Your clients could buy the newest Pirates of the Caribbean DVD when it's released on Dec. 5, or they could just head for Disney Cruise Line's (www.disneytravelagents.com) privately-owned island, Castaway Cay in the Bahamas. Fresh from the swashbuckling movie, the 175-foot, barnacle-encrusted "Flying Dutchman" ship is anchored just offshore. Disney's guests now line up in droves to have their photo snapped with the ship in the background, as they purportedly converse with Captain Jack Sparrow.
Not to be outdone, Holland America Line (www.hollandamerica.com)
just added a new scuba boat called "The Captain Jack Sparrow" to the
65-acre Half Moon Cay private isle it owns in the
Royal Caribbean International (www.cruisingpower.com)
has been operating CocoCay in the
In an exclusive to Travel Agent magazine, Dean Brown,
executive vice president shore operations, Princess Cruises (www.princess.com), revealed
that his line will open its first bungalows this week at Princess Cays, the
Princess has also recently added hundreds of additional
clam-shell cabanas—basically double lounge chairs with a top to pull down for
shade. The line opened its first island experience on the Grenadines in 1981,
shifted to another
In another exclusive, Disney told us it has extended its bicycle path on Castaway Cay almost a mile through the mangrove swamp, and is now building a new watchtower accessible from the path. By early 2007, families will be able to stop along the bike path and visit the tower for a bird's-eye view over the water and to the ship. Disney also recently added a new stingray adventure and upgraded equipment at Cookie's to diversify the food offerings for guests. The line has replaced electric grills with open pit barbecues, and added rotisserie chicken and other healthy food options.
A sampling of other major lines with private island-type experiences—some operated as leased rather than owned facilities—include Seabourn Cruise Line (www.seabourn.com) with its private beach retreat at Pricky Pear Cove just off Virgin Gorda, BVI; Costa Cruises (www.costacruises.com) with Catalina Island, part of the Dominican Republic; and MSC Cruises (www.msccruises.com) with Cayo Levantado, also in the Dominican Republic.
Opened just a year ago, Cayo Levantado is owned by the Dominican government and managed by a local Dominican company. But Rick Sasso, president and CEO, MSC Cruises USA, stresses that his line had detailed input into all facets of the island's development—everything from where to place the bars to the number of beach chairs. Cayo Levantado offers the latest, most comprehensive features, is a site dedicated for MSC guests when its ships call there, and has received "rave reviews," according to Sasso.
Why are so many lines investing in providing a top-of-line
private island experience?
"I just talked to a friend who just returned from Half
Moon Cay a few weeks ago, and she said it was awesome—very relaxing," says
Barbara Fischer of Carlson Wagonlit Travel/Elite Travel in
Disney confirms that Castaway Cay also earns the highest
marks of any of its
One interesting fact is that private islands appeal to both first-time and repeat island visitors. "Absolutely, Castaway Cay is a big part of the cruise experience, just as much talked about as our great entertainment and food and beverage [services]," says Balli.
When clients book a
Jeffrey Anderson, vice president of marketing,
Few residents live on the lines' islands so guest services
are mostly provided by the visiting ship's own crew, supplemented by some local
Some critics say the private isles have become choreographed
extensions of the cruise ship experience itself, lacking the culture, richness
or local color found in other
Balli says guests also like discovering a pristine
Many of the islands are extensive size-wise and boast much undeveloped land. For example, Half Moon Cay comprises 65 acres of a pristine 2,400 acre island and has been designated by the Bahamian National Trust as an international wild birds preserve. Depending on the island, guests might go bird watching, take nature hikes, go bicycling on remote trails through mangrove swamps, snorkel along reef areas, or interact with stingrays.
Many isles feature kayaking, aqua-bikes, ping pong, volleyball, and water toys galore. Families might snorkel along a "manmade" reef created by Disney complete with underwater Mickey and Minnie, an old tugboat and other diversions. On CocoCay, Royal Caribbean guests might soar 400 feet above the water on a parasailing adventure.
Relaxation is another prime activity ashore. NCL's Great Stirrup Cay has a massage hut with two tables, and most islands also offer select spa or massage services ashore in private cabanas.
One challenge has been tendering guests from ship to shore.
Even when skies are sunny, if waters are too choppy, sometimes tenders can't
operate. Disney alleviated that by building its own dock, which Balli says
benefits both schedule integrity and guest convenience. Guests return to the
ship and walk onboard at any time, without waiting in a tender line. To smooth
out its tendering operation,
What's the future of cruise line private island
destinations? Industry vet Larry Pimentel, president and CEO, SeaDream Yacht
says the islands will continue to be important to the industry because
"exclusivity always sells." Lines have control of the set-up and
delivery of the private isle experience, he says, "and this enables lines
to avoid traffic in high-density areas like the
Generally, lines only allow their own ships to call at the private isles, but some make exceptions for sister lines. Windstar Cruises (www.windstarcruises.com) vessels and Carnival Cruise Lines' (www.bookccl.com) Elation also call at Half Moon Cay. Celebrity Cruises also calls in 2007 at Royal Caribbean's Labadee.
Balli believes agents should definitely use the private island concept as a cruise selling point, and Brown thinks the concept is "undersold" by both lines and agents.
"This is an opportunity for agents who can sense that something about the private island experience may appeal to a particular client," says Brown. "It's one extra selling point." Meadows says agents who have been to a private island and can relate their experiences have a distinct advantage.
"Ultimately, we may start choosing a cruise line for
the private island experience, much in the way we now choose a cruise line for
a certain ship," says Anderson. "I see [at some point] the private
island moving to the forefront."