Snorkel a reef for free on a Carnival Cruise at Half Moon Cay

A Carnival Cruise ship is docked off Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas.
A Carnival Cruise ship is docked off Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas. /

When you board or book a Carnival Cruise you typically book excursions but the best snorkeling is free.

A Carnival Cruise doesn’t always stop at the companies private island, Half Moon Cay but if your trip does, trust me, the reef is worth the work.

There is nothing like the pristine blue waters of the Bahamas and many Carnival lines travel to the islands located just east of southern Florida. Carnival offers a variety of off-shore excursions and while we wait for the industry to start running those routes, plan your next trip to Half Moon Cay with the intention to snorkel.

Most snorkeling excursions can get pricey. You can pay anywhere from $50.00 to more than $100.00 depending on the type of excursion you choose. A catamaran trip to a local reef isn’t cheap and the reefs are subject to the tides and weather. Visibility can be really clear or cloudy but the reality is, your likely going to see the same things no matter where you go.

At HMC you can snorkel for free. There is a rental station on site that you can rent gear, honestly, I don’t know the price because I invested long ago in my own gear and bring it with me. I have heard it is reasonable and there is gear for kids too.

Half Moon Cay reef
Tropical fish abound in Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, a privately owned Carnival Cruise beach. /

Immediately off the beach, cruisers are met with incredibly clear water. It is almost as if someone poured bleach in the water. In that water are small tropical fish and an occasional crab or two but in all reality, the fun of this beach is getting wet. But, if you really want to get adventerous and snorkel a reef, I will tell you how.

If you are looking back at the ship from the beach you will see the islands beach stretch out in a half-moon (hence the name), to the right. All the way as far as the beach goes you will see it end in a rock cluster on the far end of the island. It’s a bit of a walk but it is a ver nice walk.

Once you reach the end of the beach area and long past the area that the lifeguards cover, you will come to the rocks. Looking back towards the boat about 30 yards off-shore watch for waves that shouldn’t be there. This is where the water is rolling over the reef. You can sometimes see small rocks sticking out of the water.

light. Related Story. Snorkeling in Key West is just one thing you can do!

It sounds like it is hard to find but it is not. Typically, there will maybe one or two other people there and that’s it. The water here is relatively shallow and you can walk probably 20 yards out before needing to swim. At its deepest, we are talking maybe seven feet at the most.

The fish out here are plentiful and the reef, while small, is amazing. Last time out I took my kids who at the time were 5 and 6 years old and they had no problems swimming out or around the reef. Everytime I hit HMC, this is my go to spot.

Need more of an adventure? There is more to see if you have it in you at Carnival Cruise Half Moon Cay.

If you swim towards the rocks that you came up to on the beach you can actually swim around them. On the other side the sea floor dips to about 20 feet in some places and you can see the remains of wooden pylons that probably held a dock at some point. The fish along the craggy rocks are plentiful and if you are lucky, you can see octopus, puffer fish, stingrays, and Parrot Fish.

Along the backside of these rocks, if you continue to swim away around the horn of the island, you will come to a small secluded white sand beach that looks completely out of place. It’s a great spot just to chill out at and relax. It is very hard to get to from land so if you make it here, have fun!

If you collect shells, this is a great spot to hunt for them. Facing the beach from the water there are ledges to the left and right of the beach. Under those rock ledges are a plethora of shells that are no longer inhabited that the tide has tossed under. There are queen conch shells almost everywhere and you can bring everything that does not have a living creature in it back to the boat with you.

Half Moon Cay reef
Tropical fish surround the lone reef at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas. /

The conch shells have been discarded from fisherman and if you see the cut hole in the end of them, you know that the conch is no longer inside.

The trek to this part of the beach isn’t incredibly hard but the coral along some areas of the rocks are fire coral and if you touch them, you could get small burns. I’ve been out here more than a few times without problems.

Keep an eye on the time though. The last boat back to the ship is typically around four or five and you can’t miss it. You have to keep in mind you have a long way back to the main portion of the beach. If. you intend to go here, get up early and make the first or second boat to shore. I would recommend plenty of bottled water and a lunch.

Personally, I have eaten at the buffet that the Carnival provides and I would much rather have skipped the food and spent more time at the reef and around the horn.

The reef is not promoted by Carnival and if you ask for directions to it, you may get a willing crew member to point it out to you from a distance but they will tell you then you are at your own risk. There isn’t much risk but I would highly recommend not going out by yourself just to be on the safe side.