Private islands are the epitome of exclusive holidays, usually the preserve of the super-wealthy with the means to buy their very own slice of paradise. However, some of the major cruise lines have bought entire private islands to offer their passengers the chance to experience places that aren’t accessible to any other holidaymakers on a Bahamas cruise. Although these islands may not have the local charm and culture found on other ports of call on a cruise, they boast facilities and beaches to rival any luxury resort hotel and activities that wouldn’t be out of place at a theme park.
1. Castaway Cay
Castaway Cay is Disney Cruise Line’s private island in the Bahamas, offering some of the very best and widest range of activities of the cruise private islands. Unlike other private islands and rather handily, the four Disney ships – Wonder, Magic, Dream and Fantasy – can dock directly on the island avoiding the need for passengers to hop on to smaller boats to reach the shore.
The Castaway Family Beach offers plenty of traditional games and activities and has an abundance of shady spots and private cabanas which are welcome when the summertime temperatures reach 32°C. Adults can enjoy Serenity Bay Beach, strictly out-of-bounds for children, with its private cabanas, yoga classes and open-air massages. So that adults travelling with their children can indulge in the adults-only treats at Serenity Bay, free childcare for over 3s at the sandy Scuttle’s Cove is available, featuring a huge water play area with pop jets, geysers and bubblers.
Scuttle’s Cove isn’t the only water park on Castaway Cay. Children can enjoy two other expansive water play areas, covering a combined area of 4,800 square-foot to run, jump and splash about in. One of the water parks is a platform set swimming distance from the island with two waterslides that plunge riders into the lagoon.
On dry land, those looking to experience the natural side of Castaway Cay can hire bikes to cycle the paths around the island to spot native wildlife. Under the sea, snorkelling tours mapped out on the seabed make discovering the local sea turtles, conch and lobsters much easier. Guests can also participate in a stingray experience, where a guide teaches participants how to feed and touch them safely.
Disney ships sail to Castaway Cay all year round, and itineraries usually include at least a day to explore Castaway Cay.
Cococay is Royal Caribbean’s and Celebrity Cruises’ exclusive stop-off on a Bahamas cruise, nestled in a collection of islands known as the Berry Islands. CocoCay is eco-certified for its environmentally friendly activities and tours that includes a guided nature walk ending at a secluded beach, one of three pristine white sand beaches on CocoCay.
Just like Royal Caribbean’s innovative and exciting activities on their ships, CocoCay does not disappoint for the fun-factor. Kids will love the aqua park, a floating playground set off the shore where they can bounce on over-water trampolines. Their parents might like to try paragliding for an aerial view of CocoCay paradise, snorkel around the coral reef, or simply indulge in total escapism and do absolutely nothing.
Royal Caribbean has a second private location, Labadee. It’s not an island, but a secluded destination on the northern coast of Haiti. Labadee’s claim to fame is the world’s longest zip line over water, 500 feet above the beaches. It also has a roller coaster to entice thrill-seekers who love the rides and flumes on-board the biggest Royal Caribbean ships like Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas.
3. Great Stirrup Cay
Back in 1977, Norwegian Cruise Line was the first cruise line to offer a private island experience for its guests enjoying a Bahamas cruise, Great Stirrup Cay. In 2015 NCL invested $20 million in Great Stirrup Cay’s marina, which has made the process of ferrying passengers from the ship to the island much smoother. And NCL is set to continue to enhance Great Stirrup Cay more with new dining, cabanas, new family activities, entertainment and spa experiences to come.
With a distinct party vibe, Great Stirrup Cay is designed for fun, often with live music providing a backdrop to a typical Bahamian beach party atmosphere with barbeques and bars. The facilities may not be as varied as on the other islands, but there are still the obligatory water sports, hammocks for lazing in, and organised activities for children available to guarantee a great day at the beach. In summer 2017, Great Stirrup Cay will be visited by Norwegian Gem, sailing seven night itineraries from New York, and Norwegian Sky sailing three and four night itineraries from Miami.
4. Half Moon Cay
Half Moon Cay is the private island for guests of Holland America Cruises and Carnival ships. This idyllic island has soft white sands, turquoise waters and shady palm trees, exactly what an island in the Bahamas should be. It boasts a status as an international wild bird preserve and nature trails are available to guests wanting to experience the natural environment. It offers memorable horseback rides along the shoreline and a stingray experience for guests to learn more about the sea life in and around Half Moon Cay.
This island also brings a higher level of luxury extras to its guests, offering them a butler service with their beachside cabanas. It even has an exclusive Oasis Cabana, set partially over the water, featuring a hot tub, wet bar, barbeque, indoor and outdoor showers, and dedicated massage area. A walkway from the cabana leads straight into the crystal clear sea. It also comes with the services of a personal chef, bartender and lifeguard. The Oasis Cabana can accommodate up to 25 people so it’s ideal for celebrations and large family holidays.
From November 2016, Holland America Line’s brand new ship, MS Koningsdam, will be sailing Caribbean itineraries calling at Half Moon Cay. Other Carnival and Holland America Line ships visit the island year round.
To speak to an expert about cruises that call at private islands, call 0800 840 5819 or visit Imagine Cruising for more inspiration.