For years, I’ve wanted to bring a bike on a cruise. We’ve done a lot of cruises over the years, but at every port it’s the same thing – crappy tourist-trap shack villages selling trinkets and trash, or excursions that stick you on a bus ride for an all-too-short experience before whisking you back to the cruise port, where you’re funneled back through the maze of vendors.

But with a bike, I thought, maybe we could explore more of an island. See stuff from a local level. Catch the nuances of a place missed from a bus window at 60mph. That was our goal on a recent Western Caribbean cruise, and our friends at Oyama thought they’d help out with bikes. Here’s how it went, and what you need to know before you try to take a bike on just any cruise line…

Exploring beyond the cruise port

Never been on a cruise? Lemme paint the picture for you: You walk off the ship, you’re funneled into a shanty town of tents filled with shells, shirts and sh… you don’t need. What I really want to is to get past it all, and far from it, to see more of the destination’s local flavor. Thanks to Oyama, Kristi and I finally got that chance.

We took a Western Caribbean cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines with stops at Key West, Grand Bahama and Nassau. At Canaveral’s departure port, we folded the bikes, left them and our luggage with the porter, and boarded. Champagne time!

Port #1 – Key West

where to ride bicycles in key west florida

Key West, Florida, is a fun stop with a bike. There’s a lot of great stuff to see that’s not on Duval Street, which is the main tourist drag full of chintzy T-shirt shops and tourist traps like Margaritaville.

eaton bicycles bike shop in key west is the best place for beach cruiser rentals

Venture off a few blocks and you can get local tips from Eaton Bicycles, where our friend Chris has all the high end stuff and intel on group rides for serious cyclists. They also stock a fleet of well-maintained beach cruiser rentals, not to mention one of the coolest cycling jerseys we’ve seen. Grab your handlebar-mounted coozy and turn the corner to…

cuban coffee queen has the best ice coffee in key west florida

Cuban Coffee Queen has, hands down, the very best iced coffee in Key West. They also have an amazing sandwich menu, perfect for refreshing/energizing and packing a sando for a picnic lunch somewhere.

where to eat local seafood in key west

If you’re craving seafood, Bo’s Fish Wagon (above) is close by and gives you that island “shack” vibe while still serving up decent grub. Also worth noting is Blue Heaven, where you can watch the roosters and baby chicks scramble underfoot while dining al fresco on giant blueberry pancakes.

key west rooster

Speaking of roosters, the “Key West Rooster” is, well, I was going to say one of the most colorful characters in town. But that’s a disservice to plenty of locals…like Captain Outrageous, who paints many of the bikes-turned-fixtures around town. Let’s just say they’re everywhere, and they’re (sort of) protected.

Ev. Ree. Where.

By getting off the beaten (tourist) path on various trips to Key West, we’ve been able to explore the West Martello Gardens & Fort, participate in a 0k run (yes, you get a T-shirt) across the shortest bridge on the island, and hit Sandy’s Cafe for Cuban/Mexican food (cash only). Or El Siboney for even better Cuban food. How do we know these are good? Because they’ve actually been around for more than a couple years…they’re staples of the “Conch Republic”. And we’ve eaten at all of them. End the day with drinks at Ocean Key for a front row seat to the sunset…just make sure you get back to the ship in time!

Port #2 – Grand Bahama

can you take a bicycle on a cruise ship

Grand Bahama made the bringing-of-bikes decision completely worthwhile. The cruise port is situated far from anything “local”. Or interesting. We covered 20+ miles on this day, finding hidden paths that led to pristine beaches with ultra clear water.

See this? Up above? This is not Grand Bahama. This is an artificial tent city with stuff you don’t need. The same stuff you don’t need that you can buy at the next port. And the next. And the next. Maybe just with a different island’s name screen printed on it.

hidden path to the beach in grand bahama

But this? This path here? With that brilliant azure water next to it? That’s something we found about 8 miles away by exploring backroads in the general direction of the beach. Sure, Google Maps helps (and you can download regions and store them on your phone in advance so you won’t need connectivity…though data service was good at all of these places). But sometimes it’s worth taking that secret path through the trees to see where it goes.

Shoutout to Vuori for supplying some fresh duds. They’re lightweight, cool, and dry quick…perfect for island cruising.

Sometimes you’re rewarded with this. And this makes it all worthwhile.

It gets even better when you see locals plucking conch straight from the ocean…

…then see where they’re taking it…

toads on the bay fried conch in grand bahama

…then have them fry up the biggest basket of conch and conch fritters you’ve ever had. Throw in cheap, ice-cold local beers, friendly chit chat, and gorgeous views and you have a winner. Go ahead and Google Map Toads on the Bay, Grand Bahama, and you’ll see why the best way to get here is by bike.

There’s quite a few conch stands and food shacks along that beachside road. Take your pick, dip your toes, then roll back to the boat for free drinks (see notes at bottom of post to score those).

Port #3 – Nassau

Nassau is another stop Kristi and I have been to several times before. There are actually quite a few things you can walk to (the National Art Gallery, John Watling’s rum distillery, Queen’s Staircase). But first you’ve got to get through the “Straw Market”, which is almost a maze, and which opens up to streets of more tourist craps, er, traps. Seriously, just say no to Señor Frogs, mmmkay?

ride your bike to fort montague in nassau
Fort Montagu is one of the smallest forts you’ll see, but it’s cool.

ride your bike to fort montague in nassau

The cool thing about the port is that, to exit with your bike, you have to get a (free) customs inspection. Which means a free sticker. And you definitely need to get it, because you’ll need to show that to bring the bike back through port security to get back on the ship. Great souvenir!

what to see in nassau bahamas

Once out, note the traffic patterns and left lane driving, then head east to Fort Montagu. It’s tiny, and it costs a couple dollars to enter, but you may see some small locals hanging out in what was a pirate prison cell. The rusted cannon mounts show how they would swivel to aim, and how the ramps allowed them to recoil, then roll right back down into position.

Outside in the parking lot, you’ll like find street vendors hawking fried seafood and a local rum drink called Sky Juice. It’s basically rum and fresh coconut water. If you don’t see them tapping the coconuts right there, move along.

Well played Bahamas, well played. Because virtually every food stand uses all four of those, and they’re litter-ally everywhere. I’m eager to go back in a year or so and see how this is working out.

Bicycles are the perfect way to see more of an area with the added bonus of being able to stop wherever you want. Need a second Sky Juice? No problem. Well, actually, you might have a problem. But I’m not judging.

The one caveat is to keep your wits about you. We looped back westward on backroads, through neighborhoods, and had myriad route options. Some of those options looked a little rough, so we asked and were given some recommended safer routes. Remember, you’re the guest here, and outside of the tourist areas, may not always be as welcome. By and large, though, everyone we met was extremely friendly and engaging.

West of the cruise port is Junkanoo beach. Which is easily walkable, but bikes will get you there faster, helping make time for visits to the distillery and art gallery, too. We did a big loop of all that, then worked our way up and down the beachside food shacks. Beyond them is a row of restaurants with largely interchangeable menus, but depending on the season and time of day, how many are actually open varies. We grabbed conch fritters from one, snacks and beer from another, and found a seat.

junkanoo beach best food stands are the ones that are open

It’s kinda hard to go wrong. But it is hard to go fast. None of the spots move with a quickness, so grab some drinks and enjoy the view…

Despite being almost adjacent to the port, Junkanoo Beach is rarely packed. It’s just far enough that most people won’t make the walk, but too close to be a good Cruise Excursion. There’s a good chance you could have it mostly to yourselves.

From there, it’s an easy cruise back to the ship. Dockside, you’ll find locals pulling up in their boats with a fresh haul of shells and such. Just do your research ahead of time, we’re not sure how Customs & Border Patrol will feel about these things being brought back into the U.S. But they are pretty to look at!

About the Oyama bikes…

Why Oyama? There are a few reasons we partnered with them to make this happen, and in full disclosure, they helped pay for this trip and donated the bikes. First, they have a history of making dependable, well-featured folding bikes since 1966. Second, they have a huge range, so we could pick the right size bike for this type of adventure…and size matters.

can you fit an oyama folding bicycle behind the seats in a minivan

First, you have to get the bikes to the ship. Both bikes easily fit inside the trunk space of our 2008 Toyota Sienna minivan, with room for other essentials and gear.

will a bike fit inside a cruise ship stateroom or cabin

Cruise ship cabins are small, especially if you opt for the interior rooms with no balcony, which is what we usually choose because, really, we’re not spending much time in them. The 20″ wheel is a happy medium between comfortable ride quality and cruising speed and being small enough to maneuver in and out of the rooms.

oyama skyline 7i internally geared belt drive folding bicycle review and tech features oyama skyline 7i internally geared belt drive folding bicycle review and tech features

We chose the Oyama Skyline in7B, whose name indicates an internally geared 7-speed Shimano Nexus hub and Belt drive. That combination provided a reasonably good gear range for tackling rolling hills (or headwinds) but with no exposed gears, chain or grease. That’s huge when stuffing a bike next to clothes, bedsheets, etc. And when exposing it to salt air. Everything stays perfectly clean and rust free.

what is the best folding bike to take on a cruise ship

Two more features stand out about this model: It has a lightweight alloy frame, and it comes with fenders and a rear rack with integrated bungie strap. All for $799, a pretty good deal for a bike with CNC’d folding and locking mechanisms that should last a long time.

The bikes use a telescoping steerer tube, adjustable handlebar tilt, and have really long seat posts. So, they can be made to fit a wide range of riders, too.

Opening them up to ride is quick and easy. Folding them down is fairly quick, but folding them down perfectly is a bit more of an art. It never took more than a couple minutes, but we had to learn how to rotate and position the handlebars to get the magnets to make strong enough contact to keep it closed when carrying it in the folded position.

oyama skyline in7B folding bicycle review

The fenders slide out of alignment if it gets banged around, but they’re easy to slide back into position. If there were one upgrade I’d make on these, it’d be to have sturdier fenders, but that they’re included in the first place is a big win. Overall, the Skyline is a solid package with smart parts spec (Schwalbe Big Apple tires roll well and are tough to puncture). Its hard to imagine a better bike for such things without spending 2-3x more.

Which cruise lines allow bicycles?

Are you allowed to bring a bike onto a cruise ship? That depends on the cruise line, and the size of the bike. Here are the official written rules for the most popular North American cruise lines:

  • Disney – Disney cruise lines does NOT allow any type of bicycles or wheeled recreational equipment
  • Royal Caribbean – No bikes of any kind allowed
  • Norwegian – We tried calling NCL twice and no one seemed to be able to confirm if it is okay or not. They did say no electric bikes, but the list of things on their site that you cannot bring does not include folding bikes or regular bikes so it could be a go, but could be a risk. It worked for us. And pretty much every crew member that saw them was impressed with how small and cool they were.
  • Carnival – Regular bicycles are not allowed on Carnival ships, but folding bicycles with wheels less than 20″ are allowed only to be used in port. Meaning, you can’t ride them on the ship.

If you are bringing a bike, keep in mind that the private islands (like NCL’s Great Stirrup Cay) rarely have any paved paths or anything worth exploring by bike. We found that it made locations we’d been to several times before far more interesting when riding. And as the pictures suggest, we found better food and more interesting sites.

can i bring a bicycle on norwegian cruise lines

Bonus planning info

We cruised aboard NCL’s Sun. As of this post, Norwegian Sun 3-5 Day sailings since May 2018 provides all guests with complimentary beverages which include “designated spirits, cocktails, bottled beer, draft beer, and wines by the glass and unlimited fountain soda and juices at all bars, lounges, restaurants and Great Stirrup Cay.” So, if you’re buying the cruise and get to pick a free “bonus” item, choose something other than an upgraded drink package…unless you really want to pick and choose from the top shelf spirits.

When is the best time to go on a cruise?

As you may imagine, winter holidays like Christmas have much, much higher prices…sometimes 2x or more than summer cruises to warm locations. Our family travel philosophy is to always go to things in off-peak times, during the school year when possible, because it’s usually less expensive and less crowded. Spring Break tends to have mid-level prices, but can be crowded with young, drunken idiots (we’ve all been there).

Headed to the Bahamas or Mexico or surrounding areas? Plan on it being really hot when you land, but the wind at sea tends to keep it more tolerable. Short cruises are fun, but the ones with a full day at sea are a nice way to unplug and just relax.

In our experience, NCL tends to attract a slightly older 30+ crowd, but between Carnival, Royal Caribbean and NCL, prices are similar…just find the destinations and schedule you want. Disney is more expensive, but (from what we’ve heard, we haven’t cruised with them) caters really well to kids…just not to bikes.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Great time to book a cruise if you want to heavily pollute the atmosphere and the oceans and fuel the climate catastrophe.
    Shame on you for promoting such a dirty business.

    • I can’t tell if you are being serious or sarcastic. Late winter in the northern hemisphere after the holiday rush indicates the former, but Covid-19 indicates the latter.

      • Both, my friend. A dear friend of mine is a cruise salesman and could use the business. Toby at vacations to go.

        The covid jab is just too obvious to pass up.

  2. This is news? Out of a half a dozen cruises, I’ve never NOT taken a bike. I would never take a cruise without a bike!

  3. I like this article, band hopefully more than 1 cruise line allows bike and only those UNDER 20″ wheel (so 16″ and lower?).

    But I don’t have much hope for that. As the article shows, bikes allow one to easily get past the immediate port area. Given the kick-backs and relationships most cruise lines have with the the shops, they really don’t want their customers to have the ease of transport a bike provides.

  4. Generally I’ve never felt like bicycle enthusiasts and people that enjoy cruise ships overlap. I’ve been riding and racing the last 15 years and can’t remember the last person I’ve ridden with who has taken a cruise. The main attraction, gorging yourself with exorbitant amounts of poorly made and unhealthy food, you’d think that cyclists would be all over that.

  5. I took my Ritchey breakaway on a Princess cruise 5 years ago. They didn’t have a problem with it, but getting it to shore via the tenders at a couple ports was a pain. My rides on the islands away from the touristy stuff were definitely a highlight!

  6. Santana Adventures (division of Santana Bikes, tandem makers) runs cycling cruises that are AMAZING. And filled with cyclists. We took our singles to Viet Nam, riding and floating from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap, Cambodia, in the flow of Mekong traffic (98% 2-wheeled, between ferries), through sooo many tiny villages, into the hills and jungles of Cambodia, ending up on single track through the ruins around Angor Wat. Local guides really helped understand the history of the place, and where it is going now — deeply engaging. Amazing!!! And it’s just one of many they do in each year.

  7. Interesting post and something I have thought about but not pursued in the past.
    Anyway, looks like Royal Caribbean’s FAQ show that they CAN make exceptions for sporting goods. From their site: https://www.royalcaribbean.com/faq/questions/prohibited-items-onboard-policy :

    “Exceptions can be made for the following sporting goods; however, the item must be stored in the guest’s stateroom and cannot be used onboard.
    – Baseball Bats, Hockey Sticks, Cricket Bats, and Golf clubs
    – Skateboards, Surfboards, and Bicycles”

  8. Don’t cruise ships, more or less across the board, dump their waste into the ocean in an appalling manner? I thought that that was well-established. Better to do a biking trip instead and give the extra cash to Greenpeace. This really seems like a problematical article to me. I could envision the next in this new series of questionable endeavors – ‘Cruising the brothels of Bangkok with rental bikes’.

    • Though it might have been something they did in the past, Cruise ships do not dump their waste in the ocean. They are prohibited from doing so and actually recycle better than any hotel because they have limited space and have to be efficient in how they handle everything.

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