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Cruising - The Private Islands Part 4
Coco Cay – Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises
If you are lucky enough to be able to combine a trip to Orlando or Florida with a cruise from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa or Port Canaveral, you may well enjoy a day at one of the many private islands either owned or leased by the major cruise lines.
Coco Cay is owned by Royal Caribbean International (RCI) and can be found in the middle of the Caribbean, about 50 miles from Nassau. It is also used by Celebrity ships, and has been recently upgraded. This beautiful sub-tropical island, which covers 140 acres, was once known as Little Stirrup Cay, in the Berry Islands of the Bahamas, and is close to Great Stirrup Cay, owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines. In fact, Coco Cay can be seen from here, and it is a stunning sight to see cruise ships anchored out to sea. As with all the private islands, except the one owned by Disney, you will be tendered ashore by special launches, which can hold approximately 150 - 300 people. But don’t forget to take your camera and plenty of sunscreen as it gets hot, hot, hot!
This natural coral island has several gorgeous sandy beaches, with sparkling azure water, and a nature trail. There is a lighthouse, and if you like snorkelling you can explore a sunken aeroplane and a replica of schooner – Blackbeard’s flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, which sank off the coast of North Carolina in 1718. If you want a secret hideaway, then Wanderer’s Beach might be just for you.
Recently, RCI has introduced a new aqua park, called Caylana’s Castle Cove, which is a giant floating sandcastle just waiting to be climbed. This 20, 000 sq ft floating aqua playground offers a fun packed experience. There is also a floating ‘water totter’ and a huge trampoline actually in the water. However, be prepared to pay extra to take advantage of this attraction.
Of course there are the usual activities, such as parasailing 400 ft above Coco Cay, as well as snorkelling, scuba diving, kayaks, paddle boats, and Sea Trek adventure wave runners – all of which come at a cost. You can take your own snorkelling gear, but you will be required to pay to rent a life vest, unless you carry your own with you. There is volleyball, or for those who want to be a little less active, swimming in the beautiful crystal clear waters, sunbathing on a lounger, making sandcastles in the soft silvery sand, or renting a floating mat ($8) so you can lie back and float gently on the calm seas. If you are early enough you could find a hammock swung between palm trees, and simply chill out as you sway gently too and fro, with the blue sky above and the sound of Calypso music in the background. Yoga classes provided by the Spa staff are also available.
Drinks can be charged to your shipboard account, but the shops need cash in dollars, as do the hair braiders. But be aware that braids are charged per braid – approx $2-3, so set yourself a budget and agree the price BEFORE they begin or you could be in for a big shock.
Of course there is the usual beach BBQ with burgers, hot dogs, ribs, macaroni cheese, fruit, cookies and salads. Water is free, and you can buy sodas either from the bars, or from staff who continually patrol the beach, offering you a ‘Coco Loco’. This signature Caribbean cocktail can be served in a souvenir mug, with or without alcohol.
One downside is that there are no freshwater showers, so you will have to wait until you return to the ship before you can wash off the salt water. Be careful, too, about sun protection. There is little shade and the sun can be fierce. Temperatures often reach the high 90’s and it is all too easy to get very sunburned – be particularly careful about children, take a hat for them, and you. They can easily be burned in the crystal clear water, so cover them up with a t-shirt if possible.
Queues for tenders for the return journey may be long and tedious, as of course everyone has to catch the launch back to the ship. Either make your way back to the ship in good time, at least an hour before the last tender, or just move nearer the tender dock and sit and relax on a lounger until the queues have decreased. They will not leave you on the island, alone, so as long as you are in easy reach of the tender you can join the queue once the crowds have eased.
As you leave the island, say a final goodbye to this island paradise, and maybe take a last photograph of the statue of the mermaid that sits at the entrance to the little harbour.
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