Disney Cruise Line Shows Off Castaway Cay Upgrades

Disney Cruise Line

Castaway Cay feels so perfect, you wonder if a sprinkling of magic pixie dust was involved in its creation. On a recent behind-the-scenes visit, AOL Travel discovered the "pixies" are actually Disney's creative geniuses, who have been busy upgrading the private island in preparation for the arrival of the Disney Dream.

The same folks that create Disney's rides and attractions, the so-called Disney Imagineers, designed this idyllic spot exclusively for cruise passengers. You can visit the 1,000-acre island in the Abacos chain only if you come on a Disney cruise ship.

The Disney Magic and Disney Wonder call here on every cruise out of Port Canaveral (near Orlando) -- twice on some itineraries, because the place is just that popular with guests. With Disney Cruise Line soon to debut its largest ship ever, the 4,000-passenger Dream, the Imagineers set about making enhancements.

The improvements include a 700-foot expansion to the family beach area, the addition of luxurious private cabanas, a fun new waterslide, and more.

And AOL Travel was among the first to see the enhancements.

But my first question for island manager, Sarah Clear, as we walked off the Disney Wonder on a sparkling sunny day, was: How did the Imagineers get the sky so blue and the sea so stunningly turquoise?

Trickery is not involved, Clear said with a laugh, but she explained that the fluffy sand and palm tree-lined paths do get a helping hand from a resident crew of Disney employees who are charged with keeping everything pristine. (Some even live in Disney housing on the island.)

Natural beauty aside, there's no mistaking you are at a Disney spot since one of the first things you see is "The Flying Dutchman," the actual ship prop from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, docked in the harbor.

Further on, off the family beach area, there is another dose of Disney -- in the squeals of delight of those experiencing the island's new floating play area, "Pelican Plunge".

The 2,400-square-foot, swim-out platform is equipped with water cannons you can shoot at nautical targets and two waterslides. The Imagineers have decorated the attraction with buoys and nets and various flotsam and jetsam.

The twisting covered corkscrew slide is the fast one, the 140-foot-long open slide, a little slower. But with either, the thrills are of the wet variety.

"It adds a whole new dimension to the water sports and activities for families and kids to enjoy out here," Clear said.

Wet is a theme, as kids are also well-occupied on Castaway Cay, with such new water attractions as a squirting water play area and a "leaking" cooling off spot called Spring-a-Leak, with various sprays and drips.

And then, of course, there's the beach.

Parents can choose family beach time or enroll the kids in supervised programs at Scuttle's Cove, in which case the grownups can retreat to Serenity Bay, a lovely and quiet adults-only beach area on the far side of Castaway Cay.

There's also the new option of 20 luxurious, private family cabanas, designed to combine family togetherness and privacy.

"It's an exclusive, private area of the island where guests can rent the cabana for their family for the day and enjoy private facilities," Clear said, showing me around.

The cabanas have an indoor living room area with cushy seating, a fresh-water shower, a refrigerator and a shaded deck with lounge chairs, leading to a pristine patch of quiet beach with reserved lounge chairs and umbrellas. There are snacks and fluffy towels, and you can call an assigned "host" for drink and food service.

I couldn't resist an opportunity to lie in the outdoor hammock at the cabana I toured. As I lounge, Clear hands me a spiked pink drink. I can see the Disney Wonder in the harbor, but hear only the sound of waves.

Think of the cabanas as a home away from home -- or away from everyone else on the family beach, as the case may be. But the privacy will cost you -- cabanas are priced at $499 for the day, for up to six people.

The cabanas were only open a week on our visit, but Clear said they were already predicted to be a hit. "We've had great feedback from our guests. They've really enjoyed the experience, so I think it's going well, so far."

There is also a handful of the new cabanas for adults only at Serenity Bay.

Those who have been to Castaway Cay before will notice other upgrades on the island in preparation for the Disney Dream's January debut.

For one thing, the pier itself has been expanded to make way for the larger ship, and tram routes that bring guests around the island have been extended.

With the family beach expansion, an additional lunch area has been added -- so if you're at the far end of the beach you don't have to walk back for the island's all-you-can-eat BBQ. There are new bar areas, new places to rent floats and other water toys and new shops selling exclusive Castaway Cay souvenirs.

Teens have a new and enhanced area all to themselves, and those who want to get up close and personal with real stingrays can book a Stingray Adventure in an expanded area of the lagoon. There's also a new indoor play area equipped with table tennis, pool and foosball, for those who want to get out of the sun.

The Imagineers seem to have thought of everything in creating the perfect day at the beach.

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