Many of the major cruise lines have private islands that they’ve designed to provide a hassle-free beach day. With one exception (Labadee, in Haiti), they are all located in the Bahamas, where the water is pale and the sand is soft. Without the traffic jams and crowds, these private isles may be devoid of culture, but they deliver plenty of fun in the sun.
Half Moon Cay
Half Moon Cay’s 2-mile arc of white sand, combined with a wide variety of activities — including horseback riding and snorkeling with stingrays — make it a top pick. Kids love the aqua park and playground, while parents dig the air-conditioned cabanas and two-story villas (complete with hot tubs), where you can order drinks and massages. For joggers, there is a 5k course around the isle.
Castaway Cay the only private island that ships can dock at — the rest have to dock offshore and use tenders. Well suited to all ages, this isle offers separate beaches for adults and families, and private cabanas for rent. You can sign up to swim with stingrays, fish, rent bikes, play volleyball in the sun, or try your hand at pingpong or pool in shaded pavilions. Families enjoy the water playground with a slide, the supervised drop-off play area, and the teen-only area.
Located on the southern tip of Eleuthera, this 2-mile strip of sand has an adult-only area as well as a supervised kids’ section with a sandbox and a pirate-themed playground. Princess Cays' new adult-only Sanctuary area is serene, and private air-conditioned cabanas are available for rent and massages. Excursion options include an island tour with a Junkanoo performance. Note: Since much of the seabed is rocky, you’ll want to take water shoes.
Great Stirrup Cay
Live calypso music serenades you as you play volleyball on three sand courts, snorkel around the faux shipwreck, or try your hand at pingpong. Great Stirrup Cay's 40-foot high inflatable water slide is fun for all ages, but access costs $15 a day. There are also private cabanas for rent.
CocoCay —located near Norwegian Cruise Line’s Great Stirrup Cay — has three beaches, and you’ll want to choose the one farthest from the tender pier, since it’s the least crowded. You’ll find supervised kids’ programming, plus an aqua park with a floating trampoline and water slides, as well as battery-operated miniature race cars for small children. Certified divers can sign up for one-tank dives as well.
This peninsula on Haiti’s north coast, removed from the poverty-stricken part of the island, is home to five beaches — Columbus Cove at the far end is the most serene. Labadee's water park offers floating trampolines, water seesaws, and inflatable slides; there’s also a 2,600-foot-long zip line. In addition, Haitian musicians and dancers offer a taste of the island culture.