The private island life is what dreams are made of. Pristine white-sand beaches. Crystal clear turquoise waters. Beautiful palm trees. Except that these days, private islands can often be so much more. Some destinations now include thrilling entertainment optins like water slides, zip lines and more. The best part? You can easily gain access to these exclusive shores without a bulging bank account.
That’s right. Many cruise lines offer their own private island destinations with gorgeous beaches and a ton of activities for all passengers on board. The secluded experience may last only a day when the ship is at port, but it’s pure paradise while it lasts. In fact, the private destination day is often the highlight of a cruise, creating travel memories that last a lifetime.
Today’s cruise ships have plenty of amenities onboard to keep you busy for days on end, but these eight private destinations are worth the entire trip. You simply have to set sail and experience them for yourself.
1. Perfect Day at CocoCay, Bahamas
This 140-acre Bahamian island is conveniently located between Freeport and Nassau and has been a Royal Caribbean port since 1990. This May, Royal Caribbean unveiled a $250 million renovation of the already idyllic island. Aptly renamed Perfect Day at CocoCay, it is now home to the tallest water slide in North America at 135 feet and the largest freshwater pool in the Caribbean at 33,175 square feet. Guests can choose to relax on Chill Island or get their adrenaline pumping on Thrill Island. The Thrill side is filled with 13 water slides, a massive wave pool, an adventure pool and a zip line.
Alternatively, Chill Island offers hammocks, cabanas, lounge chairs, a pool with a swim-up bar and serene sandy beaches. Another appealing feature is the approximately $50 million pier, built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane. It allows passengers the convenience of walking from the ship to the shore and back at their leisure (most other private destinations require tenders to reach the islands).
Later this year, the Coco Beach Club will open with the Bahamas’ first overwater cabanas as an elevated way for passengers to relax on the island for an extra fee.
Perfect Day at CocoCay is just the beginning. Soon, Royal Caribbean will add more islands to its Perfect Day Island Collection, which will expand to include a total of five islands in Asia, Australia and the Caribbean in the coming years.
2. Castaway Cay, Bahamas
Disney Cruise Line docks at Castaway Cay, a 1,000-acre island in the northern Bahamas. Walt Disney Company owns the island, so you know the experience onshore will be magical. There are beaches, walking trails, food and, of course, your favorite Disney characters. As an added bonus, you can complete the RunDisney Castaway Cay 5k, a 3.1-mile run that goes around the island, and which is open to runners and walkers.
This particular island also has a fascinating cinematic history. It was right on these shores that Tom Hanks found his mermaid, Daryl Hannah, in the movie Splash and Disney recently added a 175-foot Flying Dutchman ghost pirate ship just off shore for visitors to enjoy. This was the actual prop used in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.
3. Half Moon Cay
Formerly known as Little San Salvador, Holland America purchased this 2,400-acre island for $6 million and renamed it Half Moon Cay. Passengers on Holland America’s Caribbean and Panama Canal sailings as well as select Carnival ships get to enjoy the private retreat. The 98%-undeveloped Cay is an international bird sanctuary and also features a 700-acre lagoon home to stingrays and ideal for other water sports.
4. Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas
Among the Bahamas Berry Islands, this 250-acre island is 130 nautical miles east of Fort Lauderdale. While on shore, Norwegian Cruise Line passengers can enjoy sandy beachfront, a family-friendly Aqua Park and restaurants and bars.
5. Harvest Caye, Belize
Norwegian Cruise Line partnered with the government of Belize to open up Harvest Caye to passengers on Norwegian, Oceania and Regent cruises through the Western Caribbean. There is a massive pool, beachfront lounging and a nature center as well as beautiful beaches and turquoise waters.
6. Ocean Cay Marine Reserve, Bahamas
Located in the Bimini islands in the western Bahamas, this environmental paradise will open to MSC passengers by the end of 2019. It will have eight pristine beaches surrounded by protected waters and a coral nursery. There will be an underwater tour of the MSC Marine Reserve available or guests can snorkel around and explore on their own. Conveniently located 65 miles from Miami, ships will be able to stay docked well past sunset so guests can soak up even more of the island paradise. The nearby smaller island will also available for private group rentals.
7. Motu Mahana, Taha’a
Paul Gauguin Cruises visits this island in the Society Islands of French Polynesia. There are many ways to enjoy this idyllic bit of French Polynesian paradise. On land, guests can peruse local crafts and sample traditional cuisine or tour a vanilla plantation. On the water, there are water sports and a floating bar on a boat. This lovely island offers a world of culture, with local crafts and cuisine, along with music and tours. There is also waterskiing, kayaking and windsurfing available for the sports-minded crowd.
Which island will you book a cruise to first?