During my recent cruise on Mariner of the Seas, I had a chance to check out cruise line’s private CocoCay island in the Bahamas or as Royal Caribbean refers to it, Perfect Day at CocoCay. It rhymes!
Did it live up to the hype? Read the post to find out. These private islands, purchased by cruise lines, are certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. Some feel they are too artificial, too crowded etc. Personally, I love them. You don’t have to fight off vendors at the pier, haggle with taxi drivers or look over your shoulder at the public beach, hoping no one is hiding in the bushes waiting to rob you.
Obviously, I’m making generalizations here, and not all major Caribbean ports are that way. But the unfortunate reality is that most islands suffer from high unemployment which puts many citizens in a desperate state. As a result, some aggressively hawk wares, others resort to crime.
This in turn can put cruise passengers in the constant state of unease, unable to relax and enjoy themselves. Enter private islands owned by cruise lines, where you can forget all of your worries, if only for a day.
Overall impressions of CocoCay
Let me first say that I had a fabulous time and would not hesitate to book a cruise that includes a stop at CocoCay. That being said, I’m not a huge fan of its “waterpark” theme and wish Royal Caribbean execs exercised some restraint in this regard. Leaving the ship and walking towards the island, I found the whole thing jarring and tacky.
IMO this type of attraction ruins the beautiful landscape and simply doesn’t belong on a low-key Bahamian island. To me, the biggest appeal of these type of cruise stops is the unspoiled nature of it all.
I once spotted a bird nest on a trail in Half Moon Cay, a private island owned by Carnival (also used by Holland America). Not happening here. That island is an absolute gem, and I highly recommend it. Half Moon Cay is one of my favorite spots in the world, and I hope Carnival doesn’t follow Royal Caribbean’s lead. I’m not holding my breath.
Building this waterpark was a bad call IMO, but I can tell you for sure that I’m in the minority. Many reviewers seem to love the changes. Plus, let’s face it, most kids will have a blast in the waterpark. But be prepared to shell out some cash because it costs extra. It’s my understating that price varies depending on your sailing date, but on our cruise it was $40 per person if we pre-booked ahead.
When I saw that, I said Nope. I’ve already paid enough for the cruise as is. Plus, there is a decent waterslide on the ship itself. However, my sister-in-law really wanted to take the kids, so she paid for them. She spoils them rotten.
Guess what? Both of my rascals were too scared to go on the waterslide (supposedly, the tallest in the United States), though they enjoyed the wave pool in the waterpark. So, my SIL was quite disappointed and didn’t feel the whole experience was worth $120. YMMV, but make sure your kids will not chicken out like mine did.
I feel like there are just too many variables if you want to book ahead. Your kids may get sick, the weather may be bad etc. I personally feel that waterpark is in the “skip” category. I do think it was a brilliant decision (profit-wise) to put that waterslide front and center when you exit the ship.
Fortunately, most parts of the island don’t require a separate fee. There is a huge resort pool:
There are also multiple water play areas for little kids that don’t cost extra:
That’s why I don’t think you should feel compelled to pay for the waterpark. Your kids may be perfectly happy with included amenities.
A huge positive to me is the fact that you don’t have to use tenders to access the island. Royal Caribbean has recently invested in a dedicated pier, so you can walk off the ship with no wait whatsoever.
This is huge because when an island requires tender boats, the stop reportedly ends up being cancelled about 30% of the time due to rough waves. No such issue here, so you are very likely to visit CocoCay unless there is a hurricane or an unusually bad weather.
Carnival is actually planning to add a dedicated pier to Half Moon Cay, but it won’t happen until 2021 at the earliest. In this case, I’m happy Carnival is copying Royal Caribbean. But for now, CocoCay is in a unique position that sets it apart from other private islands owned by mainstream cruise lines.
There is a tram that transports cruise passengers from pier to the island, so those with mobility issues should be able to get around without a problem.
Crowds at the beach
Let’s face it, for most folks the biggest appeal of this island stop is the beach. It certainly was for me. The good news is that there is enough room for people to spread out, even when two RCCL cruise ships are visiting at the same time.
That said, it depends on the size of the ship. If you are on Oasis-class (over 5,000 passengers) and there is another ship in town, it could get ugly. We were on Mariner which fits 3,300 people, and the ship next to us was the same size.
My husband and I went to the island at around 9 AM, and there were plenty of chairs. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that umbrellas don’t incur an extra charge. Most private islands only provide regular chairs.
So thumbs up to Royal Caribbean for not trying to make an extra buck here. My husband had cancer spots cut off on his face, so shade is absolutely essential. I certainly would have paid for an umbrella.
The beach was nice, but there was a lot of seaweed when you swam further out. Snorkeling is mediocre, though I did see some colorful fish. My favorite thing was swimming out to the floating platform and just relaxing on it with my feet in the water. The water was cold, but I decided to be a brave gal and get in anyway.
A cheaper alternative are beach beds, which start at $200.
In my younger days I would never consider paying for something like that. However, knowing how much my husband hates crowds, I may splurge on a beach bed next time we are there. If you rarely come to the Caribbean, consider treating yourself. Book ahead! That said, using complimentary chairs is perfectly fine, too.
There are several beach sections and by noon, they were about 75% full. One relatively empty section was located by the construction area. This is where the overwater bungalows are going to be located soon. See Nancy’s post for more details. Paying $1k is a bit rich for my blood, but to each his own.
There was some noise from hammers, but nothing terrible. I only discovered this beach during a walk, after my husband and I were already settled on the opposite side. I didn’t want to disturb him, but I switched later after he went back to the ship. This section is located a bit further from the food pavilion.
There was a low tide in the afternoon, but the views were still gorgeous. Also, this is where the floating bar is located, and I couldn’t resist splurging on a mixed drink ($14).
In fact, that was our total spending on this island, so I can’t complain. The cruise line even provides food in a pavilion, so we didn’t have to go back to the ship to have lunch. You can grab a glass of iced water or lemonade any time you wish. Alcohol costs extra. There were plenty of clean restrooms all over the island.
One thing I wish I did was take a hot air ballon ride, so I could enjoy a panoramic view of the surrounding area. Maybe next time.
I had a wonderful time on this island and view it as a highlight of the cruise. It helped that the weather was perfect on the day we visited. There was a nice breeze, so my husband ended up taking a nap in the lounger.
Even though I’m not a big fan of the waterpark addition, once on the beach, I didn’t have to look at it. It wasn’t an exclusive private-island experience in the true sense of the word since I had to share it with 6,000 fellow companions. Still, I feel like Royal Caribbean has put a lot of thought into managing the crowds. And finally, having a complimentary umbrella was a nice touch. All in all, thumbs up.
Readers, please share your impressions of CocoCay!
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.