Weekly Wednesday – Feeling Blue?

A Guide to Cruise Private Islands in the Caribbean

Two Palm Trees
Palm trees in paradise – Picture taken at Princess Cays

With the cruise industry attempting to resume sailing again, we have been reminded of an old and distant friend, the “blue cruise.” I recently saw this term used by @thiscruiselife on twitter and was inspired to look into what it really meant. While the name of this old tradition may seem down (feeling “blue”), it’s actually a way to break away from everyday life and really experience what the seas have to offer. As COVID-19 is posing a real threat against several nations, we can expect to see significant modifications to the itineraries that our beloved cruise lines are offering.

Something positive from all of this is that a majority of the large cruise lines that operate in the Caribbean have options available where you won’t have to interact with many local people, while still getting the chance to get off the ship for a few hours to let your sea-legs relax a bit.

Dating back to the 1970s, cruise lines have been developing private destinations, most of which are in the form of a private island setting. While these Caribbean getaways aren’t for everyone, it could bring us one step closer to being back on the waters. Throughout this article, you will get to learn about the major contenders in the industry which may help with your decision-making process when booking your next dream vacation. Read until the very end for a surprise destination.

CASTAWAY CAY, Bahamas –Disney Cruise Line (Opened: 1997, Cost: $55 Million, Size: 55 acres, Private Island)
Fun Fact: This was the first private cruise island to feature a pier for ships to dock at.

This destination is only accessible from one of the well-appointed Disney cruise ships in the Caribbean. Originally called Gorda Cay (meaning large in size), this was once the site of the filming of Splash and parts of the film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Disney Cruise Line signed a 99-year lease and spent $25 million and 18 months to construct this family getaway. There’s plenty of activities to be had on this exclusive island from snorkeling to a private adults-only retreat.

View of Castaway Cay – photo: mickeynews.com

CATALINA ISLAND, Dominican Republic –Costa Cruises (Private Island)
Fun Fact: If you venture away from the sandy beaches you may find Bison grazing on the grasses or you can go diving in its nearby barrier reef.

Did you know that Costa Cruises operates their own private island destination in the Caribbean? Located on the south side of Dominican Republic, and just across the bay from La Romana sits Catalina Island. This is a great place to waste your cares away as you lay out on the beach and enjoy the serene landscape. There is an ordinance on the island that prevents the ships from docking at a pier and there are no motorized vehicles on the land.

GRAND TURK, Turks and Caicos –Carnival Cruise Lines (Opened: 2006, Cost: $50 Million, Size: 13 acres, Private Destination)
Fun Fact: You’ll find the largest Margaritaville in the Caribbean at this port.

The cruise center at Grand Turk is a just a fraction of the island on which it sits. Watch out for those busy days, though: this port can host up to 3 Carnival Corporation ships at one time. If you’re fortunate to visit on a lighter day, you can enjoy the memorial dedicated to Friendship Seven and the arrival of the vessel to the area in 1962. John Glenn stepped back onto land near where the cruise port sits today. There’s also lots of great water activities to indulge in, whether it’s in the sea or the massive pool that surrounds Margaritaville.

Grand Turk
View of the beach in Grand Turk

GREAT STIRRUP CAY, Bahamas –Norwegian Cruise Line (Opened: 1977, Cost: $25 Million, Size: 250 acres, Private Island)
Fun Fact: First private island to be exclusively controlled by a cruise line.

Although it opened in 1977, NCL decided that they wanted to own it outright, so they purchased the island in 1986. This tropical getaway has been upgraded several times over the years, with the most recent remodel happening in 2017. It features upgraded cabanas, private villas, a two-story restaurant, swim-up bar, and an extension of the spa from the ship.

HALF MOON CAY, Bahamas –Holland America Line (Opened: 1996, Cost: $6 Million, Size: 50 acres, Private Island)
Fun Fact: Prior to being owned by HAL, this island was called Little San Salvador Island and was owned by Norwegian Cruise Line.

Occupying only 2% of the total land mass, Holland America Line has put a strong focus on maintaining as much of the natural habitat as possible. Within the developed area, there are still plenty of activities to participate in, including water toys for rent so you can snorkel, kayak or go windsurfing. On land, you can enjoy volleyball, throw some horseshoes, ride a horse in the water or even go for a hike.

HARVEST CAYE, Belize –Norwegian Cruise Line (Opened: 2016, Size: 75 acres, Private Island)
Fun Fact: Has the world’s 2nd largest barrier reef

If you are on any other cruise line, a stop in Belize City would require you to take a tender to get to the mainland. Not with NCL. This newer private island destination has a pier built right into it so you can get to the fun a whole lot faster! There’s a 7-acre beach that offers great water activities. There’s also a “flighthouse” where you can zip-line across the beach departing from the on-island lighthouse. And if you’re looking for a different kind of experience, you can check out the blue morpho butterfly house.

Harvest Caye
Screenshot from ncl.com/harvest-caye, July 27, 2020.

LABADEE, Haiti –Royal Caribbean (Opened: 1986, Cost: $55 Million, Size: 260 acres, Private Destination)
Fun Fact: This port features an alpine coaster and the largest zip-line over water.

While your visit to Labadee isn’t on an exclusive private island, you’ll feel the gentle Caribbean breeze and feel like you’re in heaven. Cruise passengers aren’t able to book excursions outside of the port area so Royal Caribbean created plenty of activities to keep you entertained. You can check out an authentic Haitian flea market, hang out at the beach and participate in various water sports while you play in the water-oriented playground.

MAHOGANY BAY, Honduras –Carnival Cruise Lines (Size: 20 acres, Private Destination)
Fun Fact: There is a ski lift that can carry you from where the ships dock to the beach.

Tucked away in a little alcove, you’ll find the very tropical-inspired Mahogany Bay. There are plenty of activities to enjoy in this destination starting with Fat Tuesdays! From there, you can head down to the beach and relax in the sand or get in the warm Roatan waters. You can leave the area to explore the rest of Roatan, Honduras, but be prepared for the taxi fares for transportation.

Mahogany Bay
Early morning arrival to Mahogany Bay

OCEAN CAY MSC MARINE RESERVE, Bahamas –MSC Cruises (Opened: 2019, Cost: $200 Million, Size: 95 acres, Private Island)
Fun Fact: Was an artificial island built in the late 1960s to early 1970s as an industrial sand extraction site.

MSC developed this island retreat to be not only relaxing, but also educational. It features the only Maritime Reserve experience which includes a Conservation Center for marine research and education. If that’s not your cup of tea, you can lay out on one of the 8 beaches featured on this island or enjoy the many activities that are available.

PERFECT DAY AT COCO CAY, Bahamas –Royal Caribbean Group (Opened: 1980s, Cost: $250 Million, Size: 125 acres, Private Island)
Fun Fact: Features the tallest waterslide in North America standing 135 feet tall

Recently this island underwent a massive transformation which built the thrill park. There, you will find 13 waterslides, the largest wave pool in the Caribbean and plenty of other activities to keep your mind moving. If you’re not interested in paying for that experience, you can take advantage of one of the 4 beaches, or play in the activity pool – which has music piped in underwater. Satisfy your hunger cravings at one of the restaurants ashore, or rent a private cabana to unwind in.

PRINCESS CAYS, Bahamas –Princess Cruises (Size: 40 acres, Private Destination)
Fun Fact: Although this isn’t a private island, it does offer secluded access to the many features available here.

Developed exclusively for Princess Cruises, this private destination offers plenty of water-based activities for rent during your visit from snorkels to kayaks. There are several shops and land-based activities available as well to keep you entertained.

TREASURE CAY, Bahamas –Premier Cruise Lines (Opened: 1989, Closed: 2000, Private Destination)
Fun Fact: Disney had a big hand in designing this destination.

Also known as Treasure Island, this destination was part of the Disney experience that Premier Cruise Lines had to offer. There were abandoned ships on the shore that you could explore and you could also go swimming with dolphins within the bay. Premier Cruises ended up going under in 2000 and thus we saw the demise of this popular private island.

Treasure Island – photo: trawlerforum.com

Perhaps you’ve learned something new or identified a new port that you want to visit. Hopefully, we will get to sail again in the near future. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the industry will find some sense of normalcy soon; perhaps these private destinations can be an option, even on longer sailings. Docking a ship at their own port-of-call is a win/win for the cruise line since they generally don’t pay a docking fee and any souvenirs or beverages sold on land can come back to the cruise ship company. Instead of us feeling blue, hopefully we’ll get to see blue – blue skies and blue water!

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