Private Island Update: Cruise Line Private Islands Escape Hurricane Damage
While the impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria are still being felt throughout the Caribbean, a large majority of the area is untouched and open for tourism. As part of the recovery effort, travelers are encouraged to visit the region to help support the economy.
The cruise lines’ private islands have historically been the number one shore excursion for visitors, say the cruise experts at CruiseCompete, and all are open for business at this time.
Thinking of including a stop at private island on your next cruise? Here’s what you can expect when you visit one of these vacation oases:
Costa Cruises – Costa Cruises voyages stop at Catalina Island, located just 1.5 miles from the southeast corner of the mainland of the Dominican Republic. The line has a private beach on this island that features activities such as volleyball, snorkeling, “beach Olympics” and massages. Vacationers can also rent jet skis, go for banana-boat rides or simply relax on the beach. Day tours that explore the island are popular. It’s a treasure trove of culture and relaxation, with local musicians and exclusive shopping that add to its charm.
Disney Cruise Line – Disney’s Castaway Cay provides plenty of magical fun for people of all ages, and caters to guests in true Disney style, with all the conveniences. A major bonus of Castaway Cay is that the island features cruise ship-docking capabilities (versus shuttle boats between the ship and island), which allows guests to easily travel back and forth to their ship. Attractions include the Castaway Family Beach, Serenity Bay for adults, a teens-only activity area called The Hide Out and supervised programs for children at Scuttle's Cove. There are also numerous water sports, biking, snorkeling parasailing, fishing and various water tour excursions.
Holland America Line – Holland America’s Half Moon Cay has been ranked “Best Private Island” by Porthole Cruise Magazine for many years’ running, and is located on Little San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. (The island must remain 98% undeveloped as an international bird sanctuary.) The Cay’s 700-acre lagoon allows guests to feed stingrays and enjoy various water sports, a children's aqua park and a buoyed personal watercraft course. Other features include private beachside cabanas with private butler service, showers and misters and eco-tours by glass-bottom boat.
Norwegian Cruise Line – Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian’s private island, is located approximately 120 nautical miles east of Fort Lauderdale in the Berry Island chain of the Bahamas, Great Stirrup Cay features snorkeling, paddle boats, sailboats, kayaks and parasailing.
The beachfront area has been smoothed and expanded, enhanced the vegetation to make it greener and shadier, and added a new Tender Pavilion (which makes getting on and off the island easier) and new dining facilities. The island also has “Cabanas on the Cay” (private beachfront cabanas) which offer exclusive amenities–and the line reports that they are already completely pre-booked.
Norwegian also intends to include a new winding river and additional nature trails and beaches to this already-impressive island. The Hippo Water Slide, the world’s largest inflatable waterslide – 40 feet high and 175 feet long– remains a visitor favorite. (This feature does incur a separate cost, but families report it’s not to be missed.) Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Oceania and MSC Cruises will also sail to Great Stirrup Cay in 2016.
Norwegian also offers a private island experience at Harvest Caye. Harvest Caye is located in Belize and features an exclusive beach, a pool, watersports lagoon, and private cabanas.
Paul Gauguin Cruises – Paul Gauguin visits Motu Mahana, part of the Society Islands. This lovely island offers a world of culture, with local crafts and cuisine, along with music and vanilla plantation tours. There is also waterskiing, kayaking and windsurfing available for the sports-minded crowd.
Princess Cruises – The line visits Princess Cays, which is located on the southern portion of Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas, approximately 80 miles from Nassau. This lovely island features white-sand beaches and turquoise waters that make for great snorkeling and swimming. Water lovers can also rent aqua bikes, seaboards, paddleboats, clear-hull kayaks, sailboats or float rafts. Guests looking for pure relaxation can do some shopping, taste the island cuisine and exotic cocktails or just soak up the warm Caribbean sun. There are plenty of beach umbrellas, tiki huts and hammocks hung beneath dozens of shady trees.
Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises – CocoCay, which features the 20,000 square-foot aqua playground Caylana’s Castle Cove, is an island designed exclusively for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity passengers.
It’s a perfect spot for water lovers, featuring a white-sand beach, wave runners and snorkeling among coral reefs with vibrant tropical fish and sunken wrecks. Perhaps the most popular activity on Coco Cay, however, is parasailing, where guests ascend to 400 feet and get a bird's-eye view of the island.
Additional phases in the works will include a craft market, shore excursion building, rentals of bikes and other outdoor equipment and then a series of such adventures as ropes course, zipline, water park, cabanas and pools. Target date coincides with debut of the Symphony of the Seas in spring 2018.
The lines’ second island getaway, Labadee, has seen recent enhancements, and now features seven different “neighborhoods” (Buccaneer’s Bay, Dragon’s Plaza, Labadee Town Square, Adrenaline Beach, Columbus Cove, Nellie’s Beach and the Barefoot Beach Club) that have individualized offerings. Ride a rollercoaster at Adrenaline Beach, play at the aqua park in Columbus Cove or lounge in one of 20 private cabanas at the Beach Club (an experience exclusive to guests residing in a Grand Suite or above).
MSC Cruises and Carnival Cruise Line are investing in private beach destinations as well. MSC’s will be in the Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, near Bimini in the Bahamas. Carnival is working on a private beach on the eastern part of Grand Bahama Island.