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What makes for a perfect day in the Bahamas? Royal Caribbean is betting millions that the answer for many vacationers is more than just a pretty beach.
The line’s just-completed, $250 million overhaul of its private island in the Bahamas, now called Perfect Day at CocoCay, has transformed the once-sleepy beach getaway into a something-for-everyone playground with a pool that can hold up to 1,750 people (at 33,175 square feet, it’s the largest pool in all of the Bahamas and Caribbean) and a 1,600-foot-long zip line course. There’s also a tethered helium balloon ride that will take you 450 feet into the air.
But the highlight of the makeover, no doubt, is the full-blown waterpark that has risen on once-vacant land. Called Thrill Waterpark, it’s home, notably, to the largest water slide in North America plus a bunch of other water slides; the largest wave pool in the Bahamas or Caribbean; and a fun-focused “adventure pool” for kids with built-in obstacles.
Arriving Saturday on the very first ship to visit Perfect Day, Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas, I was one of the first people through the gate to give it a try.
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a big water slide person. The idea of hurling myself down a watery tube that drops even a few stories — let alone 14 — just seems, well, not in my best interests. That said, even I had a blast.
There are 13 of them in all (more than any other waterpark in the Bahamas or the Caribbean), and one of the things I liked most was that they offered a wide range of thrills. Whatever your comfort level on the adrenaline meter, you’ll find something to like.
For me, that meant the relatively tame Twister: an inner tube-style water slide for one or two that drops about 60 feet over a twirling run of 575 feet. But that’s not where I started. Egged on by my editors at The Points Guy, I started with the granddaddy of them all, Daredevil’s Peak. At 135 feet tall, it’s the tallest water slide in all of North America (even towering over Ko-okiri Body Plunge at Universal Orlando Resort’s Volcano Bay waterpark).
As I explained in my initial review of Perfect Day, I knew within seconds of entering its swirling wateriness, I had made a terrible mistake. As my speed accelerated, I searched desperately for a brake that didn’t exist.
Which is to say that, if you’re a big-slide-loving adrenaline junkie, you’re going to be absolutely dazzled by Daredevil’s Peak. You’re also going to love Dueling Demons: two drop slides that release you through a trap door down a nearly vertical tube and a couple spins toward a big splash finish. They’re nearly eight stories high, and I was told by the braver people around me, that they’re even more intense than Daredevil’s Peak. (After one look at them, I took a hard pass).
The rest of the lot includes the respectfully intense, 50-foot-tall Green Mamba, which has a bunch of twist and turns; and the equally rush-inducing, 50-foot-tall Screeching Serpent, a plunge-you-straight vertical speed slide. There also are four side-by-side, 40-foot-high mat racer slides collectively called the Splash Speedway, as well as twin open flume slides called Manta Raycers. Just 25 feet high, those last two are definitely more my style.
Finally, there’s the slide that’s the most fun to watch, called Sling Shot. A raft ride for four, it ends with a drop down one hill and a ride up another that creates a brief moment of scream-inducing zero gravity.
All of the slides are built off two big towers that are focal points of the waterpark. The bigger of the two, Daredevil’s Tower (home to Daredevil’s Peak), can be seen from around the island.
While the water slides are the heart of Thrill Waterpark, it’s also home to two pool attractions. The bigger of the two is Wave Pool, which is exactly what its name implies. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not just any wave pool, but the largest wave pool in all of the Bahamas or the Caribbean (for those keeping score, it measures in at 14,746 square feet and makes waves over 4 feet high). I loved bobbing around in the deep end, with its washing machine-like churn, watching other Perfect Day visitors fly overhead on the island’s zip line course.
There’s also the Adventure Pool, which is geared to a younger crowd with modest but fun obstacles such as floating lily pads you try to walk across without slipping into the water and two small swing ropes. There’s also an in-water rock climbing wall at one end.
Thrill Waterpark also offers hundreds of chaise lounge chairs, many shaded with umbrellas, at no extra charge. But for those who want to splurge for a poolside upgrade, Royal Caribbean has 22 cabanas framing the Wave Pool and water slides. Designed for groups of up to six people, they’re available at a cost of $499 to $869 per day, depending on the season. That’s a steep price, sure, but it does include admission to the waterpark for your entire group. Speaking of which …
While access to much of Perfect Day, including its giant Oasis Lagoon pool and beach areas, is included in the fare for the cruise that gets you there, getting into Thrill Waterpark requires paying an extra charge. Admission for a full day ranges from $44 to $99, depending on the season (it was $44 when we visited on Saturday). There’s also a slightly less pricey half-day option that ranges from $39 to $74. Given the modest price differential, I’d recommend the full-day option. It’ll give you the flexibility of ducking in and out of the waterpark in between other activities on Perfect Day. These prices are the same for both adults and children as young as four years old.
For now, Royal Caribbean is limiting daily attendance to the waterpark to 2,000 people to ensure an uncrowded experience. If you want to be super confident you’ll get access, book your tickets in advance (you can book online as a shore excursion after you make your cruise booking). That said, on the day I visited on a ship carrying nearly 4,000 people, the park didn’t feel even close to maximum capacity.
One final thing to note is that all the water slides in the park have a minimum height restriction of 48 inches (usually, that accommodates the average 7 and 8-year-olds). For some of the less-intense slides, the limit drops to 40 inches (think: the average 4-year-old) for those wearing life vests, which are available for free. So if you have children under four in tow, or your children are on the shorter side for their age, they may not be able to take advantage of any waterslides. There are also maximum weight limits ranging from 200 to 300 pounds for some slides.
(Editor’s Note: TPG always tries to pay full price for any travel its staff takes and usually doesn’t inform companies in advance of our plans to review. However, there are times where — especially with cruise lines — we need to work with travel providers to gain early access and they won’t accept rates higher than their special prices for travel agents and media. At the time of publication, TPG was still negotiating to pay a fair market rate with the cruise line for our first look at Perfect Day at CocoCay. If that fails, TPG will pay a minimum of $100 per night, for three nights, to offset the cost of food, fuel and services. TPG will also pay all additional fees for access to attractions. We will update this post with the final cost paid to Royal Caribbean.)
Gene Sloan has written about cruising for more than 25 years and for many years oversaw USA TODAY’s award-winning cruise site, USA TODAY Cruises. He’s sailed on nearly 150 ships.
Feature photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean International.
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