Cruise holidays are the perfect way to combine multiple holidays in one, with most cruises offering multiple port days at various destinations throughout their itinerary. However, while capital cities or famous beach towns might be expected, it turns out there are some more exclusive port destinations that cruisers may not be aware of. Thee particular daytime destinations are reserved exclusively for particular cruise lines and come in the form of private islands. Indeed, many cruise operators have chosen to shell out and purchase land, especially for travellers onboard their cruises.
Adam Coulter, editor of Cruise Critic spoke exclusively with Express.co.uk to explain a little bit more about how cruise enthusiasts can get a taste of island life.
“Since the 1990s, cruise lines have been investing in land-based private islands that allow them to offer passengers exclusive beach time as an extension of the onboard experience,” he explains.
“In recent years, cruise lines have significantly ramped up their efforts to modernise and build out new exclusive destinations, by introducing a variety of innovative, shore excursions and attractions that promise to make a private island stop-over an experience not to be missed.”
Whether owned exclusively by a cruise line or leased for their passengers, visitors from the ship will have full reign of the space and can enjoy everything from sunbathing and water sports, to playgrounds, water parks and live music.
“Whether it’s a whole island or a specific part of an island, cruise line private islands and beaches are available for the exclusive use of cruise passenger guests only,” Adam continues.
“Some exclusive cruise line beaches on larger, inhabited islands, are happy for passengers to visit other cultural spots outside of the private enclave – as long as they make it back in time before their cruise ship departs.”
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For most cruises, a visit to a privately owned island is simply an extension of life onboard the cruise.
That means, for the most part, passengers can continue to use their cruise card for spending and can expect the same amount of luxury onshore.
However, these rules and regulations vary depending on what line you are travelling with.
“Cruise line private islands generally offer an uncomplicated beach day for cruise passengers,” says Adam.
“Proving exceptionally popular with cruise passengers, these private islands offer a sense of exclusivity and luxury normally associated with the rich and famous – which adds to the uniqueness of the overall experience.”
Along with luxury, the islands also have a more practical offering too.
Adam explains: “There are also advantages of owning and operating a second homeport, not least the easy land/port access at any time, but also the ability to offer a dedicated destination stopover that holidaymakers love and where they less likely to miss the ship’s departure time.”
He adds: “Cruise line private islands have proved exceptionally popular with cruisers over the years, and lines have responded with increased investment to enhance their exclusive onshore experiences.
“Private islands are a great opportunity for cruise lines to offer a seamless brand extension on land, where they can ultimately ensure optimum quality control throughout.”
Popular cruise lines jumping onboard the private island trend include Disney Cruises, Virgin Voyages, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean.
These cruise islands are amongst some of Cruise Critic’s highlights – the oldest of which opened in 1992, and the newest opening this year.
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Princess Cruises’ Princess Cays
Though Princess Cruises’ Bahamian Princess Cays island was developed for the cruise line in 1992, it remains popular with guests today.
Located 70 miles east of Nassau, on the southern tip of the island of Eleuthera, the site is made up of 1.5 miles of white-sand beaches, a range of eateries, water sports facilities and plenty of opportunities to shop.
Set alongside a pristine coral reed, Adam lists one of the island’s main features as “a see-through boat tour” which he believes is “is a must for those wanting to experience the varied marine life in a dry environment.”
Virgin Voyages The Beach Club at Bimini
Meanwhile, one of the newest islands to hit the scene is Virgin Voyages’ The Beach Club at Bimini, also situated in the Bahamas.
Taking the brands edgy, a-list theme from ocean to land, the cruise line will also offer its adults-only passengers access to an exclusive 4.5-acre beach club on the Island of Bimini once the Scarlet Lady launches in March. Though the island is not entirely private, it still offers privacy and a sense of celebrity status for visitors.
In fact, Virgin Voyage’s creators are hoping to develop an experience to rival the likes of Ibiza and Saint-Tropez, having already confirmed some star-studded musical acts including Grammy winner Mark Ronson.
Adam describes the island experience, saying: “Days will apparently start with beach yoga and meditation to the sounds of the sea, as well as relaxing in hammock groves and cabanas.
“Complimentary locally-sourced island cuisine and snacks are available throughout the day as well as many water sports.
“The evening heats up with in-demand DJ-led pool and flotilla parties – and ends with a beach bonfire and acoustic sing-along.”
Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay
Other notable island experiences include Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay, which recently underwent a £191,967,500 ($250 million) revamp.
The private island boasts the tallest waterslide in North America, the largest freshwater pool in the Bahamas – featuring an underwater soundtrack, a helium balloon ride, 13 waterslides, a wave pool, zip line and a speedway.
Disney’s Castaway Cay
Meanwhile, Disney Cruises bring a taste of their famous magic to a 1,000-acre piece of land set in the tropics.
Though the island is now used entirely for Disney cruise guests, there was a time when it was overrun by pirates and smugglers.
It was also used by Hollywood stars as the filming location for mermaid flick ‘Splash’.
According to Adam, some of the island’s best excursions include: “ guided snorkelling in Snorkel Lagoon; swimming with stingrays; floating in special inner tubes; kayaks, parasailing, sailboats, or fishing charters; bike rides around the island, or just a special cabana to hang out in. “And of course, there will always be the Disney characters ashore to help enhance the fun.”
Plenty of other cruise lines have their own island offering, including Holland America’s Half Moon Cay, nestled in the Bahamas, and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Harvest Cay in Belize.
If you’re keen to experience island life, these exclusive stops should be listed on relevant itineraries.
Having evolved year-on-year, Adam says this robust tropical offering has “plenty to keep holidaymakers of all ages happy.”