Great Stirrup Cay is an island owned by Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), which it has developed as a port of call for Norwegian ships on Bahamian and Caribbean cruises. Ships anchor off shore and guests are taken to the island by tender to enjoy the beaches, facilities and water sports available on the island. A barbecue lunch is provided and bar service is available. It is a very popular stop with the vast majority of the passengers going ashore for some part of the day.
The island is located in the Berry Island chain of the Bahamas and is about 120 miles east of Fort Lauderdale and 50 miles northwest of Nassau. It is next to Royal Caribbean’s private island Coco Cay. Altogether Great Stirrup Cay is 250 acres, although most of it is undeveloped. Besides the Norwegian
facilities, there is an unmanned automated lighthouse on
the island. Great Stirrup Cay is uninhabited except for people working for Norwegian.
GSC, as it is known, has undergone a remarkable transformation. Indeed, Norwegian's former CEO Kevin Sheehan told us out just how extensive this transformation has been.
"We were the first one in the industry to buy an island.
We never spent a penny on it - - it was Gilligan's Island without Gilligan. It was the funny - - the tender boats would ride into the beach and the door would come down and the guests would come running off like in World War II on the beaches of Normandy."
"We have spent about $30 million improving that island. It is a beautiful experience now. The beaches are now about five times the size that they were. And we've invested in all the accommodations on the beaches, the food opportunities, the jet skis and all the other experiences that we have. MSC, one of our competitors, is paying us millions of dollars a year to
use the island on some of the days when we don't use it. It is just another affirmation of getting it right."
Consistent with Norwegian's Freestyle cruising philosophy, guests are free to structure their own day on the island. The line does offer some organized shore excursions, however.
Guests can make use of the beaches, the deck chairs, hammocks, volleyball court, ping pong tables, and the nature trail for free. There also is no charge for the barbecue lunch. There is a charge for bar service, snorkeling equipment, party rafts and mats, beach massages, the Hippo Slide, clam shell shelters and the Eco Tour boat.
All charges except for purchases made at the island’s Bahamian market, are placed on the guest’s onboard account. Purchases at the Straw Market are made in cash using U.S. dollars.
The majority of the island’s facilities surround a sheltered cove. There is plenty of white sand and shade from tall palm trees. With the recent improvements, the the feel has changed from a casual island beach front to a more polished resort.
Great Stirrup Cay has a lengthy history. There is evidence that it was inhabited by the Lucayan Indians around 600 AD who attempted to farm its rocky soil. Spanish explorers arrived in the late 15th century followed by the British in the 1600s. Because of its sheltered cove, the island was also used as a base by pirates. They were displaced in the 19th century by
slave traders and there are still structures from this period hidden in the jungle.
During the American Civil War, the island was used by Federal forces seeking to intercept Confederate blockade runners. Similarly, in World War II, the island was used as an American base combating German submarines that were active in the Caribbean. Following World War II, Great Stirrup was used by the United States Air Force as a satellite tracking station. Some remains of those facilities can still be seen on the island.
In 1977, Norwegian purchased the island from the Belcher Oil Company and became the first cruise line to offer its own private island experience. The line made extensive improvements to the island in 1988.
Norwegian announced in March 2010, that it planned to make in excess of $20 million in improvements to Great Stirrup Cay. As noted earlier, Norwegian has already spent more than that amount in its transformation of the island.
In the first phase, a new channel was dug and a harbor for the tenders was created along with a marina. Subsequently, a string of new infrastructure and landscaping enhancements were made. These included: new beach areas; new dining facilities; a new shopping area; private beach front cabanas and a larger sports area. Under constructions are: a new children’s area; a
cruise program activity area; and other enhancements. The line has implemented wave runner and kayak tours and has plans for an aqua park.
Above: Ships seen calling at GSC.
Going Ashore is next.
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