Best Cruise Private Islands in the Caribbean
Cruise ships may be offering more and more activities to entertain passengers while at sea, but they are also aiming to provide the fun with port stops to their very own private islands and resorts. Instead of disembarking to an island for exploration and excursions, these cruise-owned lands give passengers a place to relax on a beach, play in a pool and enjoy resort-style amenities like water sports, spa services and swim-up bars.
Far + Wide has ranked everything from the best cruise ships to the biggest cruise ports, but this time we are judging them completely on their private islands. Using reviews from real cruisers on TripAdvisor, here are the seven best cruise islands in the Caribbean. (Plus one to grow on!)
Perhaps Royal Caribbean's Labadee gets the least amount of love due to its location? Not a private island, Labadee is a private beach resort in Haiti spanning 260 acres. But though Haiti is considered a bit unsafe (the U.S. State Department advises tourists to reconsider travel there), the resort's private spot is well-managed and protected.
A bigger issue for cruisers is the resort's age — it was first leased to the cruise line in 1986 and lacks the bells and whistles of newer locations.
Sample review: "Clean, good service, well-organized, a lot to do, the shopping was fun. The buffet was very good and plentiful. The coaster and zip line were fun. It was a pleasant surprise. Only negative: water and beach bottom, a lot of rocks and sea grass, other than that great." – pkmcallen
Get ready to have some fun, because Royal Caribbean is one of the best for activities. At this resort you'll find the longest zip line above water, Dragon's Breath Flight Line, which extends 2,600 feet. You can also ride the Dragon's Tail mountain coaster at speeds up to 30 miles per hour. (Both are not for the faint of heart!)
An Artisan's Village provides shopping for crafts and souvenirs, and of course you may also simply relax and enjoy the warm Caribbean waters. All ages may enjoy the waterslide and aqua park.
Take your pick of cabanas to enjoy at this resort, from those on the beach to over-water bungalows. All are open to the island's breezes and provide shade from the tropical sun with comfortable lounge chairs.
Unlike other cabanas found on cruise-line islands, these cabanas lack bathrooms, air-conditioning and fans. Still, you will receive beach gear and toys, coolers with cold water and cabana service.
6. Princess Cays
More than 40 acres of land in the Bahamas is available for guests of Princess Cruises on its island stop. As Princess is owned by Carnival Corporation, Carnival and Holland America may also drop anchor on this island, giving passengers a chance to stretch their sea legs.
The first of two Carnival-owned islands, this one is not private or actually a full island; instead the cruise ships get a tip of the island of Eleuthera, which takes away from the coolness factor.
Sample review: "This small part of Eleuthera island was a lot of fun. The water is crystal clear. There is a fun little cantina with live music. This is a nice spot to relax and snorkel." – Monica H
Princess Cays Activities
As Princess Cays shares space on Eleuthera, passengers can explore the rest of the island on their own, electing to do off-ship programs and to enjoy local restaurants rather than be confined to the offerings of the cruise line. (Then again, passengers dine free here, including at a large barbecue buffet, so keeping the ship in sight can be good, too.)
As always, grabbing a lounger on the beach and staying put is a good bet. Or enjoy the beach setting by snorkeling in the clear waters, walking about the natural island scrub, or sampling the non-motorized water sports.
Princess Cays Cabanas
Keeping the Caribbean colorful, Princess Cays offers multi-colored cabanas to rent for privacy on the beach, along with an array of amenities, including air-conditioning.
Smaller, four-person cabanas are some of the most affordable of those on this list (rates start at $200) and come stocked with snacks, beverages and beach gear. Spend a little more and receive adults-only bungalows for a quieter experience with all the same stylings.
5. Harvest Caye
One of the few private islands outside of the Bahamas, Harvest Caye is located in Belize and is owned by Norwegian Cruise Line — but access is also provided to guests of sister lines Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. It's large enough for ships to dock rather than tender, and a ferry can take passengers to mainland Belize.
As one of the newest cruise islands, created in 2016, Norwegian spent $50 million to create what was voted one of the top cruise ports in the Caribbean. While reviews are positive, some report the resort-feel doesn't provide an authentic Belize port stop.
Sample review: "A very relaxing stop at this island. Very clean and well designed by Norwegian Cruise Line. Please don't expect this to be "Belize." All you need to do is catch the ferry to the mainland and you get the history and culture and shopping. This is a lovely place to stop and unwind." – Iain B
Harvest Caye Activities
Harvest Caye does feel like a resort, complete with a 15,000-square-foot pool with a swim-up bar and energetic music, a man-made 7-acre beach with hammocks and 2,500 chairs for lounging, a splash playground for tiny tots and a free nature park.
For fun, there is a zip line that will take you 1,300 feet across the caye, or enjoy the lagoon with kayaks and paddleboards.
There isn't a free meal to be had on this island; instead, guests can select from the restaurant and island bars, operated by the locals. The island's artisans also sell their arts and crafts in the caye's traditional-style straw market.
Those wanting to truly visit Belize can hop on the ferry for an excursion.
Harvest Caye Cabanas
Offering outdoor as well as indoor privacy right on a secluded beach, cabanas in Harvest Caye help passengers stay cool with air-conditioning and plenty of shade.
Amenities include complimentary Wi-Fi, bathrooms with showers, hammocks and pillowy lounge chairs. Food isn't available in the cabanas, but can be delivered from the island's restaurant. Not only will you be treated well, but you'll also have a golf-cart shuttle to get you from the ship to your homestead and back.
4. Great Stirrup Cay
Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas may be "just" 268 acres, but Norwegian Cruise makes up for its relatively small stature with style.
Forget the barbecue lunches the other islands provide. On Great Stirrup there is a beach grill, taco bar and Caribbean-fare food truck, along with Bacardi, Patron and Bertram's bars. When not dining, guests enjoy immaculate and groomed white-sand beaches.
Sample review: "WOW, is all I can say about GSC the Norwegian Cruise Line private island. We had a private villa for the day with its own AC, TV, bathroom with shower, butler service and living room. We had a front porch with lounge chairs and lounge chairs on the beach. There was a champagne bar and all the food you could eat. The beach was so beautiful. We can't wait to go back." – cathy s
Great Stirrup Cay Activities
Bordering those aforementioned beaches are clear turquoise waters ripe for snorkeling, kayaking and wave-running, not to mention a zip line that provides ample views of the cay.
Minutes away is the famous Treasure Island, where you can swim with pigs in the sea, accessible via roundtrip transportation included with a visit. Great Stirrup also is home to swings in the sea, so you can nail another showoff Insta shot.
Great Stirrup Bay Cabanas
These aren't just any old cabanas: These are like your own private luxury hotel rooms on the beach. Cushioned chaise lounges and patio furniture are found outside, while air-conditioning, living rooms and bedrooms are available inside.
Even the smallest of the cabanas feature plush furnishings to enjoy while on the beach.
Those who rent these expensive cabanas (rates start at $400) also receive priority tenders to get to the beach faster.
Its full name is actually Perfect Day at CocoCay, and Royal Caribbean promises its guests will have just that at their brand-new private island adventure, which cost $250 million to develop.
Work is still in progress on the Bahamian island, with a beach club yet to be opened. But already, reviews have been excellent, with cruisers singling out the island's incredible array of activities, including many the entire family can enjoy.
The most frequent complaint? Overcrowding. (Not an uncommon gripe about cruise-line islands.)
Sample review: "We absolutely enjoyed our day at the Royal Caribbeans private island. We walked across the bridge, picked up our floating mats, and had an amazing day. They have kept this island incredibly clean. We are already planning our next cruise to go back." – MBowden26
It's hard to miss the biggest attraction on CocoCay: Thrill Waterpark. Here awaits the Caribbean's largest wave pool and the tallest water slide in North America at 135 feet, Daredevil's Peak. Dumping buckets, kids' splash areas and multiple water slides entertain guests while keeping them cool.
If you'd prefer to relax, there is Chill Beach or Oasis Lagoon, with multiple places to lounge and enjoy tropical drinks. There are also shops featuring handiwork by local artisans.
CocoCay offers cabanas at Chill Island, Thrill Waterpark, Oasis Lagoon and soon South Beach and Coco Beach, including overwater cabanas at the latter. Renting these private cabanas provides privacy, as well as service and amenities under the shade.
Cabanas offer a cooler with bottled water, fresh towels, a storage locker for when you step away, a USB outlet and a Bluetooth speaker for playing your own music. Some include food, dedicated attendants and space for private spa services. All come with comfortable chaise lounges.
2. Castaway Cay
You know when it's Disney produced it's going to be great, and Castaway Cay lives up to that promise.
The 1,000-acre island in the Bahamas is Disney Cruise Line's private island and comes filled with both family-friendly fun and quiet retreats for adults only — it's not all cartoon characters and sing-alongs here! Cruisers are also quick to praise the island's buffet, which offers lots of variety and is of higher quality than what you usually find.
Fun fact: This island is where "Splash" introduced Tom Hanks to mermaid Daryl Hannah in the 1980s.
Sample review: "Great island for just Disney Cruise guests, a few shops, good barbecue lunch was included that was pretty good. Island was nice with different areas to hang out, nice beaches and beautiful waters." – rustybob64
Castaway Cay Activities
It's Disney, so of course you'll find some of your children's favorite characters for meet-and-greets and photo-ops.
Just as the cruise ships divide and conquer by age groups, the island also offers activities specifically geared toward different demographics: There's the Spring-a-Leak water splash playground for younger tots, Scuttle's Cove kids' club with activities for school-aged children, and a Teen Hideout just for ages 14 to 17.
Kayaks, paddleboats, SUPs and bicycles are available for rental and all ages can enjoy a sports pavilion, snorkeling lagoon and floating water "park," Pelican Plunge, which offers two waterslides and dumping buckets.
Castaway Cay Cabanas
Select from family or adults-only cabanas on Disney's island (the latter found on the adults-only beach on Serenity Bay). The colorful hut-style cabanas feature private beaches, indoor and outdoor seating, stocked mini-fridges, snacks, showers, towels, beach gear, lockers and butler service.
Alas, there is no food service for Castaway Cay Cabanas — you'll have to dine at the shared food locations, most of which serve up traditional barbecue.
Cabanas do come with beach gear, though, so you can snorkel and while away your day in the sun.
1. Half Moon Cay
The best of the best of private islands can be found on what was once known as Little San Salvador. A 2,400-acre island in the Bahamas, it is shared by Holland America, Princess Cruises and Carnival Cruise Lines.
It may not have the enormous water park of CocoCay, but what it does feature is miles of space so passengers can get away from other passengers if they want to, and enjoy quality time with family and friends.
Sample review: "We stopped at Half Moon Beach on our cruise. Absolutely beautiful beach, calm water, plenty of chairs. If you want to get away from the masses of people, just walk a bit farther down the beach and you can have it all to yourself. Had a great day." – Renee S
Half Moon Cay Activities
Actively enjoy more than the beach at Half Moon Cay, which offers kayaking, cycling, horseback riding on the beach (and in the sea!), and even a chance to pet and interact with stingrays.
Those seeking a good time will find it on the pirate ship, where scoundrels can dance, drink and play games in the all-day party scene.
All food on the island is included in the cruise, including the barbecue lunch.
Half Moon Bay Cabanas
Colorful cabanas fit in perfectly with the Bahamian backdrop and include lounges, dining and game tables facing the beaches. Beach gear and a mini-fridge filled with snacks and drinks are also provided.
The Private Oasis Cabana is a two-story beach shack with iPod docking stations, grills, showers and misting stations — but the real selling point is its hot tub built for eight. The epic cabana is set in a private area with butlers and bartenders.
On Its Way: Ocean Cay Marine Reserve
One to watch in 2020 is MSC Cruise Line's first array into private islands at the Ocean Cay Marine Reserve. This Bahamas island resort just opened for cruise ships in mid-December 2019 after three years of development, and we're still awaiting the first reviews.
The island has all the same water and beach features one expects of an island getaway, along with arts and crafts markets, a food court with free fare, and a conservation center. Once finishing touches are complete, a spa will also be available.
Another cool touch? The island will showcase traditional Junkanoo parades in the spirit of the Bahamas, as well as lighthouse light shows.
Can't wait to hear all about Ocean Cay!