Private Islands

Posted on Thursday, February 2, 2012 |
Several cruise lines have private islands in the Caribbean which are reserved exclusively for the ships and their passengers. These are designed to be small paradises catering to every tropical fantasy, and they often succeed. Everything is arranged and prepared for the passengers to step off and into the perfect island visit.

Private islands can cause a bit of a rift in the cruising community, with some salivating at the idea of a private paradise and others labelling it fake and staged. Both valid opinions, and whether or not you will enjoy a private island depends on what your tastes are and what you want to get out of your holiday. A private island does not have the cultural authenticity of a real city or town, that much is true. While they are often staffed by native islanders, and there may be cultural performances and handmade souvenirs, it is not real life. If you are not a beach-lover and more of a sightseer, a private island is likely not the place for you, and if you love to get off the ship, get amongst the locals, wander the side streets and get a real taste of the destination, it definitely won't be your favourite stop.

However, don't write off a private island completely- they have their perks. After all, if you were looking for an action packed adventure of local culture and little-known sights, wouldn't you be backpacking in Africa rather than cruising the Caribbean? A cruise is a holiday, and a private island delivers an incredible opportunity to relax that many other ports don't. The beaches are raked in preparation for passengers arriving, lounge chairs are provided, and the island is staffed with people whose intention, like the staff on the ship, is to look after the passengers and make sure they have a good time.  The islands are always beautiful too, with white sand and turquoise water- the very best of the Caribbean. The island is set up to be the perfect beach port, where you can relax in the sun if you want to or experience the natural wonders with watersports.

There are no hawkers forcing their wares upon you, no traffic and no need to bring wallet with you if you don't want to or pay extra to eat- the food onshore (usually a BBQ banquet) is free- an extension of the ship's dining area- and most rentals of snorkelling equipment or the like can be put on your cruise card. Be aware however that at a lot of private island souvenirs must be paid for in cash. Another big plus is that a lot of the islands run kid's programmes onshore- so your kids can be looked after and have fun whilst still getting off the ship!

Here are some of the cruise lines' islands:

Royal Caribbean's CocoCay

This white-sand beauty is located in the Berry Islands chain of the Bahamas. Hammocks and lounge chairs are scattered all over for some serious relaxing, and if you want to get moving, the nature trails have recently been updated and there is Caylanas Aqua Park, a floating playground. Parasailing is also available, as well as the usual watersports- snorkelling, diving and the like. Very minimal souvenirs are on sale- wallets not required! An island-style seaside BBQ is complimentary, and sodas and alcohol can be purchased with your cruise card as aboard the ship.

by DJ Speiss Flickr Creative Commons

Disney Cruise Line's Castaway Cay

Disney's private island is an extension of the magical Disney experience. The line is aimed at kids, and Castaway Cay is no exception. There are 2 water play areas which will delight the young ones, and a teens-only activity area onshore. There is a supervised 3-12 yrs youth program, so parents can enjoy one of the island's highlights- Serenity Bay, and adults-only beach with open-air massages, a bar and yoga classes. Paradise! There is swimming, snorkelling and kayaking to be done, glass-bottom boat, stingray encounter and parasailing adventures available, bikes for hire, a shipwreck and Disney characters around. Cook's BBQ is free on the island from 11am-2pm, with non-alcoholic drinks free. Castaway Cay also has a pier, so it is not a tender port, making it easy to get on and off the ship.

Castaway Cay
by Anthony Flickr Creative Commons

Shipwreck at Castaway Cay
by Mike Miley Flickr Creative Commons

Princess Cruises' Princess Cays

Located on the tiny island of Eleuthera, Princess Cays is a resort exclusive to Princess passengers. here you can relax in a hammock, enjoy the beach BBQ or get up and take a wild banana-boat ride. There is ana rea for children's activities, a BBQ lunch, sports and of course a white-sand beach. You can enjoy the beautiful water by renting a foating mattress or take a closer look at what's underneath with snorkelling over the coral reef. As Princess Cays occupies only part of the island, it is possible to venture further to the "real world!"

Princess Cays
by Derek Hatfield Flickr Creative Commons

Norwegian Cruise Line's Great Stirrup Cay

The first of the cruise line private islands, Great Stirrup Cay. Here there are the usual beach BBQs, coconut palms and pristine water which you can enjoy with a multitude of watersports. Recently upgraded, with features still being added, it has a water slide and kid's play area, a straw market, a new bar and dining facilities. Should you want to get out and about a bit, you can try parasailing, a waverunner tour circling the island, Eco-Adventure boat tours, kayaking or snorkeling. There are also nature trails where you can work off your BBQ lunch and see some of the tropical island.

Great Stirrup Cay
by jenn Flickr Creative Commons

Author: Ryan Posa+

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