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Finding fun on Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line’s private island

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Of all the ports on our first Disney Cruise Line (DCL) sailing, a 7-night Western Caribbean aboard the Disney Fantasy, we were perhaps most curious about the day at Castaway Cay.

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Castaway Cay (CC) is Disney’s private island for its cruise guests, and is almost universally praised by fans. So we wondered if it could possible live up to the hype.

We knew there would be a lot do at CC as at other ports, especially related to the water and beach. Like other ports of call on our Western Caribbean itinerary, we could swim, enjoy the two water-play areas, or sunbathe. Guests can sign up for a variety of Port Adventures, like stingray encounters, kayaking, boating and parasailing or rent, if available, one of the much-in-demand cabanas.

Plus there are the Disney touches that make CC an extension of the ship. The island has a family beach, the adult-only Serenity Bay Beach and the teens-only Hide-Out beach area. Scuttle’s Cove offers free childcare and Groupers Pavilion offers out-of-the-sun fun.

There are trams to help you travel between locations; for many guests most destinations will be within a walkable distance.

CC has Disney character meet-and-greets with photographers, so guests can plan for a beach-and-Disney themed Christmas holiday. The Snorkeling Lagoon has a hidden Mickey. And much of the island has the kind of clever signage that will remind guests of the Disney theme-park attractions.

Actively relaxing on Disney’s Castaway Cay: 5K race and a walk on the beach

As destination-race runners who have completed several runDisney races, our initial interest in CC was the Castaway Cay 5K, a free runDisney fun run for guests ages 10 and older. Our day began with more than 250 other Disney guests, a registration record for the Disney Fantasy. It featured couple of loops around the island, mainly on the old runway and the biking path out to the adult-area Serenity Bay. Runners (and walkers) earned a plastic Mickey Mouse-shaped commemorative medal – and the opportunity to buy related merchandise.

After a quick post-run shower on the Disney Fantasy, we headed back to CC to see the sights and enjoy some beach time. We headed for Serenity Bay after climbing the 40-foot Observation Tower for pictures. While there, we saw parasailers and kayakers enjoying their day at port. (We then experienced some mild envy.)

We then spent some time at Serenity Bay so as to enjoy a beach with fewer people; it did feel like we traded the gorgeous scenery of the family beach for more quiet. There, we enjoyed a walk on the beach, the appropriate counterpart to a run on the runaway, and some sun, sand and surf.

Shopping on CC was a breeze. Being able to use our Key to the World card made it easy to buy impulsively. Even the transaction at the charming CC Post Office, which only takes cash, proved simple. We knew the P.O. might not be open during our visit. We lucked out, it was, and it took but a few minutes to mail home postcards to friends and family.

Dining on Castaway Cay: Here’s where the Cookie’s crumbles

Were there any disappointments from our first CC visit? Well, yes. The biggest one was the food.

CC has three dining locations, all included as part of your cruise fare: Cookie’s BBQ near the family beach, Cookie’s Too near the extended family beach, and a third, smaller location at Serenity Bay. There are also places to buy specialty beverages and two stores with “punny” names and CC-themed merchandise.

Before visiting CC, several guests we talked to praised the food on the island. We were told barbecue was excellent and that I, as a vegetarian, would find plenty of sides to enjoy. We were also told to try the dining at Serenity Bay, the only place that offers ribeye steak. We had our suspicions about the actual quality, but decided to try the suggestions.

Unfortunately, we didn’t find CC food to be memorable. What we ate was filling, fairly standard cookout food. The barbecue and ribeye were just okay, although properly prepared. The vegetarian offerings, all average, were primarily sides. There was a sense that a vegetarian meal was an afterthought, at best. Even the cookies, which are Cookie’s claim to fame, weren’t memorable. Next time, we’ll adjust our expectations downward or eat lunch on the ship.

Luckily, the overall experience of CC outweighed our dining disappointment. We focused on the opportunities to see and do things on the island, which was more important to us than the food. And as an unexpected upside, we had a hearty appetite for that night’s dinner.

Castaway Cay: A Disney playground worth another visit

CC was an easy few hours off the boat and on a very relaxing island. The experience did, however, make us wish for a second day on CC in which we skipped the race and focused instead on some of the other recreational activities. We missed taking the Pelican Plunge, for example, or snorkeling. Add that as yet another reason to take a second Disney cruise.

After our first stop at Disney’s island we no longer questioned why so many people praise CC. It is an expanded, more beach-y version of Walt Disney World’s water parks, both places where families can both enjoy some together time and pursue their own interests. There’s little to no anxiety about being in port, and children can easily and safely spend time away from their parents. Plus, it is small enough to feel intimate yet large enough to feel there are plenty of things to see and do ­– even on a repeat visit.

At least, that’s the feeling we left with. We re-boarded the Disney Fantasy feeling very much like we’d spent the day on a very clean, fun and safe playground Castaway Cay is one of the not-to-be-missed stops on any Disney Cruise Line sailing that includes the island.

Note: I sailed aboard Disney Cruise Line’s newest ship, the Disney Fantasy, on a 7-night Western Caribbean itinerary. I booked travel with Michele of Pixie Vacations, a travel agency specializing in Disney vacations. Michele’s help was invaluable in helping me plan my trip. I paid all my own travel expenses and my opinions are my own.

Kungaloosh! Put on your set of ears and join me in stalking the Mouse. Read more of my Disney Travel Examiner articles or sign up for a free subscription.

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