What I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Nassau on a Cruise

If you are headed on a cruise from the East Coast, then chances are high that you’ll stop in Nassau. It’s one of the busiest cruise destinations on the planet with literally millions of passenger visiting each year.

Having visited quite a few times, I’ve gotten a pretty good feel for Nassau and what to expect. So what do I wish I knew if I was a first-time visitor? Here’s what to know…

Shore Excursions Are Ideal in Nassau

After visiting Nassau quite a few times, one thing is pretty clear — if you’re going to do a shore excursion during your cruise — this is the port to do it in.

There are some things that you can do on your own, including putting together your own walking tour or hitting the beach. But to be honest, there isn’t a ton that’s a must-see right near the port. Meanwhile, the area can be busy and hectic.

So if you’re headed on a cruise to The Bahamas and want some sun and beach and water (and to get out of the crowds), then the easiest way to get that is with an excursion. It’s also a great way to sightsee some of the sites around town. You certainly don’t have to, but it’s what I’d suggest to most people.

It Gets Crowded With Lots of Ships in Port

Cruise ships from Carnival and NCL docked in Nassau
No matter when you visit Nassau, expect the port to be busy.

One thing you’re likely going to notice when you visit Nassau is that you will not be alone. If you’re thinking of having a quiet day in port, then think again. The port can handle up to six ships a day and recently set a record when nearly 30,000 cruise passengers visited in a single day. More than four million cruisers visited in 2023.

That is more than the population of Los Angeles proper visiting a tiny island in the Caribbean.

So what’s that mean for you? Well, you can expect the port area to be fairly busy and hectic. There will be people, traffic, and noise in the port area — especially late morning and early afternoon when most people are out and about and right across from the ships where there are a number of touristy spots.

Crime Is an Issue

If you get on the message boards or Facebook and ask about Nassau, one thing you’re likely to hear is issues with crime. Each day literally tens of thousands of passengers visit without incident. Crime, however, does happen. The State Department has even recently issued alerts about it. Still, stories on the internet can often sound a lot scarier than the reality.

Remember, your time will be spent in port during the day and most often in heavily crowded tourist areas. I recently went walking alone, exploring Nassau on my own. It’s purely anecdotal, but overall I felt no sense of danger.

I will say that it certainly didn’t feel like walking around Disney World. One person at the beach asked if I wanted to buy drugs. And at one point I stepped off a curb to cross the street and nearly into a moving car coming from the opposite direction (in The Bahamas, they drive on the left side of the road, and not the right).

And during a visit years ago to Cabbage Beach. I did witness young female come back from a jet ski ride and accuse the man who drove her friend on another jet ski of sexual assault. Police were later involved.

So no, it’s not a private island run by the cruise lines, but I also don’t think you have to be scared to get off the ship.

The New Port Area Is Drastically Different

The port welcoming area looks completely different following a massive redevelopment.

If you haven’t visited Nassau in a while or never been before, just know that it’s not like it used to be. The port has undergone a major renovation to make it more similar to what you find in many areas in the Caribbean.

There is now a brand-new welcome area where you’ll find everything from spots to meet excursions to the taxi stand to tons of little storefronts selling everything from drinks to food to souvenirs.

If you don’t want to go far from the ship, it’s worth it just to go check out and stretch your legs, but don’t expect it to be a complete destination in itself. Some of the major ports have areas that you could theoretically spend the entire day without going outside the gates. Nassau isn’t like that, but the new area is much nicer than what it was like before.

How to Get to the Closest Beach (And What It’s Like)

Junkanoo Beach is just a few minutes from the cruise ships. One side features a lot of vendors while the other is more quiet.

Head to The Bahamas and yeah, the beach is going to be on your mind. Unfortunately, the best beaches aren’t close to the cruise ships. But if you do want convenience, then the closest beach is about a 10-15 minute walk.

To get to Junkanoo Beach, you’ll take a right out of the port area and then just hug the shore. You’ll walk around a couple of major hotels and when you pass the Margaritaville Resort, you’re there.

I think of Junkanoo as two different beaches. At the start of it, it’s fairly busy with a lot of chairs and umbrellas for rent, there are beach bars, and spots to get something to eat.

Just a short walk further, however, it’s much quieter and there are even some trees to offer a little shade. It’s not exactly postcard worthy, but it’s decent and an easy walk from the ship.

What to See Within Walking Distance

Speaking of walking, I mentioned there isn’t a lot that’s a must-see right near the port. But if you want to go explore on your own, there is a bit that’s within walking distance.

Within a few minutes walk of the ship is Junkanoo Beach, the National Art Gallery, the Queen’s Staircase (which I highly recommend you see even though it’s pretty quick), the Bahamas Historical Society Museum, and Parliament Square, which is the seat of government.

Right across from the cruise port is Bay Street, with a ton of restaurants, shops, and stores. Read more about what to do in Nassau here.

Sidewalks & Getting Around Are an Issue for Some

If you are going to walk around, then one thing you’ll learn real quick is that the infrastructure is not like it is back home.

If you’re someone that’s able bodied and younger, then you won’t have any trouble getting around. You’ll just want to be aware of where you’re stepping as sometimes walkways can be narrow, rocky, or non-existent. 

They also drive on the left-hand side in the Bahamas, so be aware when you’re like me and step off the sidewalk to cross the street and nearly get clipped because you were looking the wrong way.

If you’re someone that’s older or has mobility issues, then you’ll want to know that sidewalks can range from pretty poor to non-existent outside of the immediate port area. I’d recommend those who don’t get around so well or have good balance find a different way to explore.

Atlantis Resort Is a Major Destination

You’ll see the massive Atlantis resort from the ship and it’s a popular destination for cruise passengers.

Let’s talk about the 800-pound gorilla in the room, or the port to be more accurate. When you arrive in port, you’ll see Nassau in one direction and Paradise Island on the other side of the channel.

Paradise Island is anchored by the massive Atlantis resort that towers over seemingly everything. This is a resort that frankly would be at home in Las Vegas. It features the hotel, casino, shops, a marina, complete waterpark, and sits right on the beach.

It also carries a high-end price tag. Admission to the waterpark is well into the hundreds of dollars and only available to guests or those paying for a day pass. But there are some areas that cruise passengers can visit for free like the shops and casino. If you want something to do that’s easy, heading here and just taking it in is actually pretty popular and you’ll find plenty of other passengers doing the exact same.

There’s a Ferry to Paradise Island

Nassau ferry
You can take a cab to Paradise island or a ferry will take you there for $7 each way.

So how do you get to Paradise Island? There are a couple of ways. First, there is a taxi stand in the port area. It will take you across the bridge over to the island.

But honestly the more memorable way is to catch the ferry. In the port area there is a ferry that heads over to Paradise Island for $7 per person each way. Pay your fee and you’ll get a ride on an open-air ferry that’s honestly pretty rustic.

Along the way the locals will give you a speech pointing out some of the fancy houses along the way and facts about Atlantis… and ask for a tip at the end.

Sure, it’s a bit of a tourist trap, but it’s also something you don’t get back home.

Cabbage Beach Is the Nicest Beach to Visit

One other reason to head over to Paradise Island? If you want the nicest beach that’s accessible from the cruise port, you’ll find it here.

Cabbage Beach may not sound like the most attractive name for a beach, but this spot is really nice. On one end sits Atlantis and then the beach stretches for roughly a mile and a half.

There’s golden sand, blue water and most days there will be lots of people as well. This is a popular beach, so you won’t be alone. As well, there are vendors selling everything from drinks to umbrella and chair rentals.

To get there, you’ll want to take a taxi or you can take the ferry and then walk over, but it’s a bit of a trek. We have directions here. One more thing — if you’re worried about crowds, all you have to do is walk down a little and you’ll find plenty of space to spread out.

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