Back to the Beach

| Thursday, 05 Jun. 2008

 

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When your ship calls in the Bahamas, Bermuda or Caribbean, you expect to find gentle waters and pristine beaches beckoning at every corner. While there are plenty of lovely beaches in each of these regions, it pays to do a little research ahead of time -- especially if you're cruising with your family -- to locate those most appropriate for kids. Many cruise lines offer a transfer and use of a beach for a day in various ports, but buying this excursion will generally cost you at least $20 per person. Instead, we always hop in a taxi with the kids and head to the beach independently, saving plenty of money that could instead be spent on shopping or in the casino!

 

The following are beaches that either I have taken my kids to or that fellow parents from CruiseMates.com's family message board have visited. (Thanks to all of you who posted your favorite family beaches.) The main criteria for a family-friendly beach are: It is accessible by foot or taxi from the cruise port; has gentle water with few waves; offers bathroom facilities, a snack bar, and easy access to taxis back to the ship. Some of these beaches are public and thus will only charge a small fee or none at all. Others are part of a hotel or resort that accepts day visitors. These will generally charge you an entry fee per person or ask you to pay for use of their beach chairs and umbrellas, which may cost you about $15 for two lounge chairs.

I suggest you ask the shore excursions desk aboard ship to give you an approximate idea of how much a taxi will cost to a specific beach that I have mentioned. Also make sure you won't have a problem getting a taxi back from the beach to the ship. Although some shore excursions personnel don't want to be bothered helping you with anything other than purchasing a shore excursion from them, persist in asking them to help you decide which beach to visit. This has been my strategy for our 12 family cruises and I haven't received bad advice yet!

Here's a checklist of things to bring with you on your excursion to the beach: beach towels that the ship gives you upon disembarkation; small bills for a taxi; and a few small pails and shovels you either brought from home or purchased along the way for the kids. Most important, though, is to have a relaxing time with your kids. On cold winter days, I relish the beach days we had with our kids on our Caribbean cruises this past year.

Antigua

 

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We have been to Halycon Cove Hotel's beach twice over the years and we love it. There are lounge chairs, natural shade huts, and a bar and grill. Most of all, the water is gorgeous and perfectly calm for kids. The taxi stand at the hotel will call you a taxi back to the port.

 

Closer to St. John's is Fort James Beach, where you can rent umbrellas and beach chairs. Make sure you stay in the designated swimming area, since currents can be strong farther away from the shore, one of our readers suggests.

Aruba

 

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Two areas of Aruba are sure bets for good beaches: Palm Beach and Eagle Beach, both of which are flanked by hotels (the former by high-rise hotels, the latter by low-rise hotels). All beaches in Aruba are open to the public; a taxi from the port to either of these areas is about $10 to $12.

 

Another option in Aruba is the Sonesta Hotel's private island beach. The hotel is right on the main street in Oranjested and offers boat service right from its lobby to its nearby offshore island. According to one of our readers, the facilities are first rate. However the fee, which includes the boat ride and lunch, is high -- about $25 per person for adults.

Nassau, Bahamas

Well-known Cable Beach is about a $10 taxi ride from Nassau's cruise ship pier and offers water sports, restaurants and shops. Alternatively, you can take a ferry or taxi to Paradise Island, where you can enjoy Paradise Beach, which charges a nominal admission, or other beaches such as Pirate's Cove.

Barbados

All beaches in Barbados are open to the public. The beaches on the island's western side are calm, while the Atlantic side can be rough. Some suggestions from a reader include Payne's Bay or Church Point, the latter of which has plenty of trees that offer natural shade.

Bermuda

The most popular beach near St. George's is Tobacco Bay Beach. This small beach is nestled in a cove and has restroom facilities as well as a snack bar.

 

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For ship calls in Hamilton, you might want to visit well-known Elbow Bay Beach. There is a daily fee there and you can rent umbrellas and chairs. There is also a caf‚ and restrooms. Note that the beaches on Bermuda's south shore, such as Elbow Bay, are rougher than those on the north shore.

 

Cayman Islands

You can't go wrong by taking a taxi to Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman. There are a number of different public beach clubs (you will have to pay a small fee) along Seven Mile Beach, so ask your shore excursions staff to recommend one. The water along Seven Mile Beach is very gentle and some of the hotels along the beach have water sports rentals. One time we even walked across the road from the beach and ate at my daughter's favorite fast food spot -- Burger King -- before heading back to the beach for the afternoon.

Cozumel, Mexico

 

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There are a number of options in Cozumel. If you purchase the shore excursion to Chankanaab Park, there is a small children's beach with a protected swimming area. Chankanaab also has snorkeling areas, lovely walking paths and gardens.

 

For independent beach ideas, check out Playa San Francisco, which is about a $10 taxi ride from downtown San Miguel. There is no entry fee to the beach. If your ship docks at the International Pier rather than the main downtown pier, you can walk to Le Ceiba and Crown Paradise sol Caribe; both charge daily fees for visitors.

Jamaica

One of our readers suggested taking a taxi to the Jamaica Grand Renaissance Hotel, where you can use the pool and beach facilities for about $12 a day for adults; less for children. The hotel is accessible by taxi and has lockers to store any valuables you brought with you.

In Jamaica, I suggest only going to a hotel or resort beach since they have their own security guards to make sure guests aren't hassled by locals trying to sell something. There generally are not security guards at public beaches and thus you will be on your own as far as safety is concerned. Although I think Jamaica is one of the most naturally beautiful Caribbean islands, there is a "hassle factor" to be considered. That is why it is one of the few islands where I purchase a group shore excursion through the cruise line rather than explore independently.

St. Thomas/St. John

 

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If you haven't been to Trunk Bay on St. John's, then you have been missing a glimpse of paradise! While Trunk Bay is by no means secluded like it used to be, it features a beautiful sliver of beach and blue-green water with an easy snorkel trail for novices and kids. However, keep in mind that a shore excursion to Trunk Bay via your cruise ship will only allow about two hours of beach time. Getting to Trunk Bay independently from St. Thomas is possible via two separate taxis and ferry. However, I never visited St. John independently for fear that a potential logistics mishap could possibly jeopardize catching our ship before it departs from St. Thomas.

 

If you are looking for beaches you can explore independently in St. Thomas, consider Magen's Bay, which is perhaps the best known public beach in St. Thomas, but also the most potentially crowded. Sapphire beach, in a lovely natural setting, is located at the Doubletree Sapphire Beach Resort, while Coki Beach is right next to Coral World.

St. Lucia

We recently had a great time at the Rex St. Lucian hotel's beautiful beach. We paid a small fee to use the lounge chairs and umbrellas and also enjoyed the water sports at the beach. While there were a few people selling crafts on the beach, we particularly enjoyed buying bananas right off the banana boat, which stops at the beach daily!

If you want to stay closer to Castries, then take a taxi to Vigie Beach or Reduit Beach located on the island's western coast. This side of the island offers calm waters while the Atlantic side can be rough for kids.

St. Maarten/St. Martin

St. Maarten recently cleaned up its town beach, Great Bay Beach. While this is not an idyllic beach with palm trees, it is conveniently located right by the water taxi and a block away from the main shopping street in Philipsburg. I was actually surprised at how blue and clean the water was when we were there this year. We found the convenience of Great Bay Beach attractive especially since it enabled one of us to easily take our older daughter to the beach in the afternoon while our infant napped aboard ship. Also, there is a float/trampoline in the water there. We paid a small fee to use it and my daughter had a great time jumping off it into the water.

 

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One of our readers suggested Dawn Beach, which he labels as "truly a family beach" on the Dutch side of the island. He said that while you may encounter an occasional topless bather, it is not a nude beach. On the other hand, parts of Orient Beach are nude and there are some topless bathers. This is, however, a wide, attractive beach which calls itself the "French Riviera of the Caribbean." In any case, you have to decide whether this would be an issue with your children.

 

San Juan

The main beach areas nearest to Old San Juan are Condado Beach and Isla Verde. Both areas are flanked by numerous hotels; the former is popular with families and the latter offers less rocky swimming options. You can go to the tourist office, La Casita, which is located near the cruise pier, for suggestions on which part of these large beach areas to visit.

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