The 6 Best Cruises for Exploring the Bahamas

Only 110 miles off the Florida coast, the Bahamas is one of the easiest Caribbean destinations to reach on a cruise. These are our top picks for sailings among this island paradise.

Aerial view of a beach and the sea in the Bahamas

With hundreds of islands to visit, Bahamas cruises are filled with beautiful scenery, mesmerizing marine life, and relaxing beach escapes.

Courtesy of Fernando Jorge Unsplash

Cruises to the Bahamas are filled with sun, soft sands, and the opportunity to dip your toes in a warm and seductive crystal blue sea. The 700-island archipelago is the kind of oasis you dream of when, in my case at least, you’re indoors on a cold and dark day in Cleveland. Exploring the islands is tricky by air, but much easier via ship. Bahamas cruises to take right now include quick jaunts from easy-to-get-to Florida ports as well as one-week and longer cruises that explore more deeply. You can sail there in less than a day from Florida (cruises tend to embark in the early evening and hang out at sea until the next morning ashore), which makes it both an easy escape for a quick getaway or somewhere to linger for even more rest and relaxation.

What to expect on a Bahamas cruise

The main places cruise ships visit in the Bahamas are Nassau, the capital city, and some of the islands and beaches that are affiliated with cruise lines, such as Disney’s private family wonderland Castaway Cay, off Great Abaco Island. There are small ships that explore further, including to the southern reaches of the archipelago.

Cruise passengers will find opportunities to hike in national parks, enjoy nearly deserted beaches, and explore many small churches—the Bahamas boasts more churches per capita than anywhere else in the world.

In the Bahamian capital of Nassau on New Providence Island, visitors can get a better understanding of the nation’s British colonial and West African slave history as well as of the Junkanoo culture and festivals at wonderful museums. Most day visitors, though, are typically focused on water attractions: heading off on diving or snorkeling excursions, boarding party boats with free-flowing rum punch, experiencing the beaches, swimming pools, and waterslides at the Atlantis Bahamas resort on Paradise Island, or trying to catch the big one on fishing charters.

On small ship itineraries, you may stop at San Salvador Island, where Christopher Columbus may or may not have made his first landing in the New World. (Historians quibble on the exact landing spot.) A white cross memorializes the supposed landing spot. Long Island, which stretches some 80 miles, has both rugged and sandy coasts and the natural attraction of Dean’s Blue Hole, one of the deepest sinkholes in the world at 663 feet, a place where divers and snorkelers can mingle with turtles and tarpons. The small island of Bimini is known for its clean beaches and rich marine life—hanging out at beach clubs, seeking quiet escapes in the land, and watching for dolphins and other sea creatures are prime activities.

Other cruise destinations include Eleuthera, with its inviting pink sands and protected park areas. In addition to beaches, the 365-island chain known as the Exumas are famous for swimming pigs (though they also live elsewhere in the Bahamas).

A standard stateroom on the "Celebrity Summit" cruise ship, with a bed, balcony, small desk, and arm chair

Even a standard stateroom on the Celebrity Summit won’t disappoint thanks to chic interior design details.

Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Cruises’ “Nassau & Bimini” itinerary

  • Best for: Upscale big ship experience
  • To book: 4-nights round-trip from Miami, from $473 per person for a veranda stateroom; from $801 per person for AquaClass; and from $2,245 per person for the Retreat
  • Islands: Nassau (New Providence), Bimini, plus Key West

Celebrity Cruises sails to Nassau and Bimini in style, and if time or money is tight, you don’t have to invest too much in your Bahamas getaway. You can book, for instance, an easy, breezy four-night trip on the 2,158-passenger Celebrity Summit from under $500 per person. That said, if you splurge on a suite in the Retreat, you’ll have your own sundeck with hot tub, enjoy private lounge access, and dine at the exclusive restaurant Luminae, where signature dishes by Celebrity’s culinary ambassador, Daniel Boulud, are featured on the rotating menu—such as creamy carrot and ginger velouté and Moroccan chicken tagine with saffron couscous. Spa lovers might want to book the AquaClass staterooms, with complimentary access to a Persian Garden with infrared sauna and sensory showers and exclusive dining at health focused Blu, where the wine list features sustainable and biodynamic wines. While in Bimini, you might try your hand at sport-fishing, a year-round pastime from the island.

A pelican-themed waterslide in the foreground on Castaway Cay, with a Disney Cruise Line ship in the background

If you’re traveling with younger cruisers, Disney has you covered.

Courtesy of Kent Phillips/Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line’s Bahamian Cruise from Fort Lauderdale

  • Best for: Families and Disney fans of all ages
  • To book: 5-night Bahamas cruise from Fort Lauderdale on the 2,700-passenger Disney Magic, from $6,299 for four guests
  • Islands: Castaway Cay, Nassau (New Providence), Eleuthera

Disney Cruise Line has ships in the Bahamas year-round, starting with quick three- and four-night sailings from Florida ports. Ever since it first opened 1998, the highlight of any Disney cruise in the Bahamas has been Castaway Cay, a picture-perfect white-sand island paradise, complete with pirate attractions and Disney character appearances. What has Disney fans all atwitter is the opening in summer 2024 of a second exclusive for Disney Bahamas destination, Lighthouse Point, on the island of Eleuthera. There, Disney promises a celebration of Bahamian culture, including Junkanoo parades, characters from Bahamas folklore, and performances by local artists. An accompanying commitment to conservation at Lighthouse Point includes a solar installation that will provide at least 90 percent of the destination’s required electricity (Castaway Cay also has a solar installation). Family-friendly attractions abound but grown-ups can also drop the kids off in a supervised activity program and head to the adults-only beach to sip cocktails while lounging in private cabanas.

Aerial view of two pools on "Evrima," with no people

For a luxurious yacht-style cruise in the Bahamas, book a suite on the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s recently launched Evrima.

Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s round-trip sailing from Fort Lauderdale

  • Best for: Top-of-the-line luxury experience
  • To book: 7-night cruise from Fort Lauderdale on the 298-passenger Evrima, from $6,100 per person
  • Islands: Nassau (New Providence), Bimini, San Salvador, Long Island, plus Key West

On the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s 298-passenger Evrima, you can head to the secluded dipping pool and pretend you are on your own private yacht, luxuriate in your resort-like suite, or join an intimate dance party on the Marina Terrace, located just above the sea. A seven-night itinerary in December 2023 gets you from Fort Lauderdale to Nassau, Bimini, San Salvador, and Long Island, Bahamas, with the bonus of some additional time built in to enjoy the Hemingway House & Museum and other attractions in Key West, Florida. Optional small group shore excursions in the Bahamas include an “Eco-Marine Safari” on Long Island, that combines small boat exploration of a mangrove channel and sandbars with a visit to see swimming pigs in a quiet cay. With both the cruise line and the Royal at Atlantis on Paradise Island affiliated with Marriott International, there’s also a hotel tie-in—you can book a daybed at the resort’s chic adults-only pool area, the Cove.

Aerial view of the island of Exuma  with a long stretch of empty beach, turquoise waters, patches of greenery and a few houses with pools

Explora the island of Exuma on a Scenic cruise in the Bahamas.

Courtesy of Pritam Pebam/Unsplash

Scenic’s “Island Odyssey: Bahamas to the Grenadines” cruise

  • Best for: Underwater and air exploration
  • To book: 12-night sailing in fall 2024 from $9,963 per person
  • Islands: Compass Cay, Great Exuma Island, San Salvador Island, Long Island, Great Inagua Island in the Bahamas. Also, Virgin Gorda, St. Bart’s, Monserrat, Iles des Saintes (Guadeloupe), Tobago Cays (St. Vincent and the Grenadines)

The luxurious 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse features some of the best exploration toys in the industry. An expedition team runs excursions including with two helicopters and a submarine, which will enhance your Bahamas views from both over and under the sea. Or borrow paddleboards and kayaks from the ship’s marina for your own solo exploration. A 12-night sailing from Nassau to Bridgetown, Barbados, starts with six days in the Bahamas, before following the yachting crowd south. Stops include Compass Cay in the Exuma Cays, where in the clear water you might see nurse sharks even from the ship. Bird lovers will enjoy a rare visit to the southernmost island in the Bahamas, Great Inagua Island, with its resident population of some 80,000 flamingos. Whiskey lovers will want to check out the ship’s collection of more than 110 varieties.

Two hot tubs on the top deck of a SeaDream Yacht Club ship surrounded by lounge chairs and umbrellas

SeaDream Yacht Club’s forthcoming 2025 Bahamas cruise will be worth the wait for this viewpoint from the whirlpools.

Courtesy of Greg Ceo/SeaDream Yacht Clube

SeaDream Yacht Club’s “Bountiful Bahamas” cruise

  • Best for: Low-key luxury
  • To book: 7-night cruise in April 2025, from $4,399 per person
  • Islands: Nassau (New Providence), Staniel Cay, Great Exuma, San Salvador, Salt Cay

You’ll have to wait until 2025, but small-ship line SeaDream has an intriguing pair of upcoming round-trip cruises to the Bahamas from tony Palm Beach, Florida, on the 112-passenger SeaDream II. The “Bountiful Bahamas” itinerary lingers in the Exumas and around Long Island, with the opportunity to explore pristine beaches, hang out at beach shack bars, and snorkel in the clear sea. There’s also an unusual visit to the uninhabited Bahamas island Salt Cay (also known as Cay Sal), only accessible by boat and some 50 miles from Marathon, Florida. In between kayaking quiet bays, try the yacht’s newest attraction, an inflatable slide running from the pool deck into the water. SeaDream prides itself on cuisine and was the first cruise line with a full vegan raw food menu in addition to such indulgences as a signature l’oeuf poule au caviar (egg with caviar), grilled lobster, and filet mignon.

Woman in hanging wicker chair sitting poolside with glass of champagne at Virgin Voyages Bimini Beach Club

It wouldn’t be a Virgin Voyages Bahamas cruise without some time spent chilling at the Bimini Beach Club.

Courtesy of Virgin Voyages

Virgin Voyages’ “Fire & Sunset Soirées” cruise

  • Best for: Fun-seeking adults
  • To book: 4-night “Fire & Sunset Soirées” on the 2,770-passenger Scarlet Lady or Valiant Lady from $1,920 for two in a Sea Terrace cabin
  • Islands: Bimini, plus Key West

For pure adult fun you can’t beat Virgin Voyages, which is limited to those age 18 and up. During a beach day at the Virgin Voyages Beach Club at Bimini, private to Virgin guests when their ships visit, enjoy cocktails at the pool or a beach bonfire. Or book an activity such as a watercolor painting class, a “Views-n-Blues Mid-Afternoon Cruise” on a pontoon, an open-air tram tour of the island, or scuba dive with hammerheads. On the ship, partake in dance parties, take advantage of complimentary yoga, meditation sessions, and intense cardio HIIT classes, peruse vinyl selections on sale at the record shop, and get a tattoo or piercing when not indulging in treats at the “Lick Me Till  . . .  Ice Cream” shop. There are also six restaurants onboard, including a highly creative “Test Kitchen” where dishes smoke and sizzle, and a super-fun Korean barbecue experience, Gunbae, complete with drinking games.

Fran Golden is an award-winning travel writer who has sailed on some 170 ships to destinations around the world.
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