Ocean Cay is MSC Cruises’ private island in the Bahamas that’s exclusive to guests of the cruise line.
In other words, if you’ve ever wanted to spend a day on your own island, surrounded by the bluest water on the planet, this is your chance. It’s large, with seemingly miles of beaches and enough space to where you can get away from it all.
But if you thought that MSC simply bought an island and opened it up to passengers, that’s not the case at all. In total the company is spending a reported $300 million into renovating Ocean Cay. What began three years ago as a former industrial sand excavation site is now a completely new and revitalized island.
Those lucky enough to visit Ocean Cay are in for a special day, even though the island is still a work in progress. If you are about to take a trip there, we’ve covered the spot from start to finish below, with everything you need to know.
- Official Name: Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve
- Pronunciation: Ocean “Key”
- Distance from Miami: 65 miles
- Size: 150-200 acres (approximate)
- Opened: December 2019
Ocean Cay Location
One of the defining features of Ocean Cay is its close location to Miami. As just 65 miles southeast from the Port of Miami, it has the advantage of being reached in just a few hours. In fact, the island is so close that ships will dock until midnight — giving passengers all day at the island — and still be able to reach Miami the next morning.
Other major cruise ports (relatively) near Ocean Cay include Nassau, Key West, and Freeport. Don’t be surprised if one or more of these stops are also included on your cruise.
Ocean Cay Overview
As we’ve mentioned, the island is a private paradise for MSC passengers. But to simply call it that wouldn’t do the work that MSC has done justice.
Until a few years ago Ocean Cay was an industrial spot where sand was excavated for use in other places. The cruise line has since transformed it into what it is today, as well as an eco-friendly marine reserve.
During the three years it took to renovate the island, MSC removed a total of 7,500 tons of scrap metal. They also relocated coral colonies, cleaned debris from the ocean bed, and plan to plant a total of 75,000 native plants around the island. They also plan a coral nursery on the island.
Of course, guests will be most interested in the beaches and water. Ocean Cay today has enormous stretches of white-sand beaches that wrap around the island. As part of the building process, MSC put in a protective island and reshaped the land to also create a calm lagoon so that swimming and watersports are possible no matter how rough the surrounding sea may be.
Perhaps the biggest draw to the island is the surrounding water. A rare color of electric blue, the waters of Ocean Cay are some of the most striking we’ve ever seen. One thing to note is that the winter months can see cooler water temps. So just because the weather is warm year-round doesn’t always mean the water will be as well.
The first thing you will notice on the island is the large lighthouse that’s the anchor of Lighthouse Bay, right near where the cruise ship docks. The lighthouse features a viewing platform, as well as a bar at its base. At night it transforms into a colorful video screen, accompanied by music and a lightshow.
Around the entire island are a number of other things to do, see, and visit. This includes eight different beaches, shops, a spa, food trucks, a buffet, bars, cabanas, and even a wedding chapel.
One thing that you’ll definitely notice is the size of Ocean Cay. If you’ve been on other private cruise line islands like CocoCay or Great Stirrup Cay, you know they are sizable, but the area reserved for guests is smaller.
Ocean Cay has much more area for their guests. We would estimate that to walk an entire loop around the island, it would take you about 30 minutes at a brisk pace. Have trouble walking? There are beaches right near the cruise ship so you don’t have to venture far. There is also a free tram that drives guests all around the island.
However, one positive about having a larger island is that there is plenty of space for everyone. While some of the most popular beaches can get crowded at peak times, you can simply walk a few hundred feet and have a spot all to yourself.
Things to Do On the Island
As you would expect, most of the time you’ll spend on Ocean Cay revolves around the beach and the ocean. Blessed with both gorgeous sand and stunning clear water, you’ll want to get your fill of both.
Beaches & Swimming
If you come to Ocean Cay and don’t spend any time on the beach, then you may as well stay on the ship. Beaches are all around the island, including Lighthouse Bay that is right near the cruise ship.
The most popular area for swimming and lounging is South Beach. This beach wraps around and another small island (North Beach) creates a large lagoon. In between these two spots the water is always calm as it’s protected from the open ocean. That makes it ideal for swimming. South Beach is roughly a 10-minute walk from the ship.
Other beaches include Bimini Beach, Ocean House Beach, Sunset Beach, and more.
Want to hang out on the beach in style? Rent a cabana. These cabanas are dotted all around the island. They are open-air, but provide much needed shade during the day. There’s also a couch, chairs, and a fan. Prices start at $250 for up to six people.
During the day the lighthouse on the island is the biggest landmark you’ll see. It can be seen from everywhere and you can even pay to climb to the top. But if you think it’s prominent during the day, wait until night.
At night there are lighthouse shows. The entire building is covered in light panels and circled at top and bottom with bright spotlights. Set to music, the show features colorful graphics around the lighthouse, along with an amazing lightshow. It’s a can’t miss.
Of course with so much gorgeous water surrounding the island, it’s a great place to snorkel. Equipment is available for rent on the island, and you can either explore on your own or book and excursion that will take you to some of the best spots.
Are you a diver? If you have your certification then you can book a one or two-tank dive from the island.
Right as you walk ashore you will enter Ocean Cay Village. Here you’ll find an information booth, excursion desk, Springer’s bar, and also shops. Whether you want to pick up some sunscreen that you forgot or want to buy some souvenirs, the shops here have you covered.
If you want to get on the water, there’s no better way than renting a kayak or a paddleboard. Both are available for about $30. You’ll have the ability to go explore the waters around the island, including a chance to see wildlife in the area, including sea turtles if you’re lucky.
Jet Ski Tours
Adrenaline junkies will love that you can book a jet ski tour to explore the island and the surrounding area. There’s space for one driver and one passenger, and you’ll be in charge of driving. Never ridden a jet ski before? Don’t worry, they will cover everything you need to know to get started before the tour.
One of the unique things about Ocean Cay is that MSC features extended days at the island, with the ship often departing at midnight. That means you can spend some time ashore during the evening and night.
And given the remoteness of the island, it’s a pretty good spot for stargazing. MSC offers a stargazing excursion, but you can also wander out to the darker spots and see constellations that you won’t notice in the city.
What to Eat/Drink on Ocean Cay
Hungry? A day in the sun and the water can build up an appetite. Luckily, there’s plenty to eat on the island, and it’s included in your cruise fare.
The biggest spot to eat is Seakers Food Court. This is a buffet that features favorites like burger and dogs. It’s just about in the center of the island, and right near South Beach. There is also bar service at the buffet if you are feeling thirsty. MSC does have plans to build a second buffet area, which should help cut down on the lunchtime crowds.
Apart from Seakers, there are multiple food trucks around the island. These spots (called Beach Shacks) are also free. With so many of them, you never have to walk far to get a bite to eat. They have a menu of hamburgers, dogs, and even veggie burgers for those who don’t eat meat.
As well, if you simply want to go back to the ship, the buffet onboard will also be serving food.
Thirsty? Like the food trucks, there are multiple bars around Ocean Cay where you can get anything your heart desires. Especially popular are the beach drinks served in a souvenir pineapple cup. One good thing is that your drink package from the ship also works on Ocean Cay, so you can get drinks here just like on the ship.
Also, if you just want some water, each bar has a water filling station at the back of it where you can fill up as you explore the island.
Facilities on Ocean Cay
For your comfort, there are a number of facilities on the island for your use.
Several different restroom stations are dotted along the island, and feature handicapped accessible stalls. Each restroom also has water fountains for you to grab a drink (disposable plastic bottles are discouraged on the island).
Each restroom station also has showers alongside the outside wall where you can rinse off the salt and sand from your day at the beach.
Lockers are available for rent as well. There are large white locker stations dotted around the island, including the tram stops and several (but not all) restroom stations. One thing to know is that during our visit the lockers weren’t working, but should be available in the future.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does wi-fi work on Ocean Cay?
Have an Internet package on the ship? The good news is that this service extends to Ocean Cay. So whether you want to check email, or post that selfie of you on the island to your Instagram, you can do it from the shore.
Do drink packages extend to Ocean Cay?
Yes. One of the best perks about booking a drink package is that unlike most ports of call, you can use your package on the island just like you would on the ship. Since Ocean Cay is the cruise line’s private island, you can get your money’s worth from the package even while on land.
Are there towels available on the island?
You will need to bring the beach towel supplied to you in your cabin (the large orange towels). Then you will need to bring this back with you when you go back the ship. There is a charge for any missing towels not turned in at the end of the cruise.
Do I need cash on the island?
Mostly no. There are some local’s artisan shops that take U.S. dollars. Everything else, including bars and rental stations, you will use your room keycard just like you do on the ship.
Is there transportation around Ocean Cay?
Yes. The island is large and walking all day around it is enough to wear anyone out. MSC offers a free tram (a tractor that pulls a cart) that goes to several spots around the island. The stops are large pavilions that offer some shade while you wait for your ride. Just hop on and hop off where you want.
Other Things to Know About Ocean Cay
Shade is at a premium
While Ocean Cay is being turned into an island paradise, it is still a work in progress. The cruise line planted thousands of trees, but there is still more to do. As a result, many spots around the island are barren or only have some vegetation. That means natural shade is rare.
As for the beach, the thousands of loungers are free to use, but if you want an umbrella for shade, you’ll need to rent one for the day.
Traffic can be bad on the island
We’re only slightly joking when we say that traffic is bad. There are concrete walkways that weave around the island, but they are also used for the tram and for golf carts used by the staff.
The result is that pedestrians get pushed to the side or off the path to let these vehicles past. So when walking, watch your step and be mindful of these carts driving around.
Ocean Cay strives to be eco-friendly
MSC is making a big push to have Ocean Cay do right by the environment. That means some huge moves like cleaning up the former industrial site the island is built on, but also smaller things. For instance, plastic bottles aren’t on the island so you’ll need to bring a reusable bottle or get a glass for water at the bar.
As well, sunscreens should be safe for coral reefs (it’s sold on the island if you need some). There are also no paper maps of the island to cut down on the waste.
Have more questions about visiting the Ocean Cay Marine Reserve? Let us know in the comments below.