Private Island cruises are increasing popular with Caribbean cruise passengers. Many cruise lines include private islands or beaches in their itineraries. These isolated venues provide unique opportunities to passengers and can create many memorable cruise vacation memories.
What Are Private Islands?
Private islands are just that: private escapes for one particular cruise line. No competing ships dock there and passengers can enjoy typical island activities in a less crowded setting. Mainstream cruise lines secure private facilities by purchasing or leasing them from Caribbean nations, including the Bahamas - the islands are far too small for continual habitation, but provide an excellent tourist getaway for occasional visitors.
Where Are The Private Islands?
The majority of cruise lines' private islands are in the Bahamas - with nearly 700 islands and over 2,000 small islets in the western Atlantic, there are plenty of options for cruise ships to choose from: only 29 Bahamian islands are permanently inhabited. Other private islands are located throughout the Caribbean.
- Catalina Island: The private getaway of Costa Cruises, this small island is located off the coast of the Dominican Republic.
- Castaway Cay: This is the private refuge of Disney Cruise Line: a thousand acre Bahamian island north of Nassau.
- Half Moon Cay: This intimate retreat for Holland America Cruises is located in the eastern Bahamas.
- Great Stirrup Cay: Norwegian Cruise Line's private escape, this is a southern Bahamian island.
- Princess Cays: This exclusive retreat for Princess Cruises hails from the southwestern coast of Eleuthera in the Bahamas.
- Labadee: This isolated beach along Haiti's northern coast is the elite domain of Royal Caribbean.
- CocoCay: Another Royal Caribbean retreat, this is a private island in the Bahamas. Sister cruise line Celebrity also visits CocoCay.
Private Island Cruises Itineraries
Because of the islands' locations in the Bahamas and Caribbean, not every itinerary includes a visit to these exclusive retreats. Bahamas Cruises, Western Caribbean Cruises, and Eastern Caribbean Cruises often incorporate a private island port of call, particularly if the ship originates from an eastern Florida departure port. Every Disney itinerary stops at Castaway Cay, but other lines may not have the time to include their private island on each voyage.
Private Islands Cruises: Activities
Despite the fact that cruise lines' private islands are invariably tiny, there is no lack of excitement and activities onshore. There may be demonstrations of local crafts or skills such as juggling, dancing, weaving, or cooking, as well as games and competitions similar to those onboard the ship. The ship's crew may arrange onshore activities: dance lessons and massages are popular choices. Most private islands include a limited shopping district that specialized in merchandise sporting the island's name or logo along with other touristy souvenirs. Cruise lines continue to offer shore excursions at their private islands such as snorkeling, water ski rentals, aqua park visits, parasailing, or scuba diving. For many guests, however, one of the biggest attractions is the pristine beaches, often less crowded than beaches at other ports of call. Depending on the size of the island, walking trails may be available for guests to explore even more isolated regions.
Depending on the cruise line and the ship's itinerary, visitors on private island cruises may spend just a few hours or nearly a full day at the private island. The ship's crew may provide an onshore picnic lunch, and onboard activities may be severely limited while the ship remains at the private island.
Pros and Cons of Private Islands
Every port of call has pros and cons, and private islands are no exception.
The benefits of a private island visit include the exclusivity of the location: no other cruise lines are discharging crowds of additional passengers to fill up facilities. Because the islands are not regularly inhabited, they are often cleaner and retain more of their natural beauty than larger, more populous islands. Guests do not need to confront aggressive vendors because everyone working on the island is screened by the cruise line and standards of conduct are enforced. While the ship is visiting a private island, children's onshore activities may be arranged, giving parents the opportunity to enjoy an exclusive destination guilt-free.
On the other hand, because of private island's exclusive nature, most do not exhibit any true Caribbean culture except the limited demonstrations permitted by the cruise line. In this way, passengers are sheltered from many aspects of the nation's culture such as local cooking, language, and social activities. While private islands are not as crowded as other ports of call, none except Castaway Cay has a true dock, requiring passengers to be ferried to shore by numerous tenders.
Several mainstream cruise lines now include private islands in their regular itineraries. These exclusive enclaves give passengers the rare treat of an elite destination without the concerns of an unfamiliar port of call. With dozens of activities to choose from and fewer crowds to contend with, a private island may well be the most memorable port of call during a cruise vacation.