Ships sailing the Bahamas and Caribbean are fulfilling desert-island dreams of empty beaches and breeze-tossed palms by dropping passengers off for the day on private cays and beaches owned by the cruise lines themselves. The retreats are so popular that several lines have recently invested millions to make their exclusive swaths of sand even more appealing. Here, the latest in the private isle file.
HALF MOON CAY, Bahamas
Holland America and Carnival
Only about 2% of this 2,400-acre island has been developed by the two cruise lines for recreation; the rest is a Bahamian National Trust bird sanctuary. Glimpse the tens of thousands of terns, egrets and coots by a guided horseback, bike or kayak trip, or on a new 3-mile loop footpath. The 2-mile beach has 15 air-conditioned family cabanas with butler service and outdoor showers. Even more luxurious is the Private Oasis, a retreat for up to 25 people, with a hot tub, waterslide, chef, masseuse and personal lifeguard.
CASTAWAY CAY, Bahamas
Disney Cruise Line
This renovated 1,000-acre isle feels like a theme park, with Disney characters greeting passengers. Just off the horseshoe-shaped Castaway Family Beach is a swim-to floating platform with corkscrew waterslides. Guests can also enjoy 20 rentable cabanas and 3 massage huts along with a teen area and 2 play areas for younger kids.
Royal Caribbean and Celebrity
A remote hilly peninsula on Haiti’s north shore has been leased for exclusive use by Royal Caribbean and its sister line Celebrity. It has 5 beaches, a trail network, 9 bars and several amusement-park attractions, including the world’s longest overwater zipline, a hillside roller-coaster-like ride and a floating waterpark. Enjoy the shopping plaza, folklore museum, craft market and dance shows. Cabanas, reserved for suite-level guests, line the shore close to the pier.
COCO CAY, Bahamas
Royal Caribbean and Celebrity
Passengers arrive by tender at this narrow, mile-long sandy isle in the Berry Island chain, about 50 miles from Nassau. They spend the day taking kayak or jet-ski trips, snorkeling above a replica of a sunken pirate ship and jumping on floating trampolines in an aqua park.
GREAT STIRRUP CAY, Bahamas
Norwegian Cruise Line
NCL started the private island trend in 1977 when it acquired this palm-tree-studded isle next to Coco Cay (above) in the Berry Islands. Passengers tend to focus on the long north shore beach and excellent snorkeling in the shallows and coral reefs just offshore. (You can also venture down paths along the rocky coast to an 1863 lighthouse, or circle the island in a sailboat, but most passengers prefer to keep the calypso band within earshot.) The adventurous can parasail just offshore for a birds-eye view.
PRINCESS CAYS, Bahamas
Forty beachy acres on the southern tip of Eleuthera are leased for the use of Princess passengers. Ships anchor offshore and tender passengers to a marina that rents out sailboats, kayaks, snorkeling gear and floats. Beach bars and reggae bands give the place a party atmosphere. The air-conditioned 6-person beach bungalows, with outdoor showers and optional gourmet picnic spreads, are popular family rentals. The Sanctuary at Princess Cays is a more secluded bungalow experience for adults. The port is a base for scuba diving and glass-bottom-boat trips, as well as sightseeing excursions through historic Eleuthera.
CATALINA ISLAND, Dominican Republic
The Italian cruise line leases a portion of this flat national park island off the southeast coast of the Dominican Republic, providing its guests with a low-key beach day. Local vendors rent snorkeling gear and jet skis, sell crafts and give walking tours. Catalina is also a starting point for some of the DR’s best scuba-diving excursions, and for day trips to the mountainous mainland and nearby Altos de Chavon, a charming re-creation of a medieval European village, with top-notch galleries, boutiques and restaurants.
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.