Both Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean have private islands in the Bahamas. Disney has Castaway Cay and Royal Caribbean has Perfect Day at CocoCay. Both islands are favorites with passengers, but which one is right for you as you’re planning a cruise?
Castaway Cay is currently a stop on several cruises going out of Miami and Port Canaveral. You might occasionally get lucky and find a Castaway Cay stop on longer cruises from Galveston.
CocoCay is a stop on many Royal Caribbean cruises going out of Miami and Port Canaveral. The new Wonder of the Seas is homeported in Port Canaveral and all Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises on that ship include a stop at CocoCay.
I’ve been on two cruises that stopped at CocoCay (recently hosted by Royal Caribbean on their new ship, Wonder of the Seas) and on a handful of Disney Cruises that stop at Castaway Cay. Here’s how they stack up.
Pro Tip: The “Cay” in Castaway Cay is pronounced key. The “Cay” in CocoCay is pronounced phonetically — rhymes with bay. Perfect Day at CocoCay has a nice, rhyme-y ring to it.
1. Island Size And Ship Capacity
Castaway Cay: Larger, But Accommodates Just One Ship
Castaway Cay is 3.1 miles long and 2.2 miles wide. To date, only one ship docks at Castaway Cay at a time, so when you get off the ship to enjoy the island amenities, you and your fellow passengers will be the only ones there. We’ll see if this changes with Disney rapidly expanding its fleet of ships and adding a new island stop in Eleuthera.
CocoCay: Slightly Smaller With Space For Two Ships
CocoCay is 1 mile long and 1/3 of a mile wide. While it’s smaller than Castaway Cay, its infrastructure can accommodate two ships. Considering that Royal’s ships are larger than Disney’s ships, that puts considerably more people on the island. There were two ships docked at CocoCay on both days that I visited, but the beaches and buffets did not feel crowded to me. I had no trouble finding a beach chair and the lines to get food were not overly long.
2. Getting Around The Islands
Castaway Cay: More Spread Out, More Paved Paths, More Undeveloped Land
Visitors to Castaway Cay can get around the island by tram, on foot, or on a bicycle. More detailed info about the trams is included below. Bikes can be rented near the family beach area. The island has a very spread-out feel to it. Much of the island is undeveloped (you’ll get a great view from the ship coming or going) but there are several paved roads that will get you around the island.
Going to the beach is most people’s choice pastime at Castaway Cay — it is certainly mine. Once you’re off the ship on Castaway Cay, you have about a 5-minute walk to get to the first tram stop. The ride to the family beach area is less than 5 minutes. You can also walk — there’s a nice paved pathway, and, depending on how quickly you walk, you can get from the ship to the family beach in about 15 minutes.
Pro Tip: If interacting with Disney characters and fun photo opportunities are on your cruise agenda, take the walk because this is where the characters hang out. The walking path and the tram route follow the same scenic view of the ocean and water recreation areas.
The family beach area is the island’s hub. In addition to beach chairs, you’ll find shopping, food, bars, and gear rental kiosks. If you prefer a quieter atmosphere, you can transfer trams and go to the aptly named Serenity Bay, the adults-only beach (more on that below).
There’s also a 40-foot observation tower located near Serenity Bay you can climb for epic views of the island and your ship. Castaway Cay has more natural beauty than CocoCay, mostly due to the heavier vegetation and large, undeveloped areas. When I see the island from up above or from a distance, I always think, “Wow, Disney could put a lot more stuff here,” but I’m glad they haven’t done that.
CocoCay: Compact But With More Activity Choices
Visitors can get around CocoCay by tram or on foot. The island is smaller than Castaway Cay and everything is more compact and closer together (although it doesn’t feel crowded), so there are no bikes or bike paths. Most of the paths on CocoCay are paved, but a few dirt and sand pathways might be more difficult to navigate for those with mobility limitations.
When you disembark at CocoCay, a few steps will get you to the line for golf carts to take you to the tram stop. If you want to forgo the golf cart ride, the walk to the tram stop is about 7 minutes. The tram takes you around to the various hangout spots on CocoCay.
Pro Tip: It will be helpful to have an idea of where you want to stop on CocoCay — I recommend looking at a map and asking crew or more experienced passengers for recommendations so you have a plan for where you’re going to hang your beach towel for the day.
The different tram stops (beach areas, pool, and lagoon area) are not very far apart from each other, and you’re not going to be far from the ship, which is something that I didn’t realize the first time I boarded the tram on CocoCay. I personally think walking is quicker and easier than navigating the island via tram but anyone with mobility restrictions or traveling with small children might prefer or need to use the tram.
Things are closer together on CocoCay than they are on Castaway Cay and since the island is smaller, getting around is a bit faster, especially if you’re walking rather than taking the tram. You might miss the more open views of the ocean (which you’ll get plenty of onboard your cruise ship) and the lush vegetation that Castaway Cay has, but the tradeoff is more activity choices that Disney doesn’t offer.
Pro Tip: Although there’s no observation tower to climb, Royal Caribbean has other ways to get a great view of the island, such as a hot air balloon ride and zipline, described in more detail below.
Trams (And Accessibility) On Both Islands
The trams on Castaway Cay and CocoCay run continuously throughout the day and reduce the walking guests have to do on the islands. The walk from the ship to the family beach area on Castaway Cay is about 10 to 15 minutes. I have never walked all the way to Serenity Bay, but it’s about 2 miles from where the ship docks, so you’re looking at quite a hike. The walk from the ship to the beaches and pool areas on CocoCay is 10 to 20 minutes, depending on where you want to end up.
Both Castaway Cay and CocoCay offer accessible trams that accommodate guests who use wheelchairs but they are not able to hold scooters. Both islands offer a limited number of beach-accessible wheelchairs. Although I don’t use an assistive device and have not traveled with anyone that does, I think Castaway Cay is easier to get around for anyone with mobility restrictions. Castaway Cay offers wide, paved paths throughout the island. CocoCay offers some paved paths, while other walkways are sand/dirt paths.
I was not a fan of the tram service on either island. Although the lines are typically long to get on the trams in the morning (both islands) the lines tend to move pretty quickly and efficiently earlier in the day. The return trips are more chaotic. Everyone on the island is trying to get back to the ship and I’ve seen bottlenecks and poor crowd control from both cruise lines. If you want to be back on board at a specific time, I recommend walking, if you’re able. It’s an opportunity to walk off some of that cruise food and get some great pictures of the ship(s) in port. Otherwise, build extra time into your schedule to wait for the tram.
Note that you can walk right off the ship (no tendering required) at both Castaway Cay and CocoCay.
3. What’s Included?
Castaway Cay: Waterslides, Ocean Swimming, And Disney’s Youth Clubs
Disney’s Castaway Cay includes towels, chairs and loungers, water slides and water play areas, and a buffet lunch. Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and includes burgers, dogs, grilled chicken, salads, corn on the cob, fresh fruits, cookies, brownies, banana bread, and soft-serve ice cream. There’s a veggie burger option and usually some type of fish — Mahi Mahi or salmon. Fountain sodas are included.
Pro Tip: There’s a separate buffet on Serenity Bay, Castaway Cay’s adult-only beach that usually serves grilled ribeye in addition to the buffet fare previously mentioned above.
Castaway Cay does not provide lockers and does not have pools. Guests swim in the ocean and there’s a small splash pad for kids.
Disney’s youth clubs move to Castaway Cay when the ship is docked, which is a great way for parents to have some time to do something on their own.
Fun Fact: Disney used to host formal Castaway Cay 5Ks in the mornings. Pre-2020, races were organized like real road races, with a clock timer, a marked route, a halfway point water stop, and a finisher’s medal. You can race on your own, and guests are instructed to contact guest services once back on the ship to get their medals, but I hope the full experience comes back soon. The races were walker friendly (a great way to see the island), and many people came out to race in Disney-themed costumes.
CocoCay: Pools, A Swim-Up Bar, And Beaches, Too
Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay includes towels (my stateroom attendant kindly left me a towel the night before we docked at CocoCay, and there were towel exchange stations on the island), use of pools and splash pads, and a buffet lunch. Lunch is served from 11 to 3 and includes burgers, hot dogs, hot sandwiches (when I visited there was a portobello sandwich, a shaved ribeye sandwich, and a Cuban), French fries, salads, fresh fruits, cookies, brownies, soft serve ice cream, and a taco bar that rivals Chipotle. Juices and ice water are included.
CocoCay has complimentary lockers and a freshwater pool with a swim-up bar and three swim-up islands. The pool also has in-water loungers and underwater music. You can’t stay submerged forever, but the sounds below the surface are a fun novelty. There’s also plenty of opportunity to swim in the ocean from several of the island’s beach areas.
4. What Costs Extra?
Castaway Cay: Snorkel Gear, Bikes, And Beachside Massages
Snorkel or scuba equipment, kayaks, or excursion-level activities like glass-bottom boat rides, sea kayaking, or parasailing will cost extra. Floats, tubes, and bicycles are available to rent. The island is very bike and runner-friendly.
Castaway Cay has spa treatments available — if you want a massage in a tranquil, beachfront hut, book in advance because they’re very popular. There’s also limited shopping — think souvenirs and sundries, such as sunscreen. The draw of shopping at Castaway Cay is snagging Disney-branded merchandise exclusive to the island.
A Note On Adult Beverages: Alcohol is extra on Castaway Cay. There are four beach bars selling beer, wine, and cocktails. Disney Cruise Line also sells a beer package on board with a soft-sided cooler to carry your drinks to the beach.
CocoCay: Hot Air Balloon Rides, Ziplining, And A Full Waterpark
Snorkel or scuba equipment, kayaks, and excursion-level activities like glass-bottom boat rides, sea kayaking, or parasailing will cost extra. Floats and tubes are available to rent. No bikes. CocoCay isn’t bike or runner friendly.
CocoCay has more activity choices than Castaway Cay. CocoCay also has a full water park and a hot air balloon-like activity called Up, Up, and Away that gives a bird’s-eye view of the island from 450 feet in the air. It’s exactly like Aerophile at Disney Springs. The balloon remains anchored to the ground and doesn’t operate in windy weather. Ziplining is also available.
ThrilThe crown jewel of CocoCay is the Thrill Water Park, which is probably the first thing you’ll notice when you take your first peek at CocoCay from the ship. The water park has eight slides and a wave pool and boasts the tallest water slide in North America, Daredevil’s Peak.
CocoCay also offers shopping. There’s a large selection of sundries, souvenirs, and beachwear.
If you’re traveling with tweens, teens, or young adults in your travel group, the extras at CocoCay might be a big hit with your group. A more sedate beach day might not be everyone’s thing and although the more thrill-seeking options cost extra, they’re not crazy expensive. Definitely consider working them into your vacation budget.
Adult Beverages And Transferrable Onboard Drink Packages: Alcohol is extra on CocoCay, but if you’ve purchased the onboard drink package, it will transfer to the island. Small beach bars seemed to be available adjacent to every lounging area.
5. Adult-Only Areas
Castaway Cay: Serenity Bay
Castaway Cay’s Serenity Bay is a more tranquil version of the family beaches on the other side of the island. If you can snag one of the hammocks, life doesn’t get any better. Serenity Bay also has its own lunch buffet so you can enjoy your food in a completely kid-free setting.
CocoCay: Adult-Only Space Coming Soon
Currently, CocoCay has no adults-only area, but there is one under construction.
6. Exclusive-Access Areas
Castaway Cay: Family And Adult-Only Cabanas
Disney rents family cabanas and adults-only cabanas over on the Serenity Bay side. Castaway Cay cabanas are notoriously difficult to rent. There aren’t many cabanas and the Concierge and Platinum Castaway Club members get first dibs and usually snap them up quickly.
CocoCay: Cabanas, Daybeds, And Coco Beach Club
CocoCay also has cabanas and daybeds available for rent throughout the island as well as a dedicated exclusive access area, the Coco Beach Club. The Coco Beach Club, purchased with a per-person, per-day pass, offers included, elevated dining, an infinity pool with loungers in the water, and a private beach area with fluffier towels than everyone else has. There are cabanas and daybeds within the Coco Beach Club available for an extra charge. If you want the ultimate in splurges, get one of the overwater bungalows with a private slide.
Coco Beach Club is not adults-only, although I saw very few kids on the day I visited.
7. Theme And Vibe
Castaway Cay: Disney-Themed Without Being Over The Top
The theme of Castaway Cay is obviously Disney. There are Disney characters in bathing suits (so cute!) and statues of Mickey and other characters below the surface in the snorkel lagoon. Even on the adults-only beach, the subtle, instrumental jams you hear while you’re sipping your Mai Tai in a hammock are grownup renderings of beloved Disney tunes.
CocoCay: Colorful Island Vibes
CocoCay has a cheerful Bahamian vibe but no strong theme beyond that. Certain areas have a more chill atmosphere and others have more of a party vibe. During my visits, I found Chill Island to be a more relaxed spot and the Oasis Lagoon and South Beach to be where the more high-energy crowds gathered.
8. Food On The Island
Castaway Cay: Backyard Barbecue
Both Castaway Cay and CocoCay offer a buffet lunch that’s included in the price of your cruise. Castaway Cay has two buffet locations near the family beaches, Cookie’s BBQ and Cookie’s Too BBQ. The adults-only beach, Serenity Bay, offers a third barbecue buffet. Cookie’s and Cookie’s Too offer up burgers (veggie burgers are also available), hot dogs, grilled chicken sandwiches, and typically some type of grilled fish. I have seen both salmon and Mahi Mahi on the buffets at Castaway Cay.
Side dishes include cold couscous salad, potato salad, corn on the cob, fresh fruit, and individual packets of Lay’s potato chips. If you have a sweet tooth, there are plenty of chocolate chip cookies and sliced banana bread, but my favorite dessert is the soft-serve ice cream, located next to the self-serve soda dispensers. The buffet on Serenity Bay is almost identical to the buffets in the family beach areas, but it also offers grilled ribeye and Greek salad with huge chunks of feta.
You’ll find plenty of picnic table seating in the shade adjacent to all the buffets. Food is served from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Castaway Cay fare is plentiful but it’s a little on the bland side. It checks the box for lunch, but it’s nothing to write home about.
CocoCay: More Choices, Better Burgers
CocoCay has two buffets, Skipper’s Grill and Chill Grill (again, both included in the price of your cruise). The menus are identical and the beach-themed decor is similar in both locations. Chill Grill has more seating in the shade. The buffets serve burgers (veggie burgers, too) hot dogs, and sandwiches (I spotted a Cuban sandwich, a shaved ribeye, and a portobello mushroom sandwich). There’s also a taco bar where you can build your own tacos or bowls, similar to what you’d find at Chipotle or Qdoba, and a separate sauce bar with fresh salsa and guacamole.
Side dishes include french fries, corn on the cob, salads, and fresh fruit. Available desserts include cookies, fudge brownies, and soft-serve ice cream. Lemonade, iced tea, and ice water are complimentary but sodas are not included.
Transferrable Onboard Drink Packages: If you’ve purchased a beverage package for your cruise, good news — it transfers to CocoCay.
CocoCay also has three Snack Shacks serving burgers, salads, mozzarella sticks, funnel cakes, and more. Snack Shack food is included in the cost of your cruise.
Food is served from 11:30 until 3 p.m. I found the buffet food colorful and flavorful. I was a huge fan of the taco bar, and that’s what I ate both days. I sampled both a regular burger and a vegetarian burger and both were much more flavorful and juicy than the burgers I’ve had at Castaway Cay. The availability of hot, fresh fries is a pretty simple thing but really won me over.
So, Which Do I Prefer?
I like them both. The Disney theming is dear to my heart and the pixie dust is the perfect amount to feed my nostalgia without being too theme parky.
I’m a pretty low-key beachgoer. It’s the same ocean, and as long as I have a chair and umbrella, I don’t need extras. Despite the options on CocoCay, I spent my day exactly as I would have on Castaway Cay, although Royal Caribbean is the clear winner when it comes to island dining. It would go a long way if Disney would lose the bagged chips and get some real fries.
That said, I have two tween sons who would have been all about that Thrill Waterpark and extra choices. They were not with me on either of my trips to CocoCay, and although I haven’t confirmed my hypothesis, I think my kids would prefer Royal Caribbean’s island over Disney’s and that CocoCay would do a better job at making everyone happy.