A Traveling Suitcase Blog by Noreen Kompanik
Returning from a Disney cruise to the Bahamas to celebrate our grandson’s birthday, I told my family and friends “I would have taken this cruise just to get to Castaway Cay.” Why, you may wonder? Well, I’m more than happy to share.
First of all, anyone who’s sailed on a Disney Cruise will tell you that the entire trip is one fantastic experience. Our ship, the Disney Dream sailed from Ft. Lauderdale on a 3-night Bahamian adventure. Food, service, staterooms were all top notch as always. And for us, having that balcony is important- to feel the warm sun on our faces and the salty breezes blowing through our hair. Because our staterooms were on the same floor as our family, though opposite sides of the boat, we had the pleasure of experiencing both sunrise and sunsets over the Atlantic.
Our first stop was Nassau, a fun port we’ve visited in the past teeming with Bahamian and British flavor and miles of spectacular beaches and stretches of vivid coral reefs perfect for snorkeling.
Excitement however started to build as our ship pulled into Disney’s private island paradise, Castaway Cay (pronounced key). Reserved only for Disney Cruise line guests on Bahamian and Caribbean Cruises, the tropical Cay is located near Great Abaco Island in the northern Bahamas 180 miles east of south Florida. Castaway Cay may not be very big, but, it’s packed with those magical Disney touches, and a heck of a lot to do.
Ships dock right on the island allowing Disney cruisers to disembark directly onto the pier. A short 15-minute walk leads to unbelievable amenities including our first stop, powdery white sandy Castaway Family Beach. Trams are also available for those who need them (or need to get to the beach faster)! Beach towels are provided by cruise line members at the pier so no need to pack those in your suitcase or beach bag.
After securing our chairs and umbrellas, the kids scurried to the bay’s turquoise crystalline waters. Snorkeling is available to those wanting to explore the Caribbean’s undersea world in the lagoon just off Castaway Family Beach. Two submerged submarines from Magic Kingdom’s retired 20,000 Leagues under the
Sea attraction add an element of adventure for intrepid snorkelers. And who can resist Pelican Plunge, the 2,400 square-foot floating platform with two bending twisting water slides dropping squealing riders directly into the lagoon itself. A giant “bucket dump” of water brings more anticipation and laughter, and water cannons can be used to shoot unsuspecting targets.
Game pavilions near the Family Beach offer a variety of sand and shaded games like volleyball, tetherball, foosball, ping-pong, pool, shuffleboard, basketball, and golf whiffle ball. Inner tubes, snorkel masks and fins can be rented from Flippers & Floats on the beach to enjoy. Kayaks, paddle boats, paddle boards and Aqua Trikes can also be rented for use in this water wonderland.
For those wishing to get an up-close-and-personal encounter with stingrays, Castaway Ray’s Stingray Adventure gives you the chance to feed, touch and snorkel with the friendly rays in a private lagoon for an additional fee. Onsite marine specialists provide interesting facts and answer questions about these fascinating sea creatures.
Hammocks are located beachfront and while my husband was clowning around in one with our grandson, that wily, notorious pirate Captain Jack Sparrow snuck up on them, grabbed our camera and starting snapping family photos.
By now our starving gang was more than ready for lunch and what an amazing surprise it was. When we were told Cookie’s on the island would be providing a Beach BBQ lunch, we thought “Cool-hot dogs, baked beans, paper plates, plastic utensils”- a beach picnic. There are actually three BBQ areas on the island, though this and its sister eatery, Cookies Too are more popular.
Yes, diners are seated at picnic tables, but the buffet lunch was a culinary feast. Hot dogs and hamburgers, yes, but a myriad of other delectable food choices like chicken, ribs, seafood, salads, all the fixins’ imaginable are also there. Dessert choices feature a variety of fruits and of course “cookies” and a self-serve ice cream machine with a variety of flavors the kids and big kids all loved. We came hungry, left more than satisfied.
Beach cruisers are available for an additional rental fee but well worth it, so after lunch we took off to explore the rest of the island. Once again, we were delighted by the island’s immense natural beauty. Though Castaway Cay sits on 1,000 acres, only 55 of those are developed. The remainder of the island can be explored along 1.5 miles of bike trails leading to secluded beaches, including an adults-only beach at Serenity Bay and an area of beach cabanas that can be reserved in advance of the cruise.
A 40-foot observation tower surrounded by the dense flora and fauna of the island provides breathtaking views of the cay and Disney ship docked in the distance. This is one time we were very glad to have brought our cameras with us on the bike trek.
At the end of the day, tired but happy, we stopped for family photos on the way back to the Dream. Because Castaway Cay merchandise isn’t sold on the cruise ship, grandkids chose their souvenir T-shirts and trinkets between two island gift shops with beachy creative names like “By the Seashore” and “She Sells Sea Shells…and everything else.”
As our cruise ship departed the tropical island it occurred to me why the island felt so magical. With the perfect blend of water, sunshine, relaxation, natural surroundings, fun and adventure, it allows families to live for that moment you just can’t put into words.