Top 5 private islands to visit exclusively by cruise
By Sara Macefield | 7 Apr 2020
Unleash your inner Robinson Crusoe on one of these exotic private island resorts exclusive to cruise lines.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be marooned on a tropical desert island – albeit one with all the mod-cons and a few luxurious frills? A growing tally of cruise lines, keen to give their customers a castaway-style experience, have acquired their own private islands or resorts.
Here their ships spend a day on Caribbean sailings, offering full-on tropical escapism with dazzling beaches of powder white sand, fun-filled water play zones, buzzing bars and al fresco dining.
Most major cruise lines have their own exclusive escapes, many of which tend to be in the Bahamas. Norwegian Cruise Line set the trend in 1977, when the company was the first to buy Great Stirrup Cay, which it subsequently developed into a stand-alone beach resort.
Since then, Disney Cruise Line has added its own isle, Castaway Cay, which was the first where ships could moor alongside, enabling passengers to step on shore without having to take tender boats.
Last year, the bar was raised again with the opening of Perfect Day at CocoCay by Royal Caribbean International – a $250 million resort complex with waterslides, a hot-air balloon, beach club and overwater cabanas that was built on its
island, CocoCay, in the Bahamas.
And the second opening was MSC Cruises, which has spent millions of pounds transforming a former industrial island site on the Bahamas into a marine reserve called Ocean Cay.
This year, though, sees a hipper theme with The Beach Club at Bimini, the new resort oasis of Virgin Voyages, where cool vibes and wellness rule. Guests can immerse themselves in yoga and meditation or laze in hammocks strung between the palm trees before the energy ramps up with DJ-led pool parties, live music and beach bonfires.
So whatever style of island-life beckons, from chillaxing on the sands, snorkelling in gin-clear waters, or plunging into daredevil water sports – the choice is yours.
5 Top Private Islands and Resorts Exclusive to Cruise Lines
MSC Cruises – Ocean Cay Marine Reserve, Bahamas MSC Cruises
This is the line’s first private island and one of the newest to open, having welcomed inaugural guests in December.
It has taken nearly three years to transform the former sand-extraction site into an eco-friendly and sustainable marine reserve. Environmental experts helped to revitalise its ocean beds, marine life and endangered corals, and brought in more than 75,000 native shrubs to create lush, tropical surroundings.
Visitors can relax on the pristine sands or opt for water sports, such as kayaking and snorkelling. Spa treatments are offered in private cabanas and there’s a Bahamian craft village. A conservation centre will serve as an active base for coral education and research.
A one-week round-trip Caribbean sailing from Miami, which calls at Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Cozumel in Mexico and Ocean Cay Marine Reserve, departs on 12 September, costs from £1,559pp includes flights and gratuities (020 3426 3010; msccruises.co.uk).
Royal Caribbean International – Perfect Day, Bahamas, and Labadee, Haiti
Royal Caribbean leased CocoCay 20 years ago, and following a $250-million investment last year unveiled Perfect Day at CocoCay – a thrilling collection of watery spills, thrills and chill zones. Perfect Day’s water park boasts the highest waterslide in North America, the largest wave pool in the Caribbean and the largest freshwater lagoon, plus a hot-air balloon that offers the region’s loftiest vantage point at 450ft.
There’s also a beach club and the first over-water cabanas in the Bahamas. Its other beach resort, Labadee, located on a lush private peninsula in Haiti, is where you will find luxury private beach cabanas, an Alpine slide and the longest overwater zipline.
A nine-night package, comprising an eight-night round-trip Caribbean sailing from New York and an overnight hotel stay pre-cruise, departs on 12 November and costs from £1,454pp, including flights. It calls at Port Canaveral, Perfect Day at CocoCay and Nassau (01246 819819; bolsovercruiseclub.com)
Norwegian Cruise Line – Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas, and Harvest Caye, Belize
NCL was the first cruise company to snap up its own private island in 1977. The 250-acre Great Stirrup Cay, in the Bahamas, features an ocean boardwalk spanning the shoreline, a zipwire ride and an exclusive villa area, with an underwater snorkel garden.
In 2016, NCL added Harvest Caye, near Belize, which offers ziplining, suspension bridges and freefall jumps. Eco-activities include tours to see manatees and tropical birds, and the Butterfly Garden.
A seven-night Bahamas and Florida round-trip sailing from New York, departing 22 August, calls at Port Canaveral Great Stirrup Cay and Nassau. It costs from £2,022pp including flights (0333 241 2319; ncl.com)
Holland America Line – Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
Previously known as Little San Salvador, this isle serves both Holland America Line and its sister line, Carnival Cruise Line, with a line-up of guest features that range from private two-storey villas and beachside cabanas to its own pirate-ship waterslide.
Along with a variety of activities available, such as cycling trips, horse-riding along the white sand beaches and into the sea, families can dive into the water park featuring a giant fountain. Hammocks strung among the palm trees offer an idyllic way to while away the hours, and there’s even a chapel for weddings and vow renewals.
A one-week Western Caribbean round-trip cruise from Fort Lauderdale, calling at Half Moon Cay, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, departs on 21 November 2020, and costs from £1,269pp, including flights (0344 338 8605; hollandamerica.com).
Princess Cruises – Princess Cays, Bahamas
Situated on the tip of the Bahamian isle of Eleuthera, this 40-acre retreat is big on R&R with a long stretch of dazzling powder sand shore and its own observation tower, where visitors can soak up ocean views. Aside from activities such as biking tours and kayaking trips, its location also lends itself to exploring other parts of the island.
A one-week Western Caribbean round-trip voyage from Fort Lauderdale, calling at Princess Cays, St Thomas and St Maarten, departs on 28 November and costs from £1,134pp (0344 338 8663; princess.com).