Inside the Cabana

| March 14, 2005

Half Moon Cay, Holland America's private island, is a crescent-shaped slice of heaven located in the Bahamas. Though the island's vegetation shows significant damage from last year's hurricane season, the pristine white-sand beaches are so picturesque you'll swear you're living on a post card.

Since our last visit to Half Moon Cay several years ago, this island stop on Holland America cruises has turned into much more than just a day on the beach. There are still paddle boats and mini-sailboats available. But now there are plenty of other excursion options for the more adventurous cruiser. You can book a parasailing experience and fly high above the ship at anchor, or go horseback riding on the beach. There's also a massage hut, so you can get that luxurious rubdown on the spot, on the beach or in a private cabana.

When we were last here, there were complimentary lounging chairs and a few hammocks tied to the odd tree at beachside. Now, aside from the free loungers, guests can book clamshell sun covers located all along the beach, at a cost of $9 for the day. These are comfortable for two (or if you're friendly, you can fit four adults).

Holland America's newest enhancement to the island is the addition of private cabanas to rent for the day, at a cost of $219. This price is good for up to four people – and the cabanas are set up for four to share very comfortably. More people may be added to share the cabanas, at a cost of $45 per person. Those are the "posted" rates, but a bit more on this later.

For an additional $270, you can book the "butler package." This includes a gourmet lunch; you can select your own menu choices on the ship before you reach Half Moon Cay. All drinks are also included in this package, and so are the full-time services of a butler, at your beck and call throughout the day.

We opted to book the Turquoise cabana, without the additional expense of the butler package. Frankly, I couldn't imagine how a butler might have done more for us than our assigned cabana boy did.

The tickets for our "Cabana Excursion" were delivered to our cabin the day we boarded the ship. Along with the tickets was a priority tender pass allowing us to go ashore whenever we wanted. Also included in the excursion package is an order form to fill out with your choice of soft drinks, which are included in the cost. Bottled water is also included, as well as snorkel gear and float mats.

The cabanas are three-sided wooden structures open to the beach, with a patio deck in the front. Inside the structure you'll find a full-sized patio table and four chairs, with a ceiling fan hanging above. A set of cupboards along the back wall has a small refrigerator built in; above the cupboards is an air-conditioning unit to help cool things off if it's hot during your visit. Sitting on the countertop is a cooler containing the water and soft drinks you've pre-ordered.

On the cabana's patio deck are two sun loungers, with "misters" for each to cool you off, as well as a freshwater shower to rinse off as you come out of the sea. Towels are set out on all the chairs and loungers, so bringing some from the ship is unnecessary.

When we arrived at the island we were "trucked" to our cabana location, and then escorted to our cabana. There awaiting our arrival was Romeo, our cabana boy for the day. He had already stocked the cabana with the soft drinks and water we ordered, as well as a fresh fruit plate and nacho chips with salsa and guacamole dips to nibble on.

He was servicing three cabanas that day, but we'd have never known he wasn't just ours for the day. When we wanted a drink, he was there to retrieve them for us. As lunchtime neared, he told us to let him know when we were ready to eat. When we were, he went to the barbecue hut to bring us back a buffet lunch with nothing lacking. We didn't even notice the long lines for lunch until someone happened to mention them.

Romeo set up a complete and delicious buffet lunch for us, with grilled steaks, fish, chicken, ribs and hamburgers, along with potato salad, green salad, corn on the cob, and cookies and brownies for desert. We didn't have to lift a finger, or stand in any lines. All we had to do was eat, drink and enjoy.

Friends we had met onboard had coincidently set their towels down on the beach in front of our cabana. They "stopped in" to visit as we were eating lunch, so without being asked, Romeo ran off and came back with more plates and cutlery, and enough extra chow to feed half the people on the beach. He naturally received a handsome tip at the end of the day for his exemplary service, and he earned every penny of it.

Soon, we were having a cabana deck party, and everyone was having a ball. After lunch, those in the group who wanted to snorkel or simply float on the water did so, while others just enjoyed the atmosphere of the sun and the island -- and the umbrella drinks that suited this setting so perfectly.

Our visit to Half Moon Cay happened to be on the last day of our cruise. But whether it's the first day, middle, or end of your cruise, this island can't help but make you thankful for being able to visit it.

And visiting it with the luxury of a cabana, and the cabana boys waiting to serve you, will make you feel like a member of the jet set -- just relaxing in sun with a drink, waiting for the rest of the Royal Family to arrive.

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