What’s New in Cruise Line Private Islands

Norwegian Cruise Line is updating Great Stirrup Cay, its private Bahamian island experience. Cruisers can expect new luxurious amenities, adventure activities and enhanced and expanded dining options. 

Cruise line guests often rate their Caribbean “private island experience” highest in satisfaction for any port visited during their voyage. So not surprisingly, cruise lines are rapidly investing millions of dollars to enhance and elevate these resort-style, beach experiences. Here’s a sampling of what’s new for this year and next.

Most notably, Royal Caribbean International is investing $200 million to sizably transform CocoCay, its private Bahamian island experience, the first to receive a newly announced “Perfect Day Island Collection” concept, which it will extend to other spots worldwide. CocoCay’s new amenities and facilities will open in phases starting this September with the completion of a new pier. By spring 2019, most new CocoCay experiences will be ready for guest use.  

So what’s planned? CocoCay’s new Thrill Waterpark will consist of two water towers with 13 slides, among them is the 135-foot-high Daredevil’s Peak, which will become North America’s tallest waterslide. That new waterpark also will have a humongous wave pool and kid-friendly obstacle course pool. Also new will be Oasis Lagoon, a large freshwater pool with swim-up bar and in-pool loungers. A new 1,600-foot zip line — up to 50 feet high — will crisscross the island and feature a “water landing,” while a helium balloon, dubbed “Up, Up and Away,” will soar 450 feet above the ground. 

Two new beach experiences are also planned. “Chill Island” will offer cabanas and daybeds for cruisers to relax amid white powder-like sand with tropical water views, while “South Beach,” will be more action focused with volleyball, beachside basketball, soccer, paddle boarding, glass-bottom kayaking and “zorbing” in an inflatable zorb ball. The exclusive Coco Beach Club will offer an upscale island experience, including the Bahamas’ first overwater cabanas.

Calling at the revitalized CocoCay on three- and four-night cruises from Miami, FL, will be Mariner of the Seas, undergoing a $90 million modernization this summer. Also getting an even more extensive update is Navigator of the Seas, which will call at CocoCay in 2019.  

In recent months, Labadee, Royal Caribbean International’s other private island experience on Haiti has received new soft touches. Guests will see new bars in key areas, including a new floating bar at Adrenaline Beach and additional serene hammock areas to create that paradise lounging feel. 

A new waterpark will be a part of Royal Caribbean International’s $200 million transformation of CocoCay.

Carnival Corporation has been developing and constructing private island-style destinations for years and cruisers will find beach and island-like experiences at the following: Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos; Amber Cove, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic; Puerta Maya, Cozumel, Mexico; Mahogany Bay, Roatan, Honduras; and, of course, Half Moon Cay, Holland America Line’s private Bahamian island, and Princess Cays, a private island experience of Princess Cruises on Eleuthera in the  Bahamas. 

What’s new? Puerta Maya recently gained a new third berth so it now has more guest capacity, and Amber Cove has several new tours, including zip lining, voluntourism and adventure excursions. For example, “The Waterfalls of Damajagua” shore excursion is getting rave reviews (an average score of 4.9 out of 5 maximum) from past guests who post on Carnival’s website; it begins with a hike and then cruisers jump, slide and swim in mountain water pools at the base of each of the Damajagua falls. 

Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2017, Half Moon Cay’s biggest new feature is a 3,860-square-foot, pirate-themed kids’ waterpark, just completed in March. “We will continue to feature the island — which gets rave reviews and is one of our top-rated Caribbean destinations — on nearly all Caribbean itineraries,” says Erik Elvejord, a Holland America spokesman, who also emphasized that “only 4 percent of Half Moon Cay has been developed and much of the island remains a migratory bird reserve.” 

Going ashore at Half Moon Cay, guests can relax with a massage in an air-conditioned cabana; get married or renew their vows at a Bahamian-style chapel; bask on the beach or snorkel along the shoreline; or rent sailboats, catamarans, water trikes and other water toys from three watersports centers. Other fun? Guests can go horseback riding by land and sea, participate in a stingray adventure, book catch-and-release deep sea fishing trips, take eco tours by glass-bottom boat or head out on guided kayak trips or island bike rides. 

Half Moon Cay also is a popular port call on some Carnival Cruise Line itineraries, says Vance Gulliksen, a Carnival spokesman, noting that Carnival is working closely with the Holland America group so that — in future years — Half Moon Cay will be able to accommodate the largest Carnival ships, some already in the fleet and others on order.

Since 1992, the 40-acre Princess Cays has been a popular beach destination and private island experience on Eleuthera’s southern tip. The biggest news this year is that technology-focused guests and those wishing to keep in touch with family/friends back home can “surf the Web” ashore with MedallionNet Wi-Fi. Also new this year are new shore excursions and refurbished retail and bar areas, shops, landscaping and infrastructure. 

On February 17, Princess Cays introduced a new Lagoon clear-bottom kayaking adventure, a guided paddle through the Island’s lagoon. In addition, Island Bicycle Adventure offers a new leisurely bike ride to local hot spots. Guests also can rent water sports equipment from a newly constructed Davy Jones facility, and feed, touch and hold live stingrays in the new “Stingray Beach Encounter.”  

A recent expansion of the marina area is allowing larger tenders to dock. Recently, a security pre-clearance area was added; a new information booth features a shaded waiting lounge area and new public announcement / music system; and many island structures have been painted in tropical pastels. There is also a new guest services station at the Welcome Center, which is distributing towels and water. Beach bungalows also were updated.  

In addition to serving Princess’ ships, during 2017, Princess Cays also began welcoming Carnival Cruise Line ships. “In 2018, we plan to increase our calls to this beautiful private destination that has been met with an exceptional response from our guests,” says Gulliksen. 

Since 1992, the 40-acre Princess Cays has been a popular beach destination and private island experience on Eleuthera’s southern tip. 

Norwegian Cruise Line is sizably updating Great Stirrup Cay, the line’s private Bahamian island experience. Cruisers can expect new luxurious amenities, adventure activities and enhanced and expanded dining options. A latest complimentary taco bar, Abaco Taco, was added and existing dining areas upgraded with new resort-style decking, family-style seating and shaded areas. While soaking up the sun, guests can order a mojito at the Bacardi Bar or sip on a margarita at the Patron Bar. 

Great Stirrup Cay’s 22 private beach cabanas also were recently upgraded with padded, resort-style lounge chairs and shaded lounge sofas. Yet to come later this year? Guests seeking the ultimate island luxury will experience a retreat like no other at an exclusive lagoon enclave, featuring a secluded beach, oceanview restaurant, Mandara Spa, sheltered family area and 38 air-conditioned private villas available for reservations.

Families seeking an underwater journey at Great Stirrup Cay can head for Norwegian’s “Underwater Sculpture Garden” and snorkeling in Bertram’s cove amid mermaid statues, sea creatures and fountains. New adventure activities include parasailing or a 45-minute guided jet-ski tour through the Berry Islands. Stingray City offers a one-of-a-kind experience where guests can feed, pet and play with stingrays.

Opened in 2016, Harvest Caye, just one mile off southern Belize’s mainland, is another Norwegian Cruise Line private island, resort-style experience with a seven-acre beach, multiple dining venues and a shopping village with local artists, craftspeople and street food. Guests can nestle into a clamshell tent or rent one of 11 luxury beach villas for the day. Kids of all ages can splash in a 15,000-square-foot pool, and adults can order their favorite cocktail at a swim-up bar. This island also features a 130-foot-high Flighthouse with zip lining, suspension bridges, free fall jumps and a tandem “superman” style zip line.

Eco-focused cruisers also can take educational tours or look for wildlife paddling through the island’s lagoon on a stand-up paddle board. Some guests desire to visit mainland Belize for a Mayan ruins tour, tubing excursion or cultural visit to Placencia village. On Harvest Caye itself, guests can participate in manatee observation tours and explore a nature center with an aviary; it’s home to colorful Toucans, butterflies and reptiles. Good to know: While Norwegian’s shore trips from Harvest Caye can be added to the guest’s onboard cruise account, any Harvest Caye food or shopping purchases must be paid ashore by the guest using their own cash or a personal credit card.   

Private island experiences are proving so popular with guests that Disney Cruise Line has developed some itineraries with two port calls at Castaway Cay, the line’s private Bahamian island experience. In 2019, Disney Dream will sail a series of four- and five-night cruises that include two stops at Castaway Cay; these special itineraries are in addition to three- and four-night Bahamian cruises from Port Canaveral, FL, that visit Nassau and Castaway Cay. All Disney Fantasy cruises in
summer 2019 will call at Castaway Cay too.

Disney Cruise Line has developed some itineraries with two port calls at Castaway Cay.

Highly anticipated is the opening of Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, MSC Cruises’ new private Bahamian island that’s just 65 miles east of Miami and 20 miles south of Bimini. MSC tells Travel Agent that MSC Seaside will start calling at Ocean Cay in November 2019. Ships will dock at the island, so guests can travel on and off the ship at their leisure, without taking tenders. 

Working in collaboration with the Bahamian Government and ecologists, MSC Cruises is currently transforming the cay from a sand extraction site into a marine reserve with 40 acres of beaches. 

All corals within the reserve will be protected; those impacted by initial restoration efforts will be transplanted. More than 80 types of indigenous trees, grasses, flowers and shrubs will be planted on the island, and a small fresh water habitat used by wading birds will be protected.

A signature lighthouse is likely to become a favorite landmark for guest selfies. The island’s dive center will offer near-shore and off-shore diving; some trips will utilize nearby dive holes. Dining-wise, guests will find a family food court, specialty restaurant, Yacht Club restaurant and other options. Watering holes will include a Marina Bar, Lighthouse Bar and seven tiki bars. 

Multiple beach areas will each have its own vibe. Great Bimini Beach, will extend for a half mile and gently slope into an active surf zone, while Great Lagoon Beach, the size of 10 football fields, will have shallow waters, protected swimming, water sports and a design that continuously exchanges water with the surrounding sea. Designed for families with children, Family Beach will have shallow water and also a smaller section just for toddlers. Private, quiet and yet featuring active waves, the Yacht Club Beach is reserved for those staying in the onboard MSC Yacht Club. 

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