Castaway Cay (pronounced Key) is Disney Cruise Line’s private island in the Bahamas and is the highlight of the majority of Disney cruises. The only way you can visit Castaway Cay is to take a Disney Cruise and even if not a beach person like myself, you will find it a little piece of paradise. The palm trees, blue skies (most of the time), crystal clear water and beautiful white sand beaches make it a perfect place to relax.
Where is Castaway Cay
Castaway Cay was formerly known as Gorda Cay and is located 160 miles east of Miami near Grand Abaco Island in the Bahamas, 225 nautical miles from Port Canaveral. The island is 3.1 miles long and 2.2 miles wide but only 55 of the 1000 acres of the island have been developed. Disney Cruise Line also built a pier at Castaway Cay where the ships can dock so no tender boats are needed.
Once upon a time, pirates were said to have visited the island and Gorda Cay and its runway was also once a haven for drug smugglers. In 1997 Disney Cruise line purchased a 99 year lease for the island from the Bahamian government until 2096. Despite it’s colourful history, Disney have given the island a much more wholesome backstory.
Arriving at Castaway Cay
The ships arrive at Castaway Cay in the morning and it’s definitely worth waking up early to watch. If you have a verandah stateroom on the starboard (right) side or the aft of the ship, you will get a great view of Castaway Cay when docking. Otherwise you will get a great view on the open decks but if having breakfast at Cabanas, grab one of the outside tables at the back of the ship. You might also get the hear the “When You Wish Upon a Star” ship horn once the ship is docked.
An announcement will be made when you are able to start disembarking the ship and there will be signs onboard to let you know where the gangways to the dock are – they are always on Deck One but could be Forward, Midship or Aft.
Travelling Around Castaway Cay
After disembarking the ship, there are two ways to get to Scuttle’s Cove and Pelican Point where the family beaches, activities and shops are located. You can either take the tram which picks up from Kargo Handling close to the ship or you can walk. The walk is paved and incredibly easy and is one of the best ways to get some amazing photos of the ship and the island on the way.
To get to the adult-only Serenity Bay beach, there is a separate clearly marked tram which departs from Pelican Point and travels along the old airstrip on the island.
Beaches at Castaway Cay
There are two Family Beaches on Castaway Cay as well as the adult only Serenity Bay beach. There are plenty of sunloungers, chairs and umbrellas on all the beaches which are free of charge to use.
There is more than enough space for everyone so there is no need to rush off the ship first thing in the morning and run to the beach to claim your spot unless you want to. If you do find that there are crowds, just walk a little further along each beach and there will be space – most people grab the first spot they see. One thing to note is that the beaches are far less crowded when sailing on the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder over the much larger Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy.
The Pelican Plunge waterslides are found by the second Family Beach. There are two slides (one enclosed and one open) on a floating platform that you have to swim out too. It is best to do these slides as early as possible in the morning before a line forms. The water is very deep close to the platform but there are lifejackets available if you need them there as well as at all the other beaches.
At all three beaches you can rent floats and inner tubes for the day. You can reserve these online ahead of time but there is never a shortage and you will have no problem getting them on the day of you visit.
Snorkelling at Castaway Cay
Next to the Family Beach is the 22 acre snorkelling lagoon. You can either rent masks, snorkels and fins or bring your own to use. However it is a requirement that everyone in the lagoon wears a snorkel vest which are free of charge to use – you can find them at Flippers and Floats, Gil’s Fins and Boats as well as along the beach at the lifeguard stations. You do not have to inflate the snorkel vest but the water can get quite deep (deeper than you think it will) so inflating the vest slightly will help you to float if you start to get tired from swimming and treading water.
Once in the lagoon there are many sunken treasures to see including a submarine from the 20000 Leagues Under the Sea ride at Magic Kingdom as well as statues of Minnie and Mickey – they are all easily found underneath the floating white buoys.
If using a GoPro, remember to bring a floating handle with you and also use plenty of SPF50 at a minimum whilst in the lagoon.
Meeting Characters at Castaway Cay
Castaway Cay is one of the best places to meet all your favourite characters in their beachwear with minimal wait. Your Personal Navigator will list times and locations for each character – the majority of these times are early in the day. The normal photo spots are the Gangway, the Post Office, Scuttle’s Cove and Mount Rustmore. There are also unannounced character meet and greets during the day such as Olaf as well as Captain Jack Sparrow who has been known to turn up at Serenity Bay.
There will also be a Character Dance Party during the day which is held next to the Gazebo close to the Conched Out bar.
Eating at Castaway Cay
Lunch is provided for you whilst you are at Castaway Cay at three different locations – Cookies BBQ, Cookies Too BBQ and the Serenity Bay BBQ. Hot barbecue items include burgers, hot dogs, ribs, ribeye steak, chicken, fish and corn on the cob. The cold items include breads, potato salad, coleslaw, crisps and cous cous. There are veggie burgers available on request if you do not eat meat. If you have any other dietary requirements, it is best to speak to your serving team at dinner the night before your visit to Castaway Cay.
Lunch is usually served between 11:30am and 2:00pm – check the times listed in the Personal Navigator. There are covered seating areas to eat next to all the locations.
There is also plenty of fresh fruit available as well as the same soft serve ice cream machines that you can find on the ship – I highly recommend the mango flavour ice cream!
Drinking at Castaway Cay
As on the ship, there are drink stations located at Cookies BBQ, Cookies Too BBQ and the Serenity Bay BBQ where you can help yourself to as much water and soda as you want – this is all included in your cruise fare.
There are also four bars where you can purchase cocktails and other alcoholic drinks – The Sand Bar, the Conched Out Bar, the Heads Up Bar and the Castaway Air Bar. Usually in the afternoon, there is also a Happy Hour – check with the servers on the day for the times. There is also Summertime Freeze where you can purchase non-alcoholic smoothies and cocktails.
Port Adventures at Castaway Cay
There are Port Adventures available at Castaway Cay which you can pre-book online in advance once your booking window has opened. You can go parasailing, go on a glass bottom boat, go fishing, rent bicycles (and cycle to the Observation Tower) and feed stingrays amongst many other things.
However do not feel that your have to book something to enjoy yourself during your time on Castaway Cay – there is more than enough to keep yourself occupied during the day. You can easily enjoy Castaway Cay without having to spend any money.
Areas for Children and Teenagers at Castaway Cay
Just like onboard the ship, there are also areas on Castaway Cay dedicated to children and teenagers which are Scuttle’s Cove, In Da Shade Games, Spring-A-Leak and the Teen Hideout.
Cabanas at Castaway Cay
Located on Castaway Cay are a total of twenty five private cabanas – twenty one on the Family Beach and four at Serenity Bay. Included in the price of the cabana rental is a private beach area, a shower, a hammock, bottled water and soda, fresh fruit, snacks, suntan lotion, snorkel equipment rental, float and inner tube rental and the use of sand toys.
These cabanas always sell out as soon as booking opens and most people will not even get a chance to book one. Concierge guests have priority over bookings (and they usually get fully booked at this point) followed by Platinum Castaway Club members when their booking window opens 120 days before sailing, then Gold Castaway Club at 105 days, Silver Castaway Club at 90 days and then finally first time cruisers at 75 days. It is possible to be lucky (as rarely as it happens) and be online when someone cancels their cabana reservation or you can always add your name to a waitlist onboard in case of any cancellations.
Do not be upset if you cannot book a cabana at Castaway Cay. There are plenty of sunloungers and shade available on the island and not having one will not impact your enjoyment of Castaway Cay in the slightest. At the end of the day, they cost an absolutely ridiculous amount of money for what essentially is a wooden hut with a mini fridge.
Shopping at Castaway Cay
There are two shops at Castaway Cay – Buy the Seashore and She Sells Sea Shells and Everything Else. At these shops you will find merchandise that is only available on Castaway Cay itself so if you see something you want, buy it straight away then you know you have it. You can also have your shopping delivered back to the ship so you do not need to carry it around with you on the island. Make sure to visit both stores as I found some merchandise at one shop and not the other on my previous visit.
Cash is not accepted as you simply use your Key to the World card to charge your purchases to your onboard account.
There is also a local Bahamian Merchandise shop located between Scuttle’s Cove and Pelican Point.
Staying Onboard the Ship at Castaway Cay
It sounds strange to go on a Disney Cruise and then stay on the ship at Castaway Cay but some people do and that is perfectly okay if that’s what you prefer to do. There will be a restaurant open for lunch (usually Cabanas) and the quick service locations on deck will be open too. However the shops onboard will be closed whilst the ship is docked.
The ship will be peaceful and quiet (great for photos), you can watch movies, the pools will be empty, there will be plenty of sunloungers available and there will be hardly any lines for the Aquaduck or Aquadunk depending on which ship you’re sailing on.
Other Tips for Visiting Castaway Cay
Essential items to take off the ship with you to Castaway Cay are your Key to the World card, your photo ID (usually your passport), a camera, a hat, suntan lotion with a high SPF and sunglasses. Also remember your mask, snorkel and fins if you have your own.
You do not need to bring the towels from your room or from the pool deck with you – they are available by the gangway as you exit the ship. Once you have finished with the towels, there are bins you can drop them into around the island.
There are outside showers located on Castaway Cay (usually close to the toilets) where you can rinse off after being in the sea. A top tip is to take some dry clothes to change into after showering – I did this and I felt so much better after washing off the sand and salt water.
Make sure to drink plenty of water at Castaway Cay – it is so hot and humid and there is nothing worse than feeling dehydrated. You do not want to feel ill on your last night of a Disney Cruise.
The weather in the Caribbean can be unpredictable and thunderstorms are common so do not wait to take your photos at Castaway Cay. If you have beautiful blue skies when you arrive, take your photos of the ship and the island as soon as possible. That way you know you have them and you can relax and enjoy your day. If you want a photo of Mount Rustmore, go when there are no characters there and you will have the area to yourself.
If you wish to partake in the Castaway Cay 5K run, you will need to register at Guest Services once onboard the ship. It is open to anyone over ten years old and is free of charge to enter. After completing the run, you are awarded a Disney Castaway Cay 5K medal. There is also Castaway Cay 5K merchandise available for sail at the shops on the island.
There is a Post Office at Castaway Cay located close to where the ship docks but as it runs on Bahamian time, it has no set hours and is rarely open. You cannot use your Key to the World here to buy stamps so bring some US dollar notes or you can purchase Bahamian stamps at Guest Services onboard. If the Post Office is closed, there is a letter box outside it where you can drop your postcards – don’t worry as this mail will still get the Castaway Cay postmark.
The most important tip I can give about Castaway Cay and one that I’ve mentioned already is to not underestimate how strong the sun is. On two different cruises, I’ve seen people resembling lobsters when we boarded the ship at the end of the day. Bring as much suntan lotion as you can with you and make sure it is a high SPF and cover up as well as take breaks from the sun during the day.
Be Prepared for Bad Weather and Possibly Not Docking At Castaway Cay
Sadly there are times beyond the control of everyone that the ship will be unable to dock at Castaway Cay. If the seas are rough and the wind is high then you will need to prepare yourself for this possibility. The Captain will always make several attempts at docking before deciding to normally spend the rest of the day at sea and it is not a decision that is taken lightly. When this happens, new Personal Navigators are printed and extra activities are added onboard.
If the weather is not great but you can dock, then there is also a possibility of all Port Adventures being cancelled and the snorkelling lagoon being closed.
Remember to Take Only Photographs and Leave Only Footprints
Castaway Cay is an absolutely beautiful island that some would call Paradise so please try to leave it the way you found it. Even though the sea shells might look pretty, do not take them or any of the sand away with you so all other future visitors can get to enjoy the island the way it is supposed to be seen.
Have fun at Castaway Cay!
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