MSC Cruises is the latest line to announce it will be building a private Caribbean island for the exclusive use of its passengers. To be named Ocean Cay, it will be launch in December 2017. It joins other private operated by many of the major cruise lines sailing in the region.
So why would you want to cruise to a private island?
Firstly, it’s the one land fall where you won’t be under siege from scores of ships and thousands of other passengers (like in the Med in mid-season).
They act like extensions of the cruise ship; they are cashless societies where you can pay using your shipboard account. As onboard, basic food is free though there will often be additional dining options available at an extra fee.
Be prepared to pay for most watersports and to hire equipment or private cabanas. They can also be less crowded than other popular port destinations, which can often have multiple ships calling there on the same day. These islands often have little in the way of traditional Caribbean culture, but they’re a fun place to spend a day on the beach with your fellow passengers.
Here’s our at-a-glance guide to the best private islands.
Ocean Cay (pictured above) Who goes there? MSC Cruises Where is it? Bahamas
This European line has just purchased a former sand extraction island and plans to spend $200 million transforming it into a flourishing marine reserve. Facilities will include an “architecturally faithful” Bahamian village, bars and restaurants, a 2,000-seat amphitheatre, shops, a spa and wellness facility, zip line, wedding pavilion, walking and running paths, bicycle rental and six different beaches, including a dedicated family beach. The line will also build a pier so guests can move easily between the island and the ship, where all onboard facilities will remain open.
Castaway Cay Who goes there? Disney Cruise Line Where is it? Bahamas
In keeping with the name the island has a Disney-fied shipwreck theme, with lots of driftwood shacks and thatched palm leaves. There are restaurants, bars, shops, games rooms and plenty of water-based activities, including a water park, off shore pontoon with water slides, a snorkelling lagoon and a range of water toys for hire. Adults can relax on the adults-only beach while kids are entertained at the kids’ club. There are also a range of adventure and nature based shore excursions on offer. And of course there are the ever-present Disney characters interacting with the guests throughout the day. Disney has focussed on environmental preservation, using solar panels, recycling cooking oil, restoring the health of surrounding coral reefs and monitoring the population of endangered loggerhead turtles.
Half Moon Cay Who goes there? Holland America Line and Carnival Cruise Line Where is it? Bahamas
Just 160 kilometres from the Bahamian capital of Nassau, this island boasts a four kilometre curved, white sand beach that inspired its name. The line has developed just 50 acres of this 2,400 acre island – the rest has been left as a sanctuary for migratory birds. Set around the beach is an open-air restaurant, three bars, a water park, a Bahamian-style village with shops and a market, a wedding chapel and water sports centres that hire out snorkelling gear, kayaks and sailboats. Passengers can hire private cabanas for the day, which are fitted out with air-conditioning, deck chairs, a misting shower on the terrace and a fridge stocked with soft drinks, water and snacks. Large groups can rent the luxurious Private Oasis, a plush complex with indoor and outdoor living areas, music system, full wet bar, butler service, a personal chef and snacks, a barbecue lunch buffet, wine and cocktails included.
Great Stirrup Cay Who goes there? Norwegian Cruise Line Where is it? Bahamas
The original private Caribbean island, NCL purchased a section of the island in 1977. It’s undergone numerous refurbishments over the years, most recently a $25 million refit in 2012. There’s a new 800 square metre beachfront buffet for lunch and the standard bars, waterslides and traditional market. Adventurous types can join a shore excursion to swim with stingrays, snorkel, take a tour on a wave runner or kayak, learn to paddleboard or go parasailing. There are also private cabanas available to rent.
Princess Cays Who goes there? Princess Cruises Where is it? Bahamas
Princess Cays takes up the southern tip of the Bahamian island of Eleuthera, so it’s really a private resort complex rather than a whole island. The resort covers 40 acres with a private one-kilometre white sand beach. There’s a beach barbecue, bars, craft market and a full range of water sports on offer including paddle biking, windsurfing, kayaking, banana boats and sailing. Cabanas are available both in the main resort area or in the new adults-only The Sanctuary. Guests can take shore tours to venture outside of the resort and explore the rest of the island, visiting small fishing villages, churches and local restaurants.
CocoCay Who goes there? Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises Where is it? Bahamas
Royal Caribbean’s island sits just across from Norwegian’s Great Stirrup Cay, so guests will be able to see both kinds of ships docked off shore. There are no restaurants or bars onshore, but a beach barbecue is provided and helpful staff will bring you a drink right in your hammock. There’s a floating waterpark, nature walk, snorkelling and scuba diving, kayak tours and glass-bottom boat trips available. Private cabanas and beach lounges are available to get away from the crowds.
Labadee Who goes there? Royal Caribbean Where is it? Haiti
This is another private resort on the edge of a populated island. Labadee is a 260-acre property on the densely forested north coast of Haiti and Royal Caribbean has been calling here for 30 years. The resort is divided into seven different neighbourhoods, each designed with a different purpose – relaxation, family friendly, watersports, adventure or a Haitian cultural experience. Barefoot Beach is an exclusive enclave just for suite guests, so it’s much less crowded than the other areas. Private cabanas are available either over the water, on the beach or tucked up on the hillside. There are a number complimentary dining options as well as bars and waiter service on the beach – try a labadoozie, the official cocktail of the island. The highlight is the Dragon’s Breath, an 800-metre zipline that takes guests across the bay at speeds of up to 80 kilometres an hour.
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