You’ll find yourself transported to a tropical oasis that you have all to yourself (well, along with a few thousand of your fellow passengers). A whole hassle-free day to savor the sunshine, dig your feet in the sand or float face up, while your cares drift away to sea.
Or jet ski, water slide, zip line or craft shop. Photograph the flowers. Walk the paths. Chow down or booze up.
However you choose to spend it, a day at the cruise line’s private beach offers the ultimate in relaxation and a chance to spend the day your way.
Here are quick takes on some of the cruise lines’ private spots:
Mahogany Bay—When we’ve stopped in Roatan in the past, we’ve docked in Coxen Hole, a poor, but interesting port city. On our recent Caribbean Princess cruise, however, we were surprised to find ourselves instead sidling up to the pier at Mahogany Bay, created by Carnival, Princess’ parent company. Carnival and NCL also make stops here.
Hibiscus, palms, and other tropical flora and foliage frame the path from the pier. Hang a right for a short walk to paradise. The pool-like blue waters are calm and clear. You can laze in padded loungers on the beach or try one out that sits on the water. Rent a paddleboat, kayak or snorkel.
There are restaurants and bars selling seafood and jerk chicken, and from a stand on the sand, a fellow sells coconut water, shell and all.
Or if you’re not in the mood to do the walk, there’s always the chairlift. Yes, you read that right. A seat in the sky but with no snow below. Instead, there are sweeping views of the bay, beach and ship. For $14, adults can do it all day long (for kids, it’s $8).
If you hang a left off the ship, you’ll find shopping, more restaurants and bars. The centerpiece is the craft market, where you can buy reasonably priced wooden bowls and the like in mahogany, watch cigars being rolled and purchase for the road, taste locally made rum and chocolate, or browse fine jewelry or the usual assortment of kitschy knickknacks.
Mahogany Bay and Labadee dock, which is a plus for both. It makes it a snap to bop on and off the ship as many times as you want.
Labadee—When you’re in Labadee, you have no clue you’re on Haiti. Surrounded by lush green mountains, Royal Caribbean’s private hideaway is a sprawling slice of heaven, with nook and crannies so that you never quite feel the crowds.
In fact, it’s so large that signs point out the way to its several beaches, myriad water sports and walkways.
You can get your hair braided, have a massage, play volleyball or do the aqua park. Swing in a hammock, hike the trails.
There are restaurants and bars, and the many souvenir vendors make sure you know they’re there too. Bargaining is both welcome and expected, and there are inexpensive souvenirs made in Haiti as well as China. Bring money, though, because like Mahogany Bay, your sea card won’t get you anywhere with these merchants.
Labadee is used by Royal Caribbean and Celebrity ships.
Princess Cays—Princess’ special island in the Bahamas has a long, lovely beach, with sections to the right and left of the pier, both with waters that are good for swimming and snorkeling, plenty of sandy stretches and padded lounge chairs in the sun and under the palms.
For your own personal space, you can rent one of the colorful air-conditioned beach bungalows. Six hours for four people will set you back $249.95.
There’s kayaking and sailing, restaurants and bars, a sprinkling of craft vendors along the left beach, as well as a craft market tucked away not from the pier entrance. To get into the market, though, be sure to bring your driver’s license, because just a sea card and smile won’t be enough to get you past the guard.
Also, note that Princess Cays is a tendered port. While only about a 10-minute ride from ship to shore, given the number of people always waiting to board, going back and forth multiple times isn’t really feasible.
No matter which of these three islands you end up at, if you’re lucky with the weather, you’ll no doubt be tearing yourself away at the end of the day to make it in time for sail-away.
Musing’s Top Tip: For a ton of info on what to do, what to see and videos on both, what weather to expect, where there’s wi-fi and much more in Roatan and other port stops, check out cruiseportinsider.com.
Photos by RJ Greenburg