Private Islands and Families

Private Islands Make Fabulous Memories for Families and Romantic Couples

Private butlers and other luxury amenities cater to those who want to be pampered, while plenty of island activities appeal to people on the go.

A recent visit to Half Moon Cay, Holland America Line’s private island in the Bahamas, illustrates the cruise travel industry’s ongoing effort to exceed the expectations of its guests. Air-conditioned, open-air beach cabanas are available just a few steps from warm, blue, pristine waters. Private butlers magically appear (for a small fee) from nowhere to fill one’s beverage glass; others prepare hot and chilled appetizers, as well as cool cucumbers to sooth guests’ eyes from the tropical sun.

Is this heaven? Not quite, but these breathtaking private islands surely are memorable for cruisers wanting to enjoy total stress reduction.

Many Caribbean cruises include a stop at some of the Caribbean Sea’s most picturesque islands. Turquoise waters, stunning coral reefs, beautiful beaches, native fauna and wildlife draw the awe of visitors. For the more active crowd, a variety of optional island exploration and water sports activities keep people busy all day long.

Beach umbrellas, cabanas and other shady spots are available to those who want to step out of the sun. Beachside massages sooth the senses. Guests who want privacy are invited to visit many of the islands’ more isolated and secluded beaches. Families are more than welcome, with plenty to do for all ages, including aqua parks, hiking trails and other kid-friendly activities. Many areas on the islands are handicap accessible.

The following is a rundown on the private island ports of call by cruise line:

Costa Cruises – Costa Cruises voyages stop at Catalina Island, located just 1.5 miles from the southeast corner of the mainland of the Dominican Republic. The line has a private beach on this island that features activities such as volleyball, snorkeling, “beach Olympics” and massages. Vacationers can also rent jet skis, go for banana-boat rides or simply relax on the beach. Day tours that explore the island are popular. It’s a treasure trove of culture and relaxation, with local musicians and exclusive shopping that add to its charm.

Disney Cruise Line – Disney’s Castaway Cay provides plenty of magical fun for people of all ages, and caters to guests in true Disney style, with all the conveniences. A major bonus of Castaway Cay is that the island features cruise ship-docking capabilities (versus shuttle boats between the ship and island), which allows guests to easily travel back and forth to their ship. Attractions include the Castaway Family Beach, Serenity Bay for adults, a teens-only activity area called The Hide Out and supervised programs for children at Scuttle’s Cove. There are also numerous water sports, biking, snorkeling parasailing, fishing and various water tour excursions.

Holland America – Holland America’s Half Moon Cay has been ranked “Best Private Island” by Porthole Cruise Magazine for 14 years running, and is located on Little San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. (The island must remain 98% undeveloped as an international bird sanctuary.) The Cay’s 700-acre lagoon allows guests to feed stingrays and enjoy various water sports, a children’s aqua park and a buoyed personal watercraft course. Other features include private beachside cabanas with private butler service, showers and misters and eco-tours by glass-bottom boat.

Norwegian Cruise Line – Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian’s private island, is located approximately 120 nautical miles east of Fort Lauderdale in the Berry Island chain of the Bahamas, Great Stirrup Cay features snorkeling, paddle boats, sailboats, kayaks and parasailing. They’ve expanded their beachfront area, added a new Tender Pavilion (which makes getting on and off the island easier) and new dining facilities. The island also has “Cabanas on the Cay” (private beachfront cabanas) which offer exclusive amenities–and the line reports that they are already completely pre-booked.

Norwegian also intends to include a new winding river and additional nature trails and beaches to this already-impressive island. The Hippo Water Slide, the world’s largest inflatable waterslide – 40 feet high and 175 feet long– remains a visitor favorite. (This feature does incur a separate cost, but families report it’s not to be missed.) Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Oceania and MSC Cruises will also sail to Great Stirrup Cay in 2016.

Norwegian is also currently developing a new private island experience, Harvest Caye. Harvest Caye is located in Belize and will feature an exclusive beach, a pool, watersports lagoon, and private cabanas. It will open in November 2016.

Paul Gauguin Cruises – Paul Gauguin visits Motu Mahana, part of the Society Islands. This lovely island offers a world of culture, with local crafts and cuisine, along with music and vanilla plantation tours. There is also waterskiing, kayaking and windsurfing available for the sports-minded crowd.

Princess Cruises – The line visits Princess Cays, which is located on the southern portion of Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas, approximately 80 miles from Nassau. This lovely island features white-sand beaches and turquoise waters that make for great snorkeling and swimming. Water lovers can also rent aqua bikes, seaboards, paddleboats, clear-hull kayaks, sailboats or float rafts. Guests looking for pure relaxation can do some shopping, taste the island cuisine and exotic cocktails or just soak up the warm Caribbean sun. There are plenty of beach umbrellas, tiki huts and hammocks hung beneath dozens of shady trees.

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity – Coco Cay, which features the 20,000 square-foot aqua playground Caylana’s Castle Cove, is an island designed exclusively for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity passengers. It’s a perfect spot for water lovers, featuring a white-sand beach, wave runners and snorkeling among coral reefs with vibrant tropical fish and sunken wrecks. Perhaps the most popular activity on Coco Cay, however, is parasailing, where guests ascend to 400 feet and get a bird’s-eye view of the island.

The lines’ second island getaway, Labadee, has seen recent enhancements, and now features seven different “neighborhoods” (Buccaneer’s Bay, Dragon’s Plaza, Labadee Town Square, Adrenaline Beach, Columbus Cove, Nellie’s Beach and the Barefoot Beach Club) that have individualized offerings. Ride a rollercoaster at Adrenaline Beach, play at the aqua park in Columbus Cove or lounge in one of 20 private cabanas at the Beach Club (an experience exclusive to guests residing in a Grand Suite or above).

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