Who doesn’t dream of being a castaway on an idyllic white sandy beach surrounded by sunshine and beautiful Caribbean Seas? If you’re cruising with Disney, they really do make dreams come true on their private island named Castaway Cay.
Originally named Gorda Cay, this 1000-acre island is in the South Abaco district of the Bahamas, near Great Abaco Island. Records show that it was first settled in 1783. Some time later, a 2,400 foot airstrip was built, making it very attractive for bootleggers during Prohibition, and later to drug runners.
In 1997, Disney purchased a 99-year lease of the cay from the Bahamian government and began turning it into an exciting dream destination for cruisers. It was a totally innovative plan. The first task was to dredge 50,000 truckloads of sand to create a deep-water dock and pier.
This meant that Castaway Cay became the first private port island that did not need to tender cruisers ashore. Just disembark, stroll along the pier and feel the soft white sand between your toes!
Disney has developed just over 55 acres of the 3-mile long island, leaving the majority of the cay in its natural state with indigenous trees for birds and wildlife. It has around 140 Disney staff who live permanently on the cay keeping everything running smoothly for each new cruise ship arrival.
Cruisers might get the feeling of déjà vu as the cay has been used as a film set in several films including Splash and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.
Castaway Cay has proved so popular with Disney cruisers that we hear there is a second private island in the pipeline. Lighthouse Point will be on the island of Eleuthera. We’ll let you know when there’s more news!
Where is Castaway Cay?
Castaway Cay is 73 miles north of Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, and 167 miles east of Miami.
Castaway Cay Weather
The Bahamas has year-round warm sunny weather with some cooling sea breezes to ease the hot summer temperatures. Winter is the peak season for cruising in the Caribbean and Bahamas, and daytime highs are generally between 74 and 76°F.
The rest of the year is a pleasant 77 to 88°F. The wettest months are August and September with short afternoon showers but the sun quickly reappears.
The warm air means that the surrounding seas are always warm, ranging from 73°F in January to 82°F in midsummer. There is very little tidal movement in the Bahamas.
(Make Believe!) History about Castaway Cay
When you visit Castaway Cay, spend a few moments reading some of the display boards and clues scattered around the island. Originally a safe haven for pirates, smugglers and bootleggers, the island has a make-believe history that is worthy of the Disney name!
It tells the story of three adventurers who set sail in search of fame and fortune. Unfortunately, they were shipwrecked and washed ashore on the island, hence the name “Castaway Cay”.
Disney has added authenticity to the tale with the remains of “shipwrecks” and makeshift buildings scattered around. The story certainly raises a smile with adults and children will be wide-eyed with excitement!
What to Expect on Castaway Cay
Once the cruise ship has docked, cruisers can appreciate the tropical scenery, white sandy beaches and quintessential palm trees that any true castaway island should have.
Three beaches allow guests to find their own space. There’s an exclusive Family Beach which is ideal for youngsters to play safely. At the far end is a Teen Beach with lots of sports equipment, beach volleyball etc. Further from the pier, Serenity Bay is a peaceful spot for adults aged 18+. It even offers yoga classes with gorgeous sea views.
Close to the main Family Beach there’s a swimming area and lagoon for snorkelling. Chairs, hammocks and shady umbrellas are available but you need to get ashore early to secure them.
The (pricey) rental of private cabanas includes loads of extras such as snacks, non-alcoholic beverages, floats, sunblock, snorkeling equipment and free bicycle hire.
Pelican Plunge is a 2,400 sq. ft. waterpark platform moored just offshore from the main beach so you have to swim out to use it. It has two flume slides including a covered tunnel. Watch out for the giant bucket dump! Minimum height is 38 inches and those under 48 inches must wear a life vest (provided).
Non-stop entertainment and music is found at the Gazebo with a resident DJ spinning island music. Join in basketball competitions, ping-pong tournaments, foosball and pool tables in the shady pavilion.
Parents can enjoy some child-free time by making use of the Scuttle Cove supervised activities for children aged 3 to 12. They offer the same fun as the onboard Oceaneer Club and Lab. Teens aged 14-17 have their own Teen Hideout.
The on-board Spa moves beachside during your day at Castaway Cay. Enjoy a relaxing beach massage in a shady cabana within sight and sound of the waves. Other services include hair braiding.
Castaway Cay has two colorful stores selling essentials, beach toys, hats, handicrafts and souvenirs that you won’t find anywhere else (even on-board!).
Boat rentals are available from Gil’s Fins and Boats. Choose a paddle-boat or aqua bike and work off your lunch or go exploring in a kayak. For the more adventurous, go parasailing and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the island.
You can also rent inflatables toys and floats from Flippers and Floats to enhance your visit to Castaway Cay.
Snorkeling in the clear turquoise waters just off the Family Beach is a paradise. There’s a Discover Trail, hidden Mickey and two sunken submarine-ride vehicles that were scuttled in the lagoon.
They were originally part of Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride in Orlando’s Walt Disney World. The clear calm waters and white sandy bottom make it easy to spot colorful fish.
Kids will love the play area with a rope and slide into the ocean. Closer to the ship there’s a Spring-a-Leak Splash Pad for water play.
Tours, Excursions and Add-on Experiences at Castaway Cay
Tours and excursions can all be booked at Guest Services before reaching Castaway Cay. Book early to ensure your place on one of these…
Book a place on the Stingray Adventure excursion and have fun interacting with these velvety soft winged creatures. It’s an unforgettable opportunity for youngsters to stroke a stingray in a shallow pool.
The Extreme Getaway offers four adventures in one fun-filled trip. Ride an inner tube, snorkel in the Caribbean, get up-close to stingrays and finally, enjoy a bicycle ride along the offshore nature trail.
Book an aerial adventure and see Castaway Cay from the clear blue skies above.
Watercraft Ski Adventure
Drive your own Waverunner on a guided tour. Explore the tropical marine life and learn about the history of this island paradise. Single and double jet skis are available.
There are several fishing tours available including equipment, bait, permit and helpful tips. Take a Backcountry Fishing Tour chasing bonefish, tarpon and barracuda.
These tours are sustainable catch-and-release excursions. You can also go Bottom Fishing on a half-day catch-and-release adventure around the Abaco Islands. Hook yellowtail, grouper and snapper if you’re lucky!
Scenic Boat Cruises
Take a Glass Bottom Boat Voyage and see plenty of corals and marinelife in these crystal clear waters. You can also enjoy a relaxing cruise and learn about some notorious pirates and other fascinating tales of Bahamian history.
Ride a Rigid Hull Boat as part of a small group snorkel tour. Alternatively, opt for the luxury Seahorse catamaran adventure and go snorkeling from the power boat in search of coral reefs and marine creatures.
Getting Around Castaway Cay
For those with limited mobility or young families in tow, the first stop after stepping ashore is the tram station. It carries passengers to different spots around the cay, all without charge. Hop on and off as a neat way to explore the island or ride to your pre-planned spot and chill out for the day. Note that the Family Beach is a 15-minute walk from the pier!
Nature lovers will enjoy an amble around this island and there’s plenty to see. Walk around the stalls, visit Merge’s Barges Dock where boat tours depart and visit the gazebo. It’s a great spot for a selfie with family friends and Disney characters.
Cruisers can also explore the wilder side of the cay on nature trails.
If you fancy a little exercise before dinner, you can rent bicycles and explore the whole island. You can ride along the old airstrip or head off exploring the island’s plants and birds in peaceful undeveloped areas.
Eat and Drink Like a Castaway
When it comes to bars and restaurants, Castaway Cay is an extension of the cruise ship. There is a choice of complimentary dining at snack bars and several Cookies Barbecues. Enjoy tasty burgers, barbecue chicken, hot dogs, salads and plenty of seasonal fresh fruit.
If you want a proper sit-down meal, head to the restaurant at Serenity Bay. It’s for adults only and includes some entrées not available at the other barbecue stations. You’re only shipwrecked once, so why not make the most of it!
Drinks are free for those with an all-inclusive drinks package on-board (a good reason to purchase one, perhaps) or you can charge drinks to your stateroom. Soft drinks and water are complimentary.
If you fancy an ice cream, head to one of the thatched pavilions with tables and umbrellas outside. They serve delicious free ice cream for dessert.
Worth Reading: 30 Things to Know about Perfect Day at CocoCay Bahamas
Tips for Getting the Most from your Day at Castaway Cay
One of the first buildings you’ll see on Castaway Cay is the Post Office. It sells postcards and genuine Bahamas stamps with a Castaway postmark. I’m sure friends and family will love to receive such a fun “Wish you were here” souvenir in the post! Postage stamps currently cost $1.20 for global mailing and you need to pay with cash – this is the only place where your stateroom card is not valid. Small denomination notes are appreciated!
Don’t forget to take your Key to the World stateroom key ashore with you, preferably on a lanyard around your neck. You’ll need it to pay for alcoholic drinks and some activities as well as access back on-board!
Strollers, joggers, beach wagons (for carting your stuff) and special wheelchairs are all available at Castaway Cay. Just ask a member of staff for assistance.
No need to worry about beach towels. You will be given a towel as you leave the ship.
Bring your own snorkel equipment if you have some. Otherwise you will have to rent fins and masks. Life vests are provided free for youngsters.
There are plenty of water stations around the island so stay hydrated. Bring an empty insulated mug and fill it up for your beach time.
Check the schedule ahead of time and find out where Disney characters will be hanging out for photo ops. It’s a wonderful opportunity to have a souvenir family photo with a picture-perfect beach background.
If you want a private cabana there is a limited number, so pre-book with Guest Services as soon as you get on-board.
Remember, you can’t do everything in one day on Castaway Cay. Prioritize a few things your really want to do and then enjoy relaxing and soaking up the sun.
Castaway Cay FAQs
Castaway is a private island owned by Disney Cruise Line. They only way you can visit is as part of a Disney cruise that includes it on the itinerary.
Disney’s Castaway Cay is 167 miles east of Miami, Florida and 259 miles from Port Canaveral.
Castaway Cay has about 140 permanent residents who are employed by Disney Cruise Line to keep the island running.
Yes. The complimentary cruise dining options simply move onshore with barbecues, a restaurant and free ice creams too!
Main Photo Credit: Arzi / Shutterstock.com