It's a quick cruise over to the Bahamas. The islands sit less than 200 miles off the coast of Florida and serve as a popular destination for travelers who want to hit the powdery beaches to parasail, snorkel, scuba dive, swim with dolphins or simply relax in the sun.
Almost every major cruise line offers sailings to the Bahamas, and many of their itineraries out of New York or Florida can rank among the cheapest way to enjoy a cruise vacation.
The Bahamas represent a group of more than 700 islands and islets in the Atlantic Ocean north of Cuba. It was there that Columbus made his first stop in the New World in 1492. The average temperature ranges from 78 degrees in January to about 90 in July and August, so the climate is fantastic for those seeking to escape the winter cold in certain regions of the United States as well as active adventurers wanting to jump in and play in the blue waters almost any time of year.
Three main port areas in the Bahamas offer plenty to keep you busy.
Nassau -- At the busiest cruise port in the chain you'll find plenty of company on the dozens of popular and free beaches. Try Junkanoo Beach, Cabbage Beach and Cable Beach for beach days full of activities.
We know many of our readers dare to be more adventurous? How about a swim with dolphins at Blue Lagoon Island? Or diving with reef sharks or reserving a charter boat for a day of fishing?
This port city on New Providence Island is home to the popular Atlantis Resort, just across a bridge on Paradise Island. You can pay for a day pass to enjoy the beach and various amenities at Atlantis Resort, a vast wonderland. However, you will be excluded from areas reserved for resort guests.
Freeport -- This town is about 75 miles from South Florida, meaning your ship can get there soooo quickly. From Freeport, you can jump right into your active pursuits.
Your docking spot in Port Lucaya places you within reach of several pristine beaches. Choose among Lucaya Beach, Taino Beach and Xanadu Beach.
You also can hit the Port Lucaya marketplace for souvenirs -- straw hats and hot sauces are popular.
We have been to Holland America Line's Half Moon Cay, where we rented a cabana for a day and walked to the end of the beach for our own free snorkel excursion. We saw tons of colorful fish in the waters that were home to reef, sea grass and a sunken barge. What a great experience!
On Disney's Castaway Cay, we swam in the clear waters off a groomed beach and rode bikes around the marked paths. But before that, we took part in the 5K running race that the line hosts for passengers on the morning the ship arrives at Castaway Cay. Entrance is free, and competitors hit the permanent race course for a tour of the island as a great way to get your heart pumping before a day of leisure.
So, as you can see, the islands in the Bahamas offer a lot of activities -- whether you want to laze on a beach or explore the waters. You can enjoy yourself without spending a lot of money, too. Many of the cruises that stop there offer the cheapest prices for any voyages when calculated by the average daily rate per person, and you can enjoy yourself on the islands for free if you pack your own snorkel gear or just want to head to a beach with your towels to lay out and play all day.