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Ultimate Guide to Great Stirrup Cay (2022)

Ultimate Guide to Great Stirrup Cay (2022)

Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian Cruise Line’s private island in the Bahamas, offers gorgeous white sand beaches, water sports and activities, and a variety of restaurants and bars.

The very first cruise line private island, Great Stirrup Cay is a 268-acre piece of paradise in the Berry Islands in the Bahamas. There are so many things to do on Great Stirrup Cay, whether you want an active day or just some relaxation! Here’s everything you need to know before your GSC visit.

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Who owns Great Stirrup Cay?

Norwegian Cruise Line started leasing Great Stirrup Cay in 1977, to develop it into a private island exclusively for NCL cruise ship passengers. Norwegian purchased the island outright in 1986.

You may notice some Royal Caribbean ships as you approach the island. Don’t worry, it’s not accessible to other cruise lines not owned by Norwegian! Great Stirrup Cay happens to be located adjacent to Little Stirrup Cay, home to RCC’s private island CocoCay.

Norwegian’s sister cruise lines, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas, also offer occasional itineraries that include a day at Great Stirrup Cay.

NCL’s recent renovations

As part of their Norwegian Edge program, NCL has spent about $250 million renovating and improving Great Stirrup Cay.

In addition to upgrading and enhancing the experience at the dining venues, and improving walkways and landscaping, they’ve also added more sports and adventure activities. For the ultimate in relaxation, the new luxury Silver Cove area features villas and a private lagoon.

If it’s been a few years since you’ve visited the private island, you’ll be amazed at how much it’s changed while still retaining its charm.

Is Great Stirrup Cay a tender port?

Great Stirrup Cay doesn’t yet have a pier for ships to dock at, so your ship will anchor offshore. Smaller boats, known as “tenders”, ferry passengers to and from the island.

You’ll need to pick up a complimentary ticket with a specific time to board the tender, or you can wait until Open Tender is called. Be warned that on NCL ships, Open Tender generally doesn’t start until the afternoon. By that time, many (if not all) of the restaurants and bars on the island will be closed.

Tip: Check your Freestyle Daily the day before you arrive at Great Stirrup Cay. It will list times and the location where you can pick up tender tickets. Tickets with early tender times go fast, so be sure to get your tickets as soon as possible.

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Tender Ports on a Cruise

Does anyone live on the island?

Norwegian has a small staff that stays on the island, but there are no permanent residents. All food for the day is sent over on tender boats with the ship’s kitchen staff in the morning.

The staff you’ll meet during the day on Great Stirrup Cay come over from the ship. Even the people working at the straw market don’t live here—they take the ferry over from nearby Great Harbour Cay.

Is the food free on Great Stirrup Cay?

Food is complimentary on Great Stirrup Cay! Currently, there are three dining options available to all guests on the island.

Jumbey Beach Grill is the largest dining venue, offering barbecue-style food in a buffet setting. Hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs, and jerk chicken are popular, along with pizza, salads, and corn-on-the-cob.

Abaco Taco is a make-your-own taco bar with a variety of toppings available. Choose a beef, chicken, or fish soft taco, and load it up!

Tropic Like It’s Hot Food Truck‘s small menu features sandwiches including Mahi Mahi and BBQ pulled pork, ceviche, and grilled spiced chicken breast. They also offer desserts: rum cake and coconut fudge bars.

Guests who book a villa or a Mandara Spa treatment on the island have access to an additional complimentary restaurant. Silver Cove Restaurant and Bar offers an upscale buffet with elevated choices such as grilled lobster tail and jumbo shrimp ceviche.

Jumbey Beach Grill has covered and uncovered picnic-style seating

Are drinks free on Great Stirrup Cay?

There are very limited complimentary beverages available with meals: coffee and ice water. Drink charges on Great Stirrup Cay work much as they do on board the ship. If you have a beverage package for your cruise, it will work on the island as well.

If you’d like to buy drinks, you use your cruise card to make your purchases just as you do on the ship.

Bars on GSC that are open to all guests include the Patrón Bar, Bertram’s Bar, Bacardi Bar, and the Lighthouse Beach Bar.

In the exclusive Silver Cove area, there’s also the Silver Cove Bar and the Moët Bar. These are only accessible to Villa guests and those booking a treatment at the Mandara Spa.

What activities are offered at Great Stirrup Cay?

Cruisers visiting Great Stirrup Cay for the day have a range of activities to choose from, and the island offers something for every activity level and budget.

Enjoying the beach

Many visitors choose to just relax on the beach during their visit to the private island, and there’s plenty of beautiful sand for everyone! Beach access is free, and complimentary loungers are available. Most chairs aren’t shaded, so you might consider renting a clamshell to keep out of the sun.

Tip: If you don’t want to spring for a clamshell, get to the island as early as possible. There are limited loungers in a shady area under the trees, but they go fast!

Clamshells fit over two loungers to provide shade from the bright Caribbean sun

Bertram’s Cove Beach, the main beach on the island, is the largest and closest to the tender dock. Since it’s so easily accessible, it’s always the most crowded beach as well. If you don’t mind being a little farther away from most amenities, keep walking and you’ll find Cabana Beach and then Fiesta Beach.

Although these smaller beaches are generally where cabana guests go, they’re also open to anyone. And they’re usually a lot less crowded!

Floating on the waves

If you’d prefer to relax ON the water, you can rent a floating mat for $16 a day. Pick them up at Mat and Float Rentals, across from Bertram’s Cove Beach. You can’t miss it—the mats are a seriously bright shade of yellow!

Rent a floating mat to relax on the crystal-blue water

Snorkeling at the underwater sculpture garden

Snorkeling is a very popular activity for visitors to Great Stirrup Cay! The best snorkeling spots in Bertram’s Cove are easily accessible from the main beach. You can rent snorkel equipment for the day ($35/adult, $19/child) but we prefer to pack our own full-face snorkel masks.

The sculpture garden is located just in front of the large rock formations you’ll notice rising out of the water. If you’re not sure exactly where to go, just ask the staff at Susan’s Rock Snorkel Center.

Read more: Why You Need a Full Face Snorkel Mask for Your Next Cruise

The staff at the snorkel center can point you to the best spot to see marine life

Ziplining from the Flighthouse

One of the newest attractions at GSC is the ziplining course. Starting from the 110-foot (33.5 m) replica lighthouse, the new course features 2935 feet (895 m) of zipline!

You’ll be able to reach speeds of up to 30 mph (48 kph) while enjoying a birds-eye view of the island and the sparkling waters surrounding it.

Age and weight restrictions do apply, and cruisers need to wear closed-toe shoes to participate.

Thrillseekers can zipline from the top of the new lighthouse on Great Stirrup Cay

On Great Stirrup Cay you’ll have three options for ziplining: the Osprey Zipline, the Seahawk Zipline, or a combo package that lets you ride both.

Osprey Zipline ($65/$45 kids) Three easy flights: the first flight south is the tallest at 120 feet above the ground. On the second flight, you’ll soar 850 feet out to the next landing, then 900 feet out to return to the starting point.

Seahawk Zipline ($75/$55 kids) This zipline also offers three flights, but they’re a bit more challenging. You’ll take an elevator to the 110-foot platform to zip out 1429 feet to a landing near Silver Cove Lagoon.

You’ll return via a 105-foot V-net bridge, a 25-foot chimney climb, and two more long zipline rides.

Island Zipline Adventure ($109/$79 kids) A combination of the Osprey Zipline plus the Seahawk Zipline for a total of six zips plus a series of V-net bridges, chimney climbs, and cargo nets.

Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP)

Stand-up paddle boarding (or SUP) is a fun way to get out on the water, and it’s a great workout, too! SUP is easy to learn, and the staff will give you pointers before sending you out to paddle around Bertram’s Cove.

Board and paddle rentals are $27 per hour, and there’s no minimum age requirement, so the whole family can join in.

Get pampered at Mandara Spa

If a soothing spa treatment is more your style, be sure to book a facial or massage at Mandara Spa in Silver Cove. Spa therapists will work their magic while you relax to the song of the ocean’s waves. Treatment rooms open to the secluded beach on the north side of the lagoon.

Guests who sign up for a spa treatment have an added perk—access to the private lagoon and Silver Cove’s restaurant and bars, normally reserved for those renting a villa.

Is there entertainment on Great Stirrup Cay?

Entertainment on the private island focuses on music and dancing, centered around the bars and the bandstand. Expect lively dancing from the ship’s entertainment staff, especially at the Bacardi Bar!

They’ll encourage guests to come up and dance with them. Even if you’re not a dancer, it’s fun to watch the high-energy staff interact with guests (who may or may not have had a couple of rum cocktails).

Live music with a Caribbean flair is played by local musicians at the bandstand directly across from the main beach at Bertram’s Cove. There’s plenty of room to dance on the sand, away from the crowds sunning on the beach.

Caribbean-infused tunes from the bandstand encourage guests to dance on the sand

What shore excursions can you take from Great Stirrup Cay?

Since the island is uninhabited, your only options for shore excursions are those you book through the cruise line.

Here are the Great Stirrup Cay shore excursions for 2022:

Stingray City Bahamas ($99/$79 kids): Not to be confused with the famous Stingray City off of Grand Cayman where you can feed wild rays, this excursion takes you on a speedboat ride to Stingray City Bahamas. There, guests can interact with and feed tame stingrays in an enclosed area offshore. Snorkeling equipment is also provided.

Catamaran & Snorkel ($79/$59 kids): A double-decker, covered snorkel boat will take you to a live coral reef where you can swim with native fish and marine life. On your return, snacks and complimentary adult beverages are available.

Wave Runner Tour (from $129): This 45-minute personal watercraft tour through the Berry Islands will let you see area highlights like the Lighthouse at Great Stirrup Cay, Slaughter Harbor, and the abandoned island community of Cistern Cay. The tour offers both single as well as two-person wave runners. Age and weight restrictions apply to this tour, so read carefully before booking.

Kayak Tour ($59/$39 kids): Away from the crowds, you’ll join a group to paddle your two-person kayak in the waters south of Great Stirrup Cay. Tour guides provide a basic orientation on how to use your kayak.

Swim With the Pigs ($139/$99 kids): Yes, you can swim with pigs during your visit to Great Stirrup Cay! The pigs aren’t on GSC itself, but on nearby Treasure Island. Note that the operators of this shore excursion don’t allow guests to take their own photos (but you can purchase pictures).

Tip: If your Bahamas cruise also stops in Freeport, I recommend the Swim With The Pigs excursion that NCL offers there—you can take unlimited photos and video at no additional charge.

Bertram’s Cove has the busiest beach on Great Stirrup Cay

Unusual things to do on Great Stirrup Cay

If you’re looking for some out-of-the-ordinary things to do on Great Stirrup Cay, I have a couple of fun recommendations for you, especially if you enjoy history.

Walk out to the real lighthouse

You’ll no doubt see the new replica lighthouse that NCL uses for ziplining, since it’s in a very central location. But did you know there’s a real lighthouse on the island as well? This lighthouse was originally constructed in 1863 by the British Imperial Lighthouse Service.

Although the station was manned for many years, the light is currently fully-automated and solar-powered. The nearly 80-foot (24 m) lighthouse’s beam is visible for over 20 miles!

To get to the lighthouse, walk back and to the left of the tenders and look for the Lighthouse Trail. The journey is about a mile each way, and you might even spot some local wildlife, including iguanas and hummingbirds on your walk. Definitely take some closed-toe walking shoes if you want to do this short hike.

Visit the Great Stirrup Cay Cemetery

There were two early-nineteenth-century burials on the island, and you can visit the tiny cemetery with their memorials. The first burial was Captain Allan Bertram (1790-1834), the namesake of Bertram’s Cove. The British Navy captain, commander of HMS Tweed, asked to be buried here facing the beach that he loved.

In 1979, Norwegian Cruise Line installed a stone marker and plaque on the location of his grave. The tiny cemetery is located in a grassy area across from the main beach.

Also located here is the grave of Elizabeth Hixson (1813-1838), a young woman from Virginia who was traveling by sea with her husband and daughter. Elizabeth had been ill and hoped that the climate in Florida, where her brother lived, would help her condition.

She passed away during the journey, and her husband hoped to make it to Key West for burial. Winds were too calm, so they were forced to stop at the nearest island, Great Stirrup Cay. She was buried next to Captain Bertram.

Are there cabana rentals at Great Stirrup Cay?

You can rent an open-air cabana on the island, starting at $199 for a Classic Cabana that will accommodate six people. Premier Cabanas have room for eight guests and start at $499 for the day.

You can add up to two extra guests to either size cabana, with a $25 charge per person.

Cabanas feature a sofa and several chairs, and a small patio. The front of each structure is open to the outside, but you can draw the curtains for privacy.

Both cabana styles offer complimentary bottled water as well as up to four free-floating mats. Each group of cabanas is located close to small beaches that are often far less crowded than the main beach. Classic Cabanas are near Fiesta Beach, and Premier Cabanas are located close to Cabana Beach.

What perks are there if you rent a villa in Silver Cove?

If you’re looking for even more luxury, Great Stirrup Cay’s exclusive new Silver Cove area offers private villas for the day.

Silver Cove villa options include:

  • Ocean Villa $349 (six guests)
  • Lagoon Villa $399 (eight guests)
  • Lagoon 1-Bedroom Villa $499 (ten guests)
  • Lagoon 2-Bedroom Family Suite $1100 (16 guests)

Just like the cabanas on the island, NCL allows two extra guests over the stated capacity, with an upcharge of $49 per person.

With any villa rental, you’ll also have access to the exclusive Silver Cove Restaurant and Bar, the Moët Bar, as well as the private beach at Silver Cove Lagoon (with its new overwater swings).

Each fully-furnished villa features air conditioning, private bathrooms, and a patio. Villa guests can also enjoy complimentary fresh fruit, chilled water, and a menu of on-demand movies. Room service is included if you’d prefer to dine in the villa. Villa guests also have access to complimentary floats and beach umbrellas.

Tip: If you’re thinking of visiting the Moët Bar in Silver Cove, consider upgrading your beverage package to the Premium Plus Beverage Package. Drinks at this bar start at $25, so none are covered by the Premium Beverage Package.

Are lockers available on Great Stirrup Cay?

There aren’t any lockers available on the island for passengers to secure their valuables. I recommend taking an inexpensive waterproof pouch that you can hang around your neck. You’ll be able to fit a cell phone, cash, and your license inside while you enjoy the water.

Does Great Stirrup Cay have a pool?

Currently, GSC doesn’t have a swimming pool. However, part of NCL’s improvement plan for the future includes a swimming pool complex and water features including a lazy river.

Is WiFi available on Great Stirrup Cay?

GSC doesn’t offer WiFi, but there is a cell tower. If you have an international plan on your phone, you should be able to access cellular data. The signal usually works on board the ship when it’s anchored offshore as well.

If you have a WiFi package on board the ship, you won’t be able to use it on Great Stirrup Cay. Your ship’s signal doesn’t reach the island.

How do you get around on Great Stirrup Cay?

Unlike some other cruise line private islands, GSC doesn’t have a regular shuttle or tram to transport guests around. One exception is transportation to Silver Cove, since it’s a bit of a hike from where you’ll exit your tender.

If you have a shore excursion that departs from the dock on the south side of the island, shuttles will take you to and from that location.

Thankfully, most of the action on the island is centrally located by the main beach at Bertram’s Cove. Most bars and restaurants are in this area, and restrooms are just a quick walk from the beach.

What about guests with mobility challenges?

Beach wheelchairs are available on Great Stirrup Cay, free of charge. However, you can’t pre-order a wheelchair, and the staff issues them on a first-come, first-served basis.

If you or one of your cruising group is unable to walk at all, tendering to the island might not be possible. NCL, like many other cruise lines, reserves the right to deny boarding of their tenders to guests who can’t enter or exit the boat on foot.

This is entirely for the safety of guests as well as the safety of crew members who assist people entering and exiting tenders. Keep this in mind when you ask crew members if you or your group member will be allowed to tender.

On the flip side, staying on the ship during a port day at Great Stirrup Cay can be incredibly fun. You won’t have to deal with crowds, and it could be a perfect day of relaxation when the pool deck, restaurants, and bars are almost empty. This would be a great day to book a (possibly discounted) spa treatment!

Can you buy souvenirs on Great Stirrup Cay?

Souvenirs are available at the Berried Treasures Bazaar, a straw market run by local Bahamians. The colorful open-air market offers clothing and accessories, as well as a variety of local crafts.

Since Norwegian Cruise Line doesn’t run the bazaar, you won’t be able to use your cruise card here. It’s cash-only (US or Bahamian dollars) so be sure to bring cash for the market if you think you might want to do some shopping.

Berried Treasures Bazaar offers colorful crafts, clothing, and accessories

What do you need to bring to Great Stirrup Cay?

Your must-haves for Great Stirrup Cay are pretty basic:

  • Your cruise card
  • A photo ID (needs to be a valid driver’s license if you’re doing the wave runner tour)
  • A towel (you can take one from the ship)
  • Sunscreen

I also recommend a few extras to make your day on the island more fun and comfortable:

  • Water shoes
  • Tennis shoes for visiting the lighthouse or ziplining
  • A hat or visor
  • A reusable water bottle
  • Snorkel gear
  • Cash for souvenirs at the straw market

Remember when you’re packing your beach bag to double-check that you’ve packed everything you’ll need for the day. Returning to the ship and tendering back to the island likely won’t be practical.

What’s the weather like at GSC?

The Berry Islands are warm enough for swimming year-round, making Great Stirrup Cay a wonderful place to visit any time of year.

The warmest months are July and August, where highs average 91°F (33°C). January is the coldest month, with highs of 79°F (26°C).

The rainiest time of year in the Berry Islands is June through September, with the islands seeing 4-6 inches (10-16 cm) of rain per month.

Hurricane season runs from the beginning of June through the end of November. Peak hurricane period in the Bahamas lasts from early August until late October.

Ships planning to visit Great Stirrup Cay often will cancel during rough sea conditions because it’s a tender port. If you have your heart set on a day on this private island, you might want to consider booking your cruise outside of this season.

What cruise ships go to Great Stirrup Cay?

Do you have a specific ship you love or would like to try? As of 2022, there are 16 ships featuring itineraries that include Great Stirrup Cay:

Norwegian Cruise Line

  • Encore
  • Escape
  • Gem
  • Getaway
  • Jade
  • Joy
  • Pearl
  • Sky
  • Sun
Norwegian Sky at anchor off of Great Stirrup Cay

Oceania Cruises

  • Insignia
  • Nautica
  • Riviera
  • Sirena
  • Vista

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

  • Navigator
  • Grandeur
A day at Great Stirrup Cay is a perfect escape for beach lovers

Don’t forget to check out these resources before your Caribbean cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line:

Have you visited Great Stirrup Cay on a Norwegian cruise? What did you think of the island? Let me know in the comments below!


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Ronald Murray

Sunday 22nd of August 2021

I love the idea of a private island. We actually just booked a cruise with NCL with a stop in GSC. We were considering getting a small cabana and splitting the cost between us and a friend who is also going. Was looking though and wondering if the studio villa would be better. What is your opinion on the cabana vs villa?

Carrie Ann

Monday 30th of August 2021

Hi Ronald, if you're on the fence about cabana vs. villa (and don't mind spending a bit more), I'd say go with the villa. It's much more private and luxurious, and you'll have the added benefit of access to the Silver Cove amenities. There are also shuttles that will take you right to Silver Cove and back. You should also get priority tendering with a villa, which is great when everyone's trying to get to the island - it can take hours to get all the passengers tendered over. Hope you have a fantastic cruise!

Courtney

Thursday 21st of May 2020

I never knew cruise lines could own private islands. Great tip about not having wifi outside of international cell service. Is there a community of people who lived on the island before it was purchased? I would love to learn more about life on the island for the people employed by the cruise line. Really interesting.

Carrie Ann

Friday 22nd of May 2020

Great questions, Courtney! GSC was a pirate hideout (!) until the early 19th century. When I was researching the little cemetery, I learned that when Elizabeth's husband buried her on the island he met two men of African descent, assumed to be former slaves, living on the island. They helped him find the spot next to Captain Bertrand's grave. Later the island was a military installation, until it was claimed by the oil company that later leased the island to NCL.

I'd like to know more about life on the island for the employees who stay there, too! I think I'd volunteer for that job if I worked for the cruise line :D Next time I go I'll see if I can get the scoop.

Lydia

Thursday 21st of May 2020

I’ve never heard of this place before! And the free food definitely caught my attention. Looks like a wonderful place to relax

Carrie Ann

Friday 22nd of May 2020

Yes, the food on Great Stirrup Cay is included with your cruise fare! Having food included is one of my favorite parts about cruising :D

Pam

Thursday 21st of May 2020

Private islands are always the highlight of a cruise for me - they're just so relaxing and a reminder to take things a bit slower. (which we all need to do more! )

Carrie Ann

Thursday 21st of May 2020

Pam, I completely agree. I love visiting the ports and spending long days exploring, but private islands are a nice break from the busier days. Life can be so hectic that it's important to take some time to just relax and enjoy :D

Paolo

Thursday 21st of May 2020

Learning that an island is owned by a Cruise line is surprising. The island looks beautiful! Hope to visit it one day

Carrie Ann

Thursday 21st of May 2020

Paolo, I hope you're able to visit GSC - it's so nice to just relax there and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Thanks for stopping by!