Cruising is back in full swing after a few years of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But when it comes to ports of call, some of the most popular cruise ports in the world are easier to deal with than others in the current environment of health and safety protocols. Some are stringent about following vaccinations and masking rules; others seem to be ignoring their own official rules altogether.
TROPICAL VACATIONS: 8 Best Bahamas All-Inclusive Resorts
Health and Safety Protocols: What Are Bahamas Cruises Actually Like Right Now?
In late spring, I set sail on the Carnival Elation out of Jacksonville for a cruise to Freeport and Bimini. The original itinerary for the cruise had us going to Freeport and Nassau, but the latter port was changed just a few weeks before our sailing. While some guests voiced their disappointment onboard the ship, I was excited to explore the new-to-me port of Bimini. I was also curious to see what the COVID-19 health and safety protocols would look like in reality when we disembarked in the Bahamas.
Bahamas Ports-of-Call: Official Requirements vs. Reality
Before pulling into both Bahamas ports, our ship’s cruise director announced that all guests who were planning to disembark were to bring their guest cabin key, photo ID or passport, a mask, and their coronavirus vaccination card. The cruise director also explained that the Bahamas requires all cruise ship guests to wear masks at the port, but once you leave the port masks are optional.
While I had planned to explore Freeport, the weather on our port day was less than stellar, with cold driving winds and hard rain showers that seemed to never stop. Instead, I chose to hang out with my family on the ship doing trivia and enjoying the tacos and burgers from the lido deck restaurants. The next day, however, we arrived in Bimini and I set out to explore this Bahamas cruise port.
After my family and I collected all of our things, we made our way down to the gangplank in Bimini, where we were surprised that none of the Bahamians working were following the mask rules. As we walked up to the trolly that takes guests to and from the port we were expecting to have to show our vaccination card, but no one ever asked. It was a little frustrating to carry such an important piece of paper off the ship and never actually need it.
CRUISE DEALS: Kids Sail Free: 5 Cruise Lines That Let Kids Cruise Free
Returning to the ship at the end of the day was a similar experience. On the trolly, no guests were wearing a mask, and no one asked cruise ship guests to do so before disembarking the trolly for the ship at the port. I found it frustrating that the port wasn’t following its own rules, especially since the cruise line made it a point of emphasis that masks were required any time we were in the port area. Coupled with the fact that no one even cared if we flashed our vaccination cards, it seemed like the official port entry requirements were just for show.
Exploring Bimini as a Cruise Ship Port of Call
In Bimini, we rented a golf cart to tour the small island on our own. The rental cost was $70 for the entire day and the golf cart had room for four. Traveling around the island was easy as all of the roads were paved. We felt safe the entire time, which is different from, say, Nassau, where according to reports from recent cruisers the atmosphere is not as welcoming.
SPLASH ZONE: 7 Best Cruise Ship Water Parks for Kids and Tweens
After driving around Bimini’s resort area, which has a large public beach, a casino, and plenty of shopping and dining options, we explored the other side of the island and found a secluded beach where there were a few other cruise families and locals diving for conch. We asked around for a local lunch spot and found Ebbie’s, which is a small outdoor spot right on the lagoon. While it’s definitely not resort-level dining, you will see the chef taking fish right off the boat and cleaning it to be served. We tried the conch fritters, the whole red snapper, and the fried shrimp; all tasted fresh and perfectly seasoned. And the view from our picnic table was perfect.
Overall, Bimini was an enjoyable port to visit on our cruise and the island is clearly working towards becoming a major port for cruise lines. For now, though, there’s not much to do on the island if you don’t like the beach, and very few excursions or things to do within walking distance of the port.
If you’re on a cruise that’s headed to Bimini, my advice is to enjoy a local meal and head to the beach for a while, but don’t plan to be off the ship all day.