Private islands afford cruise lines more quality control over the guest experience than at any other port destination in the Caribbean, and Disney Cruise Line pays attention to presenting a perfect day ashore at its pristine Castaway Cay, exclusively for guests aboard its fleet.
The 1,000-acre island, previously known as Gorda Cay, was once a drug-running outpost with an airstrip, that is now thankfully only frequented by trams, bicycles and marathoners. Disney itself remembers a kinder cinematic history, one where Tom Hanks’ character originally sees Daryl Hannah as a mermaid in “Splash” at a beach close to the current Serenity Bay. Later for the cruise line in 1998, Castaway Cay opened for Disney ships.
Only 55 acres of the sprawling land are accessible to guests, but there is plenty to be enjoyed within once disembarked at the pier. In fact, Disney was the first cruise line to conveniently dock at its private island and bypass the time-consuming need to tender ashore. Just beyond is the island’s own post office, the first tram stop, walking path to the beaches and a small boat marina, off from which once anchored the Flying Dutchman full-sized ship prop from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film franchise before being weather damaged and removed.
On the way towards the snorkeling lagoon is Boat Beach for renting watercraft, and at Gil’s Fins and Boats, you can alternatively rent snorkel gear, inner-tubes and floats. The popular Castaway Ray’s Stingray Adventure occurs here, where guests five and older learn about, feed and swim with over 40 Southern Stingrays. Just inland at the second tram stop is the Scuttle’s Cove children’s area for three- to twelve-year-olds and its secured and supervised water play zone, sandcastle area and adjacent Monstro Point artificial whale bone excavation site.
Beyond the first aid center, shopping begins at She Sells Sea-Shells and Everything Else (sea-shells is narratively struck for the sake of ecology), and dining starts at Cookie’s BBQ and Conched Out Bar, both with lots of outdoor shaded seating. Down the way, local Bahamian items are additionally for sale, and In-Da-Shade Games is where basketball, billiards, table tennis and foosball are found.
On the beachside is the first of two family beaches featuring umbrellas, chairs and hammocks, as well as a swimming lagoon. An additional 12-acre snorkeling lagoon contains underwater treasures like a Mickey Mouse figurehead and a former “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” submarine ride vehicle from the old Magic Kingdom attraction at Walt Disney World. Extending along a peninsula is the Heads Up Bar, and on the opposite side is the second family beach and Pelican Plunge, a barge outfitted with waterslides and water cannons.
Off from the third tram stop is Summertime Freeze, the island’s newest establishment inspired by the film “Frozen” and its snowman Olaf character. Nonalcoholic frozen cocktails like the strawberry, mango and orange “Let It Go” are appropriately served here. Directly across the way, more snorkel, tube and float equipment can be rented from Flippers and Floats, and more logo merchandise can also be purchased from Buy the Seashore. Nestled just behind are the bicycle rental center, beach sports courts, Hideout teens-only escape and the Spring-a-Leek aquatic play zone.
Down a bit farther is more dining at Cookie’s Too BBQ, the Sand Bar and additional covered seating. There are also private beach cabanas available for rent here. Behind it all is the former runway, bike and nature trail and an observation tower that overlooks the island. Hop on another tram via airstrip to reach the Serenity Bay adults-only area of the island, an exclusive beachfront with its own lounge chairs, hammocks, Castaway Air Bar and Serenity Bay BBQ. Luxurious massage huts and a small selection of private cabanas (pictured above) can also be reserved.
Plus, all along the way are chances to meet Disney characters such as Jack Sparrow, Chip and Dale or Minnie Mouse at photo-ops like Mount Rustmore, where Mickey, Pluto, Donald and Goofy are painted playfully on old channel markers.
Other cruise lines also offer their guests private destination experiences, like Royal Caribbean International’s Labadee, that also now features a dock, and MSC Cruises just announced that is has begun developing its own island set to open in December 2017.
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