Castaway Cay is Disney Cruise Line’s private island in the Bahamas, and is a common port of call for virtually all Disney Caribbean-bound cruise ships. This guide provides tips for visiting Castaway Cay, including things to do and not to do and how to make the most of your time on Castaway Cay.
For starters, some basics about Castaway Cay, and then we will get into some recommendations. It’s a 3-mile long, 1000-acre island used exclusively by Disney Cruise Line guests and Crew Members. The Disney Cruise Line ships dock right on the island, making for an easy on-off experience. You’ll want to take your Key to the World card with you when you exit the ship (to get back on!), but theoretically you could leave everything else. We don’t recommend that–packing a small day bag without any valuables in it to ‘guard’ your beach chairs is a good idea–but you could.
As soon as you get off the ship, you can pick up towels, and pass by the old gas station and post office (make sure to send something from here–they have a special Disney postmark) as you head towards the trams to get to the Family Beach and Serenity Bay, the adult-only beach. Alternatively, you can take the walking trail to fully explore Castaway Cay, which has its own touches of Disney details. We’ll start our guide with how to explore the island to see these details!
Exploring the Island
There are a couple of trams on the island, but one of our biggest pieces of advice for Castaway Cay is to not over-rely on these trams. Castaway Cay is not just a private island, it’s Disney’s private island. This means that it’s themed! Some of my best memories of the island are just its sense of place that I soaked up as I wandered around and explored the environments. It’s not as heavy on Imagineering as Typhoon Lagoon, likely because Disney wanted to strike a balance in making it appeal to Disney fans and ‘serious’ cruisers, but there is a ton to see, and plenty of Easter eggs.
I highly recommend walking out to Serenity Bay and taking the shuttle back at some point during your day at Castaway Cay, even if you don’t plan on enjoying the adult beach. This is because you’ll the Imagineered-highlights all the way there, and then get to see additional details on the ride back over the runway. The walk really isn’t that bad, and can actually be faster than the trams.
Like so many things Disney, there is a convoluted backstory to go along with Castaway Cay, some of which you can pick up on as you wander the island, looking at signs and other little clues. However, we don’t think it’s possible to grasp the whole backstory from what you see alone. If you’re really interested in Disney backstories, we recommend printing the full backstory out ahead of time and taking it with you. I’ll give you context to some of what you see, and make the experience more enjoyable.
As for the real life backstory of Castaway Cay? It was previously known as Gorda Cay and was literally overtaken by an American businessman named Frank Barber used the on the airstrip as a hub for smuggling drugs into the United States, before ultimately being arrested. If you ask, some Crew Members will give you this real backstory to the island, although it is not the Disney-approved backstory, for obvious reasons.
If you ask me, Disney should just sanitize the real backstory a bit and have Castaway Cay tell the story of rum-running in the Caribbean. The Pirates of the Caribbean films have certainly opened that door, and a rum-running backstory would make more sense on the context of the island and would be easier for guests to grasp.
Castaway Cay Family Beach is the main beach on the island, and as the name implies, is for everyone. This beach is sort of like multiple beaches connected into one, and it’s the area that is closest to the ship. It’s also where almost all of the beach activities are located–we will cover these in ‘Things to Do’ below. This combination of proximity to the ship (people are lazy) and things to do (people like to do things…seemingly contradicting our first point) is a dangerous mix, which results in this beach being by far the most popular. If you plan on spending all day at the Family Beach, arrive early and stake claim to your spot. Your swords from Pirate Night will come in handy as you defend your spots from other guests attempting to pillage and plunder.
If you don’t plan on doing the Family Beach all day, our recommendation is to get here early or late. We noticed that it was least busy and most pristine first thing in the morning, so if you plan on doing any activity, early in the morning is the best time for that. If you just want to enjoy the beach, the last hour or so on Castaway Cay is the best time to go. Guests tend not to want to be stranded on the island, and overcompensate for the fear that this will happen by leaving the beach about 1-2 hours before the ship leaves. The ship will not leave you behind, and unless you’re hiding in some bushes, you couldn’t get accidentally left behind if you want since Crew Members “sweep” the island to clear it of guests. Stay until the last 15 minutes to enjoy Castaway Cay almost all to yourselves!
The Teen Beach is for…you guessed it…teens! We thought about pulling a 21 Jump Street and trying to infiltrate their beach, but I don’t have quite the boyish good looks of Jonah Hill, so we aborted this mission. Plus, it was pretty easy to see what this beach had to offer from the outside looking in. Basically, it’s a bunch of athletic activities like volleyball and tetherball. Actually, we’re pretty sure the games and activities here are open to guests of all ages, despite this being called the teen beach. So you can leave your disguises at home.
Serenity Bay is the adults-only beach, and is most distant beach on the island. As compared to the other beaches, it is much, much quieter. Serenity Bay is a great place to kick back and just relax in paradise. It’s perfect for that. If you want to actually do something, though, Serenity Bay is your worst option on the island. Beyond simply relaxing, eating, and a limited set of activities like massages and cabana rental, there is not much substance to Serenity Bay. For some people, this is fine. For us, it was fine for a while.
However, I don’t like spending a whole day just lying on a beach chair, so my recommendation would be spending the middle portion of your day at Serenity Bay, and spending your morning and afternoon elsewhere. Consider making an effort to doing the hours around lunch at Serenity Bay, so you can avoid the large crowds elsewhere, but doing something else before and after that. The reasons for this are so you can avoid the crowds elsewhere during the busiest parts of the day, but still be able to enjoy the fun activities elsewhere on Castaway Cay. Of course, this is a your mileage may vary type thing. If you have kids, you won’t be doing Serenity Bay at all. Conversely, if you have no interest in actual activities and just want to relax on the beach reading, Serenity Bay could be an all-day activity for you.
There are three BBQ locations on Castaway Cay that are included in the cost of the cruise, just like dining aboard the cruise ship. Cookie’s BBQ is located on the near side of the family beach, Cookie’s Too is located on the far side of the family beach, and Serenity Bay BBQ is the adult beach option.
Each of these locations serves almost exactly the same items, namely BBQ, including ribs, chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, fish, salads, corn on the cob, fresh fruit, and self-serve soft serve. Our server at Palo recommended always checking out the Serenity Bay BBQ, if possible, because sometimes they have a slightly better menu if the ship has a surplus of certain items. The main difference is that Serenity Bay BBQ has ribeye when the other locations do not. On rare occasions, we have heard of Serenity Bay BBQ having lobster, too, but we have not experienced this firsthand.
Another option is to go back aboard the cruise ship, and have lunch in one of the regular dining rooms. Some people prefer this for greater variety and a chance to regroup, but we think time on Castaway Cay is already too limited, so we do not recommend this, nor would we do it. Plus, we thought the BBQ at Castaway Cay was pretty good and offered something for everyone.
There are also four bars located around the island, each of which have drinks available for purchase. There are signature mixed drinks available, the most popular of which is the Konk Kooler (a blend of rums and tropical fruit juices) and you can also purchase special ‘beach bottles’ of beer. Prices actually are not that bad, at around $5.50 per drink not in a souvenir mug.
Things to Do
Most of the things to do are located around the Family Beach. Pelican Plunge is the floating water slide and play platform located in the ocean, which has two water slides, a giant “bucket dump” of water, and water cannons that you can use to shoot targets. Minimum height for the Pelican Plunge water slides is 38″ and anyone under 48″ must wear one of the provided life vests. Note that the floating platform is out in the ocean, and requires being able to swim to access (I could not touch the ocean floor out by the platform).
Also near the Family Beach is the Spring-a-Leak water play area for kids. Basically, water sprays everywhere from broken pipes and things on a splash pad that young children can enjoy. Scuttle’s Cove is another area for kids, which offers youth activities that are supervised by Disney counselors from the ship. We don’t have kids, so I’m not entirely sure of all the activities offered here, but it looked there was basically a whale bone play area, and some organized activities for kids that don’t go in the ocean. Anyone else know what other activities are offered at Scuttle’s Cove?
There are a couple of game pavilions near the Family Beach, that offer a variety of different sand and shaded games like volleyball, tetherball, foosball, ping-pong, pool, shuffleboard, basketball, and golf wiffleball. There is no additional charge for any of these games.
One thing we regret not having done yet is the Castaway Cay 5k. We’ve heard this is a great way to see the island quickly, and is fun and not too challenging. Unfortunately (for us), we have stuffed ourselves on soft-serve ice cream and other all-you-can-eat snacks and have never had the energy to run a 5k. Give it a try if you like running more than you like ice cream. We regret nothing! 😉
Character meet and greet opportunities are available throughout the island, and we found these meet and greets to be the best chances to meet characters on Disney Cruise Line. This is mostly because the natural, outdoor lighting is superior to the lighting on the ships, and because the backdrops are gorgeous. We have been lucky to find very short waits (a couple minutes or so) for the characters first thing in the morning, and in out of the way places (Captain Jack Sparrow at Serenity Bay had no wait and seemed like a scene straight out of the movie!).
Those are about the extent of the no-added cost activities on Castaway Cay. Everything else requires a rental and an additional fee. “Marge’s Barges & Sea Charter Dock” is the place to go for boat rentals, and you can here for a wide variety of boat rentals, from inexpensive aqua trikes that cost around $15 for 30 minutes to bottom fishing experiences lasting several hours and costing over $100 per person. Other options include a glass-bottom boat, a power catamaran, parasailing, Hobie Cats, fishing tours, and more. Exact pricing is listed on the ship or at the island. We have not done any of these rentals or excursions because we’ve found more than enough free or low cost things to do on Castaway Cay.
At Gil’s Fins and Boats and Flippers & Floats, you can rent snorkel equipment to use in the Snorkeling Lagoon, plus other smaller-scale aquatic rentals like inner tubes, paddleboats, and kayaks. Our recommendation is the 3-in-1 Castaway Cay Getaway Package, which provides snorkel equipment for the day, an inner tube for the day, and bicycle rental for one hour all for around $40 per person.
This 3-in-1 package bring us to perhaps the most interesting aspects of Castaway Cay: the Snorkeling Lagoon and trails. Although technically the Snorkeling Lagoon is free, it’s most likely going to cost money for the equipment rental. We brought our own fins and masks, and were made to get vests, which we were not charged for. It’s unclear whether it’s common practice not to charge for the vests if you bring your own snorkel equipment, but we wouldn’t be surprised if there’s the chance you will still be charged. (Anyone know for sure?)
The Snorkeling Lagoon is pretty fun, large, offers a variety of fish to see with plenty of visibility, and has some cool hidden Disney “stuff.” We highly recommend doing this snorkeling, even if it means paying the money for a rental.
The bike rental provides a way to see other areas of the island via a series of trails that cut through some of the more undeveloped areas. Even though Castaway Cay is an 1,000-acre island, we were told that less than 10% of it has been developed. In some of these areas, there isn’t a whole lot to see, but they’re worth exploring if you like nature.
Castaway Ray’s Stingray Adventure is another popular option, which provides the opportunity to snorkel with some 40 stingrays that are in the water off the island. There is an additional charge for this experience, but stingray encounters are always fun. Sarah compared this to “a light version” of Stingray City in the Cayman Islands.
There are a variety of shopping options on Castaway Cay…which should surprise no one, since it’s a Disney island! There are two primary spots to buy things on the island: “She Sells Sea Shells…and Everything Else” and “Buy the Sea Shore,” with the former being the larger of the two venues having slightly more variety. Both are essentially little shops selling souvenirs and supplies you might need while on the island.
In terms of souvenirs, if you want something to remember your visit to Castaway Cay by, you’re pretty much stuck buying something here at the typical souvenir prices. These Castaway Cay logo items are only available on Castaway Cay, and cannot be purchased on the ship. We found the selection to be fairly good for Castaway Cay logo items, with some neat items and a good mix of classic and ‘trendy beach’ designs. The supplies are a different story. You should absolutely pack wisely so you don’t have to purchase items here. Things such as sunscreen, disposable underwater cameras, and beach toys are all for sale here, and the prices are around triple what you might expect to pay for the same things in the real world. So, to that end, consult our ‘What to Pack’ list below to bring the items that you’ll need.
What to Pack
There are a few things you’ll want to bring to Castaway Cay that you might not otherwise consider. First, quality water shoes. You’ll want these because the paved walkways and even that white sand can get hot, plus there are crushed up seashells and other things that can cut your feet in it. Second, beach bug repellant. Castaway Cay is mostly an unimproved island, and depending upon the time of year you visit, the sandflies (or “no-see-ums”) can be really bad. On our first visit in early February, these bugs made Serenity Bay virtually intolerable. These bugs aren’t always an issue, but it’s better to be safe than sorry…and not get eaten alive.
You’ll want to take an underwater camera. There is a lot to see and photograph underwater (including Hidden Mickeys!), so we think it’s a good idea to pack an underwater camera. Nowadays you can pick up a decent digital underwater camera for less than $100, making it really foolish to waste money on a disposable one on Castaway Cay. Check out our Underwater Camera Buying Guide for tips on choosing the right waterproof camera for your circumstances and budget. We just mentioned those Hidden Mickeys underwater, well, those aren’t the only Hidden Mickeys on Castaway Cay. Since the island is Imagineering-designed and themed, taking the Hidden Mickeys Go to Sea book for Hidden Mickey hunting can make for a fun activity while on Castaway Cay!
Two ‘depending upon the circumstances’ type things you should bring are your own snorkel set and fins, and beach toys. We brought our own snorkel sets (we scuba, so invariably our personal gear is nicer than the stuff we can rent when traveling), we didn’t have to rent snorkel equipment as a result (they still required us to use the vests, but provided them without charge). We also noticed the beach toys were expensive and limited on the island. We call these ‘depending upon the circumstances’ type things because snorkel equipment and beach toys both take up a lot of room in your suitcase and aren’t going to be things everyone needs. Even if you do need them on Castaway Cay, you might be better renting or buying.
Other items are more common-sense based: sunscreen, hats, and other beach-ware. You might also want to check out our Unique Disney Packing List, but those items are mostly geared towards the cruise itself and not Castaway Cay. You don’t need to bring the whole kitchen sink of stuff off your cruise ship and onto the island. If you forget something in your stateroom, you can always go back and get it!
That covers it for our coverage of Castaway Cay! If you’re interested in knowing more to plan your Disney Cruise Line voyage, we recommend checking out our Top 10 First Time Disney Cruise Line Tips. You might also consider checking out the comprehensive advice offered in the Unofficial Guide to the Disney Cruise Line.
Do you have any tips to add for enjoying Disney Cruise Line’s Castaway Cay? Any favorite excursions or things you think are a good value? Drink recommendations? Any other secrets to share or questions? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please leave a comment below!