Paradise Islands – The Rise of Private Ports

by Vanessa Lee

Harvest Caye

Half Moon Cay

Labadee & CocoCay

In addition to continually pushing the envelope with onboard innovations, many cruise lines have also invested to raise the bar on their private island ports of call. 

With so many travellers launching their cruise lifecycle with a sailing to the Caribbean, there is a valid concern about adding new and more interesting ports to the regular 7 day sailings from Miami or Fort Lauderdale. That’s one reason the opening of Cuba has made such an impact.

The customer must continue to be engaged and to anticipate travelling to different and interesting places.  Hence the enhancements and additions to private island experiences, most of which are in Bahamian waters, but also now expanding further afield. 

As with everything, it’s hard to keep up on what these port days look like now, so here is some updated info and details on the efforts and dollars being spent on the “fluffing and buffing” of these spots.

Harvest Caye – A 75-Acre Oasis

Norwegian Cruise Line introduced its new private destination last November. Located off the coast of southern Belize, Harvest Caye is an expansive, 75-acre oasis. Great care and attention has been paid to deliver a unique experience here, while respecting the area’s natural beauty and rich flora and fauna.  Norwegian has pulled out the stops, having built a 136-foot high venue – the Flighthouse – which is the centrepiece and home base for a variety of aerial activities. There’s a 3,000-foot zip line, suspension bridges and free fall jumps, all ideal for active guests who want to get their adrenaline pumping.

For a more relaxing day, cruisers can head to the seven-acre beach area, loll in the massive swimming pool, enjoy beach and water sports and sip and taste at five dining and bar venues. Norwegian also offers a conservation and education program which includes manatee observation tours at the lagoon, visits to an aviary, insect and butterfly gardens and more.  This new destination is also being offered to guests of Norwegian’s sister lines Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises on some itineraries too. Harvest Caye is a sure-fire hit.

Half Moon Cay – 20 Years of Fun in the Sun

Holland America’s Half Moon Cay continues to win awards and is constantly being upgraded and maintained. Located southeast of Nassau in the beautiful, calm and clear Bahamian waters, it offers an expansive and gorgeous sandy beach. All HAL ships that sail from FLL now call upon the private port that is celebrating its 20th anniversary of welcoming those DAM ships.

This idyllic playground offers large private cabanas for rent, the Lobster Shack for fresh seafood and other spots for dining and drinks. Naturally there’s an extensive list of beach and watersport activities and something different – a very popular horseback riding excursion where you and your horse can even ride in the ocean as well as on land. The Club HAL kid’s program is also run on shore and there’s even a Bahamian chapel for wedding and vow renewals.

Labadee & CocoCay – Royal Caribbean’s Private Ports

Both private destinations in the Royal Caribbean family are well known – Labadee is located on the coast of Hispaniola, the island home to the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and CocoCay is in the Bahamian archipelago.

Labadee is unusual in that it is surrounded by spectacular mountains and the sail in (I always recall my first time) is spectacular. The lush foliage of this 260-acre private paradise makes it even more attractive. Over the years Royal Caribbean has upgraded many features and now there’s an Adrenaline Beach for major action including the Dragon’s Tail Coaster, which can get up to 40km/hr  as it travels through tropical jungles. If that’s not enough your clients can now take one of the longest zip lines over water on the Dragon’s Breath Flight. There are the usual great beaches, sports of all kinds, plenty of space to get away from it all and naturally, the chance to shop, dine and enjoy a beverage or two.

CocoCay, on the island named Little Stirrup Cay, adjacent to Norwegian’s Great Stirrup Cay in fact, offers 3 separate beaches and a number of fee-based activities. Your clients can try wave running, parasailing, snorkelling or even shallow water diving (for certified divers only). Families love the facilities at Caylana Aqua Park with great fun being had on the in-water trampolines and something every private port should have – 14-foot floating castles with inflatable waterslides!

More Private Paradises

Other private islands include Disney’s terrific Castaway Cay, Princess Cruises’ Princess Cays and Paul Gauguin’s Motu Mahana, an idyllic piece of true paradise in French Polynesia. (I can attest to its beauty and great coconut drinks). MSC has just broken ground on its private oasis on an island 32 km from Bimini. It will be named Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve when it opens in a year or so. The largest private island in the region, it will feature 6 beach areas, a 2000-seat amphitheatre, restaurants and bars and many activities – all balanced with conservation efforts to protect indigenous plants and marine life. With MSC’s new ship Seaside coming to PortMiami this December, we know that once Ocean Cay is completed, it will be a highlight of the ship’s itineraries.

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