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8 Perfect Cruise Line Private Islands for Every Type of Traveler

Katherine Alex Beaven

Last updated
Oct 24, 2023

Read time
12 min read

Dreaming of a warm private island getaway? Owning or renting your own private island may be a bit of a reach, but luckily there's an easy -- and fun -- solution. Cruise lines have been cultivating and developing their very own private island destinations for the better part of three decades, meaning we can just go and enjoy ourselves and leave the hassles of owning a private island to them.

Having said that, not all private islands are created equal. If you're wondering which cruise private island is the best, it really depends on you and what you're looking for. It's true we've never met a private island we didn't like, but each has its own unique features and distinct personality.

Check out our breakdown of some of the best cruise line private islands and see which one is the match for you.

1. Disney's Castaway Cay: Best for Families and Disney Fans

When designing their perfect private island back in the mid-1990's, Disney Cruise Line was smart enough to apply the same well-thought-out approach to features and amenities, along with decades of experience (and expectations) from their parent company's theme parks.

The result is Castaway Cay, Disney's very own private island in the Bahamas chocked full fun amenities for young and young-at-heart cruisers alike, and a decidedly whimsical feel. Want a beautiful beach day with a side of cannonballs and fake cannon? You got it.

In true Disney fashion, there's a little something for everyone in the family here, from relaxing at the adults-only Serenity Bay beach area, to the dedicated teen area, and Castaway Cay's very own 2,400-square-foot floating platform sporting two huge water slides.

Across Castaway Family Beach, Sports Beach and the In Da Shade Game Pavilion, visiting castaways will find an array of family-friendly activities that can be done as a family, including kayaking, excellent lagoon snorkeling, devouring the free beachside BBQ feast, zipping around via a private boat rental, jamming to live music and a bit of friendly competition with games and sports.

Plus, getting the whole family crew off the ship and onto the island is a cinch. Since Castaway Cay has its own pier, there's no need to fuss with tendering from the ship to the shore -- just walk right off and right back on as you please. Not up for walking? A scenic island tram whisks cruise-goers pierside to all the most popular places, including the pristine beaches, dining venues, and activities.

Fun fact: There's a 5K run that takes place on the island every time a ship visits, and it's a blast. It's also a great way to get your sea legs pumping while surrounded with beautiful Caribbean views. (For a less heart-thumping but still active option, consider walking or biking along the island's extensive nature trails.)

Disney Cruise Line ships that visit Castaway Cay: Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy, Disney Wish and Disney Magic

2. Royal Caribbean's Perfect Day at CocoCay: Best for Thrill seekers and Superlative Chasers

Royal Caribbean's Perfect Day at CocoCay should be on the radar for cruisers itching to tick a few superlatives off their bucket list. Not only is this Bahamian island fun to say, it's also incredibly fun to visit.

There's a reason some sailings devote two whole days of their itinerary here at Perfect Day at CocoCay. The island -- which was substantially redesigned in 2019 to the tune of $250-million -- offers just too much to do to squeeze it all into one day.

You can spend the day scratching superlatives off your list by swooshing down Daredevil's Peak, North America's tallest water slide; riding the waves in the Caribbean's largest wave pool; taking in the sights from the highest vantage point in the Bahamas via a helium balloon ride and finding time to chill out on Chill Island or at the Oasis Lagoon, the largest freshwater pool in the Caribbean.

Other options include taking breaks on sandy beaches and at the swim-up bar; listening to live music; splashing through the kids' waterparks or soaring across a 1,600-foot zipline.

Taking a cue from Disney, Royal Caribbean also equipped Perfect Day at CocoCay with its own pier capable of docking two ships at once, meaning passengers no longer have to tender ashore.

While there is still plenty to enjoy on this private Caribbean island that is completely free of charge, be prepared to pay extra to visit some of the attractions such as the waterpark, zipline and helium balloon.

Royal Caribbean ships that visit Perfect Day at CocoCay: Adventure of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas, Brilliance of the Seas, Enchantment of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas, Grandeur of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, Independence of the Seas, Jewel of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Mariner of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Odyssey of the Seas, Rhapsody of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas, Symphony of the Seas, Vision of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas and Wonder of the Seas.

3. Holland America Line's Half Moon Cay: Best for Sun and Sand Lovers

Looking for the quintessential beach day? Then Half Moon Cay is your island. Located about 100 miles from Nassau, Half Moon Cay is worth the extra travel time. Trust us when we say this slice of paradise is a beach lover's dream come true -- so nice, you may even visit it twice in one itinerary.

Purchased by Holland America Line in 1996, this Bahamian island (also known as Little San Salvador) derives its name from its half-moon shape. It has been lovingly developed over the intervening years, and hosts ships from Carnival Cruise Line when no Holland America vessels are in port.

No matter which line you arrive on, when you're here it's all about relaxation and fun in the sun.

Practically any outdoor beach activity you can think of can be done on Half Moon Cay from snorkeling to parasailing to hiking and biking the island's numerous pathways and trails.

One of the island's most iconic (and photographed) excursions is the opportunity to ride horseback on the island -- and into the surf, in full view of your ship at anchor.

If you prefer to just laze and soak in the paradisical scenery, look into booking a private cabana on Half Moon Cay -- they've got some of the best, at least in our expert opinion.

In addition to all the sun-soaked activities and options to bling-out your beach day, Half Moon Cay is one incredibly idyllic island. While you won't find waterslides and zip lines, you'll instead discover an abundance of crystal clear turquoise waters, sugar white sand and a thriving amount of natural flora and fauna.

Holland America Line ships that visit Half Moon Cay: Rotterdam, Nieuw Amsterdam, Volendam, Nieuw Statendam, Eurodam, Zaandam and Zuiderdam.

Carnival ships that visit Half Moon Cay: Carnival Conquest, Carnival Sunrise, Carnival Elation, Carnival Sunshine, Carnival Magic, Carnival Freedom, Carnival Legend, Carnival Vista, Carnival Dream and Carnival Glory.

4. Princess Cruises' Princess Cays: Best for Chill-Seekers

On Princess Cays, it's all about the beach and water. A 100-mile stretch of private island on Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas, Princess Cays is where you can sit back, relax, grab some warmth from the sun and salty breeze from the sea. To say a day here is rejuvenating just might be an understatement: beachgoers have a half-mile of white sand to set up a chair, prop open an umbrella and do nothing.

We love this island for just hanging out, decompressing and unplugging (which is extra sweet if you rent a bungalow). The most athletic part of the day can be as little as tendering ashore, or as adventurous as renting out your own kayaks, banana boat and aqua chairs or picking your favorite water sport and or one of the various tours that traipse around this 40-acre cay.

Princess ships that visit Princess Cays: Regal Princess, Caribbean Princess, Sky Princess, Enchanted Princess.

5. Norwegian Cruise Line's Great Stirrup Cay: Best for Couples

Located in the Bahamas, Norwegian Cruise Line's easygoing, do-what-you-want-when-you-want private island, Great Stirrup Cay, is like the ultimate date night -- but better. And, like any great date, you can go all out and spend a ton of money, or keep it simple and sweet without spending a dime.

Couples looking to up the adrenaline can compete for the fastest zipline time, ride the waves with a wave runner tour or take in a whole new view with parasailing. There's also kayaks and stand-up paddleboards for rent, animal encounter tours with stingrays and the Bahamas' famous swimming beach pigs (yes, it's a thing!), and a great selection of food and drink venues.

Would you rather relax and leisurely enjoy the day side-by-side? Great Stirrup Cay is built for that, too. Grab your significant other and float in the crystal-clear water, set up a spot on the beach or even go for the gold and privacy by renting your own personal air-conditioned via in the island's Silver Cove area.

Norwegian ships that visit Great Stirrup Cay: Norwegian Encore, Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Sky, Norwegian Joy, Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Prima, Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Jade

6. MSC's MSC Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve: Best for Nature Lovers

MSC Cruises' Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve opened in late December 2019. As a young, still in-progress industrial-island-turned-cruise-destination, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve is still developing, though plans to turn it into a theme park like some of the other cruise line private islands in the Bahamas, isn't what MSC is going for. Instead, the line is aiming to create a more environmentally sustainable slice of paradise.

A rocky coastline, wide beachfront, beautiful lagoon, over 75,000 plants and shrubs are scattered throughout the island, and an on-site marine research center make this the must-visit island for cruisers interested in ecology, though beachgoers will not be disappointed either.

That said, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve is still a transformation in progress. The swimming here is great, but it will likely take some time for the snorkeling to come up to snuff, simply because attracting and sustaining populations of fish where there previously weren't any takes time.

Still, this private island is great for a day spent in the sun, traipsing on paved paths through the natural surroundings, checking out the marine reserve (once it's open to the public) and climbing to the top of the resident lighthouse for a superb overview of the island (and ship!).

MSC Cruises ships that visit Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve: MSC Divina, MSC Meraviglia, MSC Seashore

7. Norwegian Cruise Line's Harvest Caye: Best for Wildlife Enthusiasts

Do you love all types of wildlife? Then Norwegian's private island off the coast of Belize is your perfect private island destination. Harvest Caye boasts its own beautiful lagoon, but it also serves as a jumping off point to explore loads of the diverse wildlife, both on land and in the sea, that Belize has to offer.

For starters, snorkeling fans will have the chance to do so in the second-largest barrier reef in the world -- and the largest in the Western Hemisphere -- the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. A dip under the water here can introduce snorkelers or scuba divers to over 500 species of fish, three kinds of sea turtles, over 50 types of coral and whale sharks. If you're lucky you might even bump into a friendly manatee.

In addition to the kaleidoscope of marine life, a visit to Harvest Caye can also give animal-loving cruisers the opportunity to take a monkey-spotting boat ride along the aptly-named Monkey River, hike through jaguar territory in the Cockscomb Basin Wilderness Sanctuary or go horseback riding.

For folks who would rather stay put on the island itself, there's a lot to do here as well, such as a zipline, navigating a ropes course, kayaking or even just renting your own air-conditioned cabana to soak in the lush beauty of the island.

The only downside? Unlike other private islands, food is not included on the island; you'll have to pay extra.

Norwegian ships that visit Harvest Caye: Norwegian Encore, Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Sky, Norwegian Joy, Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Prima, Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Jade

Good to know: World Cruise itineraries on Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings' more upscale brands, Regent and Oceania, also feature stops at Harvest Caye.

8. Paul Gauguin Cruises' Motu Mahana: Best for Escapists

Motu Mahana is quite the outlier when it comes to cruise line private islands. Whereas most lines own islands in the Bahamas, Paul Gauguin's Motu Mahana is located on the other side of the world, in the South Pacific. This dreamy topical enclave is an escapist's luxury private islands fantasy come to life, complete with coconuts, palm trees, soft white sand and a shallow crystal-clear lagoon teeming with fish.

The location and the vibe both add to the feeling of ultimate escape and being far, far away from home. Add to that, Paul Gauguin's sailings to Motu Mahana are aboard the line's eponymous small ship, meaning you won't' have to share your slice of paradise with thousands of other cruisers like with some of the islands in the Caribbean.

While you're here, escape into the scenery with a colorful coral reef snorkeling session, float away (figuratively) with an overwater massage, sink into the soft white sand on the beach or grab a taste of local culture with live music, a beach barbecue and tropical drinks. Crew will even paddle out a few kayaks and paddleboards if you'd rather see the island from the water.

Even better, all Paul Gauguin itineraries stop for at least one day at Motu Mahana.

Publish date January 11, 2022
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