Cruise lines taking private-island parties into evening

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Perfect Day at CocoCay in the evening, with offshore fireworks and open areas on the private island illuminated.
Perfect Day at CocoCay in the evening, with offshore fireworks and open areas on the private island illuminated. Photo Credit: Nic Morley/RCCL

Imagine lingering on your own private tropical island as the sun sets, the moon rises and the blazing heat of the day disappears.

Until recently, travelers couldn't do that as part of a cruise experience. But starting in October, that will change when the first of three cruise lines launches late-night stays at its private Bahamian islands.

Beginning Oct. 4, Royal Caribbean International will open CocoCay for a limited number of late-night calls. In November, MSC Cruises will follow, with late-night stays at its Ocean Cay Marine Reserve near Bimini. Then, in April 2020, Virgin Voyages will begin making calls at the Bimini Beach Club that include what it calls "Fire and Sunset Soirees."

The new late-night, private-island trend is being driven by a few factors, not the least of which is competition among the three lines.

Bimini's proximity to Miami makes it feasible to stay after dark and still reach Port Miami early the next morning. Piers at all three islands eliminate the need for chancy nighttime tender operations.

With new infrastructure in place at all three locations, cruise lines have been able to equip their islands with the electrical power generation and illumination required for post-sunset activities.

And the idea resonates with passengers. 

"Late stays and more time in port was something that our research told us was really important to our potential sailors," Virgin spokeswoman Christina Baez said.

MSC was first out of the gate with the concept of late stays on a private island, although its concept has evolved. When it was initially announced in 2015, Ocean Cay was going to have an amphitheater, envisioned as a 2,000-seat venue that could be used for evening entertainment.

Early this year, MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato said that plan had been scrapped in favor of a movies-under-the-stars concept. The latest iteration, revealed in a video rendering available on YouTube, is a light show that paints the sky with multicolored searchlights. There will also be bars and other entertainment, such as a traditional Junkanoo parade, on the 95-acre island.

MSC plans to make year-round evening calls with its Miami-based ships, which this season will include the MSC Meraviglia, MSC Armonia, MSC Divina and MSC Seaside.

Virgin's Beach Club at Bimini is the last stop on each of its three planned itineraries, allowing for late-night stays before departing for Miami. On its five-day cruises, the line's Scarlet Lady will remain docked until 10 p.m., while on its four-day itineraries, it will stay as late as midnight, Baez said.

Entertainment will include "a late-night beach bonfire soiree," she said.

Royal Caribbean's plan for CocoCay is more limited, with just three late stays scheduled so far. Rather than returning to Miami, the Navigator of the Seas will head for nearby Nassau after departing CocoCay at 10 p.m.

While there in the evening, guests will be able to visit Captain Jack's and Skipper's Grill; Harbor Beach lagoon; Up, Up & Away; and Splashaway Bay. 

"Each of these areas will have sufficient lighting and staffing for our guests to have an incredible evening," Royal spokeswoman Lyan Sierra-Caro said.

Royal will reopen the casino on the Navigator of the Seas at 7 p.m. on evening calls, Sierra-Caro said, preserving that key source of onboard revenue.

Some areas of the island will close at night, including the Thrill Waterpark and the beaches. 

"We will have staff to ensure that our guests are not entering closed areas," Sierra-Caro said.

For entertainment, Royal promises a Junkanoo Jam Up Party, an island barbecue and performances by a calypso band and fire dancers, along with farewell fireworks before setting sail.

Other cruise lines with private islands in the Bahamas said they have no immediate plans to add night calls.

John Chernesky, senior vice president of North American sales and trade marketing at Princess Cruises, said his line recently started a late-night/overnight stay program called More Ashore that is mainly focused on big international cities.

"In the places we're doing it," Chernesky said, "it makes sense, given the nightlife, dining, museums, unique opportunities that really get you into the culture and make you feel more connected to that culture, versus a beach-going private island."

Eva Jenner, vice president of sales at Seabourn and Holland America Line, said, "Our private island, Half Moon Cay, is really a day destination. The private island is awesome -- don't get me wrong -- but it's a beach with daytime activities."

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