Private islands are some of the most luxurious ports of call, but they aren't just reserved for the rich and famous. Most mainstream cruise lines offer access to private islands for the everyday cruise passenger, too.
They provide the perfect reason to ditch every item on your to-do list and get in that R&R time you've been craving, focusing on fun and togetherness.
We'll take a look at two private islands undergoing big changes to provide cruise passengers with new amenities and upgraded spaces to stretch out and enjoy: Norwegian Cruise Line's Great Stirrup Cay and Royal Caribbean's CocoCay.
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Similarities Between Great Stirrup Cay and CocoCay
Though owned by different cruise lines, both islands are located in the Bahamas and are exclusively used for cruise ship tourism. In other words, you won't find any shore excursions or activities outside of what is available right on the island for tourists.
Beaches: Both islands offer white-sand beaches and lounging options for passengers seeking either solace or fun, as well as exclusive areas for preferred passengers. There are three beaches on Great Stirrup Cay: Bertram's Cove, Cabana Beach and Fiesta Beach, with the last being the most secluded. Likewise, there are three beach areas on CocoCay: South Beach, Coco Beach Club and Chill Island, with the latter offering a quieter experience. There are also several interior pool spaces for lounging on CocoCay.
Cabanas: Lounge chairs and hammocks can be used free of charge on these islands, while cabanas, bungalows, daybeds, clamshells and umbrellas are available to rent for a fee. Cabana rentals on Great Stirrup Cay start at $445 and $299 on CocoCay, and advanced reservations are recommended for both.
Dining: On both Great Stirrup Cay and CocoCay, you'll find free dining, including buffets and snack areas. CocoCay's free restaurants are Skipper's Grill, Chill Grill and three Snack Shack, while on Great Stirrup Cay, your complimentary options are Beach Buffet, Abaco Taco and Jumbey Beach Grill.
Typical buffet options at Jumbey Beach Grill on Great Stirrup Cay include Caribbean jerk chicken, hot dogs and hamburgers, pizza, salad and fruit. CocoCay's buffet features barbecue chicken and ribs, hamburgers, macaroni and cheese and fresh fruit.
Bars: Bars are plentiful on both islands; you're never far from your next drink if you want one. On Great Stirrup Cay, the main bars include Bacardi Bar, Bertram's Bar and Patron Bar, specializing in various frozen beachy concoctions. On CocoCay, you'll find Captain Jack's, Swim-Up Bar and a floating bar, among other options, and there's even a self-serve beer station.
If you have purchased a beverage package through your cruise line, you may use it for drinks on both islands. Otherwise, drinks are available for purchase.
Snorkeling: Passengers say snorkeling at both ports is worthwhile. Great Stirrup Cay's turquoise water provides a view of the artificial reef with sunken ship pieces and an underwater sculpture garden created by NCL, while on CocoCay you can see a sunken airplane. Snorkeling gear rentals are available on both islands (or you can bring your own).
Tram service: To help passengers get around the island, CocoCay offers a regular tram service every 15 minutes with five stops at the major attractions and beach spaces. Great Stirrup Cay offers a tram from the tender pier to The Lagoon if they booked a villa or spa appointment.
Other: Though they were both under construction at the time of this writing and not yet open to cruisers, the two islands will offer exclusive dining and relaxation spaces -- The Haven on Great Stirrup Cay for suite passengers and Coco Beach Club on CocoCay for passengers with cabana reservations in this area or who pay a daily entry fee. Both islands also offer souvenir shops and water sport rentals
Differences Between Great Stirrup Cay and CocoCay
Getting there: One of the first differences you'll notice between the islands is how you access them. You'll need to tender to Great Stirrup Cay, while as of spring 2019, there is a dock at CocoCay where ships tie up. Weather conditions can prevent ships from calling on ports that require tender, and calls on Great Stirrup Cay may get abruptly canceled for this reason.
Island size: Great Stirrup Cay, the first private island to be acquired by a cruise line, is a larger island at 268 acres, as opposed to 140 acres for CocoCay. You'll notice that the land on CocoCay is more developed than Great Stirrup Cay.
Activities and attractions: CocoCay, doubling down on its "Perfect Day" concept, now boasts the tallest water slide in North America, the largest wave pool and the largest freshwater pool in the Caribbean. It also offers a helium balloon ride, 1,600-foot zipline and tons of thrilling attractions in a brand-new water park, opening in 2019. Several of these attractions are fee-based.
On Great Stirrup Cay, you can go kayaking, parasailing, snorkel 15 mini-reefs and feed stingrays (for a fee). There's also a Straw Market, where Bahamian vendors sell their handicrafts. You can book an excursion to swim with domesticated pigs, after a 10-minute boat ride to neighboring Treasure Island.
Coco Cay vs. Great Stirrup Cay: Bottom Line
Passengers looking for a lot of bells and whistles and thrilling activities for kids (big and little) will want to explore CocoCay through a Royal Caribbean itinerary that includes the latest $200 million Perfect Day at CocoCay island upgrades.
Great Stirrup Cay offers a more laid-back, relaxing environment, with plentiful cabana options and secluded beach areas to spend an agenda-free day.
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