After operating a “day at the beach” shore excursion on a small, uninhabited island/cay in the Berry Islands of the Bahamas since 1988, Royal Caribbean International recently laid out $250 million to build a water-themed attraction like none other, christening the experience “Perfect Day at CocoCay.”
Also known historically as Little Stirrup Cay, CocoCay is about one mile long and a third of a mile wide, offering lots of white-sand beach and every form of water sports imaginable.
The Perfect Day concept started coming together five years ago mainly to find “revolutionary and innovative experiences for Royal Caribbean passengers,” said Laura Hodges Bethge, vice president of product development at RCI. Focusing on multigenerational aspects, she said the CocoCay attraction took a year to build and includes a water park, restaurants and bars, shopping, spas and cabanas. Most of the cay’s attractions opened in May of this year, but the Coco Beach Club and overseas cabanas are scheduled for a December opening.
“Our passengers love both the thrill and chill parts of CocoCay — and they can try both,” said Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales, trade support and service at RCI. “Passengers have been telling us they especially love the Wave Pool, which is the largest in the Caribbean.
Other highlights at CocoCay include the Thrill Waterpark that features two towers with 13 waterslides; an Adventure Pool with a family-friendly obstacle course; Splash Summit with six multi-rider slides; Oasis Lagoon, the largest freshwater pool in the Caribbean; the Zip Line, which soars 1,600 feet crisscrossing the island; and Up, Up and Away, a ride up 450 feet in a helium balloon.
For kids, Captain Jill’s Galleon is an interactive play structure loaded with options, such as three dry slides, 16 water cannons, rope features and a splash pad.
Dining options include Captain Jack’s, featuring Caribbean bar food; Skipper’s Grill, offering complimentary lunchtime favorites such as salads, sandwiches, tacos, burgers, fresh fruit and desserts; and Chill Grill, the largest dining venue on the island featuring shaded picnic tables on the sand.
Chill Island, located on a quiet section of the island, offers 14 cabanas available for rent, 35 daybeds and jet skis, kayaks and snorkeling. Ross Spalding, president of Crown Cruise Vacations in Princeton, N.J., who recently spent a day at CocoCay, said he relished the attentive service and wait and bar staff there. He added that there were many dining venues to choose from and “you never waited in line and felt like a beach BBQ.”
Beth Butzlaff, vice president, cruise sales-global at Virtuoso, said she also recently spent a day at CocoCay with her teenage daughter. “Just as the cruise ships have evolved over the years, so have the islands of cruise lines — and CocoCay exemplifies,” she said. “By now, most people have heard about Royal Caribbean’s Thrill Waterpark with the highest waterslide in North America, hot air balloon and zip line. But what many may not know is how this is integrated so seamlessly with quiet, sandy beaches, snorkeling and tranquil blue ocean water. This island is an alternative to over popular destinations, because unlike public beaches, quality and capacity control are embedded into the experience. It is a private island, after all.”
Spalding said the waterpark was “amazing,” and his eight-year-old son said it was the “best day of my life.” “We had a great time running from water slide to water slide,” he said.
Butzlaff said some key components of CocoCay include: the ship is docked to the island, so there’s no waiting for tenders or long lines to get off the ship; accessibility for those with physical impairments, offering special wheelchairs that can navigate the sand and beaches; the opportunity for families to enjoy a “perfect day” with all ages and interests; and, most importantly for Butzlaff, earning the respect of a teenager while conquering the Daredevil’s Peak waterslide, which was “priceless.”
Other Perfect Day Island Collection destinations are being considered in Asia, Australia and elsewhere in the Caribbean and will be announced soon, according to Hodges Bethge, and overnight stays are also being considered down the line. This year, 12 Royal Caribbean ships will make a day stop at CocoCay while next year that number rises to 15.