There’s nothing quite like a private island.
It conjures up fantasies of exclusivity, indulgence and luxury on a personalized hideaway.
Position this prime real estate in the blue-as-blue Caribbean Sea just off the coast of Central America's southern Belize and you have a winner.
That's exactly what Norwegian Cruise Line has done with its latest entrée in the world of private islands with a tropical dazzler called Harvest Caye. Norwegian also has its own Great Stirrup Caye in the Bahamas.
Norwegian may technically own the 15-hectare crescent-shaped Harvest Caye, but if you arrive on one of the cruise line’s ships for the day you’re encouraged to treat it as you own private enclave.
That’s exactly what my wife and I and our 14-year-old daughter do as we step off the Norwegian Getaway.
Of course, as the Getaway carries 4,400 passengers, we’ll have to share this paradise with 4,397 others, but that’s completely OK.
There’s room for everyone.
We make a beeline for our cabana beside the 5,000-square-metre pool complex, the largest in Belize.
The cabana kickstarts our private island privilege as it has a sectional sofa and lounge chairs within billowing white curtains with options for sun or shade.
This premium set up comes with our own cabana concierge for towel-food-drink fetching and activity suggestions.
Norwegian is famous for its freestyle cruise concept, a mantra we heartily embrace to structure a day with very little structure.
We drink beer and margaritas, and the occasional water, when thirsty.
Eat blackened fish and classic cheeseburgers when hungry.
Plunge in the pool when hot and hit the beach when it beckons.
Alas, it’s not all eating, drinking and lounging. We want the full-on private island experience.
So, a speed boat launches us 100 metres over the ocean in an exhilarating triple-tandem parasail to catch a bird’s-eye view of Harvest Caye and the lengthy Norwegian Getaway docked beside it.
We snap selfies from our lofty perch and photos of the island and ship.
From there, it’s over to a lighthouse aptly renamed Flighthouse for ziplining.
The highlight is the Superman, which requires a harness change so you can be attached horizontally to the line to fly like the superhero over beach, ocean and mangroves.
Speaking of mangrove, we’ll return to this collection of trees in the water in little speed boats to meander through eerily beautiful canopied tunnels to lagoons and the open ocean.
Time runs out before we can kayak, stand-up paddle board or hit one of the four restaurants or five bars again.
Private islands are all the rage in the cruise industry with different lines wanting to offer their passengers something unique.
Other private isles include Princess’ Princess Caye, Holland America’s Half Moon Caye, Disney’s Castaway Caye and Royal Caribbean’s Coco Caye — all in the Bahamas — as well as Royal Caribbean’s Labadee in Haiti and MSC’s Sir Bani Yasin in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Back on the Norwegian Getaway we take in virtually all a big ship has to offer.
That’s how my daughter and I end up walking the plank, twice, and live to tell the tale. As part of the aerial ropes course at the top of the ship, there’s a plank jutting over the ocean the equivalent of 18 storeys up where you can have your photo taken like a rogue pirate.
Of course, we’re harnessed to an overhead line.
We’ll also scale the climbing wall, ride the waterslides, play mini golf and shuffleboard, swim in the pools and lounge on decks eight, 15, 16 and 17.
A big ship also means lots of dining options and we take full advantage by eating at specialty restaurants Cagney’s Steakhouse, Ocean Blue, La Cucina and The Bistro, as well as the main dining rooms.
And ship isn’t complete without a favourite spot. We find ours on the outdoor couches of Mojito Bar on deck eight where it’s quiet and you can simply watch the ocean rush by while sipping — what else? — a mojito.
The Getaway’s seven-day Western Caribbean itinerary round-trip Miami will also take us to Roatan, Honduras, to play with monkeys; Costa Maya, Mexico, for snorkeling; and Cozumel, Mexico, for beach lounging and the freshest nachos and salsa.
It’s worth arriving a day early in Miami, as we did, to stay at The Betsy Hotel, a quintessentially Art Deco grand dame to soak up some South Beach atmosphere.
— Postmedia Network Inc. 2016