It’s the most loved port for any Bahamian or Caribbean journey aboard Disney Cruise Line. Disney’s very own private island is touted as Shangri La or Neverland and I have to say, I agree. A Disney Cruise is magical on its own, but a visit to Castaway Cay makes the experience truly enchanting. After over ten visits to this paradise of an island, I’ve developed my own routine and experienced many of the wonders around the island to know how to make a perfect day at Castaway Cay.
Let me start by saying up front that the perfect day at Disney’s private island is going to be a little different for each person. A family traveling with young children will have a different itinerary than a family with teens, and of course adults on their own will have a whole different agenda. But, the basic principles are the same.
Get onto the island by 10am
With very few exceptions the all ashore time for Castaway Cay will be 9:30 AM, with those that are participating in the Castaway Cay 5K meeting at 9:15 AM. Let me be clear, this is a tropical paradise not a bustling theme park in which you’ll need to “rope drop” crammed with fellow guests waiting for the gates to open. But, getting onto the island by 10:00 AM will enable you to find an ideal spot on your desired beach. Also getting onto the island early will enable you to check the kids into the youth activities programs if you have decided to do so, or have time with the kiddies together in the morning before they head to the youth programs to give you some alone time in the afternoon. Before you go, make sure you’ve got your beach bag packed properly (check out the complete Touring Plans Castaway Cay packing list).
Use the tram
The main tram at the front of the island will have two stops. The first drops off at the start of the main family beach, the main merchandise shop, first aid, Cookies BBQ, and Conched Out Bar. This is the best stop if you want to enjoy the energy of the main part of the island and be close to the youth programs for any children that are not teens.
Our preference is to stay on the tram for the second stop. Here you’ll be close to the second family beach, the teens-only area, Pelican Point (one of my favorite spots), equipment rental, a second merchandise spot, and check-in for those that have the coin and fortune to reserve a private cabana. (One of these days I’ll be one of the fortunate few who can rent a cabana…. One of these days).
Finally, if your party consists of only adults and your preference is to spend the day at Serenity Bay (the 18 and older beach) then it is advisable that you take the tram to this second stop (Pelican Point). You will then need to disembark and wait for the dedicated Serenity Bay tram.
Don’t camp out, change it up
Traditional beach behavior is to find a comfy spot, set up shop, and chill in that one spot until you’re all beached out and ready to leave. Castaway Cay is anything but a traditional beach experience. There’s jet ski rental, para-sailing, glassbottom boats, snorkeling, biking, and even sliding down a water slide into the ocean. Besides these fun activities, there are three different beaches on the island each with their own character.
On past visits my husband and I have elected to enjoy a “Port Adventure” (Disney-speak for excursion). Over the years we’ve decided we prefer to dedicate our time to doing our own thing, and maybe rent a bike once in a while. More about Castaway Cay Port Adventures in a few moments.
Our tradition, one we have perfected over the years, is to head to Pelican Point as soon as we get off the tram. We head straight down the walkway as if we are going to Head’s Up Bar (we’ll get there soon) and become chair rebels. We’ll snatch a chaise chair and a regular sit down chair each and drag them over to the last bit of beach before entering bar territory. From here we can gaze upon the ship itself and enjoy panoramic views of the main beach, plus we’re right by Pelican Plunge (water slides). I can’t resist swimming out, climbing the ladder, and waiting my turn to splash down into the tranquil Bahamian ocean.
After enjoying the morning either relaxing on the beach, playing in the ocean, or embarking on a Port Adventure, I suggest heading to lunch, before venturing to another part of the island. If you started at the Pelican Point beach (which has become very popular thanks to the water slides at Pelican Plunge) then head over to the main family beach. Or, go for a wonderful bike ride, explore under the sea and go snorkeling. Whatever your choice the point is to change it up and see more of the island.
Enjoy lunch time
Once my husband and I have spent about an hour or so chilling at our favorite spot, it’s time to head to Head’s Up Bar for a round of tropical drinks. Soon we’ll pack up and make our way to lunch (which is served 11:30 AM – 2:00 PM at all three locations).
Our preference is to go to Serenity Bay for lunch, and I recommend it for the perfect Castaway Cay day if you won’t have any kids with you for lunch time. Here there is only one buffet line to go through, and it does get real busy from 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM. Generally speaking, the service level is higher than Cookies BBQ and Cookies Too. The food is the same, plus the added bonus of lunch-style steak, all served in a much quieter setting and with more service.
If you are unable to make it to Serenity Bay then try to get to Cookies BBQ or Cookies Too right around 11:30 AM or wait until 1:00 PM. These two lunch locations get very busy and very congested during peak lunchtime. Just be patient and remember you can go back for seconds if you want. Personally, the Castaway lunch is one of my absolutely favorite meals of the cruise. I am diehard for the Mahi Mahi and roasted chicken, oh and those salads!
After lunch time we typically go for a bike ride before settling down at Serenity Bay for a good 2 – 3 hours. The bike paths open up a whole other side of the island. You’ll see much more natural landscapes and maybe some wildlife. Be sure to take a moment to venture up the observation tower with breathtaking views of the ship and the island. This leads me to…
Castaway Cay is amazing enough on its own without any Port Adventures. In my experience it is better to use your Port Adventure budget toward other ports. However, there are a few experiences that are worth mentioning and in many ways are better than a similar excursion in one of the other ports.
Castaway Ray’s Stingray Adventure is perfect for everyone in the family. Unlike other ports, you will not have to venture into the wide open ocean to be side by side with such intriguing creatures. The experience is much more intimate. Plus everyone gets a chance to feed a stingray.
There are a variety of adventures aboard various boats, like fishing, or the thrilling banana boats. For those that want to see under the sea without snorkel gear, the glassbottom boat is a nice option. The whole experience lasts about an hour, you’ll cast off at the front of the island, skirt around the main beaches before banking around the island and pulling into a spot out towards Serenity Bay. While snorkeling does give you a much more in-depth exploration, on this boat you will get to see coral, fish, and more as well as an opportunity to feed some fish.
Personally I think the snorkeling at Castaway Cay is a tremendous experience, especially for novice snorkelers. If my husband enjoyed it more, we’d do it every time we visit this paradise. The calmer waters make for great sight seeing under water. Plus, those clever people at Disney have sectioned off a portion of the ocean just for snorkeling so you won’t be disturbed by pesky splish splashers. And, there are life guards at stations out in the ocean if you need assistance.
Don’t rush back to the ship
The key to having the perfect day at Castaway Cay is to pace yourself. You only get one day on this spectacular island, so make the most of it. Make sure you drink lots of water (I like to bring my own beverage container to use for water) and apply sunscreen throughout the day.
Like certain theme parks, Castaway Cay tends to empty out about an hour before “closing” (in this case the all aboard time usually 4:30 PM). On this most recent visit the weather wasn’t so great, and since we were on the Magic (a smaller ship that brings less people to the island as compared to the Dream or Fantasy) we actually had the main beach to ourselves for the last hour!
Before we headed back to the ship we stopped at Conched Out Bar for once last round of cocktails, where we sat with a few fellow stragglers. We made our way back about 30 minutes before all aboard time, the pathways were pretty much empty. It was so blissful to have paradise to ourselves for a few moments.
Really it’s almost impossible to have a bad time at Disney’s Castaway Cay. However, if you plan ahead and pace yourself you can definitely have the best day it can be on Disney’s private island paradise.