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Cruise Line Private Islands, Everything You Need to Know

If you have a Bahamas or Eastern Caribbean cruise planned, chances are you may be heading to one of the ever so popular private islands in the Bahamas. Almost all of the mass market cruise lines have one or they are planning to build one in the near future.

Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian Cruise Line’s private island in the Bahamas

The islands generally provide for a great beach day as an extension of the ship, with food included. Some of the cruise lines even extend their beverage packages to the island. Let’s jump in to some of the key features that can be found during the private island experience and talk about what each cruise line has to offer.

The islands and who visits them:

  • Castaway Cay – Disney Cruise Line
  • CocoCay – Royal Caribbean
  • Great Stirrup Cay – Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Princess Cays – Princess Cruises & Carnival Cruise Line
  • Half Moon Cay – Holland America & Carnival Cruise Line
  • Ocean Cay – MSC Cruises (Future Build)

Locations 

Castaway Cay is located on the north end of the Bahamas just southeast of Grand Bahama Island. CocoCay and Great Stirrup Cay are located directly next to each other in the central portion of the Bahamas between Grand Bahama Island and New Providence. Princess Cays and Half Moon Cay can be found on the south end of the Bahamas just south of Eleuthera. All of the islands can easily be reached from east coast Florida ports, even on a three or four day sailing.

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Princess Cays

Piers and Tendering

Currently only one of the above mentioned islands has a functioning pier, Disney’s Castaway Cay. This may not seem that important but those of you who have missed a private island stop because of unsafe tendering conditions probably think otherwise. Even on the most beautiful day to the eye, bad wind and sea conditions can cancel a private island stop that requires tendering.

In 2017 I had four sailings with Bahamas private island stops, I only made it to the island on one of those sailings. With stats like that the cruise lines have started to make plans to build piers. Royal Caribbean is in the process of building their pier at CocoCay. It is currently estimated to be complete in March 2019.

Norwegian has been working with a consultant to begin plans for a pier but last I heard they had ran into some road blocks with the ocean bed not supporting the build at Great Stirrup Cay. MSC’s Ocean Cay is slated to have a pier for it’s opening in late 2019. Building piers at these private destinations will allow even more passengers and larger ships to experience these beautiful destinations.

Island Activities

Up until the last few years visiting these islands really felt like visiting an uninhabited island with unspoiled views. However while trying to compete with each other the cruise lines have started to add new activities and amenities. Cabanas can now be found at all of the islands as well as jet skis and water activities. Norwegian’s Great Stirrup Cay is getting a zip line added to the island while Royal Caribbean is transforming CocoCay in its entirety over the next year.

The new island is being deemed “Perfect Day” and will include a water park, a zip line, a freshwater pool, and over the water cabanas, among others. I think the additional amenities and activities will be great for the cruise lines and it will appeal to new cruisers. As long as I can sit in a lounger with a drink in my hand and enjoy the beautiful beach views I’ll be quite alright with it all.

Food and Drinks

All of the islands provide a beachside BBQ/picnic of sorts that is included with your cruise fare. They generally include hot dogs, burgers, chicken, and assortments of salads and side dishes. There are some additional food and drink venues that vary by cruise line and range from taco huts to funnel cake carts. The one big difference between some of the islands is the use of ship board beverage packages.

On CocoCay and Great Stirrup Cay you can use the packages as you would on the ship. All of the other lines do not have this perk and beverages are purchased a la carte. In either case you will be using your ship card for drink purchases and cash is not accepted.

Random Thoughts

There are vendors who sell souvenirs on most of the islands. If they are local run shops, cash is usually accepted. If they are ship run stores, then your ship card will need to be used for the purchase. I would head back to the ship well in advance of the last tender (if applicable). The lines to get back to the ship will get longer the closer you get to all aboard time.

Be sure to utilize any feet wash stations to remove sand and not track it back onto the ship. Most tender ships have an upper and lower deck. If you want to avoid the sun head to the lower deck. If you want the sun or want pictures of the ship from the tender head to the upper deck.

Here is the big question, do I have a favorite? The simple answer is no. I think all of the islands discussed here offer a great beach day experience. The most beautiful of them all is Half Moon Cay, although I haven’t been there in almost 10 years. With that said, I still remember the silky smooth sand and pristine blue waters. CocoCay and Great Stirrup Cay are up there on my list because of the beverage package inclusion. This is a huge plus in my book. Which of the Bahamas private islands have you been to? Are you heading to one for the first time, which one?

Thank you for reading along and I hope that the post got you excited for an upcoming visit or made you think about some great memories you’ve made at one of the islands. If you want to check out more of my content you can do so at CruiseLifeMatt.com or on Instagram @CruiseLifeMatt.

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