Royal Caribbean, Disney Cruise Lines, Holland America and Norwegian Cruise Lines are in various stages of improving their private island retreats -- from just starting to already finished. New additions range from private cabanas to exhilarating rides and water play areas, as well as expanded beach areas. Whether the island renovations are being made to accommodate big new ships or add unique ways to explore, the changes will give first timers and repeat cruisers a new and improved taste of island life -- and a reason to return on a future cruise.
Here's what you can expect to find on upcoming private island calls.
Best New Addition: Until now, Disney's Castaway Cay was the only private island where ships could dock, with all other cruise line islands requiring tender service. Not anymore. Labadee's new pier was recently completed and is large enough to accommodate Royal Caribbean's new behemoth ship, Oasis of the Seas. It's a good thing, too, as it could have taken a while to tender the ship's 5,400 passengers from ship to shore.
Added Island Improvements: In addition to the new pier, Labadee has a new welcome plaza, which serves as the starting point for water taxis. It also offers new sea-based shore tours and five walking paths that lead to special areas throughout the peninsula. Some of these areas include the new Dragon's Plaza, home to the Dragon's Breath Flight Line (the world's longest zip line over water) and Labadee Town Square, which features the Haitian Cultural Museum, Cafe Labadee and Bar, an artisan market and the boarding area for the new Alpine Coaster (a mountainside thrill ride, somewhat like a rollercoaster).
Cabana Bonanza: Cabanas are being added to ship decks and private islands like HDTV is to family rooms. The new Barefoot Beach Club, available exclusively to Royal Caribbean's suite guests, offers 20 private cabanas for rent along the water's edge and within the hillside areas. Each cabana includes upgraded food and beverage offerings like lobster and steak. In addition, the spa facilities at Barefoot Beach have been revamped to include yoga classes.
Old Favorites: You can still bounce on water trampolines and inflatable iceberg-shaped slides at Columbus Cove Aqua Park ($15 for 50 minutes). Or, for a more sedentary pursuit, watch African-style dancing and drumming at the folkloric show. Two Haitian marketplaces sell local crafts, paintings, coffee, woodcarvings, baskets and more. Luc's Splash Bash is the island's dedicated area for kids, featuring ground geysers, water cannons and a treasure map trail.
Renovation Status: Labadee's renovations were completed in October 2009. The port escaped damage during Haiti's 7.0-magnitude earthquake in January 2010, as it's located some 100 miles from Port-au-Prince and the quake's epicenter.
Best New Addition: It's hard to pin down just one amenity, but for families with young children, it's Castaway Cay's new land-based water parks. As any parent knows, watching little ones swim in a bay can be stressful, with hundreds of kids in the water at the same time, your own children swimming in opposite directions and inner tubes knocking everyone about.