Nassau: How to Make the Most of 8 Hours in Port on a Cruise

If you’re taking a cruise from anywhere to The Bahamas, there is a good chance that it will make a stop in Nassau. The capital of the country, Nassau has long been known as a destination for sun-seeking tourists, a historical hotspot, and a prominent player in many James Bond movies.

Cruise ships from Carnival and NCL docked in Nassau
Nassau is one of the busiest cruise ports in the world, with the ability to hand up to six ships a day. Here’s how to make the most of your visit on a cruise.

These days, it’s among the busiest cruise destinations on the planet with literally millions of passengers visiting each year. So if you have an upcoming stop in Nassau, then know you aren’t alone.

To help you make the most of your time in port, we’ve put together tons of information on what to expect, the lay of the land, and more to ensure you have a great stay in this tropical stop.

Getting to Know Nassau

Lighthouse in Nassau
You’ll enter the port from the west, passing by an old lighthouse. Notice the Atlantis resort in the background.

Sitting just 180 miles from Miami, Nassau is a city sitting on the eastern half of a larger island called New Providence. This island is roughly 18 miles wide by 7 miles, and home to about 300,000 residents. That figure can grow by 20,000 or more people when ships call on the island.

Across a narrow channel from New Providence sits Paradise Island, which is easily recognizable by the large Atlantis resort. This spot is also where the well-heeled have houses, including a number of famous celebrities.

Cruise ships dock in downtown Nassau. When in port — especially when multiple ships are docked — it’s a busy and bustling area with a lot of activity. So while The Bahamas is known for its laid-back vibe and atmosphere, don’t be surprised if it seems anything but that when you arrive.

In this part of the world, it stays pleasantly warm year-round, even compared to spots like Miami or Fort Lauderdale, which can get cooler in the winter. Winter highs average around 80 degrees while summer temperatures regularly reach the low 90s. As you might guess, humidity gets heavy, especially in the summers when it can rain considerably with passing afternoon showers. Winter is noticeably drier.

As you might guess with so many visitors, Nassau has built a major industry around tourism with everything from small shops selling souvenirs to large mega-resorts like Atlantis and Baha Mar that cater to the well-to-do.

Port Area for Passengers

The city spent hundreds of millions on a new cruise port terminal area complete with shops selling everything from souvenirs to soda.

Recently Nassau completely renovated the port area to the tune of several hundreds of millions of dollars. Not only are the piers and walkways completely renovated, but there was also a large welcome area constructed.

Now, anything a cruise passenger might want to start their day is here. There are small shops selling everything from souvenirs to snacks to shore excursions. There is also a museum of Bahamian culture, a taxi stand, restrooms, and an amphitheater.

Outside the port gates are a number of spots that cater to cruisers, all within a short walk from the ships. Cross Woodes Rodgers Walk (the street running alongside the port) and you’ll find souvenirs, restaurants, all sorts of shops selling everything from jewelry to cigars to restaurants, and much more. This includes the famous Straw Market, a spot with lots of vendors selling anything you can imagine with “Bahamas” written on it.

To be sure, the port area is definitely touristy. If shops and bars interest you, then by all means take it all in. If not, then head away from the ships on your own or on an excursion and you’ll see things calm down quickly.

Getting Around Nassau From the Port

Taxi stand in port
Hit the taxi stand in the port area to get a ride. You can also take a ferry to Paradise Island or rent a cart.

What’s the best way to get around Nassau? If you have an excursion booked, then you don’t have to worry about transportation — it will be taken care of with the tour.

If not, then you have a few options. First, Nassau is walkable assuming you are in decent shape. It definitely does not have the even surfaces and accessible sidewalks you might be used to back home. If you have mobility issues, it’s better to take a taxi. Still, if you want to simply take a walking tour, there are a number things to see and do around the city within walking distance.

Taxis are also readily available. In fact, you’ll find a taxi stand in the port area that can get you set up. Cabs can take you anywhere you want to go, including the popular Paradise Island. If you decide to travel to a place that’s a bit out of the way, keep in mind that it might be harder to find a taxi back.

Want a real adventure? If you’re headed across the channel to Paradise Island or Atlantis, then there is a ferry you can ride for $7 each way. It’s rustic and open-air, with a guide that will point out some sights along the way. The ride takes about 10-15 minutes but will also give you some great views of the ship.

Finally, one option is to rent a vehicle. Leave the port and you’ll find a number of vendors offering scooters or golf carts for rent. To be honest, we can’t share many details about this option as riding through an unfamiliar place in traffic never appealed to us. If you do rent, be sure to remember that they drive on the left side of the street in The Bahamas.

How to Make the Most of a Port Stop

Queen's Staircase view
The Queen’s Staircase is one of the most iconic things to see in Nassau and is within walking distance of the port.

When you only have a limited amount of time in a port like Nassau during your cruise, the big question is how do you make the most of it. Having visited several times, our advice is to do one of the following during your day:

Book a Shore Excursion: We think Nassau is one of the best ports to book a shore excursion during your visit. The port can be a bit hectic and frankly, there isn’t a lot to do right at the port unless you like souvenir shopping and touristy shops/bars.

With excursions you can get out of the city a little bit, and it’s much easier than planning yourself. Much of what you can do revolves around hitting the beaches in the area, usually with a boat ride over to the spot and lunch. There are beach days, snorkeling tours, swimming with pigs, and more.

You can also opt for more or less adventure if you want. Cruise lines offer excursions on jet boats and scuba diving, along with cooking classes and walking tours.

Check with your cruise line for the specific excursions available. But with limited time in port and the fact that many of the more “beachy” sites are some distance from the port, these tours make a lot of sense.

Explore Downtown: Don’t want to spend the money for an excursion? There are still things to do and see on your own. Since the cruise port is at the foot of downtown, you can walk off the ship and reach some neat spots to explore all within walking distance.

We have a full list of free or inexpensive things to see here and almost all of them are within a short walk from the ship. A few of the highlights include:

Junkanoo Beach: The closest beach to the cruise port is Junkanoo Beach, sitting just west of where the ships dock. One half is fairly busy with beach bars and loungers while the other half is more relaxed with just a few shady trees. You also have a great view of the ships from here.

Queen’s Staircase: A famous landmark in Nassau, this staircase was carved out of rock in the 1700s by slave labor. Today, it’s a popular (and free) tourist spot to visit. The carve-out created essentially a canyon in the middle of Nassau with a canopy of trees growing over the top.

National Art Gallery of The Bahamas: Open Tuesday through Sunday, the National Art Gallery is a spot that many tourists don’t know about but is worth a stop. Housed in an 1860s restored home, the manicured grounds feature outside sculptures with galleries indoors. Every turn in this spot uncovers something neat to see.

Paradise Island: One of the most visited areas has to be Paradise Island. This is the small island across the channel from Nassau and home to the Atlantis mega resort. You can get there by taxi or a ferry ride. (For details on where to catch the ferry, see our article here.)

Once on the island, you can head to Atlantis. It’s a resort/hotel with a waterpark, casino, restaurants, shops, and more. Consider it like a Las Vegas hotel in the middle of The Bahamas. Many people visit just to see the sights or play a little in the casino. Just know that some areas are for guests only. As well, if you want to visit the waterpark, it comes with a hefty price tag (tickets can be booked directly before you arrive or often through your cruise line’s shore excursion desk).

On Paradise Island you can also head to Cabbage Beach, which is arguably the best beach in the area (and one of the busiest). We have directions on visiting Cabbage Beach here.

Looking for something else to do during your port stop? We have a list of 30 things to do in Nassau here.

Tips/Things to Know About Visiting on a Cruise

Junkanoo Beach is just down from the ships and is the closest spot to take a dip.

We’ve mentioned a number of these tips and things you should know but to make them clear, here are a few things to keep in mind during your day in Nassau.

The Closest Beach is Junkanoo Beach
If you want a beach (and don’t want to book an excursion) then the closest one is Junkanoo Beach, just about a half-mile away. To get there, just hang a right outside the cruise port and keep walking around a couple of mega hotels. It sits on the other side of the Margaritaville resort.

Excursions Are Ideal in Nassau
Yes, you can definitely head out on your own and have fun, but Nassau is one spot where we’d recommend an excursion. The reason is that many of the most attractive things to do involve getting out of the port area and often to more hidden away spots that otherwise aren’t easily accessible for tourists. An excursion makes it simple to leave the ship, have fun you couldn’t do otherwise, and then get back to the ship.

The Nicest Beach Is Cabbage Beach
If you’re headed out on an excursion to a beach, you can rest assured you’ll visit somewhere nice. If you’re trying to plan a beach day on your own, then we’d suggest Cabbage Beach. It’s a wide spot that stretches for more than a mile, has golden sand and crystal clear water. It can get crowded with lots of tourists and vendors, but if you want fewer people, then just walk down the beach some to find your own spot.

Be Careful With Shady Jet Ski Rentals
If you hit Cabbage Beach, you might be asked about jet ski rentals from young men walking up and down the sand. We’d suggest being careful and avoiding these as they aren’t always regulated. We’ve personally been on the beach when a woman who rented a ride accused the vendor of sexual assault. If you want to ride a jet ski, then look for a tour through the cruise line shore excursion desk. These companies have been vetted.

You Can Walk, But Be Prepared for a Harder Time
Want to take a walking tour of Nassau? Absolutely you can, and there are a number of things to see close by. Just be prepared that it won’t be like back home. Sidewalks aren’t always smooth (if they exist at all), nor are walk signals at most intersections. As well, keep in mind that cars drive on the left here, so it will come from the opposite side when you cross streets.

Take the Ferry to Paradise Island
If you want fast, then take a cab to Paradise Island. There is a taxi stand in the port area where you can get one. But it’s more fun (and rustic) to pay the $7 per person and grab a spot on the open-air ferry that takes you from the cruise dock. It’s a 10-15 minute ride over on the water. It will drop you off a ways from Cabbage Beach and Atlantis, so there will be a walk versus being dropped off at your destination with a cab.

You Won’t Be Alone in Port
We’ve mentioned that Nassau is one of the busiest cruise ports in the world. There can be up to six ships a day docking, meaning literally tens of thousands of cruise passengers in port. In other words, no matter when you visit, you should expect to have other ships visiting with you and decent crowds in the port area.

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