COMPETING FOR LUXURY
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 five Norwegian ships, offering guests a straw market, snorkeling, kayaking, parasailing, and plenty of beach time. In 2019, passengers with money to burn will be able to reserve luxury villas on a private lagoon.
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 it has since received approval for an equally controversial port project dubbed Lighthouse Point.
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
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.
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 pricey cocktails a stone's throw from some of the Western Hemisphere's poorest residents. Royal Caribbean contends that it's pumping vital cash into the local economy and continued to do so at the behest of the Haitian government even after an earthquake devastated the island in 2010.
SIR BANI YAS | UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
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
Newly developed by Norwegian, this 78-acre island helps make 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 seven 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.
COCOCAY | NORTHERN BAHAMAS
Royal Caribbean Cruises
Also known as Little Stirrup Cay, CocoCay will be open for business starting in May 2019. Royal Caribbean's own slice of the Bahamas, CocoCay is set to turn heads with attractions including 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
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. Carnival ships also stop here.
CATALINA ISLAND | DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
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 | NORTHWESTERN BAHAMAS
Slated to open later this year, Ocean Cay will be a private island reserved for MSC's Caribbean cruise passengers. Though MSC is obviously aiming to convert it into a lush paradise, it was actually the site of an industrial sand extraction plant before the cruise line bought it. Plans are grand, including eight 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. MSC is also adding native plants, a new sea bed, lagoons, and even a marine laboratory.
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.