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Cruising - The Private Islands of the Caribbean
30 years ago Norwegian Cruise Lines was the first cruise ship operator to introduce a new concept to its Caribbean cruises, when it purchased Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas, and offered the first exclusive island retreat to its passengers. Now 13 cruise lines offer passengers the chance to visit their own private island escape. Whilst these islands are generally far too small for continual habitation, they are ideal for the cruise lines, and provide an idyllic getaway. A visit to a private island is often the last port of call, and provides a relaxing way to end a cruise. As the islands have developed, more and more amenities have been added. Disney has the only island, Castaway Cay, where the ships can actually dock alongside. All the rest require a brief tender journey to the beaches, but this is no great problem as there is normally a non-stop service.
Most of these private islands are in the Bahamas, which is made up of nearly 700 islands, of which only 29 are permanently inhabited. But don’t imagine that just because these islands are too small for general habitation that they are lacking in facilities or things to do. The cruise lines have realised that passengers appreciate a more relaxed and laid back end to their cruise, rather than rushing off on an excursion, so they have added all sorts of sports and entertainment facilities to the usually immaculate and exquisite beaches. For an extra charge you can parasail, or hire a seaboard, an aqua bike, a Hobie Cat sailboat, a paddle wheeler, a kayak or join a group on a banana boat. You can snorkel or scuba dive, or join in with numerous sports activities such as volleyball or join a treasure hunt.
They generally cater wonderfully for children, too, with special areas and activities to give mum and dad a bit more peace and quiet. For instance, Princess Cruises, for instance, have their own supervised kids play area – Pelican Perch, with a replica galleon, sand playground and even its own swimming pool, all safely enclosed for the children’s safety. Naturally, Disney provides one of the best experiences available for families. Teens and adult beaches are available, as well as a fantastic water-play structure anchored in the water on the family beach.
Add to this the fantastic BBQs available in elaborate eating pavilions with plenty of shaded eating areas, lots of choice, and fresh fruit galore, and you could well think you are in paradise. Uniformed staff will roam the beaches to take your drinks order, and all you have to do is lie back on your sun lounger and wait for your ice cold pina colada, or marguerita, to be delivered with a smile. You don’t even need to take any money as it can be added to your shipboard account via your special card.
But you don’t have to be energetic, there are more than enough loungers provided – so no vying for space – not like many a fancy resort, where you have to be early to get a pitch. There are hammocks swung between palm trees, beach umbrellas, and tiki huts, not to mention numerous bars where you can order a drink. The beaches are usually superb, with soft white sand, and the clearest of water, in which tropical fish dart in and out of your legs. Nature lovers are not forgotten as many islands have nature trails where you can spot local flora and fauna
If you like to do a bit of souvenir hunting then there are usually locally run stalls or shops offering shells, jewellery, hats, clothes and souvenirs sporting the island’s name or logo. You can even pay to have your hair braided. Because these vendors are vetted by the cruise lines, you will not suffer the sort of aggressive marketing that sometimes mars a shopping trip.
And when the day is over, all you have to do is climb aboard the tender which will whisk you back to your ship, whilst an army of people clear and clean the island so that it is back to its pristine condition, ready for the next ship to arrive. But make sure you carry your beach towels back to the ship, as many of these go missing! I am sure that as you gaze back at your final view of your island paradise you will already be planning a return visit.
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