimming and snorkeling. NCL is currently constructing two additional beaches to the south of the main beach. Private cabanas on the center beach will be available later in 2011.

On the main beach you'll find a sea of blue beach lounge chairs. While most of your fellow passengers will relax in the sun on the main beach (there's no shade here), you can escape the sun by heading to the shadier areas, located under the coconut palm and Gumbo Limbo trees, where deck chairs and hammocks can be found.

Great Stirrup Cay is a fairly rocky island, consisting of coral and limestone. You can take a walk out to the jetty north of the main beach and capture a panoramic shot of the island's facilities. A nature trail will take you to the south side of the island and Great Stirrup Cay's lighthouse. Along the way you can see the ruins of a satellite dish that was used during the 1960s to track NASA spacecraft.

Throughout your time on Great Stirrup Cay, a band will be playing reggae and calypso music to get you in the mood of having fun. They perform at the bandstand, which is located not far from the dining facilities.

Walking around Great Stirrup Cay Well-marked, hard surfaced pathways lead from the Tender Pavilion to the island's beaches, nature trail, bar, food service area and children's play areas. If you're walking on the nature trail, the road is made of dirt and rocks.

What to Bring to Great Stirrup Cay

Depending on what you want to do on the island, make sure to bring the appropriate gear. Here are some suggestions:

  • Wear your bathing suit and a shirt or top.

  • Wear your flip flops, and bring walking shoes and socks so you can explore the island or walk on any of the island's rocky areas.

  • Bring a towel.

  • Bring your sunglasses, a hat and an ample amount of sunscreen.

  • You may want to bring some insect repellent if you plan to take a hike down the island's nature trail.

  • Bring a pail and shovel if you've got a toddler or two in tow.

  • Bring your Stateroom Key Card--essential!--and cash; you'll need the cash if you are going to buy something at the Straw Market.

  • Bring a camera to memorialize your experience; a disposable water camera is also a good idea.

Wheelchair Access


Tendering to Great Stirrup Cay Your ship deploys a gangway to load passengers onto the tender; it's less steep than gangways at port facilities. Guests using wheelchairs are transferred to a large flat area at the bow of the tender, and they will remain there during the tendering process. From the tender, ramps are deployed on Great Stirrup Cay for the disembarkation process.

Wheelchair Access NCL maintains a limited number of wheelchairs on Great Stirrup Cay that have been designed for use on sand. They are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The wheelchairs are free to borrow, and can be picked up at the Tender Pier. The beach wheelchairs are made for use on the sand.

Great Stirrup Cay features a variety of excursions; however, none are wheelchair accessible.

The bar and dining facilities on Great Stirrup Cay are wheelchair accessible.

All of the rest rooms are wheelchair accessible; however, they do not accommodate companions.


Shopping on Great Stirrup Cay is limited. However, that doesn't mean you can't walk away without something special.

Straw Market

Local Bahamian women operate a Straw Market, where you can purchase a variety of goods, including T-shirts, straw hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, clothing and other souvenirs. The women don't live on Great Stirrup Cay, but instead ferry in to the island from nearby Great Harbour Island when ships are due in port.

Purchases are made in cash only--both Bahamian and U.S. dollars are accepted.

Food and Drinks

Dining Facilities

Getting hungry? Then head to Great Stirrup Cay's dining facilities. Here you'll find a buffet lunch consisting of BBQ hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, beans, various salads, fruit, corn on the cob, chips, brownies and cookies.

Lunch is served between 11:30 am and 1:30 pm. You may want to plan to eat earlier rather than later, due to the late diners' rush.

NCL also bakes large pan pizzas in their main dining facility for your noshing pleasure throughout the day.

There are several covered open-air dining shelters featuring picnic tables that are adjacent to the main dining facility. In addition, there are plenty of outside picnic tables where one can sit and enjoy lunch under a coconut palm tree. The dining facility is wheelchair and scooter accessible; however, the standard picnic tables are not wheelchair accessible.


Great Stirrup Cay Bars

Great Stirrup Cay features several bars for your drinking pleasure. Here you can get an adult beverage, sodas and water. Make sure to bring your Stateroom Key Card to pay for your drinks.

The signature drink on Great Stirrup Cay is the Bahama Mama, made with dark and high proof rum plus coconut, pineapple and coffee flavors.

On Great Stirrup Cay, the bars include:

  • Jerks, the island's main bar. It's located on the beach in a rustic hut. Guests can sit on stools at the bar inside, or enjoy their beverages on an outside deck that's equipped with picnic tables.

  • The newest bar on the island is the Lighthouse Beach Bar, sponsored by the tequila brand Patron. The bar features Patron products, as well as a full range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. The bar also features two large flat-screen TVs, with entertainment ranging from music videos to sporting events.

  • The Dining Pavilion is where you'll find two bars, just so you can enjoy a libation during your meal.

  • Small Satellite Bars can be found around the main beach area, so you're never too far from liquid refreshment.


General Information


  • Buying Shore Excursions on Great Stirrup Cay: If you've been waiting to get to the island before booking a shore excursion, just go to the individual activity areas and sign up. You'll use your Stateroom Key Card to purchase the excursion.

  • Straw Market: The shop ladies ferry over from nearby Great Harbour Island whenever there's a ship in port. Sales are cash only.

  • First Aid Station: Stubbed your toe? Cut your foot on the coral while snorkeling? Got stung by a jellyfish? The First Aid Station is where you go to get patched up; it's located in the Dive Hut, located on the main beach near the Hippo Water Slide.

  • Rest Rooms: Each of the restroom facilities on Great Stirrup Cay is wheelchair accessible.

  • Towels: Towels are distributed to all passengers as they are boarding the ship's tender to Great Stirrup Cay. Remember to bring it back with you when you return to your ship.

Beaches on Great Stirrup Cay


There are currently two main monitored beach areas on Great Stirrup Cay. The main beach area is in a sheltered lagoon with white sand extending out into the turquoise water. It is used for both swimming and snorkeling, and it can get pretty crowded. A smaller beach area is situated just to the south of the main beach.

  • Lounge chairs, just as onboard your ship, are complimentary. There are over 1,000 beach loungers available on Great Stirrup Cay.

  • Shaded rest areas with hammocks can provide a pleasant respite from the intense Bahamian sun. The hammocks, which cannot be reserved, are a popular way to spend your time, so if you plan on using one, claim one yourself when you arrive on the island.

  • The swimming and snorkeling beaches are supervised by lifeguards, just to make sure everyone makes it back to their ship.

  • If you plan on snorkeling, wearing a life jacket is mandatory. You can rent a life jacket at the Snorkel Shack; they charge $5 for an all-day rental.

Dive Hut


Need to rent some water toys? Then head directly to the Dive Hut, located near the Hippo Water Slide. The rental fee is charged to your Stateroom Key Card. Here you can rent:

  • Snorkeling Gear, including a snorkel, mask. fins and snorkel vest. The gear is rented for the entire day; instruction is included in the price.

  • Floating Mats that allow you to mellow out in the water, bobbing with the waves. The rental fee gets you a floating mat for the entire day.

  • Large, sturdy circular blue Rafts. Fun for kids and adults alike, they're a great beach toy.



There are several restroom facilities on the island; all are wheelchair accessible.


Great Stirrup Cay Activities

Entertainment A live band will be playing reggae and calypso tunes during your time on the island. In addition, NCL stages several "Olympic" competitions throughout the day, and offers limbo contests where prizes are awarded to the winners.


Snorkeling The overall quality of the snorkeling on Great Stirrup Cay is good. The water is pretty clear, and if you're waist deep in the water, you'll be able to see the colorful tropical fish swimming around your ankles.

If you've forgotten to bring your own snorkel gear, there are 300 sets of gear available for rent at the Dive Hut. If you've brought your own, that's good, but not good enough, as everyone who snorkels on Great Stirrup Cay is required to wear a snorkel vest (rental fee is $5 for the day), and you've got to sign a waiver.

Lifeguards monitor the swimming and snorkeling beach areas. The snorkeling area consists of coral rocks and some man-made materials that have been deposited on the ocean floor and turned into reefs. Don't expect to see any spectacular coral fans or coral formations on Great Stirrup Cay.

When you're snorkeling at Great Stirrup Cay, you may encounter jellyfish during certain times of the year--especially late summer and early fall. Move to avoid them if you can, as a jellyfish sting can hurt worse than a bee sting. If you encounter a dead jellyfish on the beach, don't mess with it. And if you get stung, head to the first aid hut.

If you plan on snorkeling, make sure to bring a towel from the ship, as there are no towels available on the island. And don't forget to reapply your sunscreen whenever you get out of the water--the Bahamian sun can be brutal, and there's nothing worse than a bad sunburn to turn a great vacation into a so-so one.

Fate of the Fancy snorkel trail. Opened in August 2012, this is one of Great Stirrup Cay's newest experiences. The folks at NCL have populated the ocean floor with a number of nautical artifacts among the 17 small coral reefs in Bertram's Cove, and created a legend to go along with it. The centerpiece of the trail is the wreckage of the treasure ship The Fancy, which, as legend has it, sailed towards the Berry Islands in April, 1696 when it suddenly disappeared in the dark hours of the night. Islanders maintain that the ship was taken down to the ocean's bottom by a giant octopus, known locally as Lusca. The shipwreck artifacts include cannons, treasure chests, swords and even a sunken piano. NCL sells this experience as a shore excursion for $29 (adults) or $19 (kids).

Clown Triggerfish

Swimming Great Stirrup Cay is a fun place to enjoy a swim, as the water is clear and refreshing. And it doesn't cost anything, and there's nothing wrong with free.

The main swimming area is located off the main beach. Another swimming area can be found off the newer, smaller beach to the south of the main beach. NCL is constructing another beach further south that will be available by the end of 2011. The swimming beach is actually fairly shallow, and you can walk out quite a ways before the water is at shoulder height.

During the winter months, the water temperatures drop to the high 60s F, so it may seem too cool to swim. But in the afternoon it warms up a bit, and you'll want to take a dip if just to cool off.

When you're swimming at Great Stirrup Cay, you may encounter jellyfish during certain times of the year--especially late summer and early fall. Move to avoid them if you can, as a jellyfish sting can hurt worse than a bee sting. If you encounter a dead jellyfish on the beach, don't mess with it. And if you get stung, head to the first aid hut.

If you plan on swimming, don't forget to reapply your sunscreen whenever you get out of the water--the Bahamian sun can be brutal, and there's nothing worse than a bad sunburn to turn a great vacation into a so-so one.


Hippo Water Slide NCL boasts that its Hippo Water Slide is the world's largest inflatable water slide. Standing 45 feet high and 175 feet long, the slide features a steep slope and an extended sliding area.

Plunging down this three-story slide is an exciting adventure for the whole family. It can be an opportunity for thrill seekers, or simply a nice cushy ride for those less daring. Hey, adults enjoy the experience as much as kids! And kids love to see their parents making the plunge!

Located on at the north end of the main beach, it's hard to miss. NCL sells individual rides as well as daily passes that let users slide down as often as they like.

NCL staffers are on hand to ensure that all rides down the Water Slide are safe and fun for all.

Massage "Massage on the Beach" services are provided by your ship's spa staff in an open air shelter on the beach. If you're expecting lots of privacy, dispel this notion. The cost of your massage services will be charged to your Stateroom Key Card

Gumbo Limbo

Nature Trail A nature trail that will take you down to the lighthouse and beyond begins on the east side of the Tender Pavilion marina. As you walk down the trail, you'll encounter beautiful views of the ocean.

The nature trail will take you through the lush Bahamian foliage. You'll encounter some interesting trees, including coconut palms (which are not native to the Bahamas), sea grapes, red mangroves, coppice and Gumbo Limbos (also called the "Tourist Tree," because they have a bright red peeling bark, much like a tourist with a bad sunburn).

You may also encounter a number of migrating birds, including green herons and royal terns. Black iguanas can be found all over the island; they can grow up to 5 feet in length, and are the fastest running lizards on earth. While they are generally harmless, don't try to pet them.

As you continue down the trail, you'll see a sign that indicates you're leaving NCL's part of the island, but don't fret; you can continue on to explore this part of the island. You'll soon come to an area that has some deserted and dilapidated buildings. This area was once a satellite tracking station operated by the US Air Force. The satellite dish was blown up in the 1970s, and here you can see some of the remains of the dish and other abandoned equipment. Nearby there's a helipad that's known as the "Great Stirrup Cay International Airport."

The lighthouse is located further down the trail. It's surrounded by additional deserted buildings that are in the process of returning to nature. The original lighthouse was built in 1863 by the Imperial Lighthouse Service, and was manned by an operator. Today, it's on autopilot, with a timer and powered by solar energy. You cannot enter the lighthouse.

A little bit further down the trail is a lagoon called Shirley Park, complete with beach areas.

Hair Braiding Want to keep cool and look cool? Have your hair braided, Bahamian style, by one of the local people on the island. The hair braiding services can be found in the area adjacent to the Straw Market. Payment for the braiding services is made in cash only--both Bahamian and U.S. dollars are accepted..

Shoreside Games If you're looking for activities that don't involve water, you can participate in sand volleyball, ping pong (a couple of tables) and other activities on Great Stirrup Cay.


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