So I have a confession to make… I recently took my very first Disney Cruise! It was a 3-night Bahamian Cruise aboard the Disney Dream with stops at both Nassau and Castaway Cay; and yes, for those of you who are wondering, I was completely enchanted with Castaway Cay! It was the icing on the cake of my Disney Cruise experience and I’m already trying to figure out how to get back as soon as possible.
I have already shared What I Wish I Knew Before My Disney Cruise for my fellow cruising rookies; but this article is all about What I Wish I Knew Before My Day at Castaway Cay for those who have yet to experience island paradise Disney style!
Now, for those of you who don’t know about Castaway Cay, let me fill you in. Castaway Cay is Disney’s own private island in the Bahamas. This means it was designed for Disney Cruise Line guests only and a Disney Cruise is the only way you can get there. Cool, right? The island is truly paradise, the closest thing we can have to Neverland in reality, and is packed with things to do or places where you can do nothing at all. I’m also happy to report that Disney’s excellent service, detail, and sense of magic is alive and well here as well, just in case you theme park regulars were doubtful.
Now let’s get to the info, shall we?
Start the Day Early – The morning the Disney Dream docked at Castaway Cay, I was in line early to disembark. Yes, I said line because other cruisers seemed just as eager as myself to explore the island; but don’t let that deter you. Once it was time to disembark, the line moved very quickly and my family and I were off in a matter of minutes. Plus, by the time we reached the Family Beach, the crowds had dispersed and we pretty much had the sand to ourselves! This was one of my favorite parts of my Castaway Cay experience as my family and I were able to take some crowd-free photos, pick our beach chairs, and just enjoy the sun, water, and sand before it was time for our Port Adventures. If you’re a Disneyland or Disney World expert, know that the rope-drop rule and its benefits apply to Castaway Cay too.
Towels Are Provided – As soon as you disembark the ship during your day on Castaway Cay, Cast Members are there distributing towels so there’s no need to bring any from your stateroom. Of course, you still can bring your own beach towels if you like or purchase souvenir beach towels from the shops on the island. At the end of the day, there is place to drop your used towels before heading back on the ship.
Do Some Shopping – I love shopping. It’s one of my favorite things to do on vacation and I was hyped for the chance to shop on Castaway Cay as very little, if any, Castaway Cay merchandise can be found anywhere off the island. Honestly though, I was a little disappointed. There are three stores on the island: She Sells Seashells & Everything Else, Buy the Sea Shore, and Cultural Illusions. The first two sell pretty much the same stuff, such as Castaway Cay tees, dresses, sand toys, pins, and towels. Cultural Illusions is different in that it specializes in Bahamian items. So why was I disappointed? Well, She Sells Seashells and Buy the Sea Shore did have the exclusive Castaway Cay merch I longed for, but it was mostly in the form of sundries which, while great, could’ve been cooler somehow? Maybe I’m picky, I don’t know. The best part of my island shopping experience was browsing the selection of Castaway Cay pins. There wasn’t as many as I would’ve hoped, but getting a Castaway Cay pin on the island itself was a big win for this pin trader. So even though I wish the selection of merch on Castaway Cay had been better, I still suggest that cruisers do some spending as the products are exclusive and later you will wish you had something to commemorate and remember your day at Castaway Cay.
Know Where Marge’s Barges Is – So get ready, I’m about to tell on myself here. I booked a Parasailing Port Adventure for mid-afternoon on Castaway Cay and knew that I was supposed to check in at Marge’s Barges: It’s kind of the island’s marina where other watercraft excursions are located. I knew that I had seen Marge’s Barges when I arrived on the island that morning and was confident I would find it on foot instead of waiting for the tram or asking for help. Can you see where this is going? Unlike most things on Castaway Cay, Marge’s Barges is located close to the ship and I ended up walking in pretty much direct sun all the way back to where I started that morning and gained some blisters in the process. So if you too are booking an Port Adventure that leaves from Marge’s Barges, know that it’s close to the ship and not everything else. Also, as the island is bigger than you might expect and it can be easy to get turned around, so be sure to familiarize yourself with a map or bring the free Castaway Cay map ashore that’s provided in your stateroom!
Bring a Camera – I can’t emphasize this enough! You see, I was afraid of bringing my iPhone on the island because I was thinking technology and sand, heat, and water don’t exactly mix. Instead, I brought along a water proof camera, thinking that was all I would need. Now I did get some awesome photos with it, but I could’ve gotten so much more with a good camera and more memory space.
There Are No Lockers – When exploring Castaway Cay, I never found any lockers where I could store my beach bag and personal items. (If someone knows where lockers are on the island, please comment!) What I had to do is keep my bag at my beach chair, strategically covered with my towels and rented snorkeling equipment; and fortunately, I had no problems at all. From what I have heard from other guests who have visited Castaway Cay, they had no problems or reports of theft either. Still, it could happen and is definitely something you want to be aware of when packing your beach bag for your day at Castaway Cay.
Don’t Bring Cash – Much like aboard ship, cash is not accepted on Castaway Cay except at the Post Office. If you plan on shopping, have it charged to your Key to the World card or your own credit or debit card.
Know When and Where to Eat Lunch – Food on the island, as well as on the ship, is free! To me, that’s one of the greatest things about cruising. Anyway, during my day on Castaway Cay, I had already burned some serious calories snorkeling, had skipped breakfast in my urgency to get on the island, and was more than ready to eat by 11:00 AM. What I didn’t know was that lunch wouldn’t be served until 11:30 AM! I know thirty minutes isn’t long at all, but at the time it sure felt like it. I survived, and gained a deeper understanding of why breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and along the way discovered that lunch on Castaway Cay is served at three locations: Cookies BBQ, Cookies Too, and Serenity Bay BBQ. The fare is what you would find at a picnic, but there’s a lot of variety and it’s all delicious! Picnic tables are situated under spacious open-air pavilions, but they are very clean and carry on the island’s theme. I’ve heard that the menu at Serenity Bay BBQ offers a bit more variety, so keep that in mind if you plan on spending time there. Lunch ends on the island at 2:00 PM, but I would suggest to those planning future cruises and Port Adventures to schedule your times around lunch as it is not offered throughout the day and to be sure to grab something for breakfast.
Use the Tram – The main mode of transportation around Castaway Cay, besides your own legs, is the tram. The walk through the island is longer than it may look from the ship, so I encourage cruisers to take advantage of it. The tram has two stops, and there is a second tram dedicated to the adults-only Serenity Bay. As a Castaway Cay Rookie, I thought it would be no problem to walk from the Family Beach to Marge’s Barges for my Port Adventure. Let’s just say that I arrived exhausted and thirsty and was sure to take the tram back later on!
Bring a Watch – Time doesn’t seem to exist on Castaway Cay. Seriously. I had a hard time finding a clock anywhere and, as I already explained, I didn’t bring my iPhone and I didn’t bring a watch either. Cast Members and a few guests were nice enough to let me know the time when I asked; but if you have Port Adventures scheduled, bring something to tell the time when you’re on Castaway Cay.
The Bathrooms are Clean – We all know those bathrooms at the public pool or the nearest water park. They’re damp, humid, dirty, and crowded; and honestly, I was braced for similar conditions on the island as, well, it’s an island. What I found was that the bathrooms, while a little more rustic than what you find onboard, were clean and dry and conveniently located. I also noticed that Cast Members were consistently checking in and cleaning up throughout the day. It’s a real luxury when you need to take little ones to the bathroom or need to change clothes during your time on the island.
Head Back Early – I know suggesting to head back to the ship early sounds crazy, but hear me out! After snorkeling, parasailing, exploring the island, and hanging out at the beach, I was exhausted and decided to head back a little early before to freshen up for dinner and maybe catch a few winks. When I got off the tram at the ship, I took advantage of the decanters of fruit infused water the crew had set up for guests and then headed up the gangplank into the ship. There was no line at all and I was back in my stateroom within minutes. After showering, I went out onto my stateroom verandah and discovered a long line of cruisers wanting to get back on board. If you wish to avoid a line or are in a hurry to get your little ones back to your stateroom after a packed day on the island, considering heading back an hour or two early. Also during my cruise, the Disney Dream offered an early See Ya Real Soon! Party in the afternoon. Since most people are still on the island, there were very few lines for the characters after the party. If those character photos are important to you, this may be reason alone to head back early!
Rent Snorkeling Equipment and Snorkel Early– I love this Port Adventure! Of course it’s awesome because you get to swim with some of Castaway Cay’s tropical fish and check out the lagoon’s Hidden Mickeys and shipwrecks, but what makes this Port Adventure a great choice for first timer’s is it’s flexibility and great deal. All you have to do is pick up your gear at Gils’ Fins and Boats or Flippers n Floats and its yours for the whole day for only $31.18 per adult (ages 10 and up) or $15.05 (ages 5 to 9). The Snorkeling Lagoon is connected to the Family Beach, which is super convenient, and offers 22 acres to snorkel including a beginner trail. My family and I snorkeled off and on all day. It was a Port Adventure we could enjoy on our own time. But I suggest that you snorkel in the morning if possible as the water grew cloudier and the fish kept more of a distance in the afternoon hours, probably because there were more snorkelers out and about later in the day.
So is Castaway Cay calling your name? Are you ready to book your own Disney Cruise? If so, I hope that these few things will help you avoid a little of the confusion that most first-time cruisers to Castaway Cay face so that you won’t be thinking of what you wish you knew, but rather that you’re glad you already know. Happy sailings!