The largest cruise ships in the world can sometimes feel like floating islands, but some cruise companies also operate actual private islands in the Bahamas for the exclusive use of their passengers. These spots feature palm-fringed, white-sand beaches where you can kick back with a tropical drink in a hammock, play beach volleyball, build a sand castle, or enjoy a massage in a beach hut. Many also welcome families with waterslides, play areas, and nature trails.

In recent years these islands have become increasingly lavish, and now two cruise lines are offering new designs with more attractions and infrastructure to appeal to the ever-growing cruising market. 

Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve

MSC Cruises is debuting a new island, Ocean Cay, about 20 miles south of Bimini (one of the westernmost islands of the Bahamas). It will be the largest private cruise line island and will have 11,400 feet of beaches—almost as much as Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana. All told, the company is pouring $200 million into the design and amenities.

Ocean Cay is intended to be an extension of the ship, so, for example, a 2,000-seat amphitheater will stage elaborate shows featuring the line’s seagoing performers. Plentiful restaurants and bars will serve Bahamian specialties, and the cay will have a zip line, family beach, and wedding pavilion, plus an exclusive spa and wellness area with beach bungalows and massage huts. It will also be planted with indigenous Caribbean trees, grasses, and flowers.

Ocean Cay is due to start taking ships in late December 2017, and they will be able to dock at a pier—an unusual feature for a private island. It’s a distinct advantage because if passengers don’t have to tender ashore they can have more beach time. 

Great Stirrup Cay

Norwegian Cruise Line also just announced that it is updating the Great Stirrup Cay, a 250-acre oasis, with new luxury features and more family-friendly amenities over the next year. A boardwalk will line the island’s 10-acre beach will for easier access to the powdery sand and there will be shaded areas for relaxation. A new entertainment and activity complex will have a stage for live music, board games, basketball and volleyball courts with bleachers, and a shaded picnic area. An air-conditioned reception area will serve as a hub where families can plan their day, reserve activities, rent board games, and use changing rooms. 

The island will also feature parallel zip lines (so that friends and family can race each other) and an underwater sculpture garden for snorkelers. When it’s time for a snack, choices will include a make-your-own taco bar and a LandShark Bar & Grill (in partnership with Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville).

Great Stirrup Cay will also unveil an exclusive lagoon retreat for passengers in suites and other top-tier accommodations. The retreat—which will open next summer and will be free of charge for eligible passengers—will include a swim-up bar, a posh Mandara Spa, 22 air-conditioned private villas available to rent for the day, and a two-story restaurant with a rooftop terrace.

Anne Kalosh doesn’t count the cruises she’s taken, although there have been hundreds—including five years as a shipboard newspaper editor, sailing the world. She loves the experiences sea travel offers. Her byline has appeared in many major publications, and she’s on top of the latest cruise developments as the long-time U.S. editor for Seatrade-Cruise.com and Seatrade Cruise Review.