Friday, April 17, 2015

Tips for Castaway Cay | Disney's Private Island

I'm my opinion, when choosing Disney Cruise Line vs. Royal Caribbean or Disney Cruise Line vs. Carnival, etc., I will always choose Disney Cruise Line. There are a number of things I love about it, but my main draw is Disney's Private Island: Castaway Cay. I've been to Castaway Cay in two different scenarios: one in late September (when the temperatures are still very warm) on the Dream (meaning many more bodies on the island) and again in mid February (when the temperatures are a bit cooler) on the Magic (meaning fewer people than the Dream.) So, I've got a pretty well-rounded experience of the island to form an opinion on how to properly spend a fantastic day there.


Back Story

There is a bit of a back story (a real one and a fabricated one, as is most Disney-constructed attractions are) that could be interesting to know before hand. The Disney version is detailed enough to include how each of the restaurants, shops, and even the post office were named and who opened them. It's sort of a fun read prior to arriving on the island and can be seen here. The real back story is a bit of a grimmer tale of drug smuggling before the mouse saved it. An article focused on it can be read here.


The Island

Only a very small portion of the island is used for guests, and the majority is off limits. But, the 55 acres that are in use are pretty fantastic. It is made up of a few different beaches all with unique activities. It's broken up into a family beach, where most of the activities are and is the largest/busiest, a Teen beach which is very small in comparison, and Serenity Bay- the adult only beach.

For us childless folks, our first trip we rode the tram straight to the adult only beach and never looked back. At the end of the day, I felt as though we missed most of the island, and that was definitely the case. I don't recommend taking this approach. So the next trip, I made a point to walk from the ship all the way down to the family beach first to explore some of the activities. I later moved on to Serenity Bay, and even came back to the family beach after lunch. There were crab races and dance parties in various areas that kept most of the kids busy. There actually wasn't so many on the beach because it was a little chilly in the morning, so pretty much the whole day was pretty quiet in all of the areas I visited. If you want any character interactions, you'll need to visit the family beach area. You don't want to miss Mount Rustmore.


Things to Do

There is a plethora of activities and excursions on Castaway Cay. You can book excursions ahead of time on the ship, just like you would for any other port of call. We booked a parasailing excursion, but it ended up getting cancelled with a handful of others for that day due to "sea conditions." (It was likely the water temperature mixed with wind.) 

So instead, I went snorkeling with my GoPro in the Snorkeling Lagoon. I was literally the only person snorkeling. (I'm from Chicago, the water temperature didn't really effect me. I assume that's why most people didn't go snorkeling first thing in the morning.) Snorkeling really is hit or miss, but I didn't have that great of an experience on Castaway Cay. I hardly saw any fish. I never could find that underwater Mickey, although I did find a few other things. I've definitely had better snorkeling experiences elsewhere. But I've also seen a lot of positive reviews for the snorkeling on Castaway Cay. If you have your own snorkeling gear, it's for sure worth a shot. They do have an excursion for snorkeling in a different area that you board and ride a boat to that might be better than the Lagoon. They have jet ski rentals, Stingray adventures, kayaking, etc. All of the typical island excursions you see elsewhere. 

For non-excursion fun, Castaway Cay has water slides, shaded sports areas, bike rentals, and tube and float rentals tailored to different age groups. There is a water slide area set out in the ocean called Pelican Plunge that is pretty legit as far as waterslides go. There is a height limit and you have to swim to get it. There is also a water play area for kids called Spring-a-Leak. There is a specialty play area (not on the beach or in the water) called Scuttle's Cove that has counselors and play areas for kids. There is a "whale bone excavation" site and a fresh water play area. 


Adult Activities and Serenity Bay

There are a handful of adult-only departures for some excursions on Castaway Cay, if you'd like an excursion without kids. But the best adult-only portion of a day on Castaway Cay is Serenity Bay. Serenity Bay is a great adult-only beach. It's quiet and peaceful. It is pretty secluded from the other beaches. A pretty good walk if you don't take the tram or rent a bike. You can rent cabanas (for a hefty, hefty, price) for even more privacy if you wish. (They usually sell out very quickly!) You can also get a massage in the massage cabana on the beach. There are a number of hammocks and chairs with umbrellas for shade. It's less crowded than the family beach, by far, but it does get full. There is a food location right next to it so you don't have to walk or catch a tram over to the other beach areas. I did notice that it's a bit cooler & windier on Serenity Bay than the other beaches, which most of the time wouldn't make a difference, but on a barely 60 degree day in February, it made most people steer clear. (Which is why it looks so empty!) It's a good spot for reading a book for a few hours. On my last visit, a couple stopped and showed me some things they collected at the end of the beach, which were pretty cool. (They might have went a little farther than allowed.) 


Photo Spots & Characters

There are various wonderful picturesque spots around the island. Most of the good shots are going to be near the family beach. There is a full view of the ship, and quite a few sunny palm trees. This is also the busiest, so if you want no other guests in or in the background of your photos, you should get off the ship first thing, or wait until everyone clears out. (Don't worry, they sweep the island before the boat leaves, and people generally get on the boat much earlier than the actual all aboard time, so it usually gets pretty empty.) There are character times in various spots, including the post office, on the pier right by the ship, on the beach, Scuttle's Cove and by Mount Rustmore. All of these are great spots because of the gift of outdoor lighting. The characters are generally in their beach get-up which is quite fun! 


Dining & Shopping

Dining on the island is similar to dining on the ship. You'll probably recognize the staff at these places, as well. There is Cookie's BBQ, Cookie's Too, and a few bars with specialty and alcoholic drinks. There is an area to eat at Serenity Bay, but it doesn't have a name and isn't identified on the maps. It's just a rollover from Cookie's Too I imagine, since they all pretty much serve the same food. The food on the island isn't bad. It's BBQ, and it's included in the price of the cruise. They have free soft serve as well. The outdoor seating at Serenity Bay is nice and shaded as well. Of course there is always the ever-present sanitzer hand wipes.

There are a few shopping options. There is She Sells Sea Shells and Everything Else, and Buy the Seashore. Buy the Seashore is a little smaller but they both have similar items. If you want Castaway Cay branded merchandise, you will need to buy at one of these two places. They do not have it on the ship. There is also a lesser-mentioned shop by the family beach that is all Bahamian. It doesn't appear to be affiliated with Disney and is likely independently owned since I can't seem to find any information on it.


Did I miss anything interesting while I was on the island? What are your favorite activities?

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