Norwegian's Tropical Bahamian Island

GREAT STIRRUP CAY — Until we met Kent Albury, we thought “Bad Billy” was the kid down the street that terrorized the neighborhood. Other kids were afraid of what he’d do to them. Parents were afraid their kids would be like him.

In Kent’s vocabulary, “Bad Billy” is the wind. When it blows from the north or west onto this island owned by Norwegian Cruise Line, at 25 knots (just under 35 mph), that’s bad. Tender boats can be held at bay. We never thought to ask where “Billy” came from…probably just a Kent-ism.

Bahamian born, Kent Albury is the manager of Great Stirrup Cay, and if you’re wondering why an island needs a manager, especially an island which is mostly deserted except for cruise-ship passengers, you’re about to find out. NCL’s little piece of paradise is under construction that will make it a bigger piece of paradise. That’s bigger, as in more usable.

The existing beach will be devoid of its existing buildings, creating more room for sand, and more room for beach lovers. The beach will also be about half a mile longer than it is in these pictures and include amenities like a pool and aqua park for kids, a new food pavilion that has dishwashers and a water treatment plant. All of this will cut down on transporting food and the garbage left behind to and from the cruise ship that’s parked out on these tropical waters.

Passengers are tendered in boats that carry 450, because there’s no pier for cruise ships, and there isn’t likely to be in the foreseeable future. The tender boats simply drive up into the sand that is such valuable real estate. New tender docks are due for completion this month, along with a terminal that will speed up everything, because there will be four docks and return-to-ship security will be completed before catching the return tender.

To give it some perspective, you can see Royal Caribbean’s island (Little Coco Cay) from here, and Great Stirrup Cay is, to quote Albury, “five times larger.”

The expansion project will be complete in a  year and will cost $20 million. That’s why he’s here, driving around the island in a 4×4 that makes you feel you’re in the Australian outback, answering a battery of phones and pagers like he’s a Wall Street banker, and entertaining people like us with his unique Bahamian accent and sense of humor.

He generously and eagerly took us to parts of the island only construction workers — and perhaps men washing up on deserted islands looking for beautiful women — had ever seen. He showed us where the new beach will go, the tender docks that are being carved out of limestone, the brown dirt road the locals call I-95, a 200-year-old building that was recently discovered after a hurricane, even the inside of the trailer where he lives, complete with satellite dish and flat-screen TV.

A few things are clear about Kent. He is passionate about this little island that his employer owns. He loves doing this, although he admits needing an occasional escape from the isolation — his wife of 26 years lives an hour away by plane…or a day away by boat. He is environmentally responsible: “We’re building a flushing channel that splits the island in two, so the water in the tender area can be changed four times every 24 hours.”

On the subject of being environmentally friendly, being able to wash dishes eliminates or greatly reduces the current use of paper plates. Water treatment does what water treatment does. Processing garbage means refuse from beach users doesn’t have to be tendered back to the mother ship.

Even during construction, Great Stirrup Cay has no more than 100 residents. Five NCL ships drop by with weekly loads of passengers — the Gem, Pearl, Sun, Dawn and the one that brought us here, the Sky. Locals who work the beach come from “the mainland” — Great Harbor Cay, a 15-minute speedboat ride away. Generally, about two-thirds of a ship’s passengers come ashore, always by tender.

The only time they can’t…well, that’s Bad Billy’s fault.

You get two for the price of one these days…we’re also writing blogs on the Norwegian Epic during its Caribbean debut, for our Canadian colleague Phil Reimer. Check out our Epic reports by clicking on Ports And Bows.

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