Cruise line private islands are the latest “must-have” for the “Big 8” mainstream cruise lines. Cruisers apparently love a relaxing beach day on a castaway island or private resort in the beautiful Caribbean or Bahamas, so many cruise itineraries now include them as a port of call.
While some cruise private islands require tenders to carry passengers ashore, which can be a slow process, other cruise lines have invested millions in developing deep-water piers so it’s always worth checking out the details.
In This Article…
- How Much Does it Cost to Visit Cruise Line Private Islands?
- Why You Should Cruise to a Private Island
- Half Moon Cay
- Perfect Day at CocoCay
- Castaway Cay
- Great Stirrup Cay
- Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve
- Princess Cays
- Harvest Caye
- Cruise Line Private Island FAQ:
How Much Does it Cost to Visit Cruise Line Private Islands?
When cruising, a private island experience can be absolutely free of charge. However, like most ports of call, if you want to get the most from your day, you might want to book some optional once-in-a-lifetime experiences or tours.
Each private cruise island resort provides ample complimentary beach chairs, lagoon pools, organized activities, splash pads and play areas. If you want to rent a luxury private cabana with drinks refrigerator, lounge chairs, beach floats and complimentary snacks you need to book in advance. Expect to pay between $299 and $1500 for the privilege.
Guided tours, boat trips, snorkeling and diving trips, zip-lining, kayak and paddle-board rentals and other private cruise island experiences can be charged to your stateroom. You’ll also need cash (US$) if you want to shop at the Straw Markets where locals sell handmade crafts and souvenirs.
To ensure the highest standards of quality are maintained, all cruise ships bring ashore their own food and drinks to private island bars and restaurants. Days spent on these islands generally include a free BBQ buffet lunch, just as they would onboard ship. Bars charge drinks to your stateroom keycard unless you have an all-inclusive drinks package, but there are exceptions.
Why You Should Cruise to a Private Island
As usual, the cruise industry is hugely competitive and all the cruise line private islands try to offer something truly unique and memorable. Where else can you ride one of the world’s longest over-water zip-lines, go parasailing, hand-feed stingrays or get an up-close encounter with turtles in their native habitat?
Choosing a cruise with a private island port of call guarantees a day of total relaxation and the chance to swim and snorkel in the sea. You can do as much or as little as you choose and there’s far more space for sunbathing, reading, playing and exploring than onboard.
Take advantage of the freedom and space while ashore and go for a walk. Most private cruise islands have way-marked nature trails and bicycle rentals for getting around.
Families can enjoy a true beach day, making sandcastles, swimming in the sea and making precious memories.
Now you’re convinced of the benefits of visiting a cruise line private island which one will you choose? We have a round-up of all 8 popular cruise island destinations with reasons to visit them all!
Half Moon Cay
Owned by Carnival Corp, and visited by Holland America and Carnival Cruises, Half Moon Cay, Bahamas is frequently listed #1 cruise private island.
Reached by tender from the cruise ship, the beautiful 2-mile-long beach at Half Moon Cay has the softest white sand making it ideal for beach lovers. This Carnival private island covers 2400 acres, but most of it is a protected reserve for migratory birds and marine life.
Within the 55 acres that the cruise line has developed, there’s a Lagoon Aqua Park and a traditional wedding chapel for guests to get married or renew their vows as part of their cruise. Hikers can explore the trails and see many native animals including burrowing owls, blue-tail lizards and Bahamian mockingbirds. Another unique attraction is horseback riding on the beach.
One the downside, cruisers with drinks packages will have to pay for their drinks while visiting Half Moon Cay.
Reason to visit:
Half Moon Cay is frequently listed #1 cruise private island due to the extensive beach, super-soft white sand and diverse activities such as horse riding on the beach. The nature preserve means that nature lovers will particularly enjoy a day on this cruise private island. Air-conditioned beachfront cabanas with hot tubs and a private butler service create a luxury island experience, even if it’s just for a day!
You can read more information about Half Moon Cay in our full article
Perfect Day at CocoCay
Perfect Day at CocoCay is one of the newer private cruise island developments in the Bahamas. This 125-acre island is owned by Royal Caribbean and is also used by their sister cruise companies – Celebrity and Azamara.
Getting ashore is very quick and easy thanks to the new pier added in 2019. This is a big advantage for those with youngsters in strollers or people with limited mobility.
Shady hammocks provide a lovely way to read and relax but for the ultimate experience, book a luxury over-water cabana for the ultimate day.
The amazing Aqua Park has 20,000 sq.ft of wet and wild fun including water trampolines and a 40-foot waterslide. Chill Island offers a full range of watersports including snorkeling and diving, jet-skis and stand-up paddleboard rentals.
Youngsters can spend the day at the complimentary Splashaway Bay enjoying pools and slides, water cannons and drench buckets for a thorough soaking!
Eco tours at CocoCay are a wonderful way to experience local wildlife on land and beneath the waves
Reason to visit:
CocoCay has the most record-breaking attractions in the Caribbean making it a popular port of call for adventurous cruisers.
The Thrill Waterpark has the tallest waterslide in North America with the 135-foot (41-meter) Daredevil’s Peak. Cruisers can book a helium balloon ride (tethered) rising 450 feet (137m) above the island – it’s the highest viewpoint in the Bahamas! CocoCay also has 13 waterslides – more than any other private cruise island and has the biggest wave pool in the Caribbean. We’re talking big here!
Read more about the features of Perfect Day at CocoCay
Disney’s Castaway Cay is a 1000-acre oasis of cruise private island bliss in the Bahamas. As with all Disney-owned operations, it offers a magical experience for all ages and was the first cruise island where ships docked at the pier.
This child-friendly private cruise island has an excellent Kids Club with supervised activities while parents relax and do their own thing. Scuttle’s Cove has supervised play for kids aged 3-12. There’s also a Spring-a-Leak play area and Pelican’s Plunge floating platform with twisting slides.
Teens and Tweens have their own Teen Hideout and Da Shade Game Pavilion with non-stop games and sports.
Adults-only Serenity Bay offers private cabanas and open-air massages for a relaxing private island experience.
Reason to visit:
This is the only cruise private island with Disney Character Greetings. There’s also a Post Office so you can send postcards back to family and friends with a special Disney Castaway Cay postmark.
Now read everything you need to know about Disney’s Castaway Cay
Great Stirrup Cay
Owned by Norwegian Cruise Line, Great Stirrup Cay is a 268-acre private cruise island in the Berry Islands, Bahamas. It is also visited by Oceania and Regent Seven Seas ships.
Reached by tender, Great Stirrup Cay has three beaches with something for everyone. Families will appreciate the floating Aqua Park, Underwater Sculpture Garden to snorkel around and the non-stop entertainment hub.
Those with a bigger budget can book a private beachfront cabana. The exclusive Silver Cove goes one better with luxury villas, a private beach, over-water swings and Moet Champagne Bar.
Reason to visit:
This is the only cruise island that offers a Swimming with Pigs Tour! Highlights at Great Stirrup Cay include two lighthouses – a working lighthouse built in 1863 and a new lighthouse constructed to provide a platform for the thrilling zip-line.
Here’s more information about Great Stirrup Cay Bahamas
Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve
Opened in 2019, MSC’s flagship cruise private island is Ocean Cay Maritime Reserve in the Bahamas.
The 95-acre island resort cost $200 million to develop and has 8 sandy coves and a conservation center. There’s an exclusive Yacht Club area which provides a private restaurant and bar.
There’s a complimentary tram making it easy to get around. Ocean Cay also puts on evening entertainment until midnight while most other private cruise islands wind down at sunset.
Reason to visit:
Currently Ocean Cay Marine Reserve only allows one ship per day to avoid overcrowding. Don’t miss the traditional Junkaroo parade with colorful local dancers and the Lighthouse laser show with 23,000 pulsating LED lights.
Discover more reasons to book a cruise to MSC Ocean Cay Marine Reserve
Owned by Princess Cruises, Princess Cays is a 40-acre private cruise island resort at the southernmost tip of the Bahamas island of Eleuthera.
The island is also used by Carnival Cruises as both are subsidiaries of Carnival Corporation. Guests arrive at this Carnival private island by tender and enjoy the main beach or head to the south side of the island for a quieter beach experience. However, some areas of the beach are rocky so bring sand shoes if you plan to explore.
The port offers plenty of watersports including kayaking, banana boat rides, stand-up paddleboards and aqua bikes. There’s a dedicated kids area, Pelican’s Perch, with a shaded play area and shallow pool.
The Sanctuary is an adults-only haven with its own roped-off private beach area.
Reason to visit:
Princess Cays only allows one ship to visit per day so it’s never overcrowded. The coral reef is just offshore so it’s a good cruise island for snorkeling. Read on for more details about Princess Cays cruise line private island
Owned by Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), Harvest Caye is a 75-acre private cruise island off the coast of Belize, Central America.
Shops dock at the pier. This cruise island has seven acres of sandy beach and a beautiful lagoon with waterfall and swim-up bar. For a little more excitement, there’s a 1300-foot-long Flightline Zip-line over the island and tandem parasailing is available.
Harvest Caye also has a free-flight aviary where cruisers can admire native birds such as bright Scarlet Macaws and Keel-billed Toucans. There’s also a Butterfly Sanctuary and a Manatee Observation Tour.
Food and drinks are purchased separately while visiting this cruise line private island or you can return to the ship and dine onboard.
Reason to visit:
This cruise island destination offers fantastic snorkeling and diving opportunities on the second largest reef in the world. Here’s more to know about Harvest Caye, Belize
Labadee is a private beach resort on the north coast of Haiti in the Caribbean.
The 250-acre resort was developed in the 1980s and has been upgraded with a pier for getting ashore easily.
It has four different beaches, each with their own vibe. Nellie’s Beach is the quietest with cabanas and beach bungalow rentals while Adrenaline Beach is at the heart of the action. Arawak Aqua Park has inflatable trampolines and water slides.
The Dragon’s Breath Zip-line is one of the longest over-water zip-lines in the world. It has three stages starting at 2600 feet (792m) above sea level and reaches up to 50mph.
Another amazing ride is the Dragon’s Tail Coaster where drivers descend from a height of 680 feet (207m) in individual cars. This Alpine-style ride races above the rainforest and riders can control the speed by braking.
Reason to visit:
As you can see, Labadee is the perfect private cruise island experience for thrill-seekers. Enjoy reading more about things to do at Labadee port of call
Cruise Line Private Island FAQ:
Carnival Cruise Line’s private cruise island is Half Moon Cay, Bahamas. Carnival cruises also visit Princess Cays as both Princess and Carnival Cruise Lines are owned by Carnival Corporation.
Cruise line private islands are the ultimate way to visit a Caribbean island safely. The resorts are privately owned and only cruisers can visit. Staff are vetted by the cruise lines and all food and drink is brought ashore to ensure the highest standards are maintained.
The only way to visit a cruise line private island is by booking a cruise that includes a private cruise island on its itinerary.