Half Moon Cay is the kind of place you dream about if you want a powdery crescent of beach curving around turquoise water with soft sand bottom. Add a horseback ride along the beach and you are in Paradise.
One of 700 low-lying islands and cays scattered for 100,000 square miles in the southwestern Atlantic from Florida to Haiti, Holland America developed Half-Moon Cay (pronounced key) to provide a day of fun and sun to include a barbecue, sipping tropical drinks with the requisite umbrellas, swimming, paddle boating, sting ray lagoons, sailing, para-sailing, long walks on the beach, snorkeling, yoga, massage, shopping, and, of course, horseback riding in the gentle ocean.
Not a large island like Eleuthera, Andros or others with commerce and housing, this island is solely for the use of the HAL cruise ship guests. After stopping for only a day in each of three ports prior to this stop, Grand Turk, San Juan, and St. Thomas, it was heaven to have a beach day!
On the island, Pegasus Ranch is shaded by palms, boasts 35 horses, and occupies part of the interior of the cay. At the corral down at the beach, Groom Rupert Scott tells me the horses barged over from Florida and the Bahamas islands and are mostly Arabians, Quarter Horses, and Thoroughbreds. “Hay and water has to be barged in, too, and it comes from America,” Rupert tells me. He loves living on the cay, taking care of the horses.
In the pastel beach shack tended by the beautiful Miss Eva Rolle of Eleuthera, we pull pants over our swimsuits, slather on sun screen, and line up for a helmet fitting. Rupert asks the riders about our experience level as he has us mount. Many who tell him they are experienced falter at this simple exercise and he quickly sorts them out on the proper horse with no embarrassment to anyone, “especially the horse,” he says with a bright smile.
We ride up a sandy hill behind the corral and wander the trail between the inland scrub and ocean-side ironwood to enjoy a view of the whole island and the sea. After winding around to the ranch to see the stallions, we return to the beach corral, dismount, and strip down to swimsuits. New mounts, saddled in neoprene, are offered to the guests. I’m thinking these saddles provide the gringos some traction for their seat in the water as they are not doing much else for me! The horses know the drill so well they really don’t require any cues. Hitting the water is a shock after baking on the ride to the ranch but it is magnificent to walk our horses in the azure ocean. What a fantastic feeling, being in the water on a horse!
An hour and 20 minutes passes so quickly. At the corral the group dismounts. The grooms shake hands with all of the men and say “ Great ride, Mon.” To the ladies they say “Respect m’lady!” They are such a beautiful people, dark with alert eyes and blazing smiles and this ride is one of those “bucket list” once-in-a-life-time experiences I highly recommend. Rupert gave me one big tip to pass along to you. When you book your Holland America itinerary to cruise the Caribbean (one that includes a stop on Half Moon Cay), book your horseback ride at the same time. The ride is always sold out at cruise time!
TO GET THERE:
Ft. Lauderdale Airport is a few miles from cruise port. Stay the night before your cruise as embarkation can be early. I stay at Marriott Courtyard in Dania Beach
www.FtLauderdaleAirportCourtyard.com. They pick up at the airport and tariff is moderate for the area. A great museum, the Fishing Hall of Fame, is next to the hotel and has fantastic displays. www.igfa.org
Holland America Caribbean cruises sail out of Ft. Lauderdale. www.HollandAmerica.com for itineraries and descriptions of activities onboard ship. Enjoy wine tasting, casino, shows, spa, duty-free shopping, chef demos, and fine dining. In compliance with new FTC rules, I received no compensation from HAL or Marriott to write this article.
Take a cab to Bohio Resort and relax at this unpretentious beachfront restaurant and hotel owned by Gerhard Hurst and Kelly Shanahan. www.bohioresort.com. A top dive destination, this PADI-certified resort offers snorkeling or diving right out front. Afterwards, dip into a potent rum punch and some conch fritters or soup. You’ll enjoy whatever chef Jorika Mhende cooks up. www.turksandcaicostourism.com
San Juan, Puerto Rico: Contact tour guide Victor Rivera prior to your trip and he’ll meet you at the dock, www.prnaturalculturalpapo.com. After a fantastic walking tour, end up at Latin Roots Restaurant, www.thelatinroots.com, and learn salsa dancing, taste fabulous Puerto Rican cuisine and sip a stellar mojito. For more on this beautiful island, www.gotopuertorico.com.
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands: Charlotte Amalie’s fantastic downtown shopping is a draw but don’t miss Coral World at Coki Point. They offer scuba, turtle, and sea-life encounters, semi-sub, sea lions, and displays. Low key, you can also come to enjoy the beach. A 25-minute cab ride or rent a car. www.coralworldvi.com. For lunch, enjoy tender conch in butter sauce on the deck of the Watson family’s restaurant the Petite Pump Room with expansive views of the bay, www.petitepumproom.com. Visit www.usvitourism.vi for more.
In compliance with FTCrules, I had a gratis tour and dinner at Latin Roots in San Juan, lunch at Bohio T & C, and lunch and tour in St. Thomas, courtesy of the hosts and Tourism Departments. I write about my adventures because I enjoy them not because I am obligated to.
Photos courtesy of Kurt Winner