After choosing a cruise ship and itinerary and making a booking, cruise passengers have another big task in front of them: selecting shore excursions. There typically are several offered at each port of call, and the decisions about which ones to reserve often will depend on cost. Besides the expense, there are other considerations, such as how long the excursion lasts, how physically challenging it will be, whether a long bus ride is part of the activity, additional costs for food, and the potentially scary scenario of the excursion not getting back to the ship on time.


These and other concerns are among the reasons why a port call at a cruise line's private island is music to a cruiser's ears. Most of the major cruise lines that offer a private island experience either own their islands or lease the land from the host country and customize the island with a wide variety of destinations such as beaches, courses, pools, playgrounds, walking trails, dining areas, restrooms and showers, spa facilities, beach-game locations, and more.

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A Private Island Port Call Makes Every Cruiser Feel Like A VIP

A VIP experience. Just the phrase “private island” can elicit an appreciative sigh from tourists who can't wait to get away from it all and relax. They can see themselves lounging next to the turquoise water of the Caribbean and sipping a tropical drink while their cruise ship waits in the distance for their return. Private island beaches can get crowded, but they still offer an experience different from most Caribbean island beaches that are not private.

Easy access. Most of the cruise lines with private islands can dock their ships, which means no tender boats and the sometimes long waits that come with them. Passengers can walk off the boat, down the dock, and start exploring the island, which is staffed and ready to accommodate them with food, drinks, and activities. Cruisers also can return to the ship whenever they wish.

Open-air lunch. Virtually every cruise line provides a free lunch and beverage to guests who disembark on the island. It's normally a barbecue buffet, with enough tables to accommodate everyone. Some seating areas usually will be shaded, and cruisers will know it's lunchtime once the aroma of the barbecue starts wafting across the beach.

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It's budget-friendly. Cruise guests can spend the whole day on a private island without spending a dime since lunch is included. Free activities typically available are trail walking, swimming, exploring the island, and beach games like volleyball. Cruisers will pay for alcoholic beverages, spa treatments, banana boat rides, specialized water sports such as parasailing and kayaking, and other activities such as horseback riding. However, choosing one or even two such activities often can cost less than a traditional excursion.

The safety factor. Since cruise line private islands are staffed by those either employed or contracted by the cruise line, vacationers are unlikely to feel like they are dealing with strangers. They also don't have to navigate unknown territory, hail taxis, use public transit, or worry about straying into non-tourist areas of an island, which can be unnerving for those less accustomed to traveling in foreign countries.

A special day. For private island visitors who are willing to spend money on extreme luxury, most of the cruise lines offer some form of a private enclave for rentals, such as cabanas or villas. In some cases, a butler, or server, is included, bringing that VIP feeling to new heights.

Cruise Line Private Islands Have Personalities Of Their Own

Each cruise line that has a private island offers amenities that distinguish it from others. Here are three worth learning about.

Disney Cruise Line's Castaway Cay is located in the Bahamas. There's a fun castaway theme throughout the island and appearances by various Disney characters. This island offers an adult-only beach as an option, along with waterslides and a “hideout” for teens. A 5K walk or run is held during every port call, and all finishers receive a Disney Castaway Cay 5K medal.

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Royal Caribbean Line's Coco Cay is located in the Bahamas. Along with its beaches and pools, the island offers the Thrill Waterpark, with multiple water slides and the Caribbean's largest wave pool. Splashaway Bay is a smaller waterpark for children. Other adventure activities here include zip line, an obstacle course with swing ropes, and a rock climbing wall. The cruise line also offers the Coco Cay Club, designed for adults, with an infinity pool overlooking the ocean, a sit-down restaurant, and private cabana rentals.

Norwegian Cruise Line's Great Stirrup Cay is a Bahamas destination offering three beaches and a slew of water sports activities. Add-on excursions include snorkeling and parasailing. This island's private retreat area is called Silver Cove, where cruisers can rent villas. These luxury hideaways offer air conditioning, TVs with on-demand movies, an upscale buffet, and direct access to the beaches.