Cruise line private islands are exclusive destinations that only cruisers can enjoy on select itineraries. Once cruising restarts, here are twelve amazing private islands and resorts you’ll want to visit in 2021 and beyond.
Pristine sandy beaches and warm tropical breezes aren’t the only things that draw cruise fans to these islands. Some major cruise lines have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years upgrading their offerings and amenities. Now you can find waterparks, expansive pools, and activities like zip lining and parasailing. Luxury lovers can rent private cabanas and villas to relax away from it all.
As the world slowly opens up for travel again, it’s looking like cruise line private islands will be an even more popular choice as a port of call for cruise lines and those of us who love to cruise! These outdoor destinations are perfect for social distancing, and may minimize the risk of spreading the virus between cruisers and the local population.
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Perfect Day at CocoCay – Royal Caribbean International
Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s 125-acre private island in the Bahamas, is jam-packed with fun for cruise visitors. Cruise ships now dock at the island’s new pier, completed in 2019.
CocoCay’s range of activities is truly impressive. At Thrill Waterpark, you can zip down the 135-foot (41m) Daredevil’s Peak, the tallest waterslide in North America. CocoCay has a total of 13 waterslides, the most you’ll find at any location in the Caribbean.
Splash in Oasis Lagoon, the largest freshwater pool in the Bahamas, or ride the surf in the biggest wave pool in the Caribbean.
Soar over the island on the 1600-foot (488m) zip line, or take a helium balloon ride 450 feet (137m) in the air to experience the highest viewpoint in the Bahamas!
Chill Island is the place to go for watersports, including snorkel and diving rentals, wave runners, and stand-up paddleboarding.
School-aged kids will enjoy the complimentary Splashaway Bay, a play area with pools and waterslides. Water cannons and drench buckets add to the fun—expect to be thoroughly soaked!
Cruisers looking to chill on the beach won’t be disappointed. Relax on the sand at Harbor Beach or the new South Beach. Or, book a pass for the exclusive Coco Beach Club for access to a private beach, infinity pool, and clubhouse. The club’s luxurious overwater cabana rentals take relaxation to a new level.
After working up an appetite, have a bite to eat at Skipper’s Grill or Chill Grill for burgers, sandwiches, veggie options and more. Or pick up something quick and easy at one of the Snack Shacks around the island. Captain Jack’s, the for-a-fee casual restaurant, offers an à la carte menu including chicken wings and steak fries in unique flavors. Coco Beach Club guests also have access to the upscale Grille at Coco Beach Club for Mediterranean cuisine.
Feeling thirsty? Perfect Day at CocoCay features several bars including the swim-up bar at Oasis Lagoon, the floating bar near South Beach, and the Wacky Seagull and Wacky Seagull Jr. Bars on the island do accept RCI’s drink packages.
Perfect Day at CocoCay is a port of call for many of RCI’s Caribbean itineraries. Sister cruise lines Celebrity and Azamara also make stops at the private island.
You may also like: Ultimate Guide To The Key on Royal Caribbean
Sir Bani Yas Cruise Beach – MSC Cruises
MSC Cruises has turned a 1.5-mile stretch of land on Sir Bani Yas Island, located off the southwest coast of Abu Dhabi, into a private beach oasis for passengers on many Emirates itineraries. Opened in late 2016, Sir Bani Yas is the Middle East’s only private cruise destination. The resort offers cruisers a stunningly beautiful beach, sports and entertainment, and activities unique to the island.
Join in a game of beach tennis or volleyball, or take a kayak, paddleboard, or inflatable mat out on the stunningly blue water. Snorkel in the lagoon, or join a canoe tour through the lush mangroves.
For the kids, Sir Bani Yas features an inflatable water park as well as a shaded play area with a climbing structure, slides and swings.
The can’t-miss excursion on Sir Bani Yas is the Jeep safari tour. Yes, a safari on an island in the Persian Gulf! Beginning in 1977, the UAE began planting thousands of trees and plants on the island, and introduced several animal species that are now thriving. On your semi-private tour you might spot cheetahs, gazelles, giraffes, hyenas, and other African and Arabian animals.
Enjoy a vast lunch spread (brought over from the ship) at one of the picnic tables. There’s always plenty of shade from the huge wedding-style tents set up over the dining area. Food options include burgers, hot dogs, pasta salads, and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Cruising in MSC’s exclusive Yacht Club? You’ll have access to an exclusive part of the resort, with upscale snacks and refreshments available.
Six beach bars serve up exotic cocktails, mocktails and soft drinks, and drink packages are valid on the island.
Sir Bani Yas is a port of call for MSC Bellissima and MSC Lirica sailings in the Gulf. On days when an MSC ship isn’t visiting, other cruise lines (including Costa Cruises) call at the private destination.
Great Stirrup Cay – Norwegian Cruise Line
Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian Cruise Line’s private island in the Bahamas’ Berry Islands, features gorgeous beaches, water sports and activities, and a variety of restaurants and bars. Cruisers will enjoy this 268-acre destination, whether you’re planning an active day or just looking forward to relaxing in the sand.
Bertram’s Cove Beach, the island’s largest beach, is always popular—it’s the first beach you’ll see when you exit the tender boat. Walk a bit farther and you’ll find Cabana Beach and then Fiesta Beach, away from the crowds.
Take your pick of the many activities available, from swimming to the underwater snorkel garden to soaring over the island on the zipline from the replica lighthouse. Hike out to the real 1863 lighthouse (it’s still active!) spotting iguanas and hummingbirds on your way. Explore the coastal waters with a kayak or wave runner, or just enjoy floating around on a thick, comfy mat.
Don’t forget to stop for lunch at one of three venues on the island. Jumbey Beach Grill offers beach favorites like burgers and hot dogs, along with pizza and salad options. Or, make your own soft taco at Abaco Taco, with your choice of proteins and toppings. Tropic Like It’s Hot Food Truck‘s small menu features hot sandwiches, ceviche, and Bahamian desserts.
Unwind in one of the island’s themed bars, including the Patrón Bar, Bertram’s Bar, Bacardi Bar, and the Lighthouse Beach Bar. You’ll find live music and lively dancing with the ship’s entertainment staff.
The exclusive new Silver Cove area offers luxurious villa rentals for the day, giving you access to a private beach and lagoon with overwater swings. As a villa guest, you’ll also be able to dine and drink at Silver Cove Restaurant and Bar as well as the Moët Bar.
Great Stirrup Cay is a port of call for all of NCL’s Bahamas itineraries, and is also shared by sister cruise lines Oceania and Regent Seven Seas.
Tip: Pick up tender tickets the day before your visit for an early boat to Great Stirrup Cay (look in your Freestyle Daily for times and pickup location). Even on smaller ships, tendering to GSC can often run hours behind schedule, so play it safe and get an early ticket to have a chance to enjoy the island.
Read more: Ultimate Guide to Great Stirrup Cay
Princess Cays – Princess Cruise Line / Carnival Cruise Line
Princess Cays is the private destination owned by Princess Cruises. Its secluded location on the southern tip of idyllic Eleuthera, Bahamas makes it a favorite spot for cruise aficionados looking for a day away from it all.
Just 80 miles (127 km) south of Nassau, Princess Cays is a 40-acre slice of paradise. Guests can visit as a port of call on many of Princess and Carnival’s Western Caribbean cruises. Only one ship visits per day, so the private destination never feels too crowded.
The resort features a half-mile of white, sandy beaches, water sports, and complimentary dining venues for the perfect beach day.
Coming off the tender boats, most guests make a beeline to the beaches on the north side of Princess Cays. But in-the-know cruisers take the footbridge to the less-crowded sands on the south side of the island. Or, book an adults-only bungalow in the exclusive Sanctuary area to enjoy access to a roped-off section of private beach.
Tip: Many of the beach areas at Princess Cays are very rocky. Pack some inexpensive water shoes or quick-drying active sandals (like my fave Chacos) if you’re planning to walk on the shore or wade in the water.
Princess Cays offers many active water sports, including kayaking, banana boat rides, paddle wheelers, SUP, and aqua bikes. Snorkelers enjoy the variety of colorful fish that are abundant just offshore—Princess Cays is surrounded by a living coral reef.
Little kids will love the Pelican’s Perch play area, with shaded climbing structures, slides, swings, and a two-foot-deep children’s pool.
After you’ve worked up an appetite playing in the sun, be sure to visit either Grill Crazy on the north side, or Sea Breeze Grill on the south side of the island for a hearty beach BBQ lunch. Both venues offer hot and cold options including burgers, hot dogs, salads, and side dishes. Or grab a wrap from Beach Blanket Wraps food truck, offering both veggie and meat options.
Princess Cays has several bar options to choose from. Centrally-located Banana Beach Bar is the largest and most popular, featuring live music performances throughout the day. If you’d rather not leave the comfort of your sun lounger, just ask one of the beach waiters to deliver a drink right to you.
Although Princess Cays is shared by sister cruise lines Princess and Carnival, the destination is actually owned by Princess Cruises (a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation). Guests on Princess sailings can use their beverage packages on the island, but passengers on Carnival ships have to pay per-drink on the island, even if you’ve paid for the Cheers! drink package.
You may also like: 25 Princess Cruise Tips You Need to Know
Labadee – Royal Caribbean International
Labadee, Royal Caribbean’s private destination on the northern coast of Haiti, has been a popular port of call for cruisers since the late 1980s. The 260-acre resort is packed with activities for every type of vacationer, from thrill-seekers to beach bums, and everyone in between.
Roller coaster aficionados won’t want to miss the Dragon’s Tail Coaster, an alpine-style ride (that’s the type with individual carts with hand brakes). You’ll twist and turn through the lush rainforest, catching views of the island and the surrounding water as you speed downhill from an elevation of 680 feet (207m).
Labadee is also home to the longest over-water zip line in the world. Dragon’s Breath Zip Line starts at the towering height of 2,600 feet (792m). Soar over the ocean at speeds of 40-50 mph (64-80 kph) for a breathtaking view of the surrounding area.
Is cooling off in the water on your agenda? Labadee’s Arawak Aqua Park offers a floating adventure area in Columbus Cove with inflatable trampolines, pyramids and water slides. Or try the nearby Dragon’s Splash Waterslide for a thrilling 300-foot drop into the splash zone.
Lounging on the beach is always a perfect way to unwind on a private island, and Labadee’s four beaches each offer a unique vibe. Suite guests can enjoy an exclusive shoreside experience at Barefoot Beach. Busy Adrenaline Beach is the center of the action, and Columbus Cove also tends to fill up quickly. For a quieter place to spend the day, head to Nellie’s Beach, farthest from the pier. Labadee’s cabanas and beach bungalow rentals offer another option to get away from it all.
Labadee has lots of complimentary dining options for guests, including a BBQ lunch at Dragon’s Rock Cafe, Cafe Labadee, or Columbus Cove Cafe. Some cruisers opt to head back to the ship to enjoy a leisurely lunch on board, which is very doable given that the ship docks right at a dedicated pier.
The island also features eight unique bars, and table service ensures that you won’t need to get up and wait in line for a refill. Just like on the ship, you can use your drink package to pay for included wine, beer, and tropical cocktails. Try the Labadoozie, a frozen rum-based drink that’s become Labadee’s signature cocktail (it’s so yummy that you may want to switch to the virgin version after trying a few).
Labadee is a port of call for many of Royal Caribbean’s Western Caribbean itineraries, and is also shared by sister cruise lines Celebrity and Azamara.
Read more (and get a free packing list!): What to Pack for a Caribbean Cruise
Ocean Cay MSC Maritime Reserve – MSC Cruises
MSC Cruises’ new private island, Ocean Cay MSC Maritime Reserve, is just south of Bimini in the Bahamas. The $200 million project turned the 95-acre island, formerly an aragonite mining site, into a gorgeous conservation area and destination for MSC’s Caribbean cruise passengers. Ocean Cay opened to guests in December 2019.
The cruise line worked with marine biologists and other experts to help restore the ecosystem of the island by revitalizing the stripped seabed, encouraging corals to thrive and attract marine life back to its waters. MSC plans to build a conservation center on the island, including a coral nursery.
Beach lovers will be in heaven on Ocean Cay, which features eight white sand beaches around the island. Currently, only one ship can dock at the pier each day, so there’s plenty of room for each guest to enjoy the sand and pristine water.
South Beach is where all of the action is, and Seakers Family Cove sits on a shallow lagoon perfect for the little ones. If you’re willing to walk (or take one of the complimentary trams), you’ll find lots of shoreline away from the more crowded areas.
Tip: If you plan to swim or snorkel in the electric blue water surrounding Ocean Cay, be sure to pack reef-safe sunscreen. You can buy it on the ship as well as on the island, but you’ll pay premium prices in those shops.
Dining and opportunities are plentiful on Ocean Cay, including Seakers Food Court for hot and cold options like burgers, jerk chicken, and pasta salads. Beach Shack food trucks also set up around the island for grab-and-go dining. Guests booked in MSC’s Yacht Club can enjoy an exclusive restaurant and bar at Ocean House.
Looking for an adult beverage or two? Ocean Cay features Lighthouse Bar and Springer’s Bar, as well as eight tiki bars around the island, each with a unique look and feel. Drink packages do work on the island, which is a nice perk for cruisers who’ve already paid for unlimited beverages aboard ship.
Take advantage of long stays in port at Ocean Cay and enjoy the evening entertainment—a rarity among cruise line private islands. Because of its proximity to Miami, port stops at Ocean Cay last until very late, often midnight! MSC guests can dance on the sand to live DJs and watch the colorfully-clad dancers in the Junkanoo parade. Don’t miss the twice-nightly lighthouse shows, when 23,000 LED lights pulsate along to the music!
Castaway Cay – Disney Cruise Line
Kids (and kids-at-heart) will enjoy a day at Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line’s private island in the Bahamas. But it’s not just fun for the little ones! Castaway Cay has plenty of adults-only areas, and if you’re cruising with kids or grandkids, their excellent kids’ club concept carries over from the ship to the private destination.
If you’ve ever visited a Disney property, you’ll know that they’re experts in making magic happen. Castaway Cay is no exception. Just like in the theme parks, Disney cast members are on hand to ensure you have a magical day—whether you’re a parent cruising with small kids, a group of family or friends on a fun vacation, or a couple looking to make memories together.
Disney Cruise Line does especially cater to families, and their kids’ club on the island is second-to-none. Most private islands don’t include childcare, but Castaway Cay does! Parents who want to relax while kids and teens have fun with new friends can do so guilt-free on Castaway Cay.
Adults will love unwinding at Serenity Bay, the island’s kid-free oasis. Indulge in an open-air massage under the palms, or enjoy a frosty beverage at the Castaway Air Bar. The Air Bar BBQ serves up cookout-style meals for hungry cruisers, including ribeye steaks and mahi-mahi. This area also features adults-only cabanas as well as a beach if you’re looking forward to sunbathing in a quieter area.
If you’d rather enjoy the island along with your little ones, Castaway Family Beach is the place to be. The whole family can enjoy sailing, kayaking and snorkeling in the lagoon. Kids can take part in supervised games at the In Da Shade Game Pavilion, cool off at Spring-a-Leak water play area, or get soaked at Pelican Plunge, a 2400-square-foot floating platform.
Tip: Castaway Cay’s Bahamian post office is the perfect place to mail a postcard to friends or family back home, complete with a postmark from your private island experience!
Motu Mahana – Paul Gauguin Cruises
If a cruise in French Polynesia sounds like paradise, luxury cruise line Paul Gauguin Cruises offers a day at Motu Mahana, their private destination off the coast of Tahaꞌa, Tahiti.
You’ll step off the tender boat into knee-deep tropical water and head toward the beach where Les Gauguines and Les Gauguins welcome you with Tahitian songs accompanied by ukeleles. On your way in, pick up a cocktail from the floating bar (Motu Mahana’s signature Island Affair with Midori, triple sec, Blue Curaçao, and orange juice, perhaps?)
Snorkel in the crystal-clear water to spot colorful fish darting around the green and purple coral, or hop in a kayak to explore more of the lagoon. Play a lively game of volleyball or badminton in the sand before cooling off with a refreshing swim.
Maybe you’d rather take it easy and enjoy lounging on the sand—but the ultimate in relaxation on Motu Mahana is the overwater massage at the Deep Nature Spa.
At lunchtime, M/S Paul Gauguin‘s staff prepares a beachside feast of grilled fish, chicken, hamburgers, and hot dogs, along with salad, fresh fruit, and freshly-baked cookies.
Throughout your day on Motu Mohana, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about Tahitian culture with coconut demonstrations and basket weaving. Learn to tie a pareo, or watch a culinary exhibition featuring Tahiti’s national dish Poisson Cru.
For a souvenir of your day in paradise, enjoy shopping for pearl jewelry (Tahitian pearls range in color from creamy white to iridescent peacock to deep black), pareos, Tahitian vanilla, and crafts made by local artisans.
All Paul Gauguin cruises in French Polynesia offer a stop at Motu Mahana, and the private island isn’t shared by any other cruise line.
You may also like: Which Cruise Lines Are All-Inclusive?
Half Moon Cay – Holland America Line/Carnival Cruise Line
Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s private island in the Bahamas, is also shared by sister cruise line Carnival. The island, named for its two-mile-long curved beach, is about 100 miles (160 km) southeast of Nassau.
As with most cruise line private islands in the Bahamas, the waters around Half Moon Cay are too shallow for ships to dock at a pier. Instead, cruisers are ferried by smaller tender boats from ship to shore. But the clear, shallow water makes this island a perfect spot to enjoy swimming, snorkeling, and watersports during your visit.
In contrast to many private destinations on this list, most of Half Moon Cay’s 2400 acres are undeveloped. 98% of the island is set aside as a nature preserve and wild bird sanctuary. Hikers will want to explore the trails throughout the island to enjoy its natural beauty. You may even spot native animals like the tiny, endangered Burrowing Owl, blue-tailed lizards, and Bahamian mockingbirds.
Planning a romantic cruise? The private island offers a scenic land-and-sea horseback trail ride, finishing on the beach where you’ll ride right into the sparkling Caribbean Sea. Guests can even hold a wedding or vow-renewal ceremony at Half Moon Cay’s tiny white Bahamian-style church (be sure to book your ceremony with the cruise line well in advance).
Dining on the island is included with your cruise fare at the Island Barbecue, featuring burgers, ribs, and jerk chicken. The Lobster Shack, an upcharge lunch option, serves grilled spiny lobster, lobster rolls, conch and seafood chowder, and side dishes like Caribbean coconut rice and beans.
Half Moon Cay also has four bars, including the two-level Captain Morgan’s Bar, designed to look like a pirate ship washed ashore on the beach. Rum Runners and the island’s largest bar, the aptly named I Wish I Could Stay Here Forever Bar, are always popular. But Lookout Bar, overlooking Bonefish Lagoon, is a quieter place to chill with a cocktail.
Tip: If you have the Cheers! beverage package on Carnival or HAL’s Signature or Elite packages, these won’t work on Half Moon Cay. Some sailings offer a drink package just for the island at about $25 for the day, so check with your cruise line to see if it’s available during your visit.
Half Moon Cay is a port of call for many of Holland America and Carnival’s Bahamas itineraries. Carnival makes stops year-round, while HAL uses the island during its winter Caribbean sailings.
You may also like: Faster to the Fun: The Ultimate Guide to Carnival’s Skip-the-Line Pass
The Beach Club at Bimini – Virgin Voyages
Brand-new cruise line Virgin Voyages was originally set to launch in April 2020, but the pandemic pushed its first sail date to November. When passengers on the maiden voyage of Virgin’s first ship Scarlet Lady set sail, they’ll be the first guests to visit The Beach Club at Bimini. All of Virgin Voyages’ Caribbean itineraries will feature a day at the club.
Located on North Bimini Island in the Bahamas, The Beach Club at Bimini is designed to have the vibe of exclusive beach clubs in St.-Tropez or Ibiza, but in a location much more accessible for North American cruisers—it’s just 48 nautical miles from Miami.
The club is in a private section on an inhabited island, exclusive to Virgin Voyages’ guests (Bimini has a population of just under 2000 people across its two islands). Cruisers will take an included shuttle to get from the cruise port to the club, a 10-15 minute trip.
All food at the club will be complementary for “sailors” (as Virgin calls its cruise passengers) featuring island favorites like banana leaf-wrapped queen snapper, conch and mango salad, and Bahamian rum cake. Adult beverages will be available with an added charge at the club’s six bars.
Music is a huge focus at The Beach Club at Bimini, with Grammy-Award-winning producer Mark Ronson named as founding DJ. Evening beach bonfires are also on the agenda, thanks to later departure times than most other cruise line private destinations.
Sailors staying in the ship’s RockStar Suites will have access to an exclusive section of the club. Perks include a dedicated VIP bar, complimentary food service on an outdoor terrace, sun loungers and private beach cabanas.
Harvest Caye – Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest private island, Harvest Caye, opened in November 2016. NCL developed the 75-acre island off the coast of southern Belize in partnership with the Belizean government to provide jobs for the community as well as an authentic experience for cruise visitors. The 400-member staff working on the island are all locals.
Harvest Caye features seven acres of sandy beaches, a saltwater lagoon for water sports, and a huge pool with a waterfall and swim-up bar. Snorkeling fans will enjoy exploring the barrier reef, the second-largest in the world! (Snorkel equipment is available to rent at an added charge, but we prefer to bring our own full-face snorkel masks.)
Zip line enthusiasts won’t be disappointed with Harvest Caye’s 1300-foot (396m) Flighthouse Zipline, where you can soar over the island from the lighthouse. Want to keep the adrenaline going? A tandem parasailing excursion will have you soaring hundreds of feet over the island for breathtaking panoramic views.
Harvest Caye also offers nature lovers a chance for an up-close view of native wildlife. Their two-part aviary houses endangered Scarlet Macaws as well as Belize’s national bird, the Keel-Billed Toucan. The aviary is an education and rehabilitation center, and the birds are able to fly freely within the large enclosures.
Visit the Blue Morpho Butterfly sanctuary, featuring hundreds of butterfly species in a lushly-planted screened enclosure. Or, head to the lagoon for a manatee observation tour to see and learn about the gentle aquatic mammals known as “sea cows”.
Shopping and dining opportunities abound on the island, and all the restaurants and stores are locally-owned and operated. Landshark Bar & Grill offers salads, sandwiches, tacos, and fried chicken. But for a more authentic taste of Belizean cuisine, check out the street-style food on offer in the shopping village.
Tip: Be sure to bring cash or a credit card if you plan to buy food or drinks on Harvest Caye. These aren’t included in your cruise fare! Or, you could head back to the ship and have lunch. Ships dock at the pier on the island, so it’s easy to return to the ship if you’re hungry.
Harvest Caye is a port of call for many of NCL’s Western Caribbean itineraries, and is also shared by sister cruise lines Oceania and Regent Seven Seas.
Perfect Day at Lelepa – Royal Caribbean International (coming in 2022)
In late 2022, Royal Caribbean will unveil its newest private island, Perfect Day at Lelepa. Located in Vanuatu in the South Pacific, Lelepa is the only cruise line private island in the Southern Hemisphere.
Australian and New Zealand cruisers rejoice—you’ll no longer have to travel so far to enjoy a day at a private island on a cruise!
Despite its similar name to another RCI private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay, Perfect Day at Lelepa likely won’t have a massive waterpark. Instead, the focus will be on relaxation and enjoying the island’s natural beauty and marine life.
Perfect Day at Lelepa is a partnership between Royal Caribbean and the government of Vanuatu to showcase the culture of the local community as well as to create jobs.
The private cruise destination will also be carbon-neutral, the first of its kind in the world. Sustainability features safeguard the island’s ecosystems, and the development will undergo testing by an independent third-party expert to ensure it meets carbon neutrality standards.
Have you spent a day at a cruise line private island? What did you think of the experience? Let me know in the comments below!
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