Royal Caribbean’s Over-the-Top Private Island Opens Today
The “perfect” day that Royal Caribbean fans have been waiting for since early last year is finally here.
The cruise giant’s private island in the Bahamas, CocoCay, officially reopens today with a new name — Perfect Day at CocoCay — and an array of new attractions that have turned it into an elaborate watery fun zone.
More than 3,000 cruisers arriving today from Miami on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas (including yours truly, on behalf of The Points Guy) will be the first to try out many of the biggest additions to the 125-acre beach escape.
Costing $250 million, the new features include a waterpark with 13 slides, the most of any waterpark in the Bahamas or Caribbean; the region’s biggest wave pool; the region’s largest freshwater pool; and an unusual family pool with a built-in obstacle course.
As with so many things Royal Caribbean does, they certainly tried to supersize everything.
Built around two waterslide towers, the waterpark, called Thrill Waterpark, includes the tallest slide in North America. Dubbed Daredevil's Peak, it's 135 feet high — so high that, honestly, I’m a bit terrified to give it a try.
Other attractions added during the overhaul include a 1,600-foot-long zip line and Up, Up and Away, a helium balloon ride that takes cruisers 450 feet into the air (this I’m definitely eager to do). Royal Caribbean claims cruisers who ride this attraction will experience the highest vantage point in the Caribbean.
Still, it’s not just thrills that Royal Caribbean has added to the island, which it has operated as a private cruise destination since the 1980s. The makeover also brought a revamp of the island’s “chill” zones, as Royal Caribbean is describing its beach and pool areas.
So-called Chill Beach, for example, now offers beachside dining at a new (wait for it) Chill Grill as well as wave runner excursions, boat tours, snorkeling, cabanas and daybeds. Chill Beach is also home to the record-size freshwater pool, which has three distinct coves.
Another beach area called South Beach is touted as a hub for active pursuits including beach-side basketball, volleyball, soccer, paddle boarding, glass-bottom kayaking and zorbing on the water. It also offers a floating bar.
One last piece of the makeover, an exclusive private beach retreat called Coco Beach Club, won’t debut until December. When it does open, it’ll have the first over-water cabanas in the Bahamas.
A key element of the overhaul was the installation of a pier that can accommodate even the biggest of Royal Caribbean's 26 ships. Until now, vessels visiting the island had to anchor off shore and ferry passengers to land with small tender boats.
With the new pier, the island now is accessible to Royal Caribbean’s giant Oasis Class vessels, the world’s largest cruise ships. Carrying more than 6,000 passengers a piece, the four vessels in the class, which include the recently unveiled Symphony of the Seas, are nearly 30% bigger than the world's next biggest cruise ships and are limited in where they can go.
Royal Caribbean isn’t the only cruise line pouring money into private islands. Fast-growing MSC Cruises this year is developing its own over-the-top island getaway in the Bahamas, about 20 miles south of Bimini. To be called Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, it also will boast a pier capable of accommodating the world's biggest cruise ships. Another big cruise operator, Norwegian Cruise Line, is also marketing a new island experience after a major overhaul of Great Stirrup Cay, its decades-old Bahamas escape. And when Virgin Voyages sets sail in 2020, cruisers can dock in the Bahamas for an exclusive island experience at The Beach Club at Bimini. But Royal Caribbean is already doubling down, and additional Perfect Day island getaways will debut over the coming years in other regions around the world. No specific locations have been announced.
Intrigued by all the new features at Perfect Day? Before you book a cruise to get there, you should know that some of them come with a hefty extra charge. Admission to the waterpark runs from $44 to $99 per person for a full day, depending on the season (there are also less pricey half-day options). The zip line costs a mind-boggling $79 to $139 for a single ride, with the balloon ride not far behind at $39 to $99 per ride for ages 13 and up ($24 to $64 for children ages 4 to 12). A package that combines admission to the waterpark with a zip line ride costs $99 to $179.
Beverage packages passengers buy on board Royal Caribbean ships will carry over to the island, as will internet packages. But I'll be testing how well the Wi-Fi actually works upon arrival.
Part of what we’ll be weighing today as we explore the revamped island is the fun factor of various attractions versus the cost. We’ll also be sounding out Navigator of the Seas passengers on the topic.
Twelve Royal Caribbean vessels have been scheduled to stop at Perfect Day between now and the end of 2019. Symphony of the Seas will join Navigator of the Seas in sailing to the island from Miami while Harmony of the Seas and Mariner of the Seas will arrive from Port Canaveral, Florida. Also making stops at the island will be the Baltimore-based Grandeur of the Seas and Bayonne, New Jersey-based Adventure of the Seas.
Royal Caribbean is expecting more than 1 million visitors to Perfect Day between now and the end of the year. During 2020, its first full year in operation, it’s expected to draw 2 million people.
To find out if Perfect Day lives up to its superlatives, keep an eye on our social feeds and check back soon for a full review. What do you want to know about Perfect Day? Sound off in the comments below!
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.
All photos courtesy of Royal Caribbean International.