Cruise lines' private islands offer passengers much more than just a day at the beach. The exclusive destinations are some of the favorite ports of call for cruisers, who are the only ones who get to enjoy the water parks and zip lines, and snorkel and kayak in the crystal waters. Here’s what you need to know about six private Caribbean escapes:
Island: Castaway Cay
There is plenty to do for both kids and adults on Disney’s Castaway Cay in the Bahamas. Families can play on the beach with costumed characters, splash around at the Pelican Plunge water slide and floating play area, feed the stingrays at the Stingray Adventure, and rent gear, like snorkel kits, kayaks, and inner tubes. Buckets and beach toys are also available for purchase on the island, so there's no need to pack your own.
Those looking for some adults-only time should head to Serenity Bay on the northwest end of the island, where you can rent a private cabana and enjoy an open-air massage. The activities are spread over 55 developed acres, and trams take cruise passengers from place to place.
Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise ships anchor off CocoCay and tender passengers to the Bahamian island, owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises. Also known as Little Stirrup Cay, the 140-acre isle gives passengers a fun-filled beach break — and then some. Nature lovers can hike trails that run the length and width of the island. Back in (and on) the water, activities include a floating playground, plus scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, parasailing, and wave runner tours.
Royal Caribbean's Western Caribbean sailings stop at Labadee, a 260-acre peninsula on Haiti’s northern coast. Adventure-seekers won’t get bored during their visit: Shore excursions range from the world’s longest overwater zip line to a 30 mph Alpine roller coaster, to the floating trampolines and water slides at Arawak Aqua Park.
Those looking for a more relaxing day can unwind in a private seaside cabana or shop for local crafts at the Artisan’s Market. Even the line’s largest ships dock right at the pier, allowing for easy access on and off the ship.
Island: Half Moon Cay
The beautiful beaches of Half Moon Cay have been a private retreat for Holland America Line passengers since the island was purchased in 1997 (Carnival ships also call at the 2,400-acre island). After being tendered to shore, cruisers can go horseback riding on the beautiful white beaches, explore the eco lagoon by kayak, take a hike and bird-watch through some of the island’s undeveloped acres, or head out to sea on a paddleboard or catamaran. Couples can even exchange vows at the little white wedding chapel, a nondenominational Bahamian church.
Island: Princess Cays
A prime stop on most of Princess Cruises' Caribbean itineraries is the line's Princess Cays, a 40-acre area at the southern end of the island of Eleuthera, Bahamas (tenders take passengers to and from the ship). Find the perfect spot on the long beach and soak in the rays, or spend the day snorkeling or swimming in the pristine waters.
If you’d rather explore, kayaks are available, or you can catch one of the tour boats that takes you to further reaches of the 100-mile-long island. For a bird’s-eye view of the whole scene, climb up to the wooden observation platform known as the Crow’s Nest Overlook.
Island: Great Stirrup Cay
Norwegian cruises to the Bahamas include a day at Great Stirrup Cay, one of the islands in the Berry Islands chain. The line has owned the island since 1977, and tenders transport passengers between ship and shore to enjoy the 250 acres. Brush up on pirate history and visit the 80-foot-tall lighthouse, built in 1863. Then, zoom down the Hippo, the world’s largest inflatable water slide. You can also grab flippers and goggles for a snorkeling treasure hunt, join a volleyball game on one of three deep-sand courts, rent a private cabana retreat, or explore the island’s undeveloped, rocky terrain.