HALF MOON CAY, Bahamas Just when I thought it was safe to stay out
of the water, Holland America goes and beefs up its activities at
Half Moon Cay, its private island in the Bahamas.
Now, instead of spending a lazy day sipping tropical drinks and
getting a tan (my usual Half Moon Cay itinerary), I was bustling
about, on my visit in December, trying out the new activities
implemented as part of the line’s Signature of Excellence program.
Those activities include Horseback Riding by Land and Sea, a
Personal Watercraft Adventure and a Sting Ray Adventure, along with
a fun new Aqua Park for kids. (Of course, traditional Half Moon Cay
activities, such as glass bottom boat rides, parasailing, kayaking
and scuba tours are still available too.)
Eager to try the new offerings, I chose the intriguing Horseback
Riding by Land and Sea. Who knew horses love to swim? Actually,
they don’t. These horses were specially selected and trained by
Holland America, and you might say they’re the Esther Williamses of
the equine world.
The adventure begins with a tram ride to the stables on a remote
part of the Cay. Even in early December, the Bahamian sun was
pretty strong, which made my long pants and tennis shoes (with a
bathing suit underneath) a tad uncomfortable. But, the experience
was definitely worth it.
After a safety orientation, riders were matched up with a horse.
Obviously, my boasts of being a “somewhat experienced rider”
weren’t taken too seriously. My horse was one of the tamest and
slowest in the group, but that was just as well. We set off on a
nature trail ride to a high point atop the island. The view below,
of powdery-sugar sand, and light turquoise-green water, was
breathtaking. We even spotted neighboring islands in the distance.
A breeze cooled us down during the ride, as our guide told tales
about the Arawak Indians, the islands’ first settlers.
Arriving back at the stables, I eagerly accepted a cool drink,
and then switched into swimwear. The horses did the same. They were
outfitted with a “swim blanket,” and a special rope harness. Our
guide then rode into the water, and the horses followed, one by
It was a tiny bit unnerving at first, as the horses splashed
about, and I worried about keeping my balance. (Good thing they
handed out special “flotation belts,” in case anyone fell off.)
After a few seconds, my horse began to glide gracefully through the
water, and I floated along happily. As my legs dangled into the
sea, I wondered if I could spend the entire afternoon on my “sea
horse.” But, alas, the ride was booked solid the entire day, so I
set off for the Stingray Adventure.
The adventure takes place in a lovely 700-acre lagoon, called
Stingray Cove, whose facilities include a changing room,
observation deck and a gift shop that sells underwater cameras. A
naturalist gave us a talk about the southern stingray, and then
handed out snorkel equipment, a safety vest and water socks. We
waded into the lagoon, for an up-close encounter with rays of all
sizes. I was relieved to see that a net surrounds the cove, keeping
predators away from these gentle creatures (and their human
visitors.) Though timid at first, the rays soon brushed up against
us with velvety wings. I couldn’t overcome my squeamishness about
feeding them, but many of my fellow guests were delighted to have
the creatures sucking squishy fish bits out of their hands.
Though I didn’t try it out myself, the Personal Watercraft
Adventure promises to be a big hit with the junior cruiser set.
Parents will appreciate the fact that this isn’t mere watercraft
rental, where teens unfamiliar with the vehicles might act
irresponsibly. It’s a guided tour through a saltwater lagoon, far
away from crowded areas of the Cay. Riders receive an extensive
safety briefing, and try out the low-emission vehicles for a while
before setting out single file, with guides at the front and back
of the group. They ride along the shore, past reefs and small
inlets, and then get to test their skills on a course marked by
buoys. A couple of teenage boys proclaimed the ride the “best part
of the cruise.”
If you have clients who are cruising with younger children, the
new Half Moon Lagoon Aqua Park is great fun. It’s a kid’s fantasy
water world, complete with a playhouse and slide on the shore, a
sprinkling fountain, and giant, floating sea creatures anchored in
the water. I saw kids of all ages having a ball, scrambling up the
colorful whales, dolphins and fish, and then jumping into the
The best part about the Aqua Park is that parents can keep an
eye on the kids while enjoying a drink on the deck of the adjacent
Half Moon Saloon, which overlooks the activities.
Now, that’s my idea of a good time.