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Cruise Private Island Day: 7 Tips for the Most Relaxed (or Adventurous) Port Stop

Cruise lines are investing more and more into their own private islands.  After the success of Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay, Carnival is getting ready to unveil Celebration Key.

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And don’t forget about MSC’s Ocean Cay, Disney’s Castaway Cay, and Norwegian’s Great Stirrup Cay (the original).

For many cruisers, a cruise line’s private island is the best part of the vacation.  It’s very different from other ports of call.  This article will help you make the most of your day in paradise.

Perfect Day at CocoCay Private Island
Perfect Day at CocoCay. Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

From my experience, a stop at a private island is probably the most relaxing stop on the ship’s itinerary.

On a private island, you don’t have to worry about transportation, having to spend extra money for food, or having to rush to get back to the ship on time.

Well, on that last point, you can technically still be late. But come on, you’re literally steps away from your ship at all times.

In this article I wanted to highlight some tips for making your private island visit as amazing as possible.

1. Make it a beach day

ocean cay cruise ship
Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve. Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

If you’re taking a cruise to the Caribbean, you’re probably going to come across some great beaches at different ports of call.

But don’t miss the opportunity to take advantage of a private island for your beach day. 

The best part about soaking up some sun on the sand on a private island is that you don’t have to feel like a tourist.  Everyone there is a cruise passenger.

You won’t have people trying to sell you things, you don’t have to haggle with a taxi driver, and you will still enjoy some of the cleanest, most pristine beaches you can find anywhere.

Since everyone there might be thinking the same thing (“Beach Day!”), you might have to walk a little further to get some elbow room on the beach, but that leads us to the next point.

2. Get off the ship early (or really late)

Sky Princess anchored off the coast of Princess Cays
Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

I like to get off the ship early on private island days.  This allows me to find the best spots on the beach or get access to my cabana rental to get the most bang for my buck.

Most people sleep late on private island days, so you can have the entire beach to yourself in a lot of cases.

The only issue is that if you want to swim in the ocean the water might still be a tad chilly that early in the morning.

But if you don’t get off the ship early, you can just wait until people are coming back to the ship for lunch or a nap and enjoy the island in that way. 

I’ve found that even a couple hours before the ship has to depart, the crowds are half the size as they were mid-day. 

The point here is to avoid the busiest times on the island if crowds are a point of concern for you. 

My strategy is usually to get off the ship as soon as I can; enjoy the island for a while. Come back to the ship for a break from the sun and for a light snack, and then get back off the ship before sailaway to enjoy some quiet beaches and do some snorkeling (Yes, I still pack snorkel gear with me on most cruises).

3. Book any excursions well in advance

Perfect Day at CocoCay beach and ships
Perfect Day at CocoCay beach. Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

On some private islands like Perfect Day at CocoCay, certain amenities will fill up quickly.  If you absolutely must have that overwater cabana you should book it as early as possible.

If you wait until the last minute, you will find that all the “good stuff” might already be sold out. 

Some activities like snorkeling tours and equipment rentals might fill up fast as well.   Don’t wait and assume there will still be availability when you get around to it.

4. Do your research: know everything the island provides

Ocean Cay beach and lagoon

Not every private island is the same.  And even if you’ve been to a certain island before, that doesn’t mean new things have not been added since your last visit.

While you might want a simple beach day on the island, you should know everything so you can be prepared for that whimsical decision.

This also helps with packing.  I mentioned bringing my own snorkel gear earlier.  But since most private islands offer this for a small rental fee you can save yourself the hassle if you’d like.

What kinds of things will some private islands offer?

  • Jet skiing
  • Parasailing
  • Zip-Lining
  • Waterpark slides, pools, and lazy rivers
  • Kayaking
  • Beach volleyball
  • Beach-side massages
  • Cabana rentals

It also helps to know the relative size of the island and how much walking will be required. 

This won’t matter as much if you’re going to Half Moon Cay and just want to lay on the beach all day, but for other islands like Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day, you should plan for the right footwear.

5. Know what’s free and what’s extra

On a budget?  It helps if you know what is included ahead of time.  You can always find food on the island that is included in your cruise fare, so don’t feel you have to rush back to your ship for a bite to eat.  But that doesn’t mean everything is included.

I had some ice cream at a little shop while on MSC’s Ocean Cay.  It was a hot day, so it was nice to cool off a bit with this little treat, but I did have to pay extra for this convenience. 

6. Check the daily planner

half moon cay things to do

If you’re into group events and activities, you will want to make sure to check that daily planner.  Things like volleyball tournaments, competitions, and other types of events will take place at various times and places. 

Sometime, live music events are listed in the planner as well.

Cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean tend to offer more of these events, so if you’re into it, don’t miss out. 

The daily planner will also tell you what time lunch is served, where you can get it, and other useful information.

Don’t forget, these days the daily planner is available on the cruise line’s app.  And almost every private island has Wi-Fi that allows you to both use the app and use your Wi-Fi package.

This also means your phone’s battery could die pretty quickly, so keep that in mind if you want to use your phone’s camera all day.

7. Know what to take with you off the ship

Norwegian Cruise Line's Great Stirrup Cay
Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian Cruise Line’s private island in the Bahamas

Since you will probably be in the sun all day, it’s important to pack some water and sun block in your go-bag. 

That Caribbean sun can be brutal and really ruin the rest of your vacation if you don’t take it seriously.

I also recommend bringing some mosquito and bug repellent.  Depending on the season the bugs can really be a problem.  On a recent cruise to Mexico, the mosquitos were so bad that other cruiser passengers were begging to use the spray we had on us.  We gladly let them use it, but one girl was bitten so badly that her entire back was covered in red spots.

Besides my cruise card, obviously, I also like to take some cash with me too,  so I can tip the crew who will be all over the island working hard.

Read more: 10 best cruise line private islands

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J. Souza
J. Souza
Jon is the co-founder of Cruise Fever and has been on 50+ cruises since his first in 2009. As an editor, 15-year writer on the cruise industry, and avid cruise enthusiast he has sailed with at least 10 cruise lines and is always looking for a great cruise deal. Jon lives in North Carolina and can be reached at [email protected].
Cruise TipsPrivate IslandsCruise Private Island Day: 7 Tips for the Most Relaxed (or Adventurous)...

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