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Private Islands

August 31, 2009 By: Susan Young Travel Agent


Princess Cays

Princess Cays is Princess' private-island call in the Bahamas

If clients are on the lookout for a paradise in the Caribbean, maybe an island all to themselves to explore and soft beaches to sink their toes in, Richard Branson’s private Necker Island is available for a nightly rent upward of $25,000. Or, more affordably, they could just take a cruise!

Many Caribbean cruise itineraries beckon with a full-bodied private-island experience—white sands, nature walks, wildlife encounters, fun in the waters, spa treatments, supervised programs for kids and, of course, plenty of food, drink and pampering. And even though your clients will share the island with other shipmates, they will, in all likelihood, spread out in search of the paradise of their dreams.

Holland America Line says calls at its private island, Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, get the highest guest ratings for any port it visits worldwide. The island is also used by Carnival Cruise Lines.

Understanding the Draw

What’s the draw of a private-island experience on an itinerary? How can it help agents sell the itineraries? And what’s new for winter 2009-10? Travel Agent spoke with several cruise lines and cruise-selling agents for their perspectives.

“I love the break that a private island does to an itinerary,” says Vicky Garcia, senior vice president of sales and marketing, Cruise Planners. “They are a retreat from the ‘excursion-heavy’ ports, where there are things to do. However, I just use it to spend time with my family doing ‘just about nothing.’”

Another plus? “One of the best-selling features of the private islands is that you are literally taking the cruise-ship experience from the ship to land,” says Margie Jordan, owner, ASAP Travel, Jacksonville, FL. She appreciates that her clients, for a change, aren’t overwhelmed by vendors seeking to sell local goods, as they might be in other beach destinations.

All purchases are charged to the guest’s onboard account, so clients needn’t be concerned about carrying cash, says Jordan. Besides, “there is [most often] only one ship in port at a time, so there’s no need to worry about throngs of people exiting multiple ships at the same time,” she adds.

Updates for Agents

Princess Cruises’ private-island experience is on one tip of Eleuthera in the Bahamas, where the ships anchor offshore. Debuting this fall on Princess Cays is a relatively secluded adults-only “sanctuary” area. Here, Princess is building seven private, air-conditioned bungalows, 12 feet by 8 feet in size, each boasting a trellis terrace of the same dimensions.


Many Disney Cruise Line itineraries include a port call at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas

Other Princess Cays upgrades include more shade cover over the pirate ship within the kids’ area to help keep them cool. A concrete ramp now connects the snorkel shop to the observation desk—making it more accessible to wheelchair guests. Sixteen new drinking fountains have also been added, five of which can be accessed by wheelchair users.

Princess conducted a shore-trip trial called “A Taste of Eleuthera” in the previous season. This year, it has been sanctioned as a regular shore trip with a $99-per-person price tag. Guests will board air-conditioned transportation and venture beyond the Princess Cays beach area. They will enjoy viewing the island’s lush vegetation and ponds, and pass through quaint villages with beautiful chapels like the seaside St. Columba in Tarpum Bay, whose origin dates back to the 1800s.

Photo stops are made at Castle MacMillan and Rock Sound Harbor, where visits are made to the South Eleuthera Mission Library and Museum, and a one-of-a-kind natural phenomenon—an ocean hole that drops to an undetermined depth. At Four Points Marina Village, guests chow down on an authentic native lunch with some Junkanoo for entertainment.

At Half Moon Cay, sister line Holland America has a new pirate-themed play area to delight children. The area boasts two kid-size pirate ships that let children imagine themselves as buccaneers living their own adventure. (Carnival’s guests, too, can take a break on the island on certain

Physically challenged clients will appreciate new wheelchair ramps at Half Moon Cay’s water sports center and a wheelchair path to the beach. In addition, a new plant-and-vegetable nursery has been set up as an establishment of sustainable pastures for horses. The nursery will be added to the line’s walking-tour excursion.

Fitness enthusiasts will enjoy the recently unveiled 5K running course at Half Moon Cay; the course is now marked on the line’s island maps. It runs from the Marina to the lagoon, past the Horse Corral and Stingray Park, and then ends back at the Marina.

Another Half Moon Cay feature is a three-mile guided bicycle tour on smooth, newly paved roads; it costs $19 per person. Clients pedal from the Oceanfront Water-sports Rental Center along Half Moon Beach to Bone Fish Lagoon. Along the way, the guide points out historically significant sites and identifies flora and fauna, including many species of birds.

As clients return, raving about private-island experiences, it’s likely the cruise lines will continue to upgrade and enhance the experience. “One of my favorite [private-island experiences] is Royal Caribbean’s Labadee,” says Jordan. “It offers lots of coves and beautiful beaches, not to mention the rainforest.”

Jordan has also taken a liking to Disney’s Castaway Cay, the only private island with an actual dock so that guests can avoid tendering and instead walk on and off from the ship at their leisure. The 1,000-acre private island is about to undergo  refurbishments to provide new and enhanced amenities for families and couples who cruise to the destination.

Private-Island Perks

Margie Jordan, owner, ASAP Travel, Jacksonville, FL, shared her thoughts with Travel Agent on the perks of a private-island experience:

• “A private-island experience is great for a client who does not want to be ‘sold something’ immediately upon exiting the ship. I have clients who avoid certain ports of call because they feel pressured by local merchants into making purchases.”

• “The private-island clients will love the cabanas and the opportunity for total relaxation on a beautiful island.”

• “If a client chooses not to disembark to enjoy the island, [he/she] could virtually have an empty ship to enjoy to themselves, so the private-island experience turns into a private ship experience!”

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