The Ultimate Castaway Cay Guide For Disney Cruisers
For many, Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line’s private island in the Bahamas, is the pièce de resistance of their pixie-dusted trip to the Caribbean – and with good reason. Between the crystalline lagoons teeming with sea life, sprawling family and adults-only beaches and all sorts of fun activities, there’s a lot to love.
So, slather on your sunscreen and bring your beach towel as we dive deep into everything Disney Castaway Cay has to offer, as well as some tips and tricks to help you really make a splash. Let’s jump right in!
Everything You Need to Know About Castaway Cay, Disney’s Private Island
From Royal Caribbean and Carnival to Norwegian and Virgin Voyages, a trip to a private island is often a cruising mainstay, especially for those setting sail for the Caribbean, and Disney Cruise Line is no exception.
Acquired by The Walt Disney Company in 1997 from the Bahamian government – the company signed a 99-year lease good through 2096 – Castaway Cay (pronounced Castaway ‘Key’) has long been a favorite of Disney cruisers.
Where Is Castaway Cay?
Originally known as Gorda Cay, Disney’s Castaway Cay is located just west of Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas. Sprawling 1,000 acres in size (though only 55 acres are actually developed), this enchanting island oasis is chockful of fun activities, as well as a fascinating history. In fact, before serving as a tropical escape for vacationers, Gorda Cay was a popular stop for both bootleggers and drug runners, a far cry from the island’s family-friendly atmosphere of today.
But, that’s not all. The island has also played host to mermaids and pirates – on the big screen, that is. Scenes from both Splash, starring Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah as a wayward mermaid, and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl were filmed on Castaway Cay. At one time, you could even see the Flying Dutchman ghost ship of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest fame, which was docked at the island from June 2006 to November 2010.
Which Disney Cruises Stop at Castaway Cay?
Sadly, only some Disney cruises go to Castaway Cay. After all, cruising from California or Alaska all the way to the Bahamas would be quite a lengthy voyage. However, most Disney Cruise Line itineraries heading to the Caribbean, Bermuda or, of course, the Bahamas do include a stop at Castaway Cay.
How Much Time Should You Spend on Castaway Cay?
It depends on how many of the island’s amenities you’d like to take advantage of, as well as if you opt to do one of Castaway Cay’s port adventures. In general, you can expect your Disney cruise ship to be docked at the island for between six to eight hours. This gives you plenty of time to hang out by the beach, go biking and/or snorkeling, do an excursion or two, and indulge in a delicious BBQ buffet. It’s all up to you!
How Busy Is Castaway Cay?
Only one Disney cruise ship docks at Castaway Cay at a time. This ensures that the island isn’t completely overrun with guests, turning your lazy day at the beach into an overcrowded, stressful and sandy mess.
Still, even with the island’s one-ship limit, Castaway Cay can feel pretty busy, especially if you’re hanging out on the Family Beach, which is on the part of the island closest to where the cruise ship docks. An early arrival will help you avoid a battle for a beach chair or, for a relaxing retreat away from the crowds, splurge on one of the Castaway Cay cabanas.
How’s the Weather on Castaway Cay?
Thanks to its location in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay enjoys balmy weather all year round, with an average temperature of 79°F. In the summer, temperatures top out around 90°F, while winters dip to the 60s to 80s. The water at Castaway Cay is similarly pleasant, ranging from as low as 68°F to as high as 86°F.
What’s Included and Not Included at Castaway Cay?
Similar to being onboard, guests have access to both complimentary amenities and for-purchase extras. These include:
Castaway Cay Freebies
You don’t need to pay to have a good time at Castaway Cay. Disney’s private island has enough free activities and food to keep you fed and happy all day long. In addition to the tram that transports people around the island, guests also enjoy complimentary access to the Castaway Cay beaches (including things like beach towels, loungers and hammocks), kids club areas, Castaway Cay 5K, and the Pelican Plunge and Spring-a-Leak water play areas. However, while it won’t cost you anything to access the Snorkeling Lagoon, snorkel gear is extra.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, it’s time for lunch – and you won’t have to pay a penny more. Castaway Cay cooks up a free beachside barbecue at three locations island-wide, including Cookie’s BBQ, Cookie’s Too BBQ and Serenity Bay BBQ. Be sure to save some room for another favorite Disney cruise freebie: bottomless soft-serve ice cream.
Additional Cost Extras at Castaway Cay
While you will find a fair few freebies at Castaway Cay, some of the island’s available activities do come with a cost. Castaway Cay excursions, including sea kayaking and parasailing, as well as rentals like bikes, tubes and cabanas. Adult-friendly upgrades like refreshing cocktails and luxurious massages also have an additional fee.
Do Cell Phones Work on Castaway Cay?
Another thing that doesn’t come free on Castaway Cay? Cell phone signal! Although the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app does work on the island, if you want to call or text someone or need to search for something online, you’ll either need to pay for Disney’s pricey Wi-Fi plan, which can be spotty at times, depending on where you are, or splurge on steep roaming charges. Luckily, Castaway Cay does have a cell phone tower, so your mobile data should get plenty of bars.
How to Make the Most of Your Day at Castaway Cay
Think of Disney Castaway Cay as a Choose Your Own Beach Adventure kind of place. From where you decide to hang out to how you want to get around, there’s something for everyone. To maximize your time and keep your stress levels low, plan your attack ahead of time. Here are some things to keep in mind when figuring out your day.
Arriving at Castaway Cay
Castaway Cay was the first of the cruise line private islands where the ship could dock directly on the shore. As a result, since guests don’t need to ride a tender to the island, getting to and from the beach is about as easy as it gets.
Typically, the all-ashore announcement comes between 8 AM and 9 AM, with Castaway Cay 5K and shore excursion participants usually allowed to disembark first. After that, cruisers are free to get on and off the ship as much or as little as they’d like until it’s time to go.
With a little bit of planning, you can even enjoy a sneak peek of Castaway Cay from the comfort of the ship. For an especially memorable morning, book an exterior stateroom or have breakfast on the starboard side of your Disney cruise ship. As this is the side of the boat that looks out over Castaway Cay, you’ll have sweeping views of the island as the ship comes in to dock and when leaving at the end of the day.
Getting Around Castaway Cay
You have a few different options for getting around Castaway Cay, and two of them won’t cost you a thing. A complimentary tram is available between the dock and the Castaway Family Beach, as well as another between the family area and Serenity Bay on the far side of the island. Or, if you’d rather get your steps in after all that soft serve, Serenity Bay is just a well-marked, 20-minute walk away.
Alternatively, if you don’t mind paying extra for a bit of two-wheeled adventure, you can also rent a bike to get around. Bike rentals cost $13 per hour on the island, with bicycles available in a variety of sizes, and include a helmet.
Things to Bring to Castaway Cay
Honestly, since Disney provides most of the beach necessities like lounge chairs and towels, you don’t need to bring too many things for your day at Castaway Cay besides a few essentials. Along with your Key to the World Card and passport or photo ID, be sure to pack your beach bag with things like sunscreen (you can buy some in the shops on the island, but it’s expensive), sunglasses, a swimsuit coverup and a good book. You’ll also need some cash for Bahamian stamps from the post office if you want to mail a postcard and snag a covetable Castaway Cay postmark.
Things to Do at Castaway Cay
Although only 55 of Castaway Cay’s expansive 1,000 acres are developed, you’ll find no shortage of things to do, no matter what you’re interested in or who you’re traveling with. Let’s dive in and take a look.
Castaway Cay Excursions
It wouldn’t be a cruise without a selection of shore excursions. While occasionally overpriced, these port adventures are a great way to get away from the throngs of people and experience more than just Castaway Cay’s beaches and water park.
Castaway Cay excursions are available for a variety of activities and price points, from relatively affordable rentals like sea kayaks and paddle boats (both from $18) to more expensive experiences, including stingray and fishing adventures (from $36 and $164, respectively), jet boat tours ($85) and glass bottom boat rides ($59).
The best value for Castaway Cay port adventures is the Getaway Package. Priced at $46 for guests ages 10 and up, the Castaway Cay Getaway Package includes snorkeling gear and a float rental for the day, along with an hourlong bicycle rental.
Castaway Cay Activities for Cruisers of All Ages
Castaway Cay is a family-friendly paradise filled with all sorts of activities for guests of all ages, whether you’re traveling with toddlers or teens. The island’s family area is located just a short walk or even shorter tram ride from the dock, making it easy to get to and from the ship, a boon for families with little ones.
To keep your visit as hassle-free as possible, consider splurging on one of the Castaway Cay cabanas at the family beach. Starting out at $549 for a Family Beach Cabana and $899 for a Grand Family Beach Cabana, these tricked-out retreats come packed to the gills with refrigerated drinks, snacks, lounge chairs, a shower and extras like snorkel equipment, sand toys, tubes and bikes.
Here’s everything on offer for families at Castaway Cay.
Castaway Family Beach
With gentle waves, plenty of shaded seating and kid-centric activities like tube rentals and the Monstro Point dig site only a short walk away, Castaway Family Beach is the heart of the family-friendly action. Tons of loungers, hammocks and umbrellas are available to choose from. Just be sure to arrive early to stake your claim on the best spot, as this can be one of the busiest places at Castaway Cay.
Looking to take your aquatic adventures to the next level? Paddle past the Swimming Beach and out into the big blue world of Castaway Cay’s Snorkeling Lagoon. Snorkelers of all skill levels are welcome to explore this enchanting undersea realm, from the novice-level Discover Trail to the more experienced Explorer Trail.
Along the way, keep an eye out for splashes of underwater pixie dust, including Hidden Mickeys and submerged statues of Dumbo and Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid. Bring your own snorkel equipment for complimentary access to these sunken treasures, or rent your own for the day for $34.
Spring-a-Leak and Pelican Plunge
Castaway Cay also boasts its own aquatic play areas, both just a short walk from Castaway Family Beach. The Spring-a-Leak splash pad is made with the littlest cruisers in mind and features freshwater jets to cool off in.
Or, to get your heart pumping, splash into the saltwater in style from Pelican Plunge, Castaway Cay’s pint-sized floating water park named for the island’s resident pelicans. Although Pelican Plunge is easily reachable by wading out to the platform, its two water slides empty swimmers out into the lagoon. So, only relatively strong swimmers should take the plunge.
Sports Beach and In Da Shade Game Pavilion
Ready to dry off for a bit without putting the fun on hold? Make your way to the Sports Beach or the In Da Shade Game Pavilion. Perfect for a little friendly competition, these hands-on areas are stocked with fun activities the whole family will love.
Soak up some more Vitamin D and show your skill during tetherball or beach volleyball on the Sports Beach or step out of the sun for a bit with games like basketball, pool, foosball and table tennis at the In Da Shade Game Pavilion.
Castaway Cay 5K
Want to kick the competition up a notch (or, at the very least, burn off some calories from all that delicious cruise food you’ve been devouring)? Sign up for the Castaway Cay 5K. Available to guests 10 years and older at no additional charge (unless you opt to upgrade to the Premium Package before you set sail, which comes with a Disney Castaway Cay 5K hat, cinch sack and water bottle), this race past palm trees and sandy beaches is a great way to work out and see the sights all at once. All finishers are rewarded with an exclusive Castaway Cay 5K medal.
Disney Character Meet-and-Greets
What could be better than meeting some well-loved Disney characters in paradise? From Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse in their beach gear to everyone’s favorite pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow, Castaway Cay is a unique meet-and-greet spot worth waiting in line for. Just think of the photos! On the bright side, the lines tend to be on the short side, so you shouldn’t have to wait too long.
Scuttle’s Cove & Teen Hideout
Just like on Disney cruise ships, Castaway Cay offers dedicated areas and activities specifically for kids, tweens and teens. Best of all, as with the likes of the Oceaneer Club, access to these youth-focused spaces is completely free.
Scuttle’s Cove, located just next door to Monstro Point, is designed for kids ages 3 to 12 and features everything from supervised activities to its own aquatic play area. For the older kids, the Hide Out is a haven for 14 to 17-year-olds, while tweens ages 11 to 13 can enjoy their own special time at Pelican Plunge and the In Da Shade Game Pavilion.
Adult-Friendly Castaway Cay Activities
Hoping for some time away from the kids? Whether you’re traveling as a family or doing a Disney cruise for grown-ups, Castaway Cay offers an adult escape from the craziness of the family beach.
Castaway Cay doesn’t only offer dedicated areas just for kids and teens. It also touts a secluded, adults-only beach: Serenity Bay. Nestled on the other end of the island, close to a mile from Castaway Family Beach, Serenity Bay is an idyllic retreat complete with soft, white sand, swaying palm trees, umbrella-covered loungers, two-person hammocks and icy alcoholic beverages.
Since this adults-only beach is further from the dock, the competition for a good seat isn’t as stiff. However, things can still get pretty busy, and if you don’t claim a spot early, you could be left out of the shade. Or, for the ultimate in relaxation, snag a coveted Serenity Bay Cabana, which starts at $399.
There’s nothing more relaxing than a soothing beachside massage. Offered in open-air cabanas overlooking the water, located right next to the Castaway Air Bar and Serenity Bay BBQ, this indulgent experience is the perfect way to unwind.
Castaway Cay Bars
After splashing around in the water, cool off even more with a cool drink from one of the Castaway Cay bars. Over at Serenity Bay, sidle on up to Castaway Air Bar or order a cocktail from one of the roving servers and let the alcohol come to you. Talk about relaxing!
But you don’t need to hang out at Serenity Bay to enjoy an adult beverage. Castaway Cay’s family area boasts a few different bars, which make for the ideal temporary escape from all the beach-crazy kiddos.
Dining at Castaway Cay
For some, one of the best meals of the entire cruise is the barbecue buffet on Castaway Cay. Available at Cookie’s BBQ and Cookie’s Too BBQ at the Castaway Family Beach and Serenity Bay BBQ on the other side of the island, this sun-sational picnic dishes up bottomless cookout classics like hot dogs, burgers, ribs, corn on the cob and potato salad. Adults can even tuck into freshly grilled ribeye steaks, exclusively at Serenity BBQ. Just remember to save some space for unlimited soft serve from one of the nearby stands.
Keep in mind that this beachy barbeque is only served for a limited time, running from 11:30 AM to 2:00 PM. Needless to say, make sure to eat breakfast before you get off the ship (this is a great day for room service) or risk being hangry before lunchtime rolls around. Additionally, crew members are prompt about taking down the food. So, if you miss the cut-off, you’ll need to walk back to the ship to scrounge something up.
Other Tips & Tricks for Your Day at Disney’s Castaway Cay
Ready to take on your day at Castaway Cay? Here are some simple hacks to help you make the most of your time.
Get Off the Ship Early (or Late) for a Better Chance at a Good Seat
Typically, folks tend to go to the island pretty early, as the competition for a lounge chair or hammock is fierce. So, if you don’t want to be left stranded without shade or a place to kick back and relax, try to be one of the first people off the ship. Alternatively, as many cruisers head back onboard around two hours before the ship’s departure time, waiting it out until later in the day can also be effective.
Mail a Postcard from the Post Office for a Unique Souvenir
Looking for an affordable yet unique souvenir? Send something from the Castaway Cay Post Office. Located near the dock, this outpost will mail postcards, letters and even messages in a bottle. Best of all, it will even get an extra-special Castaway Cay postmark. Just remember to bring some cash for Bahamian stamps, as your Key to the World Card won’t be accepted.
Save Money by Booking Port Adventures or Rentals Ahead of Time
When it comes to Castaway Cay excursions, it often pays to reserve things in advance. For example, the Castaway Cay Getaway Package – which includes a bike, tube and snorkel gear – is a great deal for active cruisers hoping to explore the island by both land and sea.
However, this rental package can only be booked online prior to sailing away or onboard the ship before reaching Castaway Cay. Should you choose to wait until you get to the island, you’ll wind up paying $20 to book the exact same rental equipment individually.
Don’t Forget Your Camera
Castaway Cay is jam-packed with photo opportunities, whether character meet-and-greets, family pictures in front of Mount Rustmore (Mickey, Pluto, Donald and Goofy painted on big buoys) or requisite beach selfies. Going snorkeling? Bring an underwater camera (or live on the edge and use a waterproof phone pouch) to snap shots of the Snorkeling Lagoon’s undersea statuary.
Well, Disney cruisers, that concludes our deep dive into all things Castaway Cay. Have you been to Disney’s private island before? What is your favorite thing to do at Castaway Cay? Let us know in the comments! Then, find out how to save on your next pixie-dusted adventure at sea by booking your Disney cruise with us.