Written by Kimberly McClintock Evans – Magical Tripcations Travel Planner
Did you know Disney has a private Island for guests aboard Disney Cruise Line on certain sailings? If your itinerary has a day at Castaway Cay, (pronounced “key”) here is everything you need to know for a great day off the ship and a few suggestions and surprises you may not know about.
First a few facts:
- The island is only for Disney Cruise Line guests. No other ships or cruise lines will dock here. Only those from your cruise will be docking on that day.
- Some cruise itineraries include a “double dip” Castaway Cay Stop. Contact one of our amazing Disney Travel Planners for more information on different itineraries.
- Although Disney Cast Members won’t often tell you, there is a sordid history of the island. Disney has a 99-year lease on the Bahamian Island. Castaway Cay was actually named Gorda Cay, had no beaches, and was a drug smuggler stop in the 70s. While you don’t hear much about it, the landing strip is part of a clue. In my head however, I like to believe it was really a Jack Sparrow stop and if I dig long enough and hard enough I will find some treasure or rum smuggled onto the island. A much better story, I think!
- Sometimes it’s fun to find the approximately 50 – 60 staff members that actually live on the island and ask them a little about Island life.
Top things to do on your day at Castaway Cay:
- Get off early. The fastest way off the ship? Sign up for the Castaway Cay 5K at Guest Services or Port Adventures Desk. It’s free and you get a great medal with some bragging rights. You can also work off the extra soufflé you ate last night. It’s also a great way to see the island. It doesn’t matter how fast you are. Lots of people will walk the 5K. Bring a day bag with extra sunscreen and your swim suit. Towels are provided. There is a giant “treasure box” where you can store your bag during the run/jog/walk. You can also bring your family with you to exit the ship. You can either drop them off at the kids’ club on the island or stay with another adult from your party while you run your race.
- This is the fastest way off the ship because the cast members check your Key to The World Card, Driver’s License and you can quickly bypass the long lines once docked. Those in the 5K are also usually first off the ship. Keep in mind there is not tram service for those headed to the start line for the 5K.
- Eat all the food on the island. It’s included in your cruise fare, so eat up! Food will be served in 3 locations: Cookies, Cookies Too and Serenity Bay. There is a great BBQ lunch with usual hot dogs and chicken sandwiches. The BBQ is amazing! Plus all the fresh fruit, desserts, chips and ice cream you can handle.
- Don’t forget a reusable cup. This is a cruise tip in general, nobody wants to spend their time going back and forth to the drink station, especially on the island. Water is free, no need to bring any or buy any on the island.
- Around 2pm the cast members will head back to the ship to prep dinner service and they will place out sandwiches in containers. Even the sandwiches are great tasting and there are a couple options, one being a vegetarian option. At this time, a gluten free bread is not available on the island with the sandwich services. It is however often found all over the ship now.
Location! Location! Location! The best way to explain the island is in sections. As you can see on the map below, there are trams available with three stops; two are for the family destinations and the third is for the adult-only area called Serenity Bay. Here is a guide to each section:
Section A: As you exit the ship there are some great photo opportunities, so get your cameras ready! This is also where you will catch most of your excursions. The boat beach is there so if you are parasailing, renting jet skis, swimming with stingrays or choose one of the fishing excursions you will begin there. This is not an area for laying out for the day though you may see a few chairs and umbrellas there.
- Tip: Disney has transportation for people who might need assistance here. Strollers rentals are complimentary and have wheels for sand. Joggers are also available.
Want a fun souvenir? The post office is also in this section. There are two complimentary post cards in your stateroom drawer. Write a note to someone or even to yourself and mail it with a Stamp from the Bahamas on the Island. (Your key to the world card does not work at this location so-bring cash and they will make change, no more than a dollar is needed.)
Section B – The first “cove” is the Family Beach. This is the largest of the beaches and where most people will set up shop for the day. The Snorkel Lagoon is straight ahead with some amazing snorkeling. (Life vests are mandatory in the Snorkel Lagoon and provided at life guard stations.) Keep your eyes peeled for Hidden Mickeys in the water. If you plan on dropping your kids off at the supervised play areas, this is a great beach because the area is right behind you. The fabulous Kids’ Club Staff will supervise some splash activities in Scuttle’s Cove. There are also games at in-da-shade games including, basketball, ping pong etc. Cookies is located here as well as some of the bars with alcoholic drinks for purchase with your Key to the World card.
- The Gazeebos are in this section and this is as far as characters go on the Island. There are also some great photo ops in this section as well. Olaf, Mickey and Crew plus Hook and Smee can all be found between here and the ship.
Section C – This is probably the most coveted spot on the Island. It’s called the Pelican Plunge. This will be Tram Stop #2 and has great shopping, bars (including a great Frozen drink area with both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks) and Cookies Too for food, beverages, and ice cream. The teens only area, Hideout, is also located here.
- Pelican Plunge is a floating water slide and waterpark platform. There are 2 water slides supervised with lifeguards and the lines can get quite long so go early and ride often. They are quite fast and fun for adults too! Note, there are life jackets provided for little ones and sometimes lifeguards will require kids to wear them. Also, the platform is not on the beach, you are required to swim out and even adults won’t be able to touch the bottom before you get to the stairs. Water shoes are a good idea but by no means are required. Leave your sunglasses (and cocktails) with your towels.
- Cabanas – Should you be lucky enough to snag a cabana, they will be to the right as you are looking at the beach. For a fee, they will bring you food, drinks and refresh towels. However, for a small walk all that is still available to you on the Island.
Section 4 – This is Tram Stop #3 – Serenity Bay. This is a beach for adults age 18+. The beach itself is a bit steeper and shorter than the other 2 but the view is still just as amazing. If you signed up for one of the many tastings that occur (Mixology, Margarita, Stem-To-Stern) on a Castaway Cay Day, they will take place here. There is an eating location as well and beach service just like the other locations. There are also a few adult cabanas which offer service, however they don’t have direct beach access.
Wherever you land on the beach, it will be amazing and really there is no wrong choice!
Things to do while on Castaway Cay – Here are some suggestions:
- Do nothing! Sit on the beach, enjoy the sand on your toes, have a great lunch, take some pictures, build a sandcastle, enjoy a beverage, read a book, nap and just relax! There are inner tubes available for a small fee that entertain kids if they are with you and not at Scuttle’s Cove.
- Excursions – I mentioned a bunch of them from fishing to parasailing. Here are some that I’ve tried and would suggest:
- Stingray Encounter – There are usually plenty of spots available every hour on the hour and it’s great for kids ages 6 and up to get involved. All of the stingrays have their barbs trimmed and it’s really safe. If you choose this excursion you are also helping the Disney Conservation efforts as part of your fee goes towards Walt’s passion for nature and environmental conservation. You also get a really cool turtle pin as a souvenir. There is also a bit of an education that kids will enjoy when they discuss what you will feed them and why, how to walk in the water and how many males vs. females are in the group. I prefer this excursion to even some of the more famous stingray swims throughout the Caribbean. Plus who doesn’t love feeding stingrays on a Mickey dinner plate?
- Shopping – If you plan on getting any Castaway Cay souvenirs, this is the place. At Bahamian Retail (Section B) there are great local crafts available as well. While there is hair braiding on Castaway, I’d suggest doing that on ship and use you time to enjoy the island.
- Snorkeling – This is a really fun activity and there are life guards positioned far into the water and as already mentioned complimentary life jackets required but snorkel rental gear is a small fee.
- Biking – A great way to see the island and the observation tower is by bike. It truly is a beautiful, tropical paradise and renting a bike and leisurely riding around can be run and a great way to work off all the ice cream you have been eating.
- Water Sports – They are plentiful! There are a number of different water sports and when you check into your cruise, you can explore the options and costs before you even pack your suitcase. However, if you decide last minute you want to do something, head to the Port Adventures Desk on your ship and they will go over options there as well.
Housekeeping. As your day heads to an end and maybe your cruise as well, it’s time to make your way to the ship.
- As your Mom always said, “leave things better than when you got there.” I am a fan of cleaning up our area. Taking any food trays back, throw away any trash and pick up the towels and place them in the towel bins. Its just a good thing to do. Cruising is a privilege and this is a beautiful island we want to keep beautiful for others to enjoy. This also includes not taking home “treasures” or sea shells as tempting as it may be. Leave them for others to enjoy in their natural state.
- There will be cool towels and plain water or wonderful fruit enhanced water available as you get back on the ship. Hydration is key but tastes even better with pineapple!! Grab your Key to the World card and get ready for dinner or maybe a few minutes on the pool or slides. (Tip: leaving around 2 you can really enjoy the island but also get back and ride the slides with little to no lines…)
- Once back on board this would be a great time to book your next cruise! The Disney Vacation Planning desk is open at various times during your sailing. For the most part, this is the only time that you can find a Disney Cruise Line vacation at a discount. Depending on the cruise you choose, there’s the possibility to reserve your next cruise with a reduced cruise deposit, a stateroom credit (varies on the length of your next cruise of choice), and a percentage off the current prevailing rate on your future cruise. It’s wise to do this even if you are unsure when you will sail again. Disney Cruise Line also offers current guests a “placeholder” option. The cost is $250. When you’re ready to book your next cruise, contact your Travel Agent and you’ll receive 10% off the prevailing rate, as well as onboard credit. You must sail within 24 months from the date that you pay the placeholder. Should you decide not to sail all together, you get 100% of your deposit back if you do not sail before your placeholder expires or before final payment is due if you have a specific cruise selected. Please see details at the vacation planning desk or ask your Magical Tripcations Travel Agent!
Remember, Castaway Cay is a Disney Cruise Line exclusive so if you want to see it, you have to sail Disney! Contact one of our many Magical Tripcations Travel Planners and let’s get planning!