Over the Water Bungalows, Dominican Republic
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13 Private Islands and Resorts Owned by Cruise Lines

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Caribbean cruise
Joel Carillet/istockphoto

Competing for Luxury

Cruises lines are constantly competing for the best new amenities, and the rush to recover from the pandemic's catastrophic effect on business has made it even more important to lure vacationers. To win over tourists, some cruise lines have developed private islands and resorts where the only people that vacationers have to battle for beach loungers are each other. Here are a dozen private islands and resorts reserved exclusively for cruisers, including a brand new Bahamian resort that was just announced by Carnival.


Related: The Most Luxurious Cruise Ships at Sea

Carnival Cruise Line Breaks Ground on New Cruise Port Destination on Grand Bahama Island
Lisa Davis/BIS/Carnival

Carnival Grand Bahama | Southern Grand Bahama


Carnival Cruise Line 

Carnival just announced a new private port on Grand Bahama, and while it doesn't yet have an enticing name, it will probably be a premier Caribbean resort. It will have a pier that can accommodate two ships, important to avoid the dreaded tendering — that is, having to take a smaller boat into port. Though details are just emerging right now, the new resort is being constructed on the southern part of Grand Bahama and will include a nature reserve, a pool, and Bahamian-run shops and restaurants. It's expected to open in late 2024. 


Related: The Worst Cruise Ship Horror Stories

Labadee, Northern Haiti, Royal Caribbean Cruises
Labadee, Northern Haiti, Royal Caribbean Cruises by Dale Morton (CC BY)

Labadee | Northern Haiti


Royal Caribbean Cruises
Labadee is not an island, but a resort carved from the coast of northern Haiti. In addition to pristine beaches, Labadee also has the world's longest overwater zipline, a mountain coaster, and a waterpark. It's also the most controversial destination on our list, attracting criticism from those uncomfortable with sipping cocktails a stone's throw from some of the Western Hemisphere's poorest residents. Unrest had kept Labadee off Royal Caribbean's itineraries since it resumed sailing after pandemic shutdowns — the nation dealt with a deadly earthquake in August, and the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July — but ships are starting to return. Harmony of the Seas stopped at Labadee at the end of January, and the port is on itineraries for further into 2022 and 2023.


Related: 15 Types of People Who Shouldn't Take a Cruise

Great Stirrup Cay beach
photosvit/istockphoto

Great Stirrup Cay | Northern Bahamas


Norwegian Cruise Lines
This is the island that started it all. Norwegian Cruise Lines bought Great Stirrup Cay from an oil company in 1977, becoming the first cruise line to offer passengers a private island getaway. Today, it's a regular stop for 13 Norwegian ships, offering guests a straw market, snorkeling, kayaking, parasailing, and plenty of beach time. Passengers with money to burn can even reserve luxury villas on a private lagoon. Those who want a really unique excursion can go swim with pigs

Disney Fantasy cruise ship
leightrail/istockphoto

Castaway Cay | Northern Bahamas


Disney Cruise Line
Castaway Cay might be the most popular spot on this list, with Cruise Critic reviewers naming it their favorite private island destination. There are separate beaches for families and adults, plus water play areas, a snorkeling lagoon, private cabanas, kids' clubs, and even a 5K race for each new crop of visitors. Disney had to walk back plans for a second island nearby due to concerns over how it would affect nesting sea turtles and coral, but received approval for an equally controversial port project dubbed Lighthouse Point that is still in progress.


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Motu Mahana
Motu Mahana by George Goodman (CC BY-NC-ND)

Motu Mahana | French Polynesia


Paul Gauguin Cruises
Sail with Paul Gauguin and you'll get to stop at Motu Mahana, a secluded speck in the Pacific's Leeward Islands. Visitors can laze around in hammocks, snorkel with tropical fish, and grab a cocktail from a floating bar while kayaking around a palm-fringed lagoon. Sounds great, right? It should — cruise fares with this luxury small-ship line start at around $5,000.

Princess Cays, Central Bahamas, Princess Cruises
©TripAdvisor

Princess Cays | Central Bahamas


Princess Cruises
Despite the name, Princess Cays is not its own island, but a resort on the larger Bahamian island of Eleuthera. Most activities are beach-centric, though more adventurous guests can feed stingrays, speed across the water on a banana boat, or bump along back roads on a dune buggy. Cruise ships are too big to dock here, so guests must be tendered in on smaller boats.

Arabian Wildlife Park, Sir Bani Yas, Abu Dhabi
Galina Sandalova/istockphoto

Sir Bani Yas | United Arab Emirates


MSC Cruises
This large, Swiss-based cruise line decided to stake out a part of paradise in an unexpected location: the Persian Gulf. It owns a private beach resort on Sir Bani Yas, which is also home to a large wildlife reserve that offers sanctuary for rare animals like the Arabian oryx. Guests can go animal-spotting during a Jeep safari or kayaking through a mangrove, or they can just kick back and enjoy beachside barbecue and beer.

Harvest Caye, Southern Belize, Norwegian Cruise Lines
©TripAdvisor

Harvest Caye | Southern Belize


Norwegian Cruise Lines
This 78-acre island makes Belize more accessible to cruise passengers, serving not only as a destination in its own right, but also as a jumping-off point for tours of the mainland. Attractions on the island include miles of beaches, 3,000 feet of zip lines, and a nature center with colorful toucans. The project has faced plenty of controversy, though, mostly from critics wary of the environmental impact. Also of note: There's no free lunch for cruisers, a staple of most other private islands and resorts.

Swim up ocean bar in the sea on a sandy beach with people enjoying sun and fun on a sunny day at this tropical island.
Duncan Cuthbertson/istockphoto

CocoCay | Northern Bahamas


Royal Caribbean Cruises
Also known as Little Stirrup Cay, CocoCay opened for business in 2019. Royal Caribbean's own slice of the Bahamas, CocoCay has the tallest waterslide in North America, the largest wave pool in the Caribbean, overwater cabanas, and a helium balloon that sends visitors up 450 feet for the ultimate photo opportunity. Critics note that a lot of CocoCay's marquee experiences will cost you extra, though, so guests should be prepared to open their wallets.

Half Moon Cay, Central Bahamas, Holland America
Half Moon Cay, Central Bahamas, Holland America by André Mellagi (CC BY)

Half Moon Cay | Central Bahamas


Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America
Half Moon Cay, also known as Little San Salvador Island, has had a long history of entertaining cruisers; before it switched hands in the '90s, it was owned by Norwegian. There's no port on the island so guests must tender in, but once there, all the trappings of a beach bum's paradise await. They include a long white sand beach, horseback riding by the sea, rentable cabanas, and an open-air bar with rum punch aplenty.

Catalina Island, Dominican Republic, Costa Cruises
©TripAdvisor

Catalina Island | Dominican Republic


Costa Cruises
Just off the Dominican Republic's southeastern shores, tiny Catalina Island offers a lesser-known retreat for passengers with Italy-based Costa Cruises. Costa doesn't lay claim to the entire island, but a private beach resort where the star of the show is nature itself. Guests are tendered to the island so as not to disturb wildlife or make too much noise, while catamaran trips, snorkeling, and boat excursions are among the most popular activities. The island is also known as the home of Captain Kidd's sunken ship, the Quedagh Merchant, believed to have been abandoned by the Scottish pirate in 1699.

Ocean Cay, Bahamas (MSC Cruises private island)
Ocean Cay, Bahamas (MSC Cruises private island) by Just a Brazilian manFollow (CC BY)

Ocean Cay | Northwestern Bahamas


MSC Cruises
Ocean Cay is a private island reserved for MSC's Caribbean cruise passengers. Though MSC has aimed to convert it into a lush paradise, it was actually the site of an industrial sand extraction plant before the cruise line bought it. There are several beaches, a wedding chapel, plenty of bars and restaurants, a yacht club, a spa, and a port that won't require guests to tender in. 

Amber Cove, Dominican Republic, Carnival Cruise Line
Courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines

Amber Cove | Dominican Republic


Carnival Cruise Line
Amber Cove is actually a souped-up port, the most prominent of a handful built by Carnival in the Caribbean. Though it lacks a beach (several are a short trip away) it has a resort-style pool with a swim-up bar and waterslide, adventure activities like zip lining and kayaking, private cabanas, and — of course — plenty of shops and places to eat.