By paul motter
Great ideas always invite imitation, and cruise lines certainly imitate as much as anyone. But merely copying an idea is not much of an achievement unless the concept is well executed.
One of the better original ideas in the cruise world has been the development of private islands. NCL gets the credit as the innovator who acquired Great Stirrup Cay in 1977. They have been treating their guests to barbecue parties on the beach for 32 years now.
A lot of cruise lines have private islands in the Bahamas today. Holland America has Half Moon Cay - about 100 miles southeast of Nassau. Princess Cay covers 40 acres on the southern tip of Eleuthera. Royal Caribbean also has Coco Cay.
But Royal Caribbean has another "private island," where we see the concept at its finest - and it isn't even an island. It's actually a small peninsula called Labadee, located on the Haitian side of Hispaniola, with a mountainous terrain and all of the unique advantages that presents.
The flat Bahamian islands can certainly boast of beautiful white sand beaches and thriving coral reef habitats - but not a whole lot more. But the mountainous terrain rising over the beach at Labadee provided the right stuff for a private beach unlike any in the world.
Labadee boasts of one of the world's most thrilling zip lines - not the typical 200-foot span over the jungle canopy at 100 feet. The Dragon's Breath zip-line stretches over 2600 feet in a single span, and reaches a maximum height of nearly 500 feet. You can reach a speed of up to 50 mph if you are brave enough to try it.
Another Labadee attraction is the Dragon's Tail roller coaster. This gravity-based coaster first climbs to an altitude of 680 feet before you start the descent. The individual cars can hold one or two people (maximum weight limit 360 pounds) and the ride lasts anywhere from three to five minutes depending on your tolerance for thrills. You'll encounter 360 turns as well as dips and waves; the car does have brakes - but the less you use them the greater the fun.
Now these aren't cheap thrills; the zip line is $85 per person and the roller coaster is $35 for one or two people in one car, so all of the usual private beach attractions are also on tap. You can SCUBA dive, kayak or snorkel through the coral reefs. You can hire a speed boat to take you on a Waverunner or parasail along the coast. There is an aqua Park for the kids with geysers, water cannons, a pirate ship and a treasure map trail.
Or you can just hang out on the beach with your toes in the surf and enjoy the hot food and a cool drink.
Labadee is one of a kind - just as the new Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas, will be one of a kind when she debuts in just over two months. So, what could make a better pair?
The port of Labadee will be offered on every Oasis cruise, both Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries. Best of all, Royal Caribbean is building a pier large enough for Oasis to dock there - a huge plus. The dock is scheduled to be finished this month, before the first visit by Oasis. The only other cruise line to have a dock at its private island is Disney.
The first regular cruise of Oasis sails December 1st. There will be a few media cruises ahead of that so they can get onboard for pictures, but we plan to be on that first passenger cruise so we can bring you the real Oasis, and Labadee.
The December 1 cruise sails from the specially built for Oasis port facilities in Ft. Lauderdale and includes a day at sea, followed by a day at Labadee and one more day at sea. Stay tuned for our first report.
Starting December 5th Oasis will offer regular 7-day cruises to the Eastern Caribbean until May 2010. Then it will begin alternating 7-day Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises. As I said, all Oasis cruises will visit Labadee.