17 FEB 2017: Nothing says luxury quite like an exclusive experience, and with their pristine beaches, aquamarine waters and a variety of adventures both in the water and on the shore, a visit to a cruise line’s private island certainly qualifies.  In fact, cruise experts CruiseCompete say private islands rank “Number One” on cruisers’ to-do lists.

What makes a private island such a sought-after destination?

They offer a unique opportunity for relaxation, one that completely sweeps you away from the pressures of everyday life. Say goodbye to routines and obligations, and hello to cold drinks, beach umbrellas, cabanas and shady spots to relax.

Live like royalty on an island like Holland America’s Half Moon Cay, where the staff caters to your every whim. For a fee, cruise passengers can reserve a private cabana (which includes an outdoor freshwater shower/misting station and indoor dining room and changing area). You will be attended to by private butlers who fill beverage glasses, prepare hot and chilled appetizers, and even offer cool cucumbers to soothe eyes against the hot, tropical sun.

Ramp up the adrenaline with aerial adventures, island explorations, and water sports. Tour the island via jeep, snorkel with stingrays, or take a kayak lagoon tour; go parasailing, compete in beach Olympics or enjoy the floating aqua playground… the options for energetic explorers abound.

Each cruise line has its own set of luxury amenities, so here’s what you can expect when you visit one of these vacation oases:

Costa Cruises – Costa Cruises guests visit Catalina Island, off the coast of the Dominican Republic. It features activities such as volleyball, beach Olympics, snorkeling, and massages on the beach. Cruise passengers can also rent jet skis, go for banana-boat rides, or relax on a long beach edged with palm trees. Music and barbecues complete an idyllic day and, visitors can purchase jewelry, beachwear, and other souvenirs.

Disney Cruise Line – Disney’s Castaway Cay provides plenty of magical fun for people of all ages, and caters to guests in true Disney style. Castaway Cay features cruise ship-docking capabilities (versus shuttle boats between the ship and island), so guests can easily travel back and forth to their ship. Attractions include the Castaway Family Beach, Serenity Bay for adults, a teens-only activity area called The Hide Out and supervised programs for children at Scuttle's Cove. There are also numerous water sports, biking, snorkeling parasailing, fishing and various water tour excursions.

Holland America – Holland America’s Half Moon Cay has been ranked “Best Private Island” by Porthole Cruise Magazine for 16 years running, and is located on Little San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. (The island must remain 98% undeveloped as an international bird sanctuary.) The Cay’s 700-acre lagoon allows guests to feed stingrays and enjoy water sports, a children's aqua park and a buoyed personal watercraft course. Other features include private beachside cabanas with private butler service, showers and misters and eco-tours by glass-bottom boat.

MSC Cruises – MSC Cruises is currently developing their own exclusive reserve island, Ocean Cay MSC Marnie Reserve. Located in the Bahamas, Ocean Cay will feature a 2,000-seat amphitheater, many restaurants, walking trails, bike rentals, a family beach, zip wires, and a pavilion for weddings and celebrations.   There will be an exclusive spa and wellness sanctuary with private bungalows exclusively for MSC Yacht Club guests. MSC plans for Ocean Cay to open to guests in October 2018.

Norwegian Cruise Line –Travelers set foot on Great Stirrup Cay, located 120 nautical miles east of Fort Lauderdale in the Berry Island chain of the Bahamas. There are two maintained beaches on the island, plus several other isolated ones. Visitors enjoy native animal and marine life at every turn. Water sports include snorkeling, paddleboats, sailboats, kayaks, and parasailing. Special cruise line “Olympic” competitions are frequently held on the island for guests. In 2017, Norwegian will offer a new lagoon retreat with a pristine beach, new dining options, beach villas, and a family beach area.

Norwegian Cruise Line also stops at Harvest Caye in Southern Belize. The 75-acre island features a pool, a water sports lagoon, a 7 acre beach with private cabanas, shopping, as well as activities such as zip lining and snorkeling.

Paul Gauguin Cruises – Paul Gauguin visits Motu Mahana, part of the Society Islands, which offers local crafts and cuisine, along with music and vanilla plantation tours. There is also waterskiing, kayaking and windsurfing available for the sports-minded crowd.

Princess Cruises – The line visits Princess Cays, which is located on the southern portion of Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas, approximately 128 km from Nassau. This island features turquoise waters that are great for snorkeling and swimming. Water lovers can also rent aqua bikes, seaboards, paddleboats, clear-hull kayaks, sailboats or float rafts. Guests can do some shopping; taste the island cuisine and exotic cocktails or just soak up the warm Caribbean sun enjoying the beach umbrellas, tiki huts and hammocks.

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity – Coco Cay, which features the 20,000 square-foot aqua playground Caylana’s Castle Cove, is an island designed exclusively for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity passengers. It offers a white-sand beach, wave runners and snorkeling among coral reefs with vibrant tropical fish and sunken wrecks. The most popular activity is parasailing, where guests ascend to 400 feet to enjoy a view of the island.

The lines’ second island getaway, Labadee, has seen recent enhancements, and now features seven different “neighborhoods” (Buccaneer’s Bay, Dragon’s Plaza, Labadee Town Square, Adrenaline Beach, Columbus Cove, Nellie’s Beach and the Barefoot Beach Club) that have individualized offerings. Ride a rollercoaster at Adrenaline Beach, play at the aqua park in Columbus Cove or lounge in one of 20 private cabanas at the Beach Club (an experience exclusive to guests residing in a Grand Suite or above).

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