Cruise Line Private Islands | TravelResearchOnline

Cruise Line Private Islands

Susan SchaeferCruise line-owned private islands are unique to Caribbean itineraries, but within the region they are prolific. Norwegian Cruise Line may have started the trend, but today most of the mass market cruise lines own or share a private island in the Caribbean: Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America, Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity.

Clients new to cruising may not even realize they may be visiting a privately owned island, until they try to find excursions out of the cruise line offerings. They also might not understand that this is a fairly rare phenomenon isolated to the Caribbean region. There aren’t private islands in Alaska, New England, Europe, etc.

When dealing with clients unfamiliar with the concept of private islands, here is some general information that you can share with them:

Disney Cruise Line’s Castaway Cay
Castaway Cay is located in the Bahamas, and is also know as Gorda Cay. For my family, this was our first introduction to cruising and cruise line-owned private islands. Disney has a knack for setting the bar high for their competition. Disney dredged and built a dock, so their ships dock at the island (no tendering here). On our first visit they explained how they use the ship to power certain things on the island, and that they literally plug the ship into the island so purchases made on the island seamlessly appear on your shipboard stateroom account (except for the island post office; you have to pay cash there). A small handful of Disney Cast Members live on the island, and when a ship is in port the onboard Cast Members assist with activities on the island.

And just like onboard, Disney has designated adult-only areas on the island as well. There are plenty of activities on the island, all of which can be pre-purchased at the excursion desk (or online prior to sailing). There is no shortage of things to do, places to wander, or beautiful beaches to lay on and bake under the Caribbean sun.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Great Stirrup Cay
Norwegian started it all with Great Stirrup Cay. It probably is one of the smallest cruise line-owned private islands these days, but it still has a lot to offer visitors. Here you can snorkel, go parasailing, rent paddle boats, or just sun yourself on the beach. There is plenty available for passengers of all ages and sizes.

Holland America and Carnival Cruise Line, Half Moon Cay
Holland America and Carnival Cruises share the same private island, Half Moon Cay. We recently visited this island on a Holland America cruise. Although Disney did a good job of spoiling us and setting the bar high, Half Moon Cay is a nice place to visit. It offers unique excursions like horseback riding on the beach or snorkeling with sting rays.

Half Moon Cay has cabanas available to rent, but urge clients to rent these as far in advance as possible. The cabanas are popular with guests, and often sell out beforehand.

Princess Cruises Princess Cay
This technically is not a stand-alone island owned by Princess Cruises. It is a strip of beachfront on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas, but has been cut off from the rest of the island. There are plenty of activities available from paddle boating to snorkeling. Princess has a shop on the island to sell souvenirs, and you can find local vendors with stands set up around the area, selling their wares.

This was the second private island I ever visited, and had taken my mom with me. We splurged and rented a cabana, which came with a dedicated “cabana boy” who brought us drinks from the bar as well as anything we wanted from the lunch barbecue.

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises, CocoCay and Labadee
Royal Caribbean and Celebrity share their two private locations. CocoCay is a private island, whereas Labadee is more like Princess Cay, as it’s a private beach on Haiti cut off from the rest of the island. CocoCay is found in the Bahamas and is also known as Little Stirrup Cay; ironically right next door to Norwegian’s Great Stirrup Cay. Like their competitors, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity offer a variety of activities on the private
getaways for all age ranges.

Ultimately, when talking to your clients about the private island options in the Caribbean, the key is to let them know what is and is not available. Because these are privately owned, there are no third party excursion options at these ports of calls. This is a unique opportunity for the cruise lines to completely control the passenger experience, and keep more cash in their coffers. They don’t have to worry about losing excursion market share to third party companies; and I’m sure that was a major factor when they decided to add private island ports of call to their Caribbean itineraries. If they could do the same in other regions, I think they’d jump at the chance.


Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at susan@shipsntripstravel.com or by phone at (888) 221-1209.

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