Boats and watercraft greet the cruise ship as it pulls into Castaway Cay
Many cruise lines have their own private island and Disney Cruise Line is no exception with Castaway Cay (“Cay” is pronounced “Key”). Castaway Cay formerly known as Gorda Cay was acquired through a 99-year land lease from the Bahamas. While the island is largely undeveloped, the areas open to cruise line guests are quite nice and offer a great day of beach fun. If this is your first time visiting Castaway Cay on your cruise, follow these tips to make the most of your time on the island.
Arriving at Castaway Cay
Looking down at Castaway Cay port side from Deck 11 Aft
Depending on your itinerary, you will pull into Castaway Cay around 7:00 am. The ship backs into the dock, so the starboard side of the ship is where you want to be if you want to get a great view of the island. We often sit on our veranda and eat breakfast and drink coffee as we are pulling in to see the island.
The runners participating in the 5k get to get off of the ship first. I find that it’s typically total chaos as people are trying to get off the ship. Skip that nonsense and go have a sit-down breakfast at one of the restaurants and let everyone else get off first. The exits are usually at Deck 1 Mid-ship and Aft.
When you get off the ship, be sure and grab some towels if you are not staying in a cabana.
What to bring
The first thing you will want to bring is sunscreen. You can get more on the island but you will pay dearly for it of course. You’ll want your swimsuits of course and maybe even a change of clothes. Plan on getting lots of sand in your flip flops throughout the day.
You may also want to bring beverages. If you brought water or alcohol then I would bring it with you. That way you can save yourself money and a bit of walking.
Getting around on the island
If there is anything Disney loves, it is people walking long distances and waiting in lines. Castaway Cay is no different. When you first debark, you’ll walk a short distance to a tram. It makes two stops. The first one takes you to various activities and snorkeling. The second one takes you to where some of the other activities are such as bike rentals. As an adult, if you plan on spending the day in Serenity Bay, Castaway Cay’s adult-only area, you have to wait and catch another shuttle. Be sure and give yourself time to get around the island at the end of the day. They aren’t likely to leave you behind but you really don’t want to be late.
Cabanas are Cay (Key)
I can’t underestimate the importance of having a cabana on your visit. The cabanas serve as your home base for all of your activities and they provide you much needed shade. The cabanas on the family beach go for $500 and the ones on the adult beach go for $600. While, that may seem expensive, they do come with sunscreen, towels, unlimited soft drinks and water (in a refrigerator), snacks such as chips, snorkeling equipment, bike rentals, inner tubes and other flotation devices. The cabanas also come with lots of lounge chairs and a hammock to really enjoy the Caribbean. The family cabanas also feature a private area just for cabana guests. You can also press a button at any time to have drink service delivered. It’s really slow, but it beats walking back to the bar.
The path leading to the cabanas on the family beach of Castaway Cay
Unfortunately, for a ship full of people, cabanas are in extremely short supply. The only way you are going to get one is if you have high status on Disney, you are extremely lucky, or have a unique situation. There are only 14 cabanas in the family area and 6 in Serenity Bay. It’s even harder to get them during high traffic seasons such as the summer. If you can get one, they are definitely worth it.
New cabanas under construction as the family beach of Castaway Cay
When you rent a cabana, the night before you will get a paper cabana delivered to your guest room along with instructions and wristbands on how to get there. Don’t forget your wristbands when you debark the ship.
The beaches are beautiful and feature crystal clear water. You can see right down to the bottom and it’s not uncommon to see some sea life such as this Sea Star (apparently they aren’t called “Star Fish” any more). Don’t worry about more serious water creatures as you never see anything else other than small schools of fish. On the beach, you will find lots of seashells. However, Disney reminds you not to take them with you as they want to keep them on their beach.
A Sea Star in Serenity Bay at Disney’s Castaway Cay
There are lots of activities for the kids as well. Pelican Plunge is a water play area on a floating platform with two water slides. Spring-a-leak is another water play area themed as a washed-away beach dwelling. Scuttle’s Cove is for young children and features activities arranged by the counselors from the ship. They also offer free child care here but you need to schedule it to reserve a spot.
If you are into snorkeling be sure and rent some snorkeling equipment and check out the Snorkeling Lagoon with two paths for novice and experiences snorkelers. The water is so clear there is plenty to see. You can also rent inner tubes and floats to enjoy your time on the beach.
There are also a number of places to play games such as ping-pong and shuffleboard. These can be found in the Grouper Game Pavilion as well as the In Da Shade Game Pavilion.
As with any Disney location, if you happen to be at the right spot at the right time, you will find a character greeting.
For those that really like the water, you can arrange for various port adventures before you go. These include activities such as parasailing, watercrafts, and kayaking. You can also get some hands-on time with stingrays here (although most ports of call have excursions for this) Most of these activities depart from Marge’s Barges close to where you debark the ship.
An aerial view of Marge’s Barges from the aft section of the ship.
Just like on the ship, food is included on the island. You have the choice of visiting Cookies BBQ or Cookies 2 in Serenity Bay (for those without children). The BBQ features items such as burgers, brats, steaks, and fish. They tend to cook everything well done. They also have a few desserts such as cookies available too.
Cookies Too BBQ serves you lunch at Castaway Cay
Of course there are always more opportunities for you to spend more money with Disney while you are on the island. If you are looking for souvenirs, you can stop by See Sells Sea Shells or Buy the Sea Shore. You can also buy sunscreen here which is important if you forgot. Don’t worry about bringing money to the island because you can buy anything you need with your Key to the World card. Anything you purchase you can have delivered to your stateroom on the ship too.
The island also features their own Bahamian Post Office near the ship which they are particularly proud of. If you are the type that likes to mail letters or post cards (do people still do that?), then check this out on your way out.
Exploring the Island
If you are one that likes to explore, then go and rent a bike (included with cabanas). There are bike trails throughout the island. The first place to check out is the old runway that leads to Serenity Bay. Off of the runway is a short path that leads to a lookout tower where you can get some great views of the island.
A view from the lookout tower with the Disney Wonder in the distane.
If you get to Serenity Bay and decide you don’t want to ride all the way back, then you can dump your bike there and jump on the tram to ride back.
Pro tip: you can often just grab a bike that has been returned as they are just lying around the bike area. A lot of times other guest will just pass them off to you as you walk up. This is especially the case later in the morning and into the afternoon.
Looking at the end of Serenity Bay
Serenity Bay is the adults-only area of Castaway Cay. Not to be confused with an “adult beach”, this area provides a nice quiet time where you can listen to the waves of the ocean (hence the name). The area is quieter in the morning and tends to pick up a little more in the afternoon as guest realize they can drop their kids off as Scuttle’s Cove and escape. The beach features a unique sandbar that appears in the afternoon as the tide leaves.
Ending the Day
Castaway Cay can be a lot of fun but it can be quite exhausting as well. By the end of the day, you may want to get a jump on everyone else getting back to the ship. If you are all the way at Serenity Bay this means you have to jump on multiple trams to get back. You’ll hear the ship’s horn for last call to get on a tram and that means you better get going if you don’t want to become an inhabitant of the island. Trams can be quite crowded so I usually like to leave a little early around 3:30.