It was an idea pioneered by NCL several decades ago: offer cruise passengers a beach day on a private island (Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas' Berry Islands). The idea took hold and now a number of cruise lines (Costa, Disney, Holland America, Princess and Royal Caribbean) in addition to Norwegian Cruise Line feature stops at private islands or parts of islands for the use of their passengers.
These mini-paradises feature in addition to beaches, the creature comforts for a day of sunshine and sea spray: lounge chairs/umbrellas, water toys, bars, a barbecue lunch served at food pavilions or under canopies with tropical bands entertaining, and programs of activities and optional excursions.
It is an easy, carefree day of fun in the sun (you don't even have to bring a towel--they furnish them for the day's use) and definitely more private than going to the port of call's public beaches. Some private islands also have unexpected features like a wedding-vow-renewal chapel on Half Moon Cay (Holland America); cultural experiences on Labadee (Royal Caribbean); characters on Disney Cruise Line.
Generally, the private islands have much better and cleaner changing/showering facilities than public beaches. And perhaps because of all this and the ease of visiting a private island, passengers often list these stops as their favorite of their Caribbean and Bahamian itineraries, cruise lines report.
Here are details of cruise line's private islands/beaches:
Castaway Cay - Disney's private island is a 1,000-acre tropical idyll in the Bahamas, amid the Abaco Islands, with white-sand beaches and aquamarine waters. A port of call on the line's Caribbean and Bahamas itineraries, this 3.1 by 2.2 isle is the only one of cruise lines' private islands and beaches that has a pier where the ship can dock at, so guests can get off and on as they wish--other private islands do not have one, and passengers must be transported to the island via tenders, an operation which requires a wait, particularly in the mornings when everyone is eager to get off the ship and get onto the island at once.
Highlights of Castaway Cay include family, teen and adults-only beaches for swimming, sunning and snorkeling, the Flying Dutchman ship used in the filming of The Pirates of the Caribbean series, a post office for getting your postcards postmarked from Castaway Cay, gift shop, BBQ, bars, hair-braiding, open-air massages, bike and walking trails, kayaks and paddleboats, optional shore activities like stingray interaction, parasailing and fishing, and supervised children's activities.
Oh, and you may bump into Mickey Mouse, Captain Hook, Mr. Smee and other Disney characters. Visit www.disneycruise.com.
Catalina Island - Costa Cruises uses this island off the southeastern coast of the Dominican Republic, near La Romana, for its passengers on some Caribbean itineraries. The line does not own the island, but along with Casa de Campo, has priority rights for its use.
There is a long stretch of palm-dotted beach for swimming or floating on a rented mat, and pastimes include volleyball and other organized activities, massages in a cabana, music and a barbecue. Vendors sell island souvenirs, offer banana boat rides and rent jet-skis. Visit www.costacruise.com.
CocoCay - This 138-acre island (Little Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas' Berry Islands) offers a private island experience to Royal Caribbean International's passengers. It has beautiful beaches, food and drinks, organized pastimes including limbo contests, volleyball tournaments, and children's activities.
A variety of water sports is available, including snorkeling--snorkelers can see a replica of a pirate galleon. When you just want to relax, one of the hammocks may be the ticket. Visit www.royalcaribbean.com.
Great Stirrup Cay - The one that started it all, Great Stirrup Cay has a lovely stretch of beach with crystalline waters. Passengers can settle in on one of the many beach chairs and spend the day sunbathing or under the shade of umbrellas and palm trees. Lunch is served to the tune of a tropical band, and there are many opportunities for water sports including parasailing, snorkeling, sailing and banana boat riding. Visit www.ncl.com.
Half Moon Cay - Ever wanted to renew your wedding vows on an island idyll? Half Moon Cay has a beautiful seaside chapel for just that. For those who would like to relax in the sun there are plenty of beach chairs, as well as blue canvas cabanas for people who prefer the shade.
Optional programs abound and include horseback riding, stingray encounters, windsurfing, kayaking, snorkeling, parasailing and deep-sea fishing. Organized activities include volleyball and tug-of-war, and for the kids treasure hunts and sand castle building. You can get a massage at one of the tent stations or an ice cream bar at a stand. There are bars for additional refreshments and a barbecue lunch is served at a pavilion. Visit www.hollandamerica.com.
Labadee - Located on a 267-acre peninsula in Haiti's north coast this is another of Royal Caribbean's enclaves. In addition to the pleasures of the sea and sun, Labadee offers cultural pastimes including a folkloric show, tropical bands and artisans' market.
Families with children will appreciate a water park, Arawak Cay, featuring water seesaws, slides and more. Visit www.royalcaribbean.com.
Princess Cays - Princess Cruises' vessels stop at this idyll on Eleuthera in the Bahamas on Caribbean itineraries. Guests can opt to enjoy water sports (perhaps rent a sailboat, clear-hull kayak or aqua-bike?) or do some shopping for Bahamian souvenirs or take an optional excursion during their day on the island. Optional tours include everything from snorkeling and glass-bottom boat adventures to scuba diving and deep sea fishing excursions. Visit www.princess.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun