Jodi Ornstein, Editor, Porthole Cruise Magazine Published 8:23 a.m. ET Feb. 22, 2017 | Updated 17 hours ago
An aerial view of Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s private island in the Bahamas.(Photo: Holland America)
Planning a cruise to the Bahamas or the Caribbean for the first time? There’s a concept with which you’ll have to become familiar: The cruise line private island. Nearly every major brand has one, and they factor into a wide range of itineraries in the regions.
While some are bigger (and more elaborate) than others, they all are designed to serve up that perfect beach day, offering beaches lined with lounge chairs, water sports (normally available for an extra charge), activities such as zip lining and usually at least a few bars overlooking the water. There also often are kiddie play areas, and a staple of the experience at nearly all of the islandsis a big beach barbecue.
One of the newest private islands, Norwegian Cruise Line’s just-unveiled Harvest Caye, just off the coast of Belize, also serves as a hub for tours to the mainland of the country. In fact, Norwegian doesn’t even like to call it a private island. It’s a new gateway to Belize, the company says (scroll through the carousel above for USA TODAY’s first look at Harvest Caye).
Could Harvest Caye be the Caribbean’s new cruising hot spot?
Looking for that classic private beach experience on your next cruise? Here are Porthole Cruise Magazine’sfive favorite private islands.
1.Half Moon Cay. Consistently voted No. 1 among private islands in Porthole Cruise Magazine’s Readers Choice Awards, this Holland America-owned escape boasts miles of white sand and water sports, nature hikes and deep-sea fishing. You can reserve a private seaside air-conditioned cabana (for up to 25 people) or encounter gentle rays at Stingray Cove. Half Moon Lagoon, the islands aqua park, is a favorite for kids.
Dont Miss:One excursion lets you ride horseback along a winding trailto the highest point of the island. After taking in the panoramic view, you head back down to a beach to ride right into the surf, getting a rarechance to experience what it’s like on a swimming horse.
Two-story beach villas are available for an extra charge at Holland America’s private island in the Bahamas, Half Moon Cay.(Photo: Holland America)
2. Castaway Cay.Theres no need to tender to shore at this Disney Cruise Line-owned island, where ships pull right up to a custom-built pier a rarity among private islands operated by cruise lines. Children will love Scuttles Cove, an expansive kiddie area supervised by Disney counselors, and there also are a number of water play areas. Kids (and adults, too) also will have a chance to interact withDisney characters who wait on the island to greet them.
Dont Miss: You can book an open-air massage in a private cabana overlooking Serenity Bay, Castaway Cay’squiet adults-only beach. You’ll hear the sounds of the waves and be buffeted by a cooling ocean breeze during the treatment.
The Disney Dream docked at Castaway Cay, Disneys 1,000-acre private island in the Bahamas.(Photo: David Roark)
3. Great Stirrup Cay. Cruises to the Bahamas with Norwegian Cruise Line always feature a day at this250-acre private island, which has been getting a lot of upgrades in recent years.Relax on white-sand beaches, perhaps in a private beachfront cabana; snorkel, kayak, or parasail; or take part in a sting-ray encounter.
Dont Miss: A new lagoon retreat debuting this summer will feature a secluded, pristine beach area; exclusive dining options; luxury beach villas available at an extra charge; and even a swim-up bar along the waterfront. It’ll be open on a complimentary basis to passengers staying in suites and Haven cabins on Norwegian ships. Passengers who book a spa massage on the island also will gain access as will a limited number of additional passengers willing to pay an extra charge.
A couple walks along the beach at Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian Cruise Line’s private island in the Bahamas.(Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)
4.Labadee. One of two private beach destinations operated by Royal Caribbean, Labadee isn’t actually an island. It’s located on the north coast of Haiti. But it has much in common with the private islands operated by other lines, as it’s a self-contained hideaway. Surrounded by gorgeous mountain scenery, Labadee offers pristine beaches, plenty of water sports and thrills such as the Dragons Tail Coaster, a 30-mile-an-hour ride through the lush mountainside. (Royal Caribbean’s second private beach destination, is CocoCay in the Bahamas, which often is included as a stop on voyages to the Bahamas).
Dont Miss:Labadee boasts the 2,600-foot-long Dragons Breath Flight Line, long billed as the longest zip line in the world over water. From the takeoff point at 500 feet above the beach, youll soar down the side of a mountain at 40 to 50 mph.
Royal Caribbean’s private beach destination of Labadee is located on the coast of Haiti.(Photo: Royal Caribbean International)
5.Princess Cays.Situated on more than 40 acres and featuring more than a half mile of white-sand shoreline, Princess Cruises’ private island offers a local craft market, activities that range from volleyball to water sports, a cool over-water deck that makes for aperfect for fish-spotting. There also are private air-conditioned bungalows for up to four peopleavailable for rent, and a supervised sand playground for kids called Pelicans Perch.
Dont Miss:For sweeping views that take in thebeach andoceanand your ship in the distance, too, make your way to the Crows Nest Overlook, an observation tower that boasts 360-degree views of the island.
Paddle wheelers are among the water toys that can be rented out at Princess Cays, Princess’ private island in the Bahamas. Snorkel equipment, sea boards, floats and kayaks also are available.(Photo: Princess Cruises)
Porthole Cruise Magazine is one of the most widely read travel magazines focused on all things cruise related. Published bimonthly, it offers ship reviews, destination features and stories on the latest trends in on-board cuisine, spa services, entertainment and more. It’s available on newsstands and by both print and digital subscriptions.
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5 gorgeous private islands you can visit by cruise ship – USA TODAY