Cruising can be exciting, but rules and industry jargon can make it intimidating for a first-timer. One unique aspect of cruising is the private island experience. This can be a seamless and fun experience as long as you know what to expect.
WHAT IS A PRIVATE ISLAND?
Cruise lines own or lease islands throughout the Caribbean. Specific cruise itineraries may include one (or more) of these islands as a port of call. The private island concept allows the cruise line to design and manage the guest experience, all in one place. Hopefully, visiting these private islands offers a variety of options so everyone can enjoy the excursion.
If you see these destinations on your itinerary, then you'll be visiting a private island:
- Coco Cay or Labadee (operated by Royal Caribbean)
- Half Moon Cay (Carnival and Holland America)
- Princess Cays (Princess)
- Castaway Cay (Disney)
WHAT'S ON THE ISLANDS?
At Coco Cay, kids can enjoy activities from zip lines to waterslides. At the same time, adults can hide away in ocean-facing, floating cabanas. Most private islands follow this same template of family fun and adult-only zones. For example, on Disney's Castaway Cay, Serenity Bay features an adults-only zone with open-air cabana massages and specialty drinks.
There are plenty of beach chairs on the islands and even hammocks, if you're lucky. If you want more than just relaxation, you can choose from kayak adventures or horseback riding and eco-bike tours.
If it’s your first time to a cruise line’s private island, here are three tips for understanding what's included and what to expect.
1. BEACH TIME, NOT CULTURAL IMMERSION
Because private islands are manufactured experiences, they don't offer an opportunity to explore historical ruins or experience authentic local culture. If you're looking for a fun beach day or theme park-type experience, you'll likely have a great time. However, if an immersive, cultural experience is your ideal vacation, consider picking a different destination or adjusting your expectations.
2. EVERYTHING IS NOT FREE
Certain amenities, like complimentary dining and your purchased Wi-Fi package, may follow you from the ship to the island, but others may cost extra. Similar to the many beaches lining America's coasts, beach chairs may be free, but don't count on free umbrellas or other beach furniture.
Water toys and equipment like kayaks and paddle boats may also be available at select private islands, for an additional fee. Also, pre-booked shore excursions and cabanas will cost you money.
3. IT CAN GET CROWDED
Private means that other cruise lines will not visit the island on the same day as the cruise line you're on, and no local airport is bringing visitors. However, you will be joined by all the people from your ship and maybe people from other ships belonging to the same cruise line. Therefore, the island can get crowded. If you have your heart set on specific activities, check if they require reservations. If so, make your reservations via the cruise line website or app before arrival, just like you would for any other cruise port. If peace and quiet are all you're after, get off the ship early and onto the island, so you can claim your favorite spot on the beach.