Great Stirrup Cay review

One of the beaches at Great Stirrup Cay, NCL’s private island in the Bahamas.

One of the things I like about cruises is a beach day. Every time I cruise, I take at least one day where I sit on the beach, swim a little, and just relax. On my cruise to Cuba last month, I got to do that at Great Stirrup Cay (GSC). GSC (link provides video of the island) is Norwegian Cruise Line‘s (NCL) private island in the Bahamas, and it is amazing. While it doesn’t offer the relaxed vibe of a place like Maya Chan, it still presents plenty of great options. The opportunities range from the relaxing to the (middle-aged fat man version of) high adventure. In this Great Stirrup Cay review, I walk you through the flaws of GSC, what there is to do, what there is to eat, and what bar service is like.

I liked GSC very much, but there were two principal flaws. The first is that tender service is a drag, and the second is that there aren’t a lot of options when it rains. If you have an excursion booked through NCL, you get a priority tender to the island. Even that, however, can involve significant waiting on the ship. I strongly prefer ports with a pier. The tender back linked to my second problem- it rained. They wanted to pack the tender, so we probably waited 45 minutes after I boarded to depart.

Speaking of rain, that happened right at lunch time. For lunch itself, that was fine. There were several shaded areas with tables, and the buffet itself was inside. However, there wasn’t much else to do on a rainy day. Eventually, most of us went back to the ship early. That also meant I couldn’t go on my snorkeling tour. Unfortunately, I did not get my money back for that as was promised. It was as if it had never before rained in the Bahamas. Nobody knew what to do.

Shore excursion options on Great Stirrup Cay. It is also free to sit on the beach, to sit in a chair, or to go swimming.

That was unfortunate. Before it rained, I had an amazing time on GSC. There was so much to do. Right after you enter the island, there is a hut to the right of the main walking path. You can purchase shore excursions here if you have not already done so. If you elect not to book an excursion, you can still enjoy a free day at the beach. Lunch from the buffet is included, and your drink package applies as if you were on board.

I booked the wave runner tour in advance, and it was amazing. Be aware that they are really serious about the requirement saying you must bring your driver’s license. They are significantly more flexible about the listed weight maximum of 225 pounds. The machines were in excellent shape, and we went at 50 mph pretty far out in the water. It was a guided tour, which meant we played follow the leader. There was no actual “tour” as such. That was fine. I felt like I got great value out of this excursion.

I was unable to take my snorkeling tour due to rain (more to the point, lightning), but the water looked amazing. Most folks seemed content to hang out in the bars or in a lounge chair. I am surprised there weren’t more people in the cabanas. While they were pricey ($299-$319), they were also beautiful. If that price is split amongst a large group, the price is quite reasonable.

Private cabanas. I should have written my Great Stirrup Cay review from here.
Large cabana on Great Stirrup Cay

After my Waverunner tour, I was starting to get hungry. There is mostly good news about food- it is tasty, it is free, and there is plenty of it. However, there were a couple of downsides. First, there is no food at all available until 11:30. If you think you will get hungry before then, you should definitely eat a large breakfast before you leave the ship. Second, I only saw two dining options. That means lines can get quite long. Abaco Tacos had some nice tacos, and the main restaurant had something resembling a beach barbeque buffet. It tasted great. However, by the time I got to the front of the line I would have enjoyed shoe leather. I enjoyed the jerk chicken, close slaw, and baked beans.

Great Stirrup Cay buffet menu

The best news about the island, however, is that your drink package works here. My ship (the Norwegian Sky) was all-inclusive anyway, and they didn’t have any top-shelf stuff. Better said, I didn’t see any top-shelf items which would have cost extra. There were plenty of rum drinks and plenty of beer. It was easy to find margaritas and other common mixed drinks. If you were looking for a super premium custom drink, you would have been out of luck. However, that’s not why you come to the beach. There were lots of good choices which were easy to get. My favorite bar was whichever one was closest at any given time.

Bacardi rum bar at Great Stirrup Cay

On balance, I really enjoyed my day at Great Stirrup Cay even though it got rained out and they didn’t deliver the promised refund. The island is just beautiful, and the service was very good. The only real problem was getting hungry early. You can manage that problem if you know about it in advance. With only one smallish ship in port, the island did not feel at all crowded.

There are two reasons to bring cash to GSC. First, I enjoyed tipping the bartenders a dollar per drink. Second, there was a small straw market near the entrance/exit. I got some nice souvenirs there, and they took U.S. dollars. Everything else on the island is owned by NCL, however, and could be paid for with your ship card. You could also easily go to the island without spending anything extra. I had a great day, and I would love to go back to this island. Here’s to hoping for better weather next time!

Edited 16 August 2018

I thought of one other item I should have included in my original Great Stirrup Cay review. There are no lockers on the island. The folks by the jet skis will hold your stuff while you are on an organized tour, but there is otherwise no place to leave things. That can be a problem if everybody in your group wants to go swimming at the same time.

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