Their ships visit each other’s islands
I visited Royal Caribbean’s Coco Cay in October and enjoyed it thoroughly. When we got to the island, it was a very short walk to the swimming beach. We went snorkeling from the beach and saw a fair amount of tropical fish. There was a sunken airplane that the fish swam through. Snorkeling is one of my favorite sports, so I loved it, but there are much better places to snorkel. We lounged on the beach and ate the picnic lunch the cruise ship provided. Everything is within a very short distance. There are a few vendors on the island, but nothing like the commercialized port towns. There is a very nice water area for younger children. It was a very relaxing day with no worries of getting run over by a car or bus.
Labadee, an isolated, sun-flooded, 270-acre peninsula along Haiti's north coast. A "Folkloric Show," a large, colorfully costumed troupe performs; bands at the various bars and restaurants play the kind of acoustic guitar, banjo, and percussion. Kayaking and parasailing are enjoyed from a dock nearby. The latest rage is a 2,800-foot-long zipline called Dragons Breath that takes you over the water of Dragons Tail Beach. At the center of the peninsula, the Haitian Market and Artisans' Market
Note: Carnival does not have its own island, but has an agreement with Royal Caribbean that they can use their Coco Cay Island (name it Little Stirrup Cay) for cruisers to enjoy.
Passengers on Costa's eastern Caribbean itineraries spend 1 day at Catalina Island, off the coast of the Dominican Republic. It has activities such as volleyball, beach Olympics, and snorkeling. A local island vendor rents jet skis and offers banana-boat rides, the ship's spa staff sets up a cabana to do massages on the beach, and locals roam around offering them, too. Music and barbecues round out the day, and there's also a strip of shops hawking jewelry, beachwear, and other souvenirs.
Disney Cruise Line
A port of call on all Disney Magic and Disney Wonder cruises, 1,000-acre, 3.2-mile Castaway Cay is rimmed with clear Bahamian waters and fine sandy beaches. Guests can swim and snorkel, rent bikes and boats, get their hair braided, shop, have a massage, or just lounge in a hammock or on the beach. Barbecue burgers, ribs, fish, and chicken are available at Cookie's Bar-B-Q, and several bars are scattered around near the beaches. Para-sailing can be enjoyed for $79 (45 min., airborne 5-7 min.; over age 8 only). All-terrain strollers with canopies and beach wheelchairs are available free of charge.
Holland America Line
Located on the 2,500-acre Bahamian island of Little San Salvador, 55-acre Half Moon Cay is a port of call on most of HAL's Caribbean and Panama Canal cruises.
Families will appreciate the water park at one end of the beach (closest to the tender pier), where there are water slides on the sand for young children, as well as a couple for teens. Other highlights of the beach area include massage huts and air-conditioned, beachfront cabanas available for rent (the regular ones accommodate four people and start at $249 a day. Shore-excursion opportunities include horseback riding, windsurfing, snorkeling, kayaking, scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, para-sailing, sailboarding, or aqua-cycling. Half Moon Cay has lunch facilities, several bars, a playground, and nature trails through a wild bird preserve at a remote part of the island.
Most of MSC's Caribbean cruises spend a day in Cayo Levantado, a beach-rimmed, rainforest island off the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic's Samana Peninsula. You can choose to flop on the beautiful sand beach, take a tour (including jeep safaris and a whale-watching cruise to see the humpbacks that winter here), or go snorkeling or swimming. You won't find a playground, hammocks, or massage facilities. One other difference: A day at this beach is considered a shore excursion, thus passengers are charged a flat rate if they want to play here.
Unlike the other private islands in this section, Cayo Levantado actually isn't private at all: It's run by a Dominican company with whom MSC has scheduled port calls. The line also makes calls at the Dominican Republic port of La Romana, where passengers can enjoy the 7,000-acre resort Casa de Campo.
Norwegian Cruise Line
NCL's private island, Great Stirrup Cay, is a stretch of palm-studded beachfront in the southern Bahamas, and was the first private resort. The bar, lunch, and watersports facilities are hopping. Passengers can ride paddle boats, sail Sunfish, go snorkeling or para-sailing, hop on a banana boat, join a game of volleyball on the three deep-sand courts, get a massage, or do nothing more than sunbathe all day long. For kids, organized activities include volleyball tournaments and sand-castle building, though there is no playground here.
Most of Princess's eastern and western Caribbean itineraries stop at Princess Cays, a 40-acre beachfront strip off the southwestern coast of Eleuthera in The Bahamas. The half-mile of shoreline allows passengers to swim, snorkel, and make use of Sunfish sailboats, banana boats, kayaks, and pedal boats. (If you want to rent water sports equipment, be sure to book while aboard ship or even online, before your cruise, to ensure that you get what you want.) There's also a beach barbecue, but nor live music or massage facilities. For kids, there's a supervised play area with a sandbox and a pirate-ship-themed playground.