October 23, 2018

Private Beach Escapes

Only cruise line passengers can visit these six Bahamian islands

By Rebecca Matheson Ortiz

Vacations Magazine: Private Beach Escapes
MSC Cruises
Cruise lines get big kudos for their private island experiences, and it's easy to see why. These stunning ports of call pack all the natural beauty of the tropics, as well as the bold spirit and flavors of the Bahamas, into a resort-style setting that is designed to cater to your every whim. Whether you want to relax on a lounger, sunshine gently warming your skin as the waves perform a symphony on the shore, or feel the rush of the wind through your hair and butterflies in your stomach on high-flying activities like zipline rides, the choice is yours.

Lately, several cruise companies have been busy improving these idyllic escapes to best meet the needs of their island-hoppers; one line even is gearing up to open its own new Bahamian island. They offer additional dining options, a record-breaking waterslide, overwater bungalows and other enticements. Along with sampling top-notch amenities, visitors learn captivating lore and enjoy historical encounters and nature-focused explorations.

Continue reading for more on these six private islands that are tailor-made for oceangoing trips. When you're ready to book, consult the Vacations To Go travel experts online or call (800) 338-4962.

Embrace the crystalline waters and white-sand beaches of the 250-acre Great Stirrup Cay. Norwegian Cruise Line purchased this cay in 1977, pioneering the private island cruise experience. NCL recently enhanced the site as part of a wide-ranging, $400 million initiative to upgrade the guest experience on and off its ships.

Among recent additions is the complimentary Abaco Taco bar, a fan favorite that allows you to build your own savory creations with meats, guacamole, salsas and other toppings. Snorkelers who follow the underwater sculpture garden trail in Bertram's Cove will discover statues of bejeweled mermaids, playful sea creatures, urns and fountains. An array of fish, lobster, crab and shrimp have taken up residence in the nooks and crannies.

Those looking to quench their thirst can hit up the Bacardi Bar for a refreshing mojito, the Patron Bar for a frosty margarita or Bertram's Bar for a variety of strong sips. Or, satisfy your hunger with burgers, barbecue and other hearty fare at Jumbey Beach Grill and a newly expanded 8,500-square-foot beach buffet.

Three- to seven-night round-trip cruises anchor at Great Stirrup Cay year-round. A seven-night, Dec. 15 jaunt from Manhattan aboard the Norwegian Gem starts at $449. The ships of Norwegian's two sister brands, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, also call here.

The 2,400-acre Half Moon Cay has welcomed cruise travelers since 1997. As part of the original sale agreement, Holland America Line keeps most of the island as a nature preserve and bird sanctuary. In fact, the majority of the isle is protected; only about 3 percent has been developed for visitors who enjoy the air-conditioned cabanas, horseback rides, a 2-mile-long crescent of powder-fine white sand, bars and eateries like the Lobster Shack, which serves fresh crustaceans grilled Caribbean-style.

Half Moon Cay boasts a new 3,860-square-foot waterpark, complete with waterslides and a pirate ship for little ones. Snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding and other activities also are offered for those wanting to make
a splash.

Nature lovers will appreciate the wildlife sightings. You can observe nesting seabirds and threatened burrowing owls, or take a glass-bottom boat excursion onto the 700-acre inland saltwater lagoon to spot bonefish, turtles or even lemon sharks -- so named for their yellowish skin tone. Get hands-on at the island's own Stingray Cove, where guests snorkel with the flappy creatures, or feed Shabba, a friendly resident iguana.

History buffs will appreciate the preservation of the past here. The "Historic Nature Walk" excursion visits ruins as guides regale guests with stories of the island's heritage, from before A.D. 800 when the Lucayan Taino people may have walked the land to times of piracy and slavery. You may even get a little lore tossed in, as it's said that employees often see ghostly apparitions in the wee hours of the morning, including a headless woman walking the beach and a man smoking cigarettes in a palm tree.

Many Holland America Caribbean itineraries stop for a visit from October through April 2019. Prices for a seven-night Oosterdam sailing on Nov. 10, round trip from Fort Lauderdale, FL, start at $529. Carnival Cruise Line ships call at Half Moon Cay year-round.

From the moment you arrive to the sounds of a Junkanoo band, you'll be caught up in the cheerful atmosphere of CocoCay, a mile-long destination of Royal Caribbean International. The site currently is undergoing a $200 million upgrade, with completion slated for fall 2019.

Highlights will include the 135-foot-tall spiraling Daredevil's Peak, the tallest waterslide in North America; the Caribbean's largest wave pool and its largest freshwater pool (with a swim-up bar); a 1,600-foot zipline that ends with the region's only water landing; and a helium balloon ride that lifts participants up 450 feet for the highest view in the Bahamas. The country's first overwater cabanas will have slides that drop you into the sea.

Thrill Waterpark will call to adrenaline junkies with the Adventure Pool's obstacle course and a Family Tower that has four adjacent slides for racing, one winding chute for tubes and a zero-gravity slide for rafts. Splashaway Bay will treat kids to gallons of good times with fountains, pools, cannons that shoot jets of water and gigantic drench buckets.

Basketball and volleyball, glass-bottom kayaks and Zumba and yoga classes are on South Beach, as well as a floating bar and tepee cabanas. Head to Chill Island for Jet Ski rentals and snorkel tours; the Chill Grill will provide beachside barbecue and ice-cold beer.

The new features will be rolled out in phases beginning this fall, and CocoCay will remain a prime port of call while enhancements are completed. Royal Caribbean ships visit several times a week: Four-night round-trip sailings from Port Canaveral, FL, aboard the Enchantment of the Seas start at $256 on Nov. 12.

Princess Cays, nestled on 40 acres of the southern coast of the 100-mile isle of Eleuthera, is Princess Cruises' slice of beachfront property. Recent renovations include the addition of Wi-Fi, if you desire to stay connected to the rest of the world during your island escape. Princess also refurbished shopping and bar areas, spruced up the landscaping and building exteriors and added excursions like bicycling tours and wildlife encounters.

Passengers can go offshore fishing, take a spin on a banana boat and ride a dune buggy to a pink-sand shore. Water sports equipment rentals are available for you and your crew to try windsurfing, kayaking, paddle wheeling, aqua-chair floating, snorkeling and more. If you prefer ocean views without getting too deep into sea salt and sand, reserve one of the secluded, brightly hued air-conditioned bungalows. A local craft market sells souvenirs like sea glass pendants, hand-stenciled batik fabric and woven baskets.

Venture to the town of Rock Sound for a dose of local culture and to see the limestone wonder known as Ocean Hole, a small, seemingly bottomless inland ocean of deep blue water where swimmers encounter sea turtles and colorful fish.

Princess sails to Princess Cays through July 2019, and again starting in October 2019; sister brand Carnival visits year-round. A seven-night Dec. 23 sailing on the Regal Princess, round trip from Fort Lauderdale, FL, puts you there for a one-of-a-kind Christmas Eve. Prices start at $899.

Disney Cruise Line brings the brand's signature hospitality to the Bahamas with its very own slice of paradise, 1,000-acre Castaway Cay. Create memories for your kiddos at Disney character meet-and-greets and at a dance party with Lilo and Stitch. Or, park it on the Castaway Family Beach, where youngsters can splash around in the lagoon, take on tetherball and enjoy supervised games like foosball and pingpong.

Serenity Bay supplies adults-only time with massages, frozen libations and opportunities to laze under swaying palms. Children ages 3 to 12 can be dropped off at Scuttle's Cove, where they'll get to play on a 1,200-square-foot wet deck (with jets, geysers and bubblers) and dig in at Monstro's Point, a pretend whale-bone excavation site, all under the attentive eyes of Disney counselors. The Teen Hideout invites 13- to 17-year-olds to socialize.

To help preserve the coral reefs, Disney transplanted sea urchins that would foster growth. The line also took steps to protect the nests of endangered loggerhead sea turtles that lay their eggs on the shore. Other measures like using solar panels to run utilities for staff members who live on the island and recycling used cooking oil to power a fleet of vehicles in Nassau reflect a commitment to the environment.

All four Disney liners call at the island. Prices start at $1,507 for the Disney Wonder's seven-night, round-trip sailing from Galveston, TX, on Dec. 14.

The brand-new Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, MSC Cruises' 95-acre paradise, will welcome cruisers to its golden shores in November 2019. A coral relocation project transplanted 400 corals to help grow a new underwater environment while maintaining the existing one. On land, a naturally occurring freshwater habitat will be enhanced for use by wading birds, and more than 80 native trees and plants, including mangroves, will be brought in to protect the ecosystem.

Cruisers can unwind and play on six stunning beaches, such as a family beach -- perfect for vacationers with small children thanks to its shallow, calm waters -- and the Yacht Club beach to the north, which is for guests who book MSC's high-end suites and offers an air of tranquility and sophistication. Other features will include a dive center, a picturesque lighthouse and a setup for beach volleyball and water sports.

MSC ships will dock at Ocean Cay late into the evening. Guests will be able to move between the ship and cay freely, easily transitioning from daytime to nightlife as live entertainers and musicians dazzle fans on the island. It also allows more dining options, as you can eat at one of the many onboard or shoreside restaurants. Four MSC ships will call on the island, and prices start at $449 for seven nights.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in Fall 2018. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 338-4962 for current rates and details.


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