Cruise line private islands, a very safe port

Often a highlight of a cruise to the Bahamas or the Caribbean is a stop at one of the cruise line’s private islands. Probably one of the safest, most controlled ports of call you might visit, cruise line private islands are consistently ranked high by passengers. Most are located in the Bahamas and each one is unique.

On every private island you will find crystal clear water, sandy beaches, water sports and activities along with beach-side service for drinks and lunch will be served. Some require tendering in from the ship, others dock at the island.

The first passengers off the ship will find a pristine beach raked and clean, along with resident workers ready to make your stay comfortable. There is plenty to do (or not do) for adults and kids and even serene adult-only areas.Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas is Norwegian Cruise Line’s private island, under their care since 1977 when the line became the first to have one. The island features Snorkeling

Recent enhancements to the island that started in January of 2010 will continue through the end of this year. Several new island activities have been added since the project began including more than 16 wave runners, kayak rentals and an eco-adventure boat tour around the island. These are in addition to the existing snorkeling; floats; inflatable hippo slide; and parasailing.

The second phase of enhancements includes an arrival/departure pavilion, additional bar facilities; several comfort stations; a band stand; cruise program activity area; private beachfront cabanas; a kid’s play area; straw market; and beach volleyball courts. The beachfront will continue to be expanded on the island’s west end.

Half Moon Cay, Bahamas This Holland America Line island (now also a Carnival island) was originally called Little San Salvador Island and has been rated as “Best Private Island” by Porthole Cruise Magazine. An international bird sanctuary in the Bahamas, the beauty and serenity of Half Moon Cay is unique.

There are a variety of exciting and new activities to choose from while exploring this privately owned paradise. You can go horseback riding on the sand and through the surf, take a stingray adventure, visit the Half Moon Lagoon Aqua Park, hike a nature trail or simply relax in an air-conditioned, private beachfront cabana.

Princess Cays, Bahamas is Princess Cruises private island on the south side of Eleuthera Island about 30 miles from Nassau. Princess Cays guests will find equipment for many beach activities. Water sports fans can choose from water craft such as sailboats, catamarans, paddle wheelers, kayaks, and banana boats, while those who wish to explore the island’s coral reef can rent gear for snorkeling.

Floating mattresses are available for lazily drifting in the sun, and several protected swimming areas are available on both the north and south beach areas. Beachside, reggae and calypso music set the mood, and guests can enjoy a game of volleyball or basketball, or choose to relax with a hammock, beach chair or under an umbrella.

CocoCay, Bahamas is one of two private islands for Royal Caribbean. This one is more along the lines of other cruise lines private islands with sandy beaches (duh) and a nice hammock here and here to enjoy your island-style seaside barbecue.

Tip: When you get off the tenders, there are three beaches to go to. The first one is the biggest and the most crowded. Keep walking and you’ll find the second beach, which is a little smaller and less crowded. Keep going even further and you’ll find the third beach, which is the smallest and least crowded.

Labadee, Haiti in is the home to what Royal Caribbean calls their “private destination” and with good reason. On the north coast of Hispaniola, the secure, secluded area is surrounded by exotic foliage and mountain slopes. Guests can enjoy beautiful coral reefs, a pristine public beach as well as a very nice private beach area reserved for suite guests.

A year ago Royal Caribbean International came under close scrutiny as the line planned to visit their private destination of Labadee, Haiti shortly after a devastating earthquake rocked the island. I was on board Freedom of the Seas last January when critics said it was in bad taste for the line to have cruise passengers go ashore for fun and sun while so many were suffering on different parts of the island nation. A year later, not a lot is better in Haiti and Royal Caribbean continues to call.

Castaway Cay, Bahamas is Disney Cruise Line’s private island. Unique to Castaway Cay is that the ship docks at the island, no tendering involved, which makes for a great experience. Recently updated, this one has it all.

This is Disney Cruise Line turning an island into a theme park, complete with rides, trams to get around on, gift shops plus really good food. All other private islands pale by comparison. Really.

They should build hotels here and let people stay a while. No wonder some sailings include two stops at the popular island.

If all those are not good enough for you, maybe you should just buy your own

Flickr photo by fotodawg

What to do if pirates board your cruise ship

It’s not often that we get stories of pirates boarding cruise ships. Our friends at AOLTravel had one the other day though that caught our attention. When Somali pirates stalked a cruise ship in the Indian ocean recently, we’re told that “Passengers decked out for a black tie dinner on a British cruise ship on the Indian Ocean were told to hide below decks when a speed boat allegedly carrying Somali pirates came alongside the ship.”

Everything turned out fine in that case but you can bet that some passengers were wondering what might happen if things went badly.

A cool epilogue for that story, the latest lazer weapons may be the trick to ridding the world of real-life pirates. Apparently they work a lot like if a jet fighter pilot attacks from the direction of the sun. The glare from the lazer is so brilliant that it is impossible for pirates to aim weapons in the direction of ships using them. Yeah, like I said: cool.

Major cruise lines catering to US passengers stay clear of waters where pirate activity is noticed anyway though. Almost always when the subject of safety at sea comes up, some common-sense tips can protect us from hazards, most of which happen on the ship, not on pirate-infested waters.

  • Leave valuables at home. You don’t need the diamond tiara for formal night.
  • Sexual assault is the most common cruise-ship crime. Follow good-sense rules like never leaving drinks unattended. Don’t travel alone if you can avoid it.
  • Protect your health too. Noro-virus on cruise ships is common. Wash hands frequently. Avoid using hand rails on staircases, buttons on elevators and pretty much all buffets.
  • Keep your eyes open. You’d do it in Paris, London, or any other travel destination in the world. A cruise ship too is a destination these days and the bigger they get the more like cities they are. Get that many humans in one place and bad stuff is bound to happen at some time or another.

Those common sense tips are important and easy to understand. Some elements of a cruise vacation are a bit harder to get used to, rarely come up, but can have serious implications on how on-board incidents are handled.

  • Most cruise ships are foreign-flagged. Because of that, they are subject to only some US laws. Workplace employment laws, for example, do not apply. Not that the cruise lines are abusing the crew out of your sight, but workplace regulations on US soil don’t apply. When you hear that the captain of the ship is the “master of the vessel” believe it. At sea, that captain can be judge and jury for most matters that pertain to the safety of the ship, passengers and crew.
  • When a crime happens, the law followed depends on where the ship is. A crime happening in port is easy, those are subject to the laws of whatever land the ship is in. At sea, the country that governs those waters steps in. Far out at sea, international maritime law applies.

Still, state-side maritime attorneys chase after cruise ships looking for justice that is sometimes escapable by cruise lines in international waters.

Your best bet on what to do if pirates board your ship?

Get out your camera. It’s far more likely that you are on a sailing of a Disney cruise ship and that pirate is Captain Jack Sparrow acting out a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean.

Flickr photo by Rev Stan