Imagine having your own private island.
Well, Disney has done just that with its enchanted Castaway Cay. This tranquil retreat is just for Disney cruisers and embodies the perfect island paradise.
I've often said I'd take a Disney cruise just for a stop on this magical isle. The rest of the family heartily agreed after we returned from our 3-night sail on the Disney Dream, celebrating our grandson's birthday.
The cruise itself was one fantastic experience. Food, service, staterooms and entertainment were all top-notch Disney-esque.
Our first port of call was Nassau- a fun place we've visited in the past-teeming with Bahamian and British flavor, miles of spectacular beaches and stretches of vivid coral reefs perfect for snorkeling.
Excitement, however, started to build as our ship slowly approached Castaway Cay. The tropical island hideaway located just 225 nautical miles from Port Canaveral, Florida is a stop on all Disney's Bahamian and Caribbean cruises.
There's no shortage of things to do here. (Actually, we found it impossible to do it all in a day.)
Ships dock right on the island, allowing Disney cruisers to disembark directly onto the pier. A short 15-minute walk leads to unbelievable amenities, including our first stop: powdery white and sandy Castaway Family Beach. The beach area is quite extensive with points and coves along the shoreline.
Trams are available for those who need them (or want to get to the beach faster) and traverse all Castaway Cay amenities. Beach towels are provided by cruise line members at the pier, so no need to pack those in your suitcase or beach bag.
Beach and Water Fun
After securing our chairs and umbrellas, the kids scurried to the bay's turquoise crystalline waters. Snorkeling is available to those wanting to explore the Caribbean's undersea marine habitat in Snorkeling Lagoon just off Castaway Family Beach.
Two submerged submarines from Magic Kingdom's retired 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction add an element of adventure for intrepid snorkelers.
We found it impossible to resist Pelican Plunge, the 2,400 square-foot floating platform with two bending twisting water slides dropping squealing riders directly into the lagoon. A giant "bucket dump" of water delivering hundreds of gallons brought more anticipation and laughter. Four water cannons provided sharp-shooting fun with floating nautical targets.
Game pavilions near the Family Beach offer a variety of sand and shaded games like volleyball, tetherball, foosball, ping-pong, pool, shuffleboard and basketball. And there are also places where each age group can hang out with their peers that include planned activities like Teen Hideout or Scuttle's Cove kids club for the younger cruisers.
Inner tubes, snorkel masks and fins can be rented from Gil's Fin and Floats or Flippers & Floats on the beach, while kayaks, paddle boats, paddle boards and Aqua Trikes can also be rented for use in this water wonderland.
Hammocks are located beachfront and very popular with visitors. And while my husband was clowning around in one with our grandson, that wily, notorious pirate Captain Jack Sparrow snuck up on them, grabbed our camera and started snapping photos.
Exploring the Island
Beach cruiser bicycles for the entire family are available for rent, but well worth it, and one of our favorite activities. Though the fee is by the hour, the clocks are a lot slower on this island, and no one pays extra for a longer ride. To say we were delighted by the island's natural Bahamian beauty is an understatement.
Though Castaway Cay sits on 1,000 acres, only 55 of these are developed. The remainder of the island can be explored along 1.5 miles of paved bike trails leading to secluded beaches, including the adults-only beach at Serenity Bay. Further down, private family beach cabanas can be reserved in advance of the cruise.
A 40-foot observation tower surrounded by the dense flora and fauna of the island provided breathtaking views of the Cay and our Disney ship docked in the distance.
Were we ever glad to have brought our cameras with us on this bike trek!
At the end of the day, tired but happy, we stopped for family photos on the way back to the Dream. Because Castaway Cay merchandise isn't sold on the cruise ship, we purchased our T-shirts and memorabilia from two charming island gift shops with creative beachy names like "By the Seashore" and "She Sells Sea Shells…and everything else."
As our cruise ship departed the tropical island at sunset, it occurred to me why the island felt so magical: With the perfect blend of water, sunshine, relaxation, natural surroundings, fun and adventure, it allows families to live for that moment in ways that can't put into words.
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