For most people, the first things that comes to mind when they think of the Caribbean are the beaches. I’m sure that some people (mostly the ones who haven’t ever actually been to the Caribbean) seem to have the misguided impression that entire islands are surrounded completely by pristine white sand beaches. While it is true that there are some very nice beaches to be found on many Caribbean islands, the reality is that these beaches make up only a relatively small portion of the shorelines of many Caribbean islands. Granted, most people traveling in this part of the world aren’t going to have any trouble finding the nice beaches on the various islands, but many of the cruise lines that operate in the Caribbean have their own private beaches (or, if you believe what’s in the brochures, private islands) that they include in their itineraries. For Princess ships (as well as P&O ships, and even an occasional Cunard or Costa ship when they’re in the area) this beach stop is Princess Cays, a beach near the southern tip of the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas.
Geographically, Eleuthera is a bit of an oddity, being nearly 110 miles long from tip to tip, but only about a mile wide for most of that distance. This means that many of the island’s visitors
(at least the ones coming by cruise ship) will never see more than a tiny fragment of the island’s southern tip during their visit. At least the part they do see comes with a nice white sand beach and plenty of things to do while you’re there. Granted, many people will quite likely find a nicer beach elsewhere on their cruises (I happen to like Coki Beach in St. Thomas myself) but if there’s one particularly nice thing about the beach at Princess Cays, it’s the fact that your visit comes with no obligations. One thing you quickly learn while on a cruise is that the port calls are often rather short, meaning that you’ll barely have time to scratch the surface of many of the islands you will visit. Sure, a beach day at one of the popular cruise ship port calls like St. Thomas or St. Maarten sounds nice, and you certainly have that option if you wish, but with all the other shore excursions, tours and other activities being offered, not to mention all the shopping there is to be found on these islands, there’s only so much you’re going to be able to get done during the short time you’ll have on the various islands, so in most cases you’re going to have to pick and choose. On the other hand, when you’re at Princess Cays, you’re guaranteed a day on the beach if you want it, with little else competing for your time ashore. Sure, there’s options here as well (there are plenty of watersports on offer during your visit, and there are snorkel areas along the beach with lots of fish to see) but most people are just going to just spend the day relaxing in the sun. But for those who are willing to get up out of their beach chair and explore a little, Princess Cays does have a hidden secret to be found. You will find more information after the jump.
Since there is no place for a 950-foot cruise ship to dock anywhere in the area, when a ship arrives at Princess Cays it anchors about half a mile offshore, and the passengers are brought ashore by the ship’s tenders. It is because of the need for tendering that it occasionally becomes necessary for a trip to skip Princess Cays if the weather conditions are deemed too dangerous to operate the tender boats. This actually happened on the previous week’s cruise on the Ruby Princess before ours, but although the day we were there was still fairly windy, it was still safe enough to go ashore.
After a short (and sometimes bumpy) tender boat ride from ship to shore, you arrive at the main dock, from which you will find beach to the north and to the south of you. Most of the action (or lack thereof, depending on your choice of activity) is happening to the north of the dock, leaving a somewhat quieter area to the South. If you’re willing to wander a little bit outside of the Princess Cays complex, you’ll find a small market area set up by local sellers just outside the gate, offering a number of various souvenirs and craft items.
After a brief visit to this area, I left with a small ship in a bottle, a small woodcarving of those “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil” monkeys (not necessarily in that order), a peace sign necklace that I’m pretty sure I have absolutely no use whatsoever for (don’t ask,) and some random song about molasses that’s been stuck in my head ever since. I also still have a conch shell that I purchased here on my previous cruise in 2005. And yeah, before anyone mentions it, yes I probably do need to do dust.
If you wander south from the tender dock, across a little bridge that goes over a small channel to a lagoon behind the beach, you’ll find that the crowds near the dock quickly begin to dissipate. A few people do wander down this way, but their numbers are relatively few. and continue to thin out as you proceed down the beach.
Before too long as you go around the point, the sand beaches disappear completely, leaving a rocky shoreline. As such, should you be inclined to wander much beyond the main beach areas of Princess Cays, it is highly advisable to have some sort of shoes or sandals to traverse this area, for reasons that you can probably figure out from the photo above. Fortunately, I was wearing my trusty pair of Tevas at the time (I learned on this trip that they really aren’t so great for walking long distances in, but they handle the terrain pretty well) and had no trouble navigating the rocky shoreline. Off in the distance, you can see the Ruby Princess from a very different perspective than you might get if you were to remain at the beach. The ship doesn’t look nearly as massive when you’re seeing it from this far away and head-on.
A number of creatures do use the shallows of this area to provide themselves some measure of protection from the predators who might otherwise be inclined to snack on them in the deeper waters. Look closely in this picture, and you can see a school of small fish swimming around near the edge of the water.
As you continue further down the shoreline, you start to notice an interesting change in the foliage. Rather than the somewhat clichéd palm trees you might expect to find on an island if you’ve been raised on a steady diet of pop culture, you’ll notice that the trees quickly begin to look a lot more coniferous than you might expect. In fact, much of the Bahamas (as well as the Turks and Caicos Islands) are covered by pine forests. and if you move back from the shoreline (don’t worry, there is a trail back here to follow) you’ll find that these trees can get pretty dense.
Eventually as you proceed down the shore, you’ll come upon a small clearing, with a pair of rather unusual looking stones…
Which, on closer inspection, turn out to be a pair of gravestones. Unbeknownst to most of the thousands of people who visit Princess Cays each week, this quiet beachfront area has become the final resting place for two young ladies by the name of Myrtle Gibson and Olga McPhee who both died relatively young in the late 1940s.
As is the custom for this part of the world, these two ladies are buried in shallow vaults near the surface, with the beachside location presumably chosen because much of the island is too rocky to dig much deeper than this. The headstones are simple, made of concrete with the names and dates written by hand. Although these graves are relatively crude by most standards, the fact that they were buried within proper burial vaults and with marked headstones does seem to suggest that they came from families with at least some amount of money, however small it may have been. Some additional pictures of this site can be found at this thread on the Cruise Critic message board, showing the graves and their markings a little bit more clearly. In particular, it shows that the two headstones on these graves are a lot smaller than they look in the photo above. It is clear that since those older pictures were taken a lot of sand has come up and covered the graves, and the plants have started to take over this area.
Although most people who come to Princess Cays are unaware of the existence of these two graves, there are a number of people who do learn about them in their reading in preparation for their cruises, and as is evidenced by the small collection of shells and other objects placed on the graves, it appears that several people do visit here. It also appears that some efforts to track down genealogical information on these two individuals have been undertaken, but little information has been found so far.
The walk to the the two graves and back toward the beach took a total of about an hour, leaving plenty of time to partake of the various seaside activities on offer at Princess Cays. After making much of the walk toward the graves on the rocky beach, I opted to take the softer trail back behind this area for the return trip. After this, much of the remainder of the day was spent snorkeling, swimming, and otherwise doing the types of things one might do when they’re at the beach. As I said earlier, it may not be the nicest beach you’ll find on a Caribbean cruise, but it’s certainly nicer than anything we’ve got at home, and it’s actually warm enough to even go in the water every once in a while. Just be careful about sunburn (same as always, but for some reason I usually seem to learn about these things mostly by painful experience, and this time was no exception) Just remember, while you’re enjoying your beach day at Princess Cays, be sure to spare a thought for the two young ladies for whom it has become their final resting place.