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Sailing the Exumas

This post contains affiliate links, please read our disclosures. Thank you to Penny Jo Sailing Charters for inviting us to sail the Bahamas!

Cruising through The Bahamas with my family is honestly one of my favorite trips to date. This bucket list trip included 6 nights aboard the Penny Jo, an all-inclusive, newly designed Bali 4.4 catamaran. We traveled through the Exumas in the most beautiful water I’ve ever seen! Come along and learn about our Exumas sailing trip, where we spent our days exploring and our nights on this luxury yacht.  

Sailing the Exumas

Exuma is a district of the Bahamas that consists of over 365 cays, where most are uninhabited. This island chain consists of national parks and the most pristine water. One of the best ways to experience this area is by boat. Come sail with us through one of the most beautiful places on earth and experience this trip of a lifetime with our family!

Prepping to Leave

Our trip began by leaving Charleston, SC and driving up to Asheville, NC to drop off Theo at his grandparents. After walking through the many emotions of mom guilt, I just didn’t feel comfortable bringing him on this sailing trip because he is unable to swim. After dropping him off for his own little vacation with the grandparents, we stayed at a hotel near the airport to catch our flight out the following morning. It was such a seamless experience flying in and out of my hometown!

Day 1 – Travel

We left Asheville, NC around 7am, had one connecting flight in Atlanta and arrived in Nassau by 12pm. It was such a quick flight and flying over the islands was SO BEAUTIFUL. The kids were so excited to see the beautiful water and islands from above before sailing the Exumas.

Once arriving in Nassau, a driver recommended by Penny Jo Sailling Charters picked us up at the airport. We made a quick stop for more sunscreen because we accidentally put our full sunscreens in our carry on bag and sadly it got tossed.

The Penny Jo crew was in constant contact with our driver which made the scenario so easy. They met us at the marina and welcomed us onto the Penny Jo! It was incredible going from cold Asheville, NC to hopping on the boat all within several hours.

About the Penny Jo Yacht

Before I share our day to day itinerary, I would love to show you around the catamaran and it’s features! The luxury catamaran came with incredible views from the Salon, a Foredeck, and an amazing Flybridge.  There were four bedrooms, each with a private bathroom, full kitchen, sitting and dining area, and ample areas to hang out. Each bedroom was air conditioned and had a private bathroom with a full walk-in shower. The beds were comfortable with windows and beautiful views on the water.

The yacht also had many activities, like a tender for accessing the reefs and beaches, paddle boards, sunchill, snorkel gear, fishing equipment, games, and so much more! I loved paddle boarding each day while the kids played in the sunchill. There were so many activities to keep us busy on the water with excursions. All of these were included in the charter.

Day 1 – Marina to Norman’s Cay

Before I share our itinerary, please note that this was all planned for us based off of our preferences. Each morning we would discuss the day and our plans, making small tweaks for weather or other needs. It was amazing to take the stress out of planning and just sit back and enjoy the trip while sailing the Exumas!

On day 1, our crew for the week, Byron and Michelle, welcomed us with fresh water, drinks for the kids, champagne, and fresh charcuterie. We learned the rules of the boat then set off on our 4 hour journey to our first stop, Norman’s Cay.

Rougher seas were predicted the day of our arrival, but the crew was so attentive the entire trip to this being our first go around of sailing. They checked in with us periodically to see if we were okay to make it all the way to Norman’s Cay. We took another round of Dramamine and everyone did really well with boat naps, snacks, and lots of sunbathing along the way. 

The longest leg of the Exumas sailing trip went by fast and we anchored just in time to catch our first Bahamian sunset. It was unbelievable. They made fresh dinner for us, pasta with sausage and a fresh tomato sauce.

I avoid gluten because of sensitivities and they absolutely accommodated all of our needs. Prior to leaving, they gave us a form to fill out allowing them to cater our meals to our liking.

The kids finished with ice cream and were so tired from traveling that we had them tucked in by 8:15pm. The adults got to sit and stare at the stars with our favorite stargazing app which was hilarious and humbling because we’re clueless! The stars were so bright and beautiful with little to no light pollution.

Day 2 – Norman’s Cay to O’Brien Cay

Wow!!!! We woke up to sunrise and nothing compared to seeing the clear water for the first time with the fresh morning glow. We were still anchored off of Norman’s Cay and woke up to fresh coffee on the boat. We were served a fresh breakfast of scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, bagels, and yogurt.

Our captain then fitted us for masks and etc. I brought these masks for the kids from recommendations and wanted to be sure they had masks that fit.  Once we slathered every kid in sunscreen, we got dressed for snorkeling. Then we hopped in the dinghy and went a short distance to a reef nearby for our first day of snorkeling.

First off, this was a huge difference from our Belize experience. I’m not an experienced snorkeler or diver and remember being so anxious there. I felt SO comfortable here. It’s shallow and I was able to just float and learn my breathing rhythm. Same with the kids. It was incredible. We got to see so many fish and familiarize ourselves with snorkeling. We saw vibrant reefs, small stingrays, and tons of fish. Check out my Instagram Highlights for underwater footage.

After this we went to Pablo Escobar’s sunken plane to snorkel. This was a highlight for us all. Being able to see the skeleton of this large plane and the amount of history it holds was surreal.

As if this day couldn’t get any better with sights, we ended the day traveling to The Aquarium at O’Brien’s Cay. Wow, it was truly a natural wonder! The spectrum of fish and the colorful reef species made this snorkeling experience my favorite. There were SO MANY fish, it was so cool to see!

After an eventful day we made it back onto the boat to clean up for dinner on the boat. Our delicious meal consisted of fresh grouper, broccoli, and potatoes. We ended the night with blueberry ice cream and another beautiful sunset.

Day 3 – O’Brien Cay, Compass Cay, and Warderick Wells

We woke up to rocking and rough waters, and waited to leave O’Brien’s Cay until the storms passed. Once the waters settled, we headed to Compass Cay notable for it’s nurse sharks.

We cruised over to Compass Cay, and let me tell you, it’s got this adorable little marina and a local bar that is just picturesque of a local Caribbean restaurant. While we were anchored there, we took a stroll through this pathway lined with stunning orchids dangling from the trees. And oh, the highlight? Those nurse sharks are gliding around like they own the place because, well, they sorta do—they get fed there! Don’t fret, they don’t bite.

Then, we ate a delicious lunch right on the boat, featuring a fresh salad. After exploring Compass Cay and lunch, we set sail to Warderick Wells Cay to spend two nights there. 

We arrived at Warderick Wells Cay and secured a mooring ball close to Beryl’s Beach. It was the perfect spot for the kids to stretch their legs, play, and enjoy the clear waters.

When snorkeling on vacation with children, I highly recommend taking your own sets to insure they fit properly. The kids lived in this set and I would purchase them again!

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We were treated to a stunning sunset after exploring this beach. To pass the evening, we played games like BS which gained the name “be sneaky” and spoons. It was a delightful end to the day with an incredible lobster dinner.

Day 4 – Warderick Wells Cay

We hopped on the dinghy and headed over to Warderick Wells Cay to explore the park and for a little adventure. Our mission? Hiking the trails and checking out the impressive sperm whale skeleton. I highly recommend water shoes with good cushioning for the hikes!

We decided to really make a day of it and took the long hike route along the Atlantic coast back to Beryl’s Beach, where our captain picked us up. The hike ended up stretching into a leisurely two hours of exploration, nothing too strenuous.

Pro tip for hikes: pack snacks, hats, water, and definitely some sturdy shoes. And while we lucked out in the bug department, it never hurts to bring along some bug spray, just in case. Oh, and the best part? The trail has the most gorgeous shells and bits of coral. It was like walking through a natural treasure trove! 

After our hiking adventure we decided to cool off at the beach and refuel with lunch.  The meal was followed by snorkeling where we saw several sea turtles. When finished, we spent time on the sunchill with our new pal, Fred the nurse shark. Then it was back to Beryl’s Beach for more fun in the sun—paddleboarding, building sandcastles, etc.

We stayed another night in Warderick Wells and the next morning, we were up bright and early for more aquatic exploration. Snorkeling at all the hotspots was an absolute blast! The underwater scenes were deeper and more vibrant than we could’ve imagined. It was like swimming in a technicolor dream! 

Day 5 – Warderick Wells Cay to Shroud Cay

We set sail for a few hours to Shroud Cay and spotted a mega yacht with its very own helicopter landing pad—talk about living the high life! After anchoring, we wasted no time diving into the crystal-clear waters to explore the little coral reef beaming with marine life. From lobsters to lionfish, we saw it all!

Once we worked up an appetite, we indulged in a fresh, delicious lunch onboard. But the real adventure was yet to come! Our next stop was “the washing machine,” a thrilling experience where you navigate through the inner rivers and there are SO MANY turtles you can snorkel with in the mangroves. Snorkeling alongside those majestic creatures was a memory we’ll cherish forever.

As the day wound down, we were treated to a mesmerizing sunset, followed by a steak dinner onboard. It was the perfect end to another unforgettable day!

Day 6 – Warderick Wells to Nassau

Day 6 kicked off with a brisk cold plunge followed by some snorkeling—nothing like starting the day off with a splash! Then it was time to pack up and say farewell to Shroud Cay as we embarked on a long day of travel back to Nassau. There was a weather system coming that evening and our captain wanted to make the long journey back to Nassau before the rough seas.

But before we hunkered down for the night, we made a pit stop at Aothel Cay to say hello to the famous swimming piggies! They loved our celery snacks and the kids thought it was hilarious to swim with pigs.

Day 7 – Departure from Nassau

It was time to bid farewell to the beautiful Bahamas and our Exumas sailing trip to head back home. After an incredible week filled with adventure, relaxation, and unforgettable moments, we packed up our bags, boarded our flights, and reminisced about all the wonderful memories we made. Though saying goodbye to the Penny Jo was not easy, we left with hearts full of gratitude and a promise to return to paradise again soon. Until next time, Bahamas!

Packing Tips

Some packing essentials for the plane: I surprised the kids with fire tablets (they’ve been using our old tablets and I wanted more control over them), clickable coloring pens, watercolor journals, games etc. One tip, download games or movies before boarding the plane in case you don’t have wifi.  

Another prep to note, everyone had dramamine the night before to ensure no sickness with our first day sailing. We are boaters with a love for the water, but we had never sailed a long distance or slept on a boat prior to this trip.

Final Thoughts – 

  • Filling out the preference sheet beforehand was perfect—having light, healthy meals and plenty of snacks made all the difference. And let’s talk about the food—spectacular doesn’t even begin to cover it! It’s clear the crew put a lot of thought into catering to our family’s tastes.
  • Dealing with seasickness is real, especially with unpredictable weather. I recommend being proactive with anti-nausea meds like dramamine and motion sickness patches, and sticking to light meals. It’s all about being prepared!
  • I recommend lots of sunscreen, sun shirts, rash guards, and wet suits if going in March. Can’t forget those hats and sunnies too! Most of everything we ordered for the trip can be shopped on Amazon here.
  • Kids and downtime—not necessary as they stayed active so much, but having a few activities on hand for when they need to recharge is always a good idea.
  • We always had access to wifi while on the boat, thanks to Starlink. But it’s always wise to download stuff beforehand to save on data and avoid any buffering issues.
  • And last but not least, chargers. Packing extra batteries and backup charging options is a lifesaver for keeping all your gadgets juiced up and ready to go.
  • We didn’t take a GoPro to Hawaii and I regretted it every day. I purchased this model for this trip and we have so many amazing underwater videos and pictures to cherish!

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