In 2019, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve joined the lineup of cruise line private islands in The Bahamas. Ocean Cay was a work in progress for several years because the island was previously an industrial dumping ground.
After numerous construction delays and a few stumbling blocks, the island — which gained a lot of buzz from the start because it took a different approach than other such projects — opened in late 2019.
And, of course, the lineup is, like the island itself, constantly evolving depending on which ships are deployed where.
From Dumping Ground to Tropical Paradise
Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve has an origin story that’s as unique as any you’re likely to hear. For decades, the area had been used as an industrial dumping ground.
Where others no doubt saw an environmental wasteland to be written off, the forward-thinking executives at MSC saw a challenge that they promptly accepted.
The process of reclaiming the island would not be an easy one. For each piece of discarded equipment or waste extracted from the ground, excavators would find tons of scrap metal needing removal.
Ultimately, delays would see the island’s opening moved from 2017 to late 2019. With the debris removed, the island is again thriving with marine life and coral.
But by late 2021, the island had not only been welcoming guests. It hosted the christening ceremony for MSC’s newest ship, Seashore, overseen by no less a luminary than actress Sophia Loren.
Where is Ocean Cay Located?
One thing that has made many private islands owned by cruise lines so popular is their proximity to Florida, especially given how many ships leave from the Sunshine State.
That’s the case here, with Ocean Cay being approximately 50 miles off Florida’s coast. This means that MSC’s ships can allow passengers to hang out on the island long after dark and still be back at PortMiami for debarkation the following day.
For context, Ocean Cay is located just south of North Cat Cay, 22 miles south of the Bimini Island cruise port, where Virgin Voyages developed a beach club for its guests.
Arrival at the Pier
One appealing aspect of Ocean Cay is that arriving ships pull up to a pier. In other words, there’s no need to take a tender boat back and forth to the island.
Because the cruise line owns the island and developed it from scratch, they could control every aspect of the environment.
While a couple of private destinations in the Caribbean have typically required passengers to rely on tender boats (like Half Moon Cay, Great Stirrup Cay, and Princess Cays), Ocean Cay visitors can disembark the ship directly onto a pier the same way they would in ports such as Nassau.
When ships arrive at Ocean Cay, they typically back into the slip with the starboard side bordering the dock. Since the island is owned and operated by MSC Cruises, everything is managed by the cruise line.
This means that when you step off the ship, you won’t be barraged by taxi drivers and souvenir hawkers.
Because Ocean Cay is, unlike some destinations, truly a stand-alone island, you are not required to bring a driver’s license or passport with you upon disembarkation — only your keycard to sign off and on the ship.
Weather at Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve
Being right off the coast of South Florida, you can expect the same type of weather that you would experience in Miami.
The temperatures can get as cool as 60 degrees in the winter and above 90 in the summer. The sea breeze helps kick down some of the humidity.
The water temperatures average between 77 degrees in the winter and 87 degrees in the summer.
If you think the weather is too hot during your visit, consider renting one of the many cabanas strung throughout the island. The island is large enough for everyone to have their little slice of paradise for the day.
Currency on the island
There is no need to take any currency ashore unless you want to extend a gratuity to workers on the island or a crew member working at one of the bars. Being owned and operated by MSC means that the cruise card is accepted everywhere on the island and for everything from drinks to shopping.
But if you’re curious about the currency used on the surrounding islands, the Bahamian Dollar ($BSD) or U.S. Dollar ($USD) are each widely accepted.
While the island is very walkable, making the rounds could take a while. But whether you’re looking to avoid doing too much strolling around in the heat, have mobility issues, or simply don’t feel like exerting too much energy, MSC has a tram system set up to make stops at various points of interest.
Private golf carts will meet those staying in the Yacht Club — aka MSC’s ship-within-a-ship area with dozens of amenities — upon disembarkation and ferry them directly to the private section of the beach set aside for Yacht Club guests.
Shopping on Ocean Cay
Plenty of shopping is on the island, and you don’t have to walk far to enjoy it. Within Ocean Cay Village, several stores sell everything from tee shirts to shot glasses — even plush animals.
They accept your cruise card here, so you don’t have to worry about having cash or a credit card with you.
What to Do at Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve
During the Day
With over two miles of sandy white beaches, the obvious way to spend the day here is soaking up the sun and taking the occasional refreshing dip in the crystal blue waters.
And while Ocean Cay does not feature the ziplining or waterslides found at the private destinations run by some other cruise lines, there is still plenty to do here, with a real emphasis on the natural surroundings.
You’ll come to the Tours and Activities Pavilion when you walk off the ship. This is the perfect place to stop if you want to book a last-minute activity.
Some excursions do sell out quickly, while others will have plenty of availability. It’s always a good idea to keep checking your MSC app or the shore excursions desk during your voyage if there’s an excursion you’re interested in.
Our advice: Book it rather than risk discovering it’s unavailable once you arrive.
Among the activities offered on the island are kayaking adventures, snorkeling, scuba diving, paddle boarding, jet ski rentals, spa treatments, climbing the lighthouse, playing games in the sports area, or just relaxing on the shores of one of the many beaches.
There is even a wedding pavilion on the island, should you wish to make arrangements to tie the knot or renew your vows while on vacation.
There are numerous beaches and lagoons around the island, so it’s worth doing some research before you arrive to figure out which one suits your needs.
The eight beaches include Bimini Beach, North Beach, South Beach, Seaker’s Family Beach, Lighthouse Bay, Sunset Beach, Aurea Paradise Sands, and the Ocean Cay Lagoon.
Family Area at Ocean Cay
Seakers Family Cove is the place to head if you’ve got young ones in your travel party. The area offers various family-friendly activities, including sand castle-building contests, treasure hunts, and challenges to get the entire family involved.
This is also where you’ll find both the Family Lagoon and, conveniently enough, Seakers Food Court, which features both American and Bahamian favorites and is entirely complimentary.
Ocean Cay After Dark
Although becoming more common, Ocean Cay was the first private destination to feature after-dark activities. Many sailings feature visits that last until 1 a.m. or even spend the night.
(It’s worth noting that even if the vessel does stay all night, guests are required to spend the night onboard the ship — they are not allowed to roam the island overnight.)
As peaceful as it is during the day, Ocean Cay comes to life at night with the Bahamian Junkanoo Parade, live music, and light show.
The lighthouse anchors the island and is covered with millions of LED lights. It’s non-descript during the day but comes to life with a D.J. and beach party when the sun sets.
Food and Drinks
Aside from the previously-mentioned Seakers (essentially Ocean Cay’s version of an island buffet), you’ll also find several food trucks offering various options.
Meanwhile, the attention-grabbing lighthouse has, at its base, a bar with cozy seating (both in the sun and shade), while the marina is home to the authentic Bahamian hot spot Springer’s Bar.
Looking for some soft-serve ice cream or maybe some coffee? Head over to the brightly-colored Smiling Fish. And thanks to several beach bars, you’re never too far from the kind of treat that’ll help you cool down on a hot day.
Final Thoughts of Ocean Cay
With Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, MSC Cruises not only earned a seat at the “private destination” table, but also established its island as genuinely unique.
An added nod is that the cruise line has teamed up with universities and scientists to help reclaim the coral and marine life around the island. In late 2021, sea turtles came ashore to nest and lay eggs.
Although slightly more low-key than places like Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay, Ocean Cay offers everything necessary for the perfect beach day.
The spot also earns big kudos for its after-dark entertainment, not to mention the pier, which makes hopping back and forth between your ship and the island as easy as walking down a gangplank. MSC Cruises’ new private island is a massive win for its guests.
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