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Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve: Everything you need to know

Sept. 13, 2022
17 min read
MSC Seashore cruise ship docked at Ocean Cay private island
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If you’re looking for water slides and zip lines, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve is not the private island playground you’ve been seeking. But should a relaxing day of lounging in the sand and floating on the waves, perhaps with an hour or two of snorkeling or paddleboarding, be just what the doctor ordered, MSC Cruises’ newest destination might just be your new favorite cruise port.

MSC Cruises transformed a former sand extraction site, surrounded by damaged reefs and full of industrial rubbish, into an idyllic beach destination that the line hopes will be the poster child for coral restoration. It planted thousands of plants and trees and created a coral nursery on the island’s east side. MSC has partnered with the Bahamian government to designate the 64 square miles of waters around Ocean Cay as an official marine reserve.

Ocean Cay is technically two tiny islands connected by a footbridge. In the middle is a sheltered lagoon. Beachgoers can choose from numerous ocean-side or lagoon-facing beaches, each with its own vibe. Bars and food trucks are scattered throughout the island, and visitors can book water-based tours or rent water sports equipment.

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There’s plenty of space for everyone, but very little shade. Ships dock right at the island, so passengers can walk right off the ship whenever they’re ready for their time in the sun.

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Got an upcoming trip to Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve? Here’s everything you need to know to plan your beach day.

Note: Prices for activities and rentals can vary based on sail date and whether they're booked pre-cruise, on board or onshore.

Where is Ocean Cay?

MSC Seashore at Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve. CONRAD SCHUTT/MSC CRUSES

Ocean Cay is a manmade island located in the Bahamas about 20 miles south of Bimini and 65 miles southeast of Miami. It is closer to Florida than many other cruise line private islands and beaches, such as Disney Cruise Line’s Castaway Cay or Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay.

The island’s proximity to the Florida cruise ports means that MSC Cruises ships can stay in port late into the night and still make it back to the U.S. first thing in the morning.

Related: Bahamas cruise guide: Best itineraries, planning tips and things to do

Which cruise ships go there?

Only MSC Cruises ships visit Ocean Cay. Usually, they are the ships based year-round or seasonally in the U.S., sailing Bahamas and Caribbean cruises, but occasionally another ship on a repositioning cruise might pay a visit.

Ships visiting Ocean Cay in 2022 through 2024 include:

  • MSC Divina.
  • MSC Magnifica.
  • MSC Meraviglia.
  • MSC Seascape.
  • MSC Seashore.
  • MSC Seaside.

How do you get to and around Ocean Cay?

Ocean Cay tram. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY

Ships dock right at Ocean Cay’s pier, so passengers can walk off the ship via the gangway instead of having to take a tender boat. This makes it quicker and easier to go back and forth from the ship to the island.

Pathways take you from the pier, through the Ocean Cay Village (with its shops and bars), to the various beaches. From the pier to the farthest spot on the island is a 20-minute walk. An electric tram service also picks up passengers at designated stops (most with shaded seating areas) and takes them to the various beaches around the island, so you’re not forced to walk if you can’t or don’t want to.

What are the MSC Ocean Cay beaches?

The main thing to do on Ocean Cay is to enjoy a relaxing day at the beach. Visitors can choose to spend time in the protected waters of the lagoon or on a beach that fronts the ocean. In one area, the lagoon’s floor is covered in plant life, so you might not want to wade but rather swim over.

Sunset, Bimini and Paradise Sands beaches do not have lifeguards stationed along the beach like the other beaches do, and are marked as such; however, lifeguards on jet skis do patrol the waters near these swimming areas.

Some beaches are more chill, while others have entertainment or water sports. All are close to food trucks offering complimentary burgers, hot dogs and fries, as well as bars. But if you want convenient access to the full lunch buffet, you’ll want to hang out on South Beach near Seakers Food Court.

Floating beach mats and shade umbrellas are available for rent. It’s cheaper to rent them in advance versus on the island. The onboard price on my sailing was $12.99 per umbrella rental and $15.99 for a floating beach mat.

Pick them up at designated rental stations on the island (including the umbrellas, which you’ll have to carry to the beach and set up yourself). Note that only South and North Beach have preset umbrella stands for placing your rental umbrella, and that free umbrellas are already set up at Lighthouse Bay.

South Beach, Ocean Cay. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY

Ocean Cay’s eight beaches include:

South Beach

The closer, longer lagoon-facing beach, with easy access to bars, food trucks and the main Seakers Food Court. If you’ve signed up for water sports, you’ll find equipment such as standup paddleboards and kayaks at one end of South Beach.

North Beach

Located across the lagoon from South Beach (and a farther walk/tram ride), this beach is a good bet for fewer crowds than South Beach or travel parties who want to easily switch from lagoon to ocean swimming.

Bimini Beach

Bimini Beach is on the ocean side of Ocean Cay’s smaller island, and one of the farthest spots from the ship.

Sunset Beach

Ocean Cay’s longest beach (it runs more than half a mile) faces the ocean. The farthest end of the beach is definitely a trek from the ship.

Paradise Sands

This tiny beach is located between the Spa at Ocean Cay and the wedding pavilion.

Lighthouse Bay

Lighthouse Bay, with its colorful (and complimentary) beach umbrellas, sits between the ship and the island’s iconic lighthouse. It’s a happening spot with entertainment and activities throughout the day.

Ocean House Beach

This beach is exclusive to guests staying in the Yacht Club. It has its own restaurant and bar, as well as butler service and cabanas to rent for an additional fee.

Seakers Family Cove Beach

This small beach is still in the design process and has not yet opened. It’s meant to be a shallow beach for families with young kids and is located close to food, bathrooms and the ship.

What are the best Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve things to do?

If you want more to do than swim, float or relax in a lounge chair, you have a few options on Ocean Cay, but not as many as a tricked-out theme-park-like private island like Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay.

Water sports rentals on Ocean Cay. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY

For a little exercise, the following rentals are available:

  • Snorkel equipment (all-day rental, $34.99).
  • Standup paddleboard (1 hour, $29.99).
  • Kayak (1 hour, $29.99).

On my summer sailing, the snorkel equipment was already sold out when I went to reserve a set the day before we docked at Ocean Cay. If you plan on renting equipment rather than bringing your own, put a hold on a set as early as possible.

You can book massages at the on-island Spa at Ocean Cay, located on Paradise Sands Beach, past the far end of South Beach, where you can enjoy the sea breezes in a private treatment cabana. The wedding pavilion is also located on this beach should you wish to tie the knot during your cruise.

The ship’s entertainment staff organizes a few activities, including volleyball, bocce and kite competitions (marked as 18+). The youth staff organizes kid and teen activities, too, including treasure hunts and active games.

You can take a walk around the island, but you can’t climb the lighthouse unless you book an official tour.

If you like to shop, Ocean Cay Village by the pier features several storefronts selling Bahamian and MSC/Ocean Cay-themed souvenirs and beach necessities.

A Discover SCUBA Diving Center has been built but won’t open until the cruise line has finished developing its diving program and tours.

You can also book a handful of excursions through the cruise ship (see below).

Ocean Cay is unusual in that it offers evening events, as the ship can stay late in port given its proximity to the Florida cruise ports. A Junkanoo parade puts everyone in a party spirit and culminates in a laser light show on and around the lighthouse. On sailings that stay extra late, guests can live it up at the Luna Libre party on Lighthouse Beach, complete with DJ, bonfire, dancing and limbo contests. Bars on this part of the island stay open late, as well.

What are the MSC Ocean Cay excursions?

Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve. AP IMAGES/MSC CRUISES

Want to engage in more organized fun? You can book a handful of tours for your day on Ocean Cay.

Tours include:

  • WaveRunner jet ski tour ($109.99 per jet ski — up to two guests).
  • Guided standup paddleboard tour ($39.99).
  • Guided kayak tour ($39.99).
  • Ocean Cay Lighthouse climb ($12.99).
  • Ocean Cay “Breeze Escape” 2-hour catamaran tour ($82.99).
  • Shipwreck snorkeling tour ($65.99).

All of the tours are 1.5 to 2 hours in length, except the lighthouse climb, which is only 30 minutes. Depending on the MSC fare class you purchase, you may be eligible for discounts on tours if purchased online before your sailing. Prices for children are cheaper, except for the paddleboard tour (minimum age 14) and the jet ski tour (minimum age 10, but minimum age to drive is 18).

If your cruise ship stays late or overnight at Ocean Cay, you can book additional evening excursions. These include:

  • Glow nighttime stand-up paddleboard tour
  • Sunset Champagne cruise
  • Beachside stargazing
  • Twilight scenic island cruise and light show

These activities were not available on my summer cruise due to a combination of a later sunset and an earlier evening departure.

Related: Shore excursions: What you need to know

Does MSC Ocean Cay offer cabanas to rent?

Cabanas offer a shady hangout with a few extra perks. They’re available on all beaches, except Sunset Beach, Lighthouse Bay and Paradise Sands. Pricing and inclusions vary by cabana type.

Ocean Cay cabana. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY

Ocean Cay Beach Cabana

Anyone can rent a cabana on North, South and Bimini Beach. The thatch-roofed huts are partially walled with a cushioned couch and wooden table inside and lounge chairs outside, and come with extra towels, cold water and two floating mats ($32 value). Up to six people can occupy one cabana. On my cruise, these cost $250 per cabana to rent on board, but pricing may be different if you book in advance of your cruise or on the island.

Ocean View Yacht Club Cabana

Yacht Club guests can access cabanas on their exclusive beach, Ocean House Beach. An Ocean View Cabana also can accommodate up to six people. But in addition to fresh water and towels, the rental price includes complimentary lunch and drinks, afternoon fruit skewers, four sets of snorkel equipment and four floating mats. These cabanas are located on an elevated section of the beach, offering great views of the beach and waves. On my cruise, these cost $400 per cabana to rent on board; the mats and snorkel gear are valued at $204.

Beachfront Yacht Club Cabana

For an extra $50, you can get a cabana on Ocean House Beach that’s closer to the water than, but offers all the same amenities as, the Ocean View version. On my cruise, these cost $450 per cabana to rent on board.

Is food included on Ocean Cay?

Lunch is included on Ocean Cay, though certain venues charge extra for special meals. The island’s eateries include:

Seakers Food Court

Seakers Food Court is the main complimentary barbecue lunch buffet spot on Ocean Cay. It serves up a variety of premade salads, barbecue fare (burgers and veggie burgers, hot dogs, chicken, fish and more), plus simple desserts like cookies. Water and iced tea are complimentary. Picnic tables are set in the sand around the buffet, so you don’t need to carry your meal back to your beach chair.

I was impressed with the variety of options, and everything was tasty. I had to ask for a veggie burger (they’re not set out on the buffet), but it came out in minutes (versus on other lines’ private islands where I’ve had to wait 10 minutes or more for my food).

Food trucks

If you don’t want to trek far from the beach for your lunch, food trucks are set up around the island, serving complimentary burgers, hot dogs, pasta salad and French fries. It’s a much more limited menu than the main food court but sometimes convenience is key.

Seafood shack on Ocean Cay. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY

Seafood Shack

The Great Star food truck, located near South Beach, offers seafood specials for an additional charge. Choose from lobster grilled cheese, fried calamari, lobster bacon roll, grilled octopus salad, seafood ceviche and seafood watermelon salad for prices ranging from $7.95 to $12.95.

Ocean House Restaurant

Ocean House Restaurant is an indoor/outdoor dining venue and bar exclusive to Yacht Club guests; it’s located on their exclusive beach. The menu is fancier than the fare you’ll find at Seakers Food Court, with starters such as crab ceviche and charred octopus; mains such as a lobster roll, pineapple club mahi mahi and a burger blending fresh angus chunk, short ribs and brisket; and desserts such as creme caramel and mango cheesecake.

The Smiling Fish Ice Cream Parlor

If you want a cool treat after a hot beach day, The Smiling Fish Ice Cream Parlor serves up cups, cone and its signature ice cream dish – ice cream in a cone shaped like a fish. Flavors include vanilla, chocolate, coconut and key lime and you can order toppings like M&Ms, fresh mango and Nutella sauce. Be prepared for sticker shock: A cup costs $4-$6, a waffle cone $7 and a smiling fish cone $9.

Does my MSC drink package work on Ocean Cay?

Springer's Bar on Ocean Cay. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY

Ocean Cay has 10 bars (plus the Smiling Fish coffee bar) spread across the island, and whatever drink or all-inclusive package you have on board will apply to the island. Otherwise, you will need to swipe your cruise card to pay for drinks.

Most of the bars are thatched-roof, open-air huts with bar seating, as well as conversation nooks in the sand with four chairs around a small table and even some bean bags for reclining with your beverage.

Is there shopping on Ocean Cay?

Ocean Cay Village has several shops selling souvenirs and beach necessities. Even better, they are blissfully air-conditioned, should you need a respite on your walk from the sand to the ship.

The Ocean Cay Trading Post sells Ocean Cay branded souvenirs and gifts inspired by nature. The MSC Shop and Ocean Cay Visitor Center are the spots to pick up essentials like sunscreen and beach toys; the MSC Shop also sells items from the MSC Foundation, highlighting sustainability and marine themes. The Bahamas Shop sells locally made Bahamian products.

An artisan market was closed during my visit; when it is open, it only accepts U.S. dollars for payment.

What additional Ocean Cay amenities will I find?

The rental stations doling out umbrellas and floating mats are the same buildings where you can find restrooms, changing rooms and showers. Beach wheelchairs are available for passengers with mobility issues; these can also be found by the bathrooms.

Ocean Cay is wired for Wi-Fi, so your onboard internet package will work on the island. Just connect your phone or device to Ocean Cay Wi-Fi and sign in as you would on board.

Can you stay overnight on Ocean Cay?

Ocean Cay light show. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY

You can't stay overnight on Ocean Cay — but your ship might. Though MSC cruise ships stay at Ocean Cay into the evening, and sometimes remain docked overnight for a two-day visit, there are no accommodations for guests on the island.

If you want the late-night experience, look for sailings that either arrive in the afternoon and depart the evening of the following day or arrive in the morning and stay for two full days. Don't think you can camp out on the sand. For these overnight stays, passengers still need to be back on board around midnight or 1 a.m.

What’s the typical weather like on Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve?

Like the rest of the Bahamas, Ocean Cay has warm weather year-round. Summer highs are in the 80s and winter lows are around 70 degrees. May and June are the rainiest months, with hurricane season running from June through November. Should a storm threaten Ocean Cay, your cruise ship will reroute and skip a visit to the island until weather conditions improve.

I’ve found the sun to be very intense in the Bahamas, and there’s not a ton of natural shade on Ocean Cay. Be sure to apply and reapply sunscreen liberally if you plan to spend all day at the beach to avoid sunburns.

Related: Best time to cruise to Bahamas

Can I see an MSC Ocean Cay map?

Sure! Here is a map of Ocean Cay to help you plan your day on the island.

Ocean Cay map. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image by MSC Seashore at Ocean Cay. (Photo by Erica Silverstein/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases