Perhaps the most famous occupant of Great Stirrup Cay -- located in the Bahamas' Berry Island chain, 130 nautical miles due east of Fort Lauderdale -- was Captain Bertram of the British Navy. But Native Americans, pirates, and members of the Spanish and American armed forces have also inhabited the cay throughout its history.
Norwegian Cruise Line purchased the 250-acre island in 1977 and has invested in several significant updates throughout the years. More recently the island has undergone a major makeover. Its restaurants, bars, cabanas and beaches have all been revamped and enlarged, with an investment of more than $1 million dedicated just to new landscaping. Other additions include an underwater sculpture garden for snorkelers, as well as a top-notch medical center. Thanks to the introduction of new (and plentiful) palm trees, there's now lots more natural shade from the Bahamian sun, a godsend in the height of summer.
More is in the pipeline. Both a zipline and upscale lagoon area (for passengers staying in the exclusive Haven cabins) are still in construction and should be completed by the end of 2018.
Despite the construction work, it's still possible to find solitude on the island. In fact, for much of the day, you might find palm-fringed bay Fiesta Beach practically to yourselves. The sun, the food, the vibe (lots of rum cocktails are served) and the snorkeling make this a perfect day off the ship.
The ship anchors outside of port and uses tenders to transfer passengers to and from shore. The tender journey lasts approximately 10 minutes and once ashore it's less than a two-minute walk from the dock to the reception/information kiosk where excursions can also be booked. Restrooms and beach wheelchairs are located nearby.
There are plans to install lockers on the island, but for the moment it's best to leave valuables on the ship. That being said, the island has a local straw market, so if you like shopping then be sure to bring some cash; small denominations work best.
To avoid nasty cuts and scrapes underfoot, it's also worth packing some water shoes in your luggage. Great Stirrup Cay is famed for its coral and while it's pretty to look at if you go swimming or snorkeling, it's dangerous to stand on.
While more natural shade is now present thanks to the planting of extra palm trees, there are also clamshell sunshades available to rent. These can be purchased with your room key, which will also be needed to buy drinks and shore excursions during your stay on the island.
On Foot: From where the tender docks to the furthest current point on the island -- Fiesta Beach -- it's approximately a seven-minute walk. Terrain is largely sandy, although there are now sections of concrete boardwalk, which make it easier to get around. By the end of 2018, this boardwalk should stretch the entire length of the island.
By Beach Wheelchair: Passengers with mobility issues can be met at the tender dock with a beach wheelchair by request.
By All-Terrain Vehicle: There are ATVs on hand (subject to request) for passengers requiring assistance.
Local currency is the Bahamian dollar, but vendors at the straw market will accept U.S dollars. (The exchange rate is typically 1 to 1.) It's important to note that credit cards won't be accepted on the island and there are no ATMs.
The country's national language is English. A local, Bahamian dialect does exist, but you're unlikely to hear it on Great Stirrup.
Jumbey Beach Grill: Jumbey is the island's main buffet, dishing up standout, succulent barbecue fare: chicken, hamburgers, ribs, corn on the cob, tropical salads, fruit and so on. The great news is that new, expanded eating areas mean there's rarely a struggle to find a table to eat at.
Abaco Taco: Great Stirrup has also welcomed a new eatery called Abaco Taco. It's a build-your-own taco bar. Beef, chicken or fish-filled shells can be embellished with salads and topped off by relishes: sour cream, guacamole, salsas and the like. Messy though they are to eat, this restaurant is extremely popular with cruisers. However, if you don't want to stray too far from your beach chair, you can grab a quick burger or hot dog from one of the satellite bars scattered around the island.
Bacardi Bar: The best place for a strawberry daiquiri is the Bacardi Bar, located slap bang in the middle of the island. Its recent makeover added a stage (where the ship's DJ pumps out tracks) as well as a bigger and better shaded terrace where you can enjoy your rum cocktail. Better still, Bertram's Bar at the main beach now has a machine that makes slush drinks - refreshing on a hot day and the closest thing you'll get to an ice cream.
The Berried Treasures Bazaar is a colorful straw market located close to the tender dock. It sells local trinkets and souvenirs -- handwoven straw bags, jewelery, textiles, etc. -- but you'll need small denominations of cash (U.S or Bahamian dollars) for purchases. Although attractive, none of the offerings are particularly cheap.