13 Mistakes to avoid on cruise private islands - Cruise with Leo

13 Mistakes to avoid on cruise private islands

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I don’t know about you, but I love cruises that go to private islands. I think they are the best place to relax, enjoy the sea and if you want to, have some fun with some fantastic excursions.

However, as with everything, there are a few things you should be careful about.

After a few times on private islands, I realized that there are some mistakes that many cruise passengers make.

In this article, we’re gonna see what they are, and I’ll give you some tips to avoid them.

1. Not booking shore excursions in advance

Shore excursions on private islands can sell out quickly, it’s a thing I’ve learned last time I went on a cruise to CocoCay (the private island owned by Royal Caribbean).

Both the excursions I wanted to do were full, so I had to do something else.

From what I’ve seen, the ones that have limited spots usually are the snorkeling tours, kayaking, or the guided nature walks.

If I really want to do a specific one, plan and book in advance.

2. Overlooking safety precautions

Please don’t ruin your vacation and remember that islands can be dangerous and safety should always be your priority.

Lifeguards may not be present at all swimming areas, so supervise children and don’t stray too far from the shore.

Ensure that everyone, including children, knows the basic safety protocols and strictly abides by any rules or prohibitions.

3. Stopping near the ship

Cruise ship at a private island

Grabbing the first available lounge chair near the ship might seem convenient, but these spots are often the most crowded and noisy.

My advice is to venture to some quieter and less frequented areas.

Many islands, I actually think all of them, have multiple beaches. Also remember to look at the indications about the type of beach.

Some of them may be specifically designated for families and teens, and some of them may be better for adults.

4. Not renting umbrellas in advance

Private island beach with umbrellas

One of the most common mistakes on a cruise private island is not reserving umbrellas in advance.

From personal experience, I can assure you that on very sunny days they can sell out quickly.

In addition, finding natural shade might be challenging on some islands, and having an umbrella can really save your day.

Now I usually pre-book the umbrella on board or through the app, if the cruise line allows it.

5. Not checking the drink package rules

Cozumel drink on the beach
Drink on the beach

Another frequent oversight is not checking whether your cruise drink package extends to the private island.

I must say that it’s quite complicated even for me, and I always look in the terms and conditions every time.

That happens because the policies vary significantly between cruise lines and even between different islands operated by the same company.

Recently I’ve noticed that Norwegian Cruise Line’s drink packages cover drinks at Great Stirrup Cay but not at Harvest Caye.

So to avoid unexpected expenses, verify the details of your package beforehand.

6. Not bringing any money

Even though your cruise card is typically used for most purchases, having some cash can be handy for tips, small purchases, or local markets that might not accept cards.

I always bring a small amount of cash (remember I said small), it can be useful for tipping a tour guide or for buying a souvenir.

If you have no idea how much cash to bring on a cruise, check out this article where I explained how to calculate the appropriate amount.

7. Assuming everything is included

private cabana
Private cabana (you have to pay an extra fee for that)

I’ve heard that some travelers assume all amenities on a private island are included. This is not true, there is always something you have to pay for!

It changes from island to island buy usually you have to pay for beach umbrellas, cabanas, water sports equipment, and special activities.

It’s wise to budget for these extras or bring your own stuff to avoid rental costs.

8. Skipping the private island

I don’t know which crazy person would skip the private island! Well I actually know one: my mom!

The first time I took her on an itinerary with a stop on a private island, she didn’t want to get off the ship.

It must be said that she does not like to go to the beach, but I assure you that there are so many other things you can do.

Skipping the islands means missing out on these beautiful locations and the special experiences they offer​.

9. Missing the BBQ lunch

Lunch area at a private island
Lunch area at a private island

Another thing that I love at private islands is the food, and BBQ is often a highlight.

The last few times I was there I found delicious burgers, hot dogs, jerk chicken, and fresh salads, all served buffet-style.

I particularly liked the laid-back vibe. Usually, buffets on cruise ships are chaotic and everyone seems in a hurry.

In contrast, on the island, perhaps because of the larger space, everything was more organized, relaxed, and I really enjoyed the lunch.

10. Not bringing your own snorkel and gear

Many visitors make the mistake of not bringing their own snorkel and beach gear.

Keep in mind that renting equipment on the island can be costly, and the selection might be limited.

I try to always bring my own, not essentially as a matter of money, but I prefer to have my own personal things.

I know that my snorkels and fins fits just right, and I don’t wanna risk not finding them on the island, because everything can run out when the ship is at full capacity.

11. Not understanding the island layout

Map of Ocean Cay by MSC
Map of Ocean Cay by MSC

Unlike what it may seem, these islands can be quite large and complex.

They usually have various beaches, activity zones, and dining areas spread out.

My advice is to get a map, you can usually find them on the ship or as soon as you get down to the island, and familiarize with it.

Also remember to follow signage to understand where key locations.

12. Forgetting beach essentials

Towel station on CocoCay

Not bringing essential beach items can lead to unnecessary expenses.

Here’s what I do: I prepare a small beach bag with everything I need for when I go to private islands or for beach excursions.

I usually include items such as sunscreen, lip balm, sun hat, sunglasses, and bug spray.
Almost always, you don’t need beach towels because you can find them down on the island (as you can see in the photo above there are some towel stations).

Planning and packing thoughtfully will be very important. Take a look at the 20 things you should always pack in your cruise carry-on bag.

13. Not taking advantage of free activities

As I mentioned before, you have to pay for some activities on the island, but there are many other things that are free.

These can include beach volleyball, hiking trails, playgrounds, and complimentary loungers and hammocks.

They’ll be perfect if you’re travelling on a budget, or if you don’t wanna spend too much.

Bonus Tip

Spikes of sea urchins
Spikes of sea urchins

Remember to always bring water shoes. Many people have reported that there are sea urchins, especially at CocoCay.

Choose a pair that is thick enough; some that are very thin can be passed by the spikes.

And of course check where you are walking, especially near corals.


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