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Cruise Lines That Have Their Own Private Islands

It's true that cruise ships—with their laser tag arenas, escape rooms, ice rinks, soaring water slides, and go-cart courses—are becoming destinations themselves, but nothing beats an escape to a private island.

CococayCourtesy Jeff Bogle

Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay (Bahamas)

This newly redeveloped private Bahamian island reachable only via Royal Caribbean cruise ships is the home of the 135-foot-tall Daredevil’s Peak water slide (the tallest in North America), as well as the largest freshwater pool in the Bahamas, a tethered balloon offering the highest, postcard-perfect vantage point in the islands at 450-feet on a calm clear day, pristine beaches with warm aquamarine ocean water, and a trio of thrilling zip lines soaring atop of it all. But what makes Perfect Day a masterclass in idyllic island life is its design. Perfect Day at CocoCay is a private island for upwards of 8,000 guests at a time yet manages to make each cruise passenger feel like they are on their very own private reserve thanks to seats for all without a mad scramble to ensure your family and friends can sit together, plenty of spotless bathrooms and showers, strong WiFi that extends from the ship, and a parade of tasty food that’s included for free just as it is on board. There’s no other way to say it, this island is perfect.

Pro tip: try the mozzarella sticks and crispy French fries, then make a delicious DIY ice cream sandwich with a pair of chocolate chip cookies and a swirl of soft serve….after you zip down Daredevil’s Peak!

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half moon cayCourtesy Carnival Cruise Line

Holland America & Carnival’s Half Moon Cay (Bahamas)

This lush, largely undeveloped island is a private port of call for both Holland America and Carnival ships. Here, cruise passengers can snorkel in the shallow emerald waters of the Atlantic, ride horseback along the ocean’s edge, play with gentle stingrays, or do absolutely none of that at all with a rum swizzle in one hand and a book in the other while forgetting the rest of the world exists. For those wanting to see more of Half Moon Cay and work up an appetite in the process, try a hike & bike excursion in the morning, before the heat of the day becomes oppressive. Everyone loves a private island, but here’s how to find the best cruise for the way you like to travel.

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castaway cayCourtesy Disney Cruise Line

Disney’s Castaway Cay (Bahamas)

Disney’s private island tempts cruisers with an exclusive combination of a Bahamian oasis and Disney’s legendary hospitality. While docked at Castaway Cay, passengers can have a dance party with Lilo and Stitch, experience a 12-acre snorkel trail with underwater statues of Mickey Mouse and a sunken submarine from the classic Disney attraction 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, zoom down water slides, play games in the shade, meet favorite characters, and rent a paddleboat or kayak. When grown-ups want to spend some quality together on the adults-only beach or maybe want to go for a run, supervised childcare is available at Scuttle’s Cove, the on-island kid’s club. That run, the Castaway Cay 5k, is a free race offered on every sailing that visits the island and run by hundreds of people during each cruise. Find out what it’s like to work on a Disney Cruise ship.

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Dragonfly, Labadee, HaitiCourtesy Royal Caribbean International

Royal Caribbean’s Labadee (Haiti)

Labadee is Royal Caribbean’s private escape set among the rolling jungles and sparkling beaches of Haiti. There, you can climb the only icebergs in the Caribbean at Arawak Aqua Park, get your adrenaline going at 30mph on a coaster down a mountain, and traverse the world’s longest zip line over water to see this pristine island from — gulp — 500 feet! Of course, you could also do none of that and instead, kick back with the island’s signature drink — the Labadoozie — and some complimentary local island cruise in your own beach bungalow overlooking Nellie’s Beach. Fancy a private island day without the kids during your family vacation?’s notes that “Royal Caribbean’s award-winning children’s programming, Adventure Ocean, is open while the ship is docked in Labadee.”

Pro tip: For the most private beach on this private island, head to Columbus Cove. RoyalCaribbean’s Blog says to hop on the complimentary ferry ride that takes guests from the dock to Columbus Cove with beautiful island views of along the way. Have you realized that cruise ships are always white? This is one reason why. 

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Norwegian Cruise line Great stirrup cayCourtesy Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Great Stirrup Cay (Bahamas)

These 250-acres dotting the Caribbean was the first private island getaway owned by a cruise line and, decades on, this pristine slice of Bahamian paradise is still delighting Norwegian cruise passengers thanks to easy access to snorkeling among colorful tropical fish, memorable stingray encounters, eco-boat tours, and a massive complimentary buffet ensuring no one goes hungry on Stirrup Cay. New to the island, through the Norwegian Edge program, is a brand new exclusive lagoon retreat featuring a secluded beach, a family area for swimming, an exclusive restaurant with stunning views, and luxury beachfront accommodations ranging from a studio to a palatial two-bedroom villa to enjoy during your port of call day at Stirrup Cay.

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princess cays islandCourtesy Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises Princess Cays (Bahamas)

This private island in the Bahamas receives port calls from Princess and Carnival ships and promises an exclusive beach party like no other for all lucky enough to spend a day visiting. Eleuthera, aka Princess Cays, is 100-miles long yet only two miles wide, where unspoiled beaches abound. The 40-acre resort is located on the southern tip of the island and features half a mile of gorgeous white sand on which to enjoy the complimentary beach barbecue. While chilling in the sun is a favorite of cruisers spending a day on this private oasis, there’s also an observation tower to explore for stellar island views, glass bottom boat tours to see the colorful fish in dry comfort, beach volleyball, excursions to cathedral cave, and a variety of water sports like clear-bottom kayaking.

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harvest cayCourtesy Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Harvest Caye (Belize)

Developed as part of the Norwegian Edge program, this sliver of heaven on Earth is located in the tropical paradise of Belize and features over 3,000 feet of thrilling zip lining across the island. For cruisers wanting to cool off closer to sea level, a saltwater lagoon offers kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, and electric float boats. If all of that sounds a little too adventurous, rent a cabana or just toss your beach bag down on a lounge chair then dive into the seven-acre beach or into the pool with a cascading waterfall and saddle up a seat at the swim-up bar. Best of all, Harvest Caye is reachable without tender ships, meaning you are only steps away from all the private fun and relaxation you crave in Belize. It is no secret that their private island port of call is remarkable but here’s what cruise lines won’t tell you.

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Every product is independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Jeff Bogle
Jeff Bogle is an Iris Award-winning photographer, avid traveler, and English football fanatic who regularly covers travel, culture, cars, health, business, the environment, and more for Reader's Digest. Jeff has also written for Parents Magazine, Esquire, PBS, and Good Housekeeping, among other publications. He is the proud dad of teen daughters. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and Twitter @OWTK.

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