Disney Cruise Line Port Excursions – Discounts & Tips

LAST UPDATE: 11/6/17

Disney Port Adventures are not cheap, and they can add a significant amount to the total cost of your Disney Cruise. This page covers discounts, deals, and advice about port excursions at ports of call visited by Disney Cruise Line. We have collected our best tips and advice to help you save time, save money and have more fun when you get off your cruise ship. After all, sightseeing in exotic destinations is one of the primary reasons to take a cruise!

Other useful Disney Cruise Line information pages:

Thanks to Marjorie Treger and to MouseSavers.com readers Jeff Evernham and Aileen B, who contributed some great tips.

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General Tips

If you’re not an adventurous traveler, you may want to book a Disney port excursion the first time you visit a port just to get the lay of the land, so to speak. That said, it’s pretty easy to go it alone in most of these ports, either by booking your own port adventures or just wandering. Every day in each of these ports, 3,000-18,000 cruise passengers flood the streets, so the ports are pretty good at providing services and infrastructure to travelers. And because they don’t want to risk the lucrative flow of tourism dollars, most of these places will have plenty of security in the major tourist areas. If you stay in tourist-oriented areas with lots of foot traffic during daylight hours, you may encounter vendors who are pushier than you might be used to, but safety should not be a major problem. Do read the port safety section and keep your wits about you.

A limited number of strollers are available from Guest Services while in port. They are free with a deposit. Since they are limited, don’t wait until most people have left the ship to ask for one.

Port days are a great time to take advantage of the ship’s amenities — such as the pools, spa and AquaDuck — with minimal crowds. Most people leave the ship in the morning and return in the afternoon. If you want to enjoy the ship when it’s nearly empty, reverse your schedule so you’re on the ship in the morning and in port during the afternoon. Depending on the ship’s arrival and departure times, this is easier to do at some ports than others.

If you’re wondering how busy a port will be, a great resource is cruisett.com. Click on your ship and then the month you’ll be cruising, and it will show you the schedule for the month, and for each port day, all the ships docked and the overall “port load,” which is the maximum number of passengers for all the ships put together. If there are only going to be 2,400 people in port that say, it will be easier to get a taxi, the tourist spots will be less crowded, etc. If there are going to be 14,000 people in port that day, expect crowds everywhere. However, it’s a good idea to look at the port load on other days that month to get an idea of what’s a “normal” load. If the port usually handles 15,000 people, then a 10,000 person day might be fairly light. But in another port, their normal day might be 6,000, making 10,000 a huge crowd.

You can also check CruiseTimeTables.com, which sometimes shows ships that cruisett.com misses. Unfortunately it doesn’t tell you the port load, but if you feel like it you can figure it manually. Just look up the various ships that are in port on that day and add up their passenger capacity. Usually typing “[name of ship] capacity” in a search engine or the browser address bar will give the answer on the first link.

And of course, any of these ports will be busier during peak vacation times, which for the Caribbean and Bahamas is spring break (generally late March through early April) and Christmas season (the two calendar weeks that contain Christmas and New Year’s Day). During those times, you can expect major tourist destinations, beaches, resorts, restaurants, etc. to be very busy and booked up well in advance. The resorts will be full of guests, and the cruise ships will be running as full as possible. Surprisingly, summer in the Caribbean is only moderately busy, as it’s very hot, and a lot of cruise ships are in Alaska and Europe then.

If you want to get away from the tourist gloss and go a little deeper, you might ask some of the crew on the ship where they like to go when they have free time in that port. You still won’t necessarily be seeing the “real” country, but it’s a good way to find something more like a local hangout and less like a chain restaurant. Keep in mind that crew care more about things like free wi-fi and cheap drinks, and less about fancy décor and beautiful views.

Port Safety

A warning: reading this section can make you feel like it’s a mistake to leave home, which is not our intent. We don’t want people to get the impression that they’re in grave danger when they leave the ship, but it’s important to be clear-headed and travel smart. Most travelers have no real trouble, especially on organized cruise excursions and shopping in busy tourist areas. However, crime rates are quite high in some of the countries Disney Cruise Line visits, and it’s worthwhile to take some basic precautions.

In almost all developing countries, including many ports in the Caribbean, you are highly likely to encounter vendors who will call to you, ask questions, shove items in front of you, touch you to get your attention, etc. This is not a safety problem per se, it’s just much more aggressive selling than most first-world residents are used to. The vendors know that cruise ship passengers have money, and they hope to get some of that money by selling crafts, t-shirts, hair-braiding, etc. If you’re not interested in what they are selling, you should say “no thanks,” shake your head, or something equivalent, and keep walking. If you ignore them, they don’t know if you have heard them or not, and they may just get louder and closer. If you stop, they’re going to assume you’re interested. Politely making it clear that you’re not interested usually works; you want to act like someone who’s got somewhere to be. If they persist after that, stop responding and move away from them. Do not answer questions from vendors if you aren’t interested in what they’re selling. Usually these vendors are concentrated right around the cruise terminal and a few other big tourist hot spots and if you get a block or two away it gets much better. If you know that dealing with aggressive vendors is going to make you uncomfortable, you’re best off sticking with organized excursions, either through Disney, Viator or large tour operators, or hiring your own guide or driver to take you around.

We strongly recommend against doing any kind of motorized watersports excursions, such as jet-ski rental or parasailing, on a walk-up basis on any beach in the Caribbean, Mexico or Bahamas. These vendors are typically effectively unregulated, and incidents of accidents due to under-maintained equipment and/or poor safety procedures are high enough to make us uncomfortable. Any such excursions should either be purchased through Disney, Viator or some other intermediary that you trust to do reasonable vetting of the final provider. Note that the jet-ski vendors working the beaches in front of major hotels are not typically affiliated with, or recommended by, the hotels. We also recommend doing thorough research on any boat tour, fishing tour, snorkeling or scuba tours booked independently. There are plenty of good independent companies in any of the ports, but there are also lots of tiny companies that may not carry adequate insurance, may not have proper equipment maintenance, may not have proper safety certifications, etc. You should look for how long they’ve been in business, how many reviews they have on major review sites like TripAdvisor, and whether their staff have certifications from recognized organizations like PADI.

We advise not straying far from the port or other tourist areas in Nassau, Bahamas, especially at night. Violent crime against tourists is rare, but it does happen, including bold armed robberies of tour groups. Don’t just take our word for it, read the US State Department’s advisory, under Safety & Security. The vendors are also extra-aggressive here, though it dies down considerably once you get a block or two away from the cruise terminal. If you just want to shop or walk around in Nassau, we advise staying within a few blocks of Bay Street, which is the main shopping street running along the shoreline, or take a cab over to Paradise Island, where the shopping area is much less chaotic and less sketchy.

Falmouth, Jamaica has had ongoing problems with extremely aggressive vendors near the port. While Jamaica does have serious crime problems, most of it is found in poor areas of Kingston and Montego Bay. Falmouth itself is not an especially crime-prone area. Certainly the large gated shopping area of the cruise port is completely safe to explore, as only employees and cruise-ship passengers are allowed in, and while inside the gated area you will not be accosted by sellers. However, outside the port gates there are quite a few souvenir and craft vendors on the street who buttonhole cruise passengers as they go by. Firmly and politely saying “no thanks” is generally enough to get them to leave you alone. If you ever feel unsafe, during the day there are tourist police stationed at intersections near the port, who wear white helmets, white shirts and black pants.

Crime and violence have been on the increase in Mexico for the last few years. Relatively little of the violence has been directed against tourists, but it does happen occasionally: in February 2012, a busload of people on an official excursion from a Carnival ship were robbed of all their valuables, including passports, in Puerto Vallarta. (This was a giant mess for those who lost their passports, which is why we say do not take your passport off the ship!) Disney adjusts its port calls in response to current events and will make every effort to visit the ports that are safest. We recommend staying with a group and/or taking an official excursion when visiting Baja ports, except for Cabo San Lucas, which has had few crime problems. For Western Caribbean cruises, Cozumel is a fairly safe port.

Barcelona is an amazing city but has a big problem with pickpockets. According to a tour guide we spoke with there, under local laws most such thefts are a hand-slapping offense (basically if the pickpocket is caught, a ticket is issued and they don’t have to worry about going to jail). Personally, we saw a lot of tourists wandering around with expensive handbags hanging open over their arms. Don’t make yourself such an obvious target and you’re likely to be fine.

Some safety tips when getting off the ship in any port:

Disney Shore Excursions

Disney offers a wide variety of shore excursions (which they call “port adventures”) of varying quality. In almost all cases the excursions are offered by third parties contracted by Disney. If you’re wondering whether an excursion is worthwhile, we recommend buying a guidebook that reviews them, or searching the internet for reviews on cruise sites, since nearly all shore excursions are the same ones offered to all the cruise ships. Keep in mind that there are often many tour operators offering similarly-named excursions in each port, so just because you find a fantastic review of a city tour, for example, doesn’t mean it’s the same city tour offered by Disney.

Some excursions are very popular and fill up early, so book them as early as you can. If you’re not able to get an excursion you wanted before you embark, go to Guest Services or the Excursion Desk as soon as you get onboard and see if they can add you to a waiting list. Or you can check our tips below for booking the tour on your own. Sometimes the tour or experience itself still has space, but the bus that Disney chartered is full – if  you’re willing to take a cab direct to the facility you can still do the excursion.

Self-booking Excursions & Exploring Independently

Booking excursions directly, instead of via Disney, can save you money and give you extra flexibility. As we mentioned earlier, the shore excursions offered at each of Disney’s ports of call (except Castaway Cay) are provided by third-party tour companies. They are (with a few exceptions) the exact same excursions offered by every other cruise line, and are often offered directly to the public via the tour operators’ own website, or via various aggregators like Viator. In some cases the tour is cheaper when you book directly (since they don’t have to split the profit with Disney), but even if it’s the same price, booking yourself allows you to choose excursions or optional add-ons Disney doesn’t offer, or alternative times that might fit your schedule better. And of course you can choose to do tours and activities that are not offered by Disney, or just get off the ship and explore the town.

Disney Cruise Line almost always uses a standard age range for pricing port excursions: anyone 10 or older is priced as an adult, ages 3-9 are children and age 2 and under is usually either free or charged an infant price. But if you book your port excursion directly with the tour operator, you often find that they offer child discounts up to age 12 and sometimes up to age 16 or 17. Some don’t charge for kids 3 or under, or even 4 or under. That can save you a lot of money, depending on the ages of your kids. You have to book directly (or through another vendor like Viator) to get the more generous child discounts.

Some people worry that an independent tour company might not getting them back to the ship on time. In practice, it’s extremely rare for a tour operator to get passengers back late enough to miss their ship. Any tour company that services cruise passengers risks the wrath of a busload of incredibly angry guests if they miss their ship. You can be sure they do not want that to happen, and they will go to great lengths to avoid it. If they have a bus breakdown, they will have a contingency plan to bring in another bus or provide alternative transportation. Some third-party tour companies provide a guarantee that they’ll get you back to your boat on time or they’ll pay to get you to the next port, which tells you that they’re confident they’ll be on time. They take cruise-ship passengers around every day of the year; they’re very aware of the need to stay on schedule.

On a Disney-booked tour, the tour operator will contact the Disney ship’s agent immediately if they get into trouble, so the ship staff know what’s going on. You should do the same: if you are exploring independently or on a self-booked tour and suffer an issue that might make you late, immediately call the ship’s agent and tell them what’s happening. The name and phone number of the ship’s agent for the port is in that day’s Navigator, so make sure you have that number (or the Navigator) with you when you leave the ship. The ship may wait for you if they know where you are and when you’ll be arriving; they usually won’t wait if they have no idea when you’ll be there.

In the very unlikely event that a tour operator doesn’t get you back to the ship before it has to leave, third-party trip insurance may cover your cost to get to the next port, via the “trip interruption,” “missed connection” or “travel delay” coverage, if the tour operator or a cab, bus, or train is delayed as a result of one of the covered events. Covered events usually include a tour operator or carrier suffering a mechanical breakdown, traffic accident or weather-related delay. Check the description of coverage of your trip insurance, or call their customer service number to see if you’re covered. Be careful; some of them only cover trip interruption or missed connections if the carrier ceases service for more than a certain amount of time, sometimes as much as 24 hours.

Most people who miss their ship departure are not on an excursion at all. They just get sidetracked while shopping or sightseeing (or drinking), often within walking distance of the ship. When you’re close to the ship you don’t have the stress of worrying about getting a cab or whether your tour is going to leave on time, and it’s easy to stop paying attention. Another reason people miss the ship is that they mis-remember the all-aboard time. Don’t let this be you! Bring the Navigator with you or write down the all-aboard time, and set an alarm on your phone or watch for when you should be heading back to the ship. Something to be aware of is that if your phone connects to the local cell towers or to local wi-fi, it may reset its clock to local time, which might not match ship time. Make sure you know whether your all-aboard is in local time or ship’s time, and also know what time zone your watch or phone is set to. Allow 30 minutes to get through port security, plus 30 minutes for each transportation leg you have to take, in addition to estimated travel time, just in case.

Another thing to keep in mind about self-booked tours: occasionally the ship has to miss a port or arrive late because of weather or some other issue. If you have an excursion in that port that you self-booked, that tour operator’s cancellation policy applies. In our experience many tour operators will refund your money if the ship doesn’t make port, and most will wait for you or put you on a later tour if the ship is late, if they can find a way to do it. It’s definitely worth checking the “missed port” policy before you book, though. Again, your trip insurance may cover missed port excursions under “trip interruption,” “travel delay” or “missed connection;” check with your insurance provider to be sure.

No matter how you book your tour it’s a good idea to have your own contingency plan just in case. You should always have the number of a local cab company in your phone (and written on a piece of paper in case you lose your phone). And you always want to give yourself some leeway. We strongly recommend against self-booking a tour or activity that ends less than 2 hours before the ship leaves. You could make exceptions if you know the activity happens completely within walking distance of the ship, such as the lumberjack show in Ketchikan, which is literally a block and a half from the dock. Be careful though – sometimes the location given by the tour operator is just the pick-up spot; they may transport you somewhere else for the actual activity. The bottom line is that you want to have enough time to find alternative transportation back to the ship if you have to, especially if you’re just exploring on your own. When in doubt, contact the tour operator directly if you can, and ask them how much time it takes to get to and from their pick-up/drop-off points.

Booking Excursions With Viator

Viator.com is a tour aggregator, and an easy, reliable way to book cruise excursions, tours and activities. Like Disney, they work with third-party operators in the various port cities. They hand-pick tour operators that meet their standards for experience, financial soundness, and customer service. They have reviews on their excursions, written by actual customers. You need to take these reviews with the same skepticism that you would with any online reviews: some people are ultra-picky, and some people love everything. But it can give you useful details about the kinds of things you’ll get to do, the kinds of problems that can arise, whether you have to take a long ride from the port to get to the tour beginning, etc.

We have been recommending Viator.com for several years and have had good feedback from readers. They often have the best prices we’ve found on shore excursions, and offer many of the popular excursions in the major ports Disney visits. In some cases they offer the exact same excursion as Disney, provided by the exact same tour company, but with a wider range of available times or more options. We have on several occasions chosen one of their excursions as an alternative to Disney’s excursions, and we’ve always been happy with the tour operators and tours.

To give an example, on our trip to Alaska on the Disney Wonder, we booked a whale-watching excursion in Juneau with Viator because it left earlier, which left us more time for sightseeing and the Mendenhall Glacier. It turns out there are about 5 big whale-watching companies in Juneau, and they all share information about whale sightings, so everyone’s boats spend most of their time in a group traveling from sighting to sighting, then occasionally splitting up to look for more whales. The boat we were on was smaller and faster than the other boats, which allowed us to reach several whale pods first, but in the end everyone saw the same whales. The bottom line: we got a basically identical (maybe a little better) whale-watching trip for about 70% of the Disney excursion price.

Here are direct links to the tours and activities pages on Viator.com for the most popular Disney Cruise Line ports, including departure ports. Note that many excellent tours that work well for cruise passengers are not necessarily listed in the “shore excursions” category. You just have to look at the start and end times of any tour you’re considering and compare to the cruise schedule. We recommend avoiding picking start times less than 30 minutes after your scheduled arrival time in port (plus any travel time needed to get from the port to the tour’s start point). And we strongly advise not picking tours with ending times less than 2 hours before the cruise’s scheduled departure time (plus any travel time needed to get from the tour’s end point to the ship).

Bahamas:

Western Caribbean:

Eastern Caribbean:

Alaska:

Mediterranean:

For other locations, go the Viator.com home page and search for the name of the port.

Castaway Cay

Almost all of Disney’s Bahamian and Caribbean cruises include a day at Disney’s private island: Castaway Cay (pronounced “key”), which is a tiny islet in the Bahamas. For many people Castaway Cay is the best part of a Disney Cruise, as you get the wonderful white sand beaches and clear water of the Caribbean without annoying distractions like roaming vendors and hair braiders. There are plenty of beach chairs for everyone (though you may need to hike to the far end of the beach if you take your time in the morning getting off the ship), and lots of things to do or not do as you prefer.

On your Castaway Cay day, we definitely recommend getting off the ship early. Use room service to have breakfast in your cabin or head to the buffet when it opens and then get off the ship as soon after 9:00 am as you can. You’ll have your pick of chairs, no lines for character greetings and photo opportunities, and the snorkeling will be undisturbed by others stirring up the bottom.

If you’re the adventurous type and don’t want to just lie around on the beach, take advantage of the package excursions at Castaway Cay that include snorkel equipment, float/raft rental, and a one-hour bike rental. The bundle deal is not available once you leave the ship (i.e., you have to pay the individual price for each activity, which will cost more). However, MouseSavers.com reader Kelly M has this to offer: “at Castaway Cay, there is so much to do that we couldn’t get to everything. We booked four passes for the snorkel, float and bicycle package. Next time we will only book two passes and share. We ran out of time and could have easily shared two sets. We didn’t even get to pick up the bikes since we ran out of time.”

Castaway Cay has its own post office, so your stop there is a great opportunity to send postcards to your friends. All of you scrapbookers out there will want to bring an extra postcard or two to mail to yourself; they’ll receive the Castaway Cay postmark! Definitely buy your Bahamian stamps on the boat at Guest Services before you arrive at Castaway Cay, or you can buy them in Nassau if you go there first. If you do buy stamps at Castaway Cay you will need CASH to pay for the postage — it can’t be charged to your room key, and you may find that the post office has very limited hours (as in it may not open at all). If you have stamped postcards, you can drop them in the slot any time. Note that it can take quite a long time (months) for the postcard to reach home, and we have multiple reports of postcards never arriving at all.

Every visit to Castaway Cay includes a running of the Castaway Cay 5K, which is a nice way to start your day if you like running. You’ll (usually) get a souvenir medal for completing the race (though sometimes they don’t give them out, seemingly at random), a feeling of accomplishment, and an excuse to have a second helping of cookies and ice cream at lunch. Look in the Navigator for that day for instructions on where to meet. Usually the race gets going pretty early in the morning to avoid the heat.

Take some time to explore the public parts of the island, including the old landing strip. Disney has placed a bunch of artfully arranged flotsam and jetsam all over, including a couple of DC-3’s with Disney nose art that make a great backdrop for a group photo. Taking a walk or bike ride to the observation tower makes a nice expedition. The walkway is paved and well-marked, and there are water dispensers at regular intervals. From the top of the tower you can see the ship in the distance, the native landscape of Castaway Cay (which is admittedly pretty sparse), and some fun surprises placed here and there by Disney imagineers.

Nassau, Bahamas

All of Disney Cruise Line’s popular 3- and 4-day cruises stop in Nassau, which is probably the single most visited cruise destination in the world. Every day, up to 18,000 cruise passengers arrive at the Nassau cruise terminal and head out to a variety of adventures, shopping, or just to the beach. The Bahamas is a former British colony with a rich history, and traces of its Georgian heyday are visible in the lovely old buildings, some dating back to just after the American Revolution.

There is plenty here for the cruise visitor, including the amazing Atlantis mega-resort, snorkeling, scuba-diving, or just lying on the beach. You can also just get off the ship and explore, though read the Port Safety notes; the tourist areas of Nassau are quite safe during normal business hours, but it’s not recommended to wander too far on your own beyond the downtown and resort areas, especially at night.

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Getting Cabs in Nassau

There is quite a bit to explore within walking distance from the cruise terminal, but if you want to get to the further beach and resort areas like Paradise Island or Cable Beach you’ll want to get transportation. We generally recommend taking cabs. There is a water taxi to Paradise Island near the cruise terminal, but it doesn’t have a schedule; it waits until it is full, which can take a long time. And there are jitneys, which are local buses. The #10 jitney runs back and forth along Bay street from near the cruise terminal to the far end of Cable Beach, but the waits can be long, and they can be crowded and stop semi-randomly. Be sure to take the #10, which stays on Bay Street, and not the #10A, which goes through side streets and takes forever. The fare is $1.25 each way per person, cash only, no change given. Our feeling is that you have limited time in Nassau; make the most of it and take cabs. It’s a small town and very few places will cost more than $4/person to get to in a cab. Getting from the cruise terminal to the far end of Paradise Island or Cable Beach might go as high as $6/person.

You should know in advance that cabs in Nassau are not always in particularly great shape. The air conditioning may not work or the driver may not run it to save gas. The car or van itself may look well-used. The driver may stop to get gas on the way to your destination. It’s the Caribbean, and that’s pretty much the standard for cabs all over the region. Ultimately if you don’t like the look of a cab, wait for another one. If all of this sounds like it would make you uncomfortable, then don’t take cabs; book excursions with included transportation via Disney or Viator or direct with a tour company. Disney and Viator work with large tour companies that generally use nice, clean air-conditioned vans and minibuses.

Licensed cabs say “Taxi” on the side in fancy lettering and have a taxi license plate and a meter. There are some non-cab shuttles as well, mostly doing back and forth runs between the cruise terminal and Paradise Island, and they can be a perfectly reasonable option, if picked up inside the cruise terminal gates or called for you by the bell captain at a hotel. We would not recommend taking an unlicensed cab anywhere else, unless you arrange the booking yourself through a reliable transportation company. Often even if you take a licensed cab with a meter the driver will refuse to use the meter and will just quote a price, which you are free to negotiate. Just about anywhere within 15 minutes of the cruise terminal should be $4/person or less. If the driver tries to change the agreed price, just repeat the price you agreed, hand them the money and get out.

At the cruise terminal, cabs are easy to get, but be aware that the cabs are not organized into a well-behaved line. There is a large, chaotic area inside the cruise terminal gates with cabs (mostly vans), cab drivers, cab hawkers, etc. all trying to get the attention of cruise passengers. You can go to one of the counters offering cabs or shuttles, or just tell the first driver you see where you want to go. The drivers will usually want to wait until they’ve filled up their van, but that shouldn’t take long. If you want to get a personal cab for just your party, you may want to walk outside the terminal and look for a licensed cab.

At a resort like Atlantis or the One & Only Ocean Club, just go to the bell stand out front and ask for a cab. They’ll whistle one over, or call one if there isn’t one waiting.

If you’re somewhere else and need a ride back to the cruise terminal, if you’re near Bay Street you can just hail a cab; there are plenty going up and down it all day. On Paradise Island, you can find cabs in any tourist spot or driving on Paradise Island Drive.

It’s normally about 15-20 minutes drive from Atlantis or other locations on Paradise Island to the cruise terminal. The far end of Cable beach is about the same driving distance in the other direction. But near the end of the day there can be significant traffic trying to get back to the terminal that can push the total travel time to 30 minutes or more, so don’t push your luck. Allow plenty of time, and remember you have to get through port security.

Atlantis & Aquaventure

Atlantis is a truly massive resort and casino on Paradise Island, about a 15-minute drive from the cruise terminal. It’s one of the most popular destinations for cruise-ship passengers in Nassau, largely because of its massive water park, Aquaventure. It also has a very large and beautiful aquarium called The Dig, which is designed to look like you’re touring an ancient section of the mythical land of Atlantis that has been submerged and discovered centuries later by archaeologists. Atlantis is located right on Cabbage Beach, perhaps the most beautiful of all Bahamas beaches, and it has an enormous casino and lots of high-end restaurants and shopping. It’s all very impressive, but the prices are equally impressive.

Is Atlantis worth visiting while on a Bahamas cruise? It’s hard to say. Purely as a water park, we’d have to say no. If you book it through Disney, it’s about $180 for adults and $125 for kids. If you self-book and work every angle, you might be able to get access to Aquaventure for $100-$110 so per person in the peak season, or $75-$85 in the off season. Compare that to Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon or Aquatica in Orlando, all of which are $60-ish for a full-price adult ticket. Atlantis Aquaventure is huge and has some very neat water slides and a great rapids river called the Current, but it’s not so much better than the Orlando parks to merit the price difference. In fact, we’d say the Orlando parks are easier to navigate and better planned for practical touring. All that said, Atlantis as a whole is pretty spectacular and a unique destination. The Dig, the predator lagoons, the Aquaventure park and the art and the architecture are all unlike anything anywhere else (except maybe the other Atlantis resorts), so it’s very hard to say what it’s worth. If you have people in your party who love water parks, or love aquariums, it’s probably worth a visit. If you find the architecture intriguing, you’ll like it even better up close. But if you expect to get your money’s worth as a “theme park” experience, then it’s going to be a disappointment.

Most of Atlantis, including Aquaventure and the aquariums and other exhibits, is only open to their own hotel guests, cruise-ship guests with a day pass, or guests of the Comfort Suites next door, at least during daylight hours. Even the Royal Towers lobby is off-limits if you don’t have a wristband or the paperwork you need to get a wristband.

There are several options for visiting the paid sections of Atlantis, including several Disney-sponsored excursions. It is almost always cheaper and faster to get to Atlantis on your own. We recommend taking a cab right outside the cruise terminal, which allows you to leave immediately after docking and beat the other cruise passengers to the water slides.

You can get an Aquaventure pass on-site, when available, which includes beach and Dig access. However, when the resort is very full, such as during spring break, they may not offer walk-up Aquaventure passes, or they may sell out quickly. If you know you want to visit Aquaventure, it’s a good idea to book through Disney, BahamasDayPass.com, or use the tip below to book a hotel room. If you just want to view the Dig or the beach, there are passes that don’t include Aquaventure available at a lower price.

These prices were correct when gathered (January 2017), but are subject to change any time:

To buy a day pass in person, go to the ticket booth at the Coral Towers entrance and show your Key to the World card to prove you’re on a cruise. (They don’t want guests of other unaffiliated Bahamas hotels to be able to get access to the Atlantis facilities, which is why they need to see proof that you’re a cruise passenger.)

If you don’t want to pay for a day pass, there are a few areas of Atlantis that are free to visit, most notably the casino, shops and restaurants in and around the Coral Towers. If you just want to soak up the atmosphere, gamble, or have some lunch, you’re welcome to do so by coming in the Coral Towers entrance. You should know, though, that pretty much all of the iconic Atlantis architecture and decor is in and around the Royal Towers, which are off-limits without a pass. You can also walk outside and visit the Marina Village shopping center and the Paradise Shopping Plaza across the street, which features a local handcrafts area that is like the Straw Market in downtown Nassau, but with slightly less aggressive vendors. If you want to eat, many of the signature restaurants in Atlantis are only open for dinner, but there are quite a few restaurants open for lunch in the Marina Village, or you can walk over to the Beach Tower and eat at the Cave Grill without needing a day pass.

When you’re ready to leave Atlantis, if you have any day pass (or a room at the Comfort Suites) and thus have a wristband, just walk out the front doors of the Atlantis Royal Towers and ask them to call you a cab. There will likely be several of them waiting, and there will be a posted flat rate to the cruise terminal. If you’re just visiting with no day pass or band, you will have to pick up a cab at the Coral Towers, Beach Tower or the Marina Village.

Aquaventure Tips & Tricks:

Savings Tip: Aquaventure Via Comfort Suites

Guests of the Comfort Suites Paradise Island get FREE admission to the aquariums, exhibits, pools, beach and most importantly Aquaventure, just like guests of Atlantis itself. The Comfort Suites is conveniently located right next door to the Atlantis Coral Towers. Each room you book gives you up to four passes to Atlantis (one for each person in the room). The hotel has a 3:00 pm check in time, but you can “check in” early in the morning and get the paperwork you’ll need to get your Atlantis wristbands; they will be happy to tell you how to get to Atlantis. You can even check in and check out in one transaction so you don’t have to stop by on your way back to the ship, or if you’d like to use the room you can come back after 3 to shower and change before heading back to the ship.

In the last few years the Comfort Suites has raised the price for single-night stays considerably, and added fees that take the final price for one night to $100/person or more at times. However, if you check their web site regularly, you can sometimes snag deals in the off season, and they offer a small discount for AAA members. Kids under 16 are FREE, but anyone 16 or over is considered an adult, and there’s a $40 fee for every adult after the first two. Even at their top rates, one night at the Comfort Suites plus cab fare is almost sure to be less expensive than getting day passes to Aquaventure or buying the Disney excursion for a family of 3 or 4, and you can book it in advance, which you can’t with the day passes. For families of 5 or more, you’ll have to get two rooms unless one or more of the kids is 3 or younger (children 3 or under don’t need a wristband to get into Aquaventure when accompanied by a paying adult, so they don’t need to be on the Comfort Suites booking). For two adults, the Disney excursion is often the least expensive way to go, but price it out just to be sure.

Note that their web site will tell you that you will need to pay an additional $17 or so per person for “energy” charge and $5 for a “housekeeping gratuity,” and make it sound like those are charged at check-in, but in fact they are already figured into the final price you see on the final Comfort Suites booking page. You’ll see a very large “Estimated taxes and/or other charges” amount added to the total, and that includes the “housekeeping” and “energy” surcharges. They will not charge you anything more when you check in to the hotel, as long as you book directly with the Choice Hotels site and list the correct number of adults and children when booking. If you book with another site like Expedia or Orbitz, you will very probably need to pay the surcharges when you check in. As mentioned above, you don’t need to list children 3 or under if you’re only using the room to get Atlantis wristbands; you won’t need a wristband for them.

Once you check in at the Comfort Suites, ask the front desk clerks to direct you to Atlantis. The quickest way is via the back exit from the Comfort Suites. You exit, walk to a crosswalk and across the street, and walk up to the Coral Towers entrance to Atlantis, which is about 250 yards away. You then follow the signs to the Royal Towers. You’ll walk through the shopping plaza, through the casino, through another small shopping area, and into the Royal Towers lobby, where a guard will need to see your paperwork from Comfort Suites. Then you go down a flight of stairs to the guest services desk, where they will take your Comfort Suites paperwork and give you the wristbands you need to enter the grounds.

One nice thing about booking the Comfort Suites is that you don’t have to wait for the official Disney tour, which often leaves somewhat late in the morning. You can get off the ship immediately, get into a cab and go straight to the Comfort Suites, check in & out and collect your paperwork, then walk over to Atlantis and get your wristbands. If you’re off the ship at 9:30 you can be on the water slides at 10:00, assuming everything goes well. It’s not hard to beat the cruise ship tour buses by 30-60 minutes. On our first trip to Aquaventure, we got off the ship 15 minutes after the ship was cleared, got a very slow cab that made several stops before getting to the Comfort Suites, got lost multiple times while walking to the guest services desk to get our wristbands, and we still beat the Disney excursion; they were arriving as we were walking away from the service desk.

Nassau Beach Options

Free Beaches:

There are several public beaches in Nassau which cost nothing to visit other than transportation costs, plus of course any snacks, drinks, souvenirs, hair braiding, etc. you might purchase while you’re there. Most of the public beaches will have vendors hawking drinks, chairs, pictures, souvenirs, etc. and some of them can be pushy. Generally just politely saying “no thanks” is enough to get them to move on.

It’s very important to note that public beaches in the Bahamas do not have the same level of amenities as most public beaches in the USA. If you are used to California or Florida public beaches with bathrooms, changing rooms, showers, maybe a boardwalk, you will need to reset your expectations. In the Bahamas, as in many developing countries, there is very little public money for beaches, and (with a few exceptions mentioned below) the only infrastructure is provided by private vendors, who will charge money for access. At the more popular beaches there may be vendors who will rent you a beach chair or umbrella for a fee, or people just walking around with cold drinks for sale, but don’t expect much more than that. Also, depending on the tides and weather some of these beaches can have heavy surf and riptides, and there are no lifeguards.

Paid Beach Day Passes:

For a more relaxing beach experience, it may be worth your while to get a day pass for one of the hotels in the area, which will generally give you access to their private beach, or to a reserved area on a public beach with beach chairs and umbrellas, plus access to the rest of their hotel including pools, bathrooms, towels, recreation equipment, etc. Usually lunch is included with a day pass, with some exceptions. Note that these hotel’s websites never seem to have any information about day passes. To find out more, you must generally call the hotel directly. The Bahamas uses the US/Canada phone prefix (1), so you can direct-dial Bahamas numbers easily. It is an international call from the US or Canada, so you might want to check what your phone company is going to charge before calling. Some of these hotels also have an email address, but our experience emailing foreign hotels is hit-or-miss. Some respond immediately and some never respond. All prices below were correct when we last checked them (November 2017), but are subject to change without warning.

Note that during peak times (spring break and Christmas, most notably), the resorts will be very full and the prices may be higher. The day passes tend to sell out, so it may be hard to get one as a walk-up guest. Pre-book if possible, or get to the resort as early as you can the morning you arrive. And of course even if you get a pass during peak season, it may be harder to find an empty beach chair or snag a kayak if you don’t arrive early.

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