These are the hidden jewels of the Caribbean, accessible only to those who cruise.
Private islands are the epitome of luxury. Imagine having cloud-soft sands, crystal-clear waters and a reserved cabana to enjoy tropical cocktails all to yourself. Getting to a private island almost always involves a cruise, and the onboard perks are as exciting as the destination: all-inclusive dining, entertainment and water activities, plus exclusive docks at picture-perfect island paradises.
We've rounded up our favourite private island escapes only accessible by cruise for a castaway moment that's as dreamy as it is secluded.
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Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean International
Step off the boat and you’re welcomed with a sign that acts as a calling (or a challenge): Welcome to Perfect Day at CocoCay by Royal Caribbean International. Only accessible to lucky cruisers onboard Royal Caribbean ships, you’re invited to be bold and loud at this exclusive Bahamas island. Discover a mind-blowing line-up of waterslides, zip lines and pools at Thrill Waterpark, where North America’s tallest waterslide – Daredevil's Peak – sits at a whopping 41m. If you’re more about the chill than thrill, relax on the white sandy beaches of the freshwater Oasis Lagoon, or while away the day on the Bahamas’ first floating cabanas. Live music and beachside parties will mean there’s always something to keep you entertained, while pristine paths with native wildlife sightings allow for peace and quiet. With a number of restaurants and snack bars serving BBQ, burgers, seafood and tropical cocktails, you’ll be well-fed and watered all day long.
Labadee, Haiti, Royal Caribbean International
Where you’re going, you don’t need to keep time. It flows imperceptibly slower at Labadee, a bay exclusive to Royal Caribbean guests on the northern coast of Haiti. Surrounded by the warm shimmering waters of the Caribbean Sea, swaying palm trees, powder sands and lush mountains set the backdrop for your heavenly day. Upon arrival, head straight for the hypnotic turquoise waters and let your mind float away to another world. But if it’s adventure you’re after, you’ll be well-looked after on Labadee: soar on the Dragon’s Breath Flight Line, the world’s longest overwater zipline, which reaches speeds of 64km an hour (40 miles per hour). Feel that momentary sense of freedom as you fly above hills covered with greenery and pristine beaches, relishing the moments of silence broken only by the warm breeze. The Dragon’s Tail Coaster, a high-speed roller coaster through the mountains, will get the heart racing, while the waterslides and trampolines will keep it high at Arawak Aqua Park.
Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian Cruise Line
For families seeking an upscale expedition, there’s no better spot that Great Stirrup Cay, accessible aboard Norwegian Cruise Line. Secluded island time is on the menu from the moment you land, including private beachfront cabanas for ultimate relaxation. Slink into serenity with a beachfront massage or spa treatment, then peer behind the gorgeous sugar-white sand beaches and crystal-clear azure waves to find thrilling water sports and activities. Snorkel with sea turtles, glide gently in a kayak or clip yourself into an exciting zipline adventure with endless views of island paradise. Make sure not to miss the playful swimming pigs of Treasure Island, iconic to picture-perfect images of the Bahamas and just a 10-minute boat ride away.
Harvest Caye, Norwegian Cruise Line
Over 450 islands dot Belize’s Caribbean coastline, yet only Norwegian Cruise Line has a port of call in the region at Harvest Caye. Get a true feel for the culture, flavours and wildlife in one action-packed day, painting your own Caribbean adventure. If you long for relaxation, the island’s seven-acre beachfront offers ample space for tranquillity on its talcum-white sands. If you yearn for adventure, verdant rainforests reveal nature trails that are home to dozens of winged creatures: encounter exotic birds with their siren call and butterflies in shades of vibrant blue and orange. Admire the lush landscapes from the above with a thrilling zip-line tour. Make sure to keep room in your suitcase for authentic handmade crafts and souvenirs from the shopping village, and room in your stomach for the food – feast on delicious cuisine at the island’s restaurants, serving fresh seafood and Belizean specialities.
Princess Cays, Princess Cruises
Journey beyond what you know the Bahamas to be with a visit to Princess Cruise Line's Princess Cays, found on the island of Eleuthera. On the surface, the usual pristine beaches and sparkling waters entice, but under the surface, there's a myriad of unique experiences to be found on this tropical isle. Watch the marine life go about their day with a clear-bottom kayaking experience, or swim alongside them with a snorkel adventure. Take in the views from the observation tower, enjoy local flavours and fresh seafood at the beachside barbecue, or peruse through authentic Bahamian crafts at the local market. Finish the day with a dune buggy adventure, zipping through the island’s exotic flora and fauna into historic towns.
Half Moon Cay, Carnival Corporation
Mostly used for Holland America Line and Carnival Cruises, Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas is an idyllic retreat that’s anything but typical. Yes, there’s an award-winning beach, but it’s the unforgettable adventures that will stay in your heart forever. There’s no better way to awaken your adventurous spirit and circumnavigate the island’s coast than atop a horse. Leave with windswept hair, a smile on your face and some seriously epic photos. Then, see the mystic wonder of underwater life with an excursion to visit the majestic stingrays of the region. See their wings flutter like silk kaftans and marvel at their white bellies as they flip for you. Wind back the action and calm your nerves by hitting nature trails or enjoying the bevy of family-friendly amenities.
Mahogany Bay, Carnival Corporation
See the full colour spectrum of the underwater world at Mahogany Bay, the cruise port owned by Carnival Corporation in Roatan, Honduras. Dip your toes into the watery wonderland of the second largest coral reef system in the world, where there’s no shortage of snorkelling and diving opportunities. Back on land, rise above the island with a picturesque chairlift ride, or explore the local area by foot. Meet local vendors keeping their crafting traditions alive or breathe in the freshest air on a rainforest hike, before sinking into a beachfront lounger or cabana for an afternoon by the sea.
Ocean Cay, MSC Cruises
When it comes to dedicated conservation efforts, MSC Cruises’ Ocean Cay is a self-proclaimed ‘island with a vision’. Their commitment to preserving marine life and ecosystems shows, with an extensive and exquisite coral reef system that’s perfect for snorkelling and diving. Follow colourful fish as they weave through vibrant coral formations, or stick to above-water activities like kayaking, paddleboarding and jet-skiing. Munch on authentic Bahamian cuisine and sip on refreshing tropical drinks before learning more about the island team’s marine conservation and sustainability efforts. Just make sure you don’t leave before catching the sunset – it must be seen to be believed.
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Looking for more inspiration? Check out Sail into Family Holidays with the Best Child-Friendly Cruise Lines.