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Cruise Lines' Private Islands
Your Caribbean Place in the Sun

Horseback riding on Half Moon Cay

When describing the “best” Caribbean port they visited, many cruise passengers might mention a destination you’ve never heard of. Half Moon Cay? Great Stirrup Cay? Castaway Cay? Where are they? Definitely off the beaten track, those are cruise line private islands.

Established to provide a beach break on an island (or part of one) reserved for their exclusive use, most passengers don’t select an itinerary based solely upon whether their chosen ship calls at a private island, but usually consider the stop a highlight of their cruise vacation. The very least you can expect of your private paradise is lush foliage and wide swath of beach surrounded by azure water. Facilities vary, but a beach barbeque, water sports equipment rental, lounge chairs, hammocks, and bathrooms are standard. Youth counselors generally come ashore to conduct sand castle building competitions and lead junior pirates on swashbuckling island treasure hunts.

Wheelchairs and strollers equipped with all-terrain wheels may be offered on a first-come, first-served, complimentary basis. However, with the exception of some participation sports on the beach, plan to pay for most water toys and activities on the privates island. Reserved on board the ship or once you reach shore, costs associated with private island fun and recreation can range from $6 for use of a snorkel vest (you may use your own snorkel equipment, but in the event that a flotation vest is required, you must rent one) to $30 for rental of an entire snorkeling outfit for the day (mask, fins, snorkel vest, a mesh bag, fish identification card, and fish food). You can take a banana boat ride for $16 to $19 (15-minute ride), sail a small boat or catamaran for $30 to $50 (one hour), paddle a kayak for $18 to $30 (half-hour), ride a jet ski for $59 to $95 (three-quarters to one hour), or parasail for a hefty $69 to $79 (10 minutes or less). Floating mats are a bargain at about $10 for all-day lounging in the water. Make your reservation in the ship’s spa for treatments in open air massage cabanas.

As on board ship, there is no charge for food or basic beverages; however soft drinks and tropical cocktails can be charged to your shipboard account. While you only need your ship’s card to pay for those, you might want to bring a small amount of cash ashore for souvenir shopping. You will also want to bring along the beach towels provided on the ship. Don't forget to return them to the ship at the end of the day because, as Princess Cruises reminds passengers, “Although locals may offer to do this for you, unfortunately we seldom see the towels again!”

Even if you do nothing more than lie in a shaded hammock and sip fruity tropical concoctions, the day can be the best part of your cruise.

Cruise Lines’ Islands in the Sun

Surprisingly, Carnival Cruise Lines is the only major cruise line without an extensive private island experience to call their own. However, on select itineraries, certain ships in the Carnival fleet call at Half Moon Cay, Holland America Line’s private paradise. In similar fashion, Regent Seven Seas Cruises occasionally calls at Princess Cays and Cayo Leventado for beach days in an exclusive setting. In the strictest sense, luxury lines SeaDream Yacht Club don’t call at private islands, but offer a secluded beach day ashore where passengers enjoy lavish barbeques, snorkeling, swimming, and even indulge in champagne and caviar served in the surf.

 Go ashore with Cruise Diva to these cruise lines’ private sanctuaries:

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