The first Bahamian island turned into a private destination for cruise ship guests was the 268-acre Great Stirrup Cay in the northern Berry Islands. Originally a base for pirates, the island was acquired by the Belcher Oil Company of Miami for oil exploration. When oil seemed to be an unlikely prospect in the Bahamas, the island was leased to Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) in 1977. The site’s proximity to deep water made it an ideal location for NCL, who cleaned it up and added cabanas and beach chairs so that its guests could come ashore and stretch their legs for a few hours. Not surprisingly, the shore excursions on pristine beaches were very popular and the site became a pillar of the NCL marketing campaigns.
Not to be outdone, Admiral Cruises leased nearby Little Stirrup Cay in 1985 in the cruise ship equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses, so that it too could offer a similar beach experience to its guests. Unlike Great Stirrup Cay which had a storied history of being the home to pirates, Little Stirrup Cay was undeveloped and uninhabited until the arrival of Admiral Cruises. In 1988, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, which also operated Celebrity and Azamara Cruises, assumed the lease for Little Stirrup Cay and renamed it Coco Cay after it acquired Admiral Cruises into its fleet. With the launch of Coco Cay, the race to create even more spectacular island experiences was on.