Disney’s Magical Private Caribbean Island

Image result for castaway cay

Imagine having your own private island.

Well, Disney has done just that with its enchanted Castaway Cay. This tranquil retreat is just for Disney cruisers and embodies the perfect island paradise.

I’ve often said I’d take a Disney cruise just for a stop on this magical isle. The rest of the family heartily agreed after we returned from our 3-night sail on the Disney Dream, celebrating our grandson’s birthday.

The cruise itself was one fantastic experience. Food, service, staterooms and entertainment were all top-notch Disney-esque.

Our first port of call was Nassau— a fun place we’ve visited in the past—teeming with Bahamian and British flavour, miles of spectacular beaches and stretches of vivid coral reefs perfect for snorkelling.

Excitement, however, started to build as our ship slowly approached Castaway Cay. The tropical island hideaway located just 225 nautical miles from Port Canaveral, Florida is a stop on all Disney’s Bahamian and Caribbean cruises.

There’s no shortage of things to do here. (Actually, we found it impossible to do it all in a day.)

Ships dock right on the island, allowing Disney cruisers to disembark directly onto the pier. A short 15-minute walk leads to unbelievable amenities, including our first stop: powdery white and sandy Castaway Family Beach. The beach area is quite extensive with points and coves along the shoreline.

Trams are available for those who need them (or want to get to the beach faster) and traverse all Castaway Cay amenities. Beach towels are provided by cruise line members at the pier, so no need to pack those in your suitcase or beach bag.

Beach and Water Fun

After securing our chairs and umbrellas, the kids scurried to the bay’s turquoise crystalline waters. Snorkeling is available to those wanting to explore the Caribbean’s undersea marine habitat in Snorkeling Lagoon just off Castaway Family Beach.

Two submerged submarines from Magic Kingdom’s retired 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction add an element of adventure for intrepid snorkelers.

We found it impossible to resist Pelican Plunge, the 2,400 square-foot floating platform with two bending twisting water slides dropping squealing riders directly into the lagoon. A giant “bucket dump” of water delivering hundreds of gallons brought more anticipation and laughter. Four water cannons provided sharp-shooting fun with floating nautical targets.

Game pavilions near the Family Beach offer a variety of sand and shaded games like volleyball, tetherball, foosball, ping-pong, pool, shuffleboard and basketball. And there are also places where each age group can hang out with their peers that include planned activities like Teen Hideout or Scuttle’s Cove kids club for the younger cruisers.

Inner tubes, snorkel masks and fins can be rented from Gil’s Fin and Floats or Flippers & Floats on the beach, while kayaks, paddle boats, paddle boards and Aqua Trikes can also be rented for use in this water wonderland.

Hammocks are located beachfront and very popular with visitors. And while my husband was clowning around in one with our grandson, that wily, notorious pirate Captain Jack Sparrow snuck up on them, grabbed our camera and started snapping photos.

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Disney parks slip, but remain atop global theme park attendance report

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Queues waiting to get inside the Magic Kingdom.
The 2016 TEA/AECOM Theme Index global attendance report is out, and Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom remains the world’s most popular theme park. But Disney’s theme parks mostly saw their attendance slip in 2016, as rival Universal continued to see gains at most of its parks.
 

The top 25 most-attended theme parks worldwide in 2016:

  1. Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom, 20,395,000, -0.5%
  2. Disneyland, 17,943,000, -1.8%
  3. Tokyo Disneyland, 16,540,000, -0.4%
  4. Universal Studios Japan, 14,500,000, 4.3%
  5. Tokyo DisneySea, 13,460,000, -1.0%
  6. Epcot, 11,712,000, -0.7%
  7. Disney’s Animal Kingdom, 10,844,000, -0.7%
  8. Disney’s Hollywood Studios, 10,776,000, -0.5%
  9. Universal Studios Florida, 9,998,000, 4.3%
  10. Islands of Adventure, 9,362,000, 6.5%
  11. Disney California Adventure, 9,295,000, -0.9%
  12. Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, 8,474,000, 13.2%
  13. Disneyland Paris, 8,400,000, -14.2%
  14. Lotte World, 8,150,000, 11.5%
  15. Universal Studios Hollywood, 8,086,000, 13.9%
  16. Everland, 7,200,000, -3.0%
  17. Hong Kong Disneyland, 6,100,000, -10.3%
  18. Ocean Park, 5,996,000, -18.8%
  19. Nagashima Spa Land, 5,850,000, -0.3%
  20. Europa Park, 5,600,000, 1.8%
  21. Shanghai Disneyland, New 5,600,000 (Opened in June)
  22. Walt Disney Studios Paris, 4,970,000, -1.6%
  23. Efteling, 4,764,000, 1.8%
  24. Tivoli Gardens, 4,640,000, -2.0%
  25. SeaWorld Orlando, 4,402,000, -7.9%

Also topping the four million mark worldwide were Busch Gardens Tampa (down 2.0%), Universal Studios Singapore (down 2.4%) and Knott’s Berry Farm (up 3.8%). Singapore was the only Universal theme park to see an attendance dip last year. Overall attendance globally among the top 25 theme parks was down 1.1 percent, but attendance was up 1.2 percent among the top 20 parks in the United States, according to the report.

The big winner in attendance growth last year was Universal Studios Hollywood, boosted by the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in April. Shanghai Disneyland also helped turn the year positive for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts by attracting more than five million visitors in half a year of operation. All other Disney theme parks posted attendance declines last year.

The biggest losers were Hong Kong Disneyland and neighboring Ocean Park, which likely saw a loss of visitors to the new Shanghai Disneyland park, amplified by an ongoing tourism slump in Hong Kong. Disneyland Paris continued to disappoint in 2016, too, with its attendance dropping 14 percent. It’s likely that many potential DLP guests put off their visit until this year, when the park is celebrating its 25th anniversary with the completion of many attraction renovations.

In the United States, Six Flags and Cedar Fair parks saw increases, while SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks continued their slide. Busch Gardens Williamsburg fell from the U.S top 20, replaced by Six Flags Great America, north of Chicago.

Jammed: Overcrowding at the world’s most popular tourism sites

A jam-packed scene at Versailles. Photo Credit: pryzmat/Shutterstock.com

This past Christmas, Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom temporarily reached maximum capacity and were forced to close their gates and turn away guests until the crowds thinned. And while these highly popular theme parks both routinely rank among the 20 most visited sites in the world, they are hardly the only destinations grappling with the challenge of how to balance a surging global traveling population with the finite capacity that tourist hot spots can sustain.

The 10 most visited tourist attractions in the world

10. Forbidden City, Beijing
Annual Visitors:
 15.3 M

9. Disneyland Park, Anaheim
Annual Visitors:
 16 M

8. Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Orlando
Annual Visitors:
 17.5 M

7. Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston
Annual Visitors:
 18 M

6. Grand Central Terminal, New York
Annual Visitors:
 21.6 M

5. Niagara Falls
Annual Visitors:
 22.5 M

4. Union Station, Washington
Annual Visitors:
 32.9 M

3. Central Park, New York
Annual Visitors:
 37.5 M

2. Times Square, New York
Annual Visitors:
 39.2 M

1. Las Vegas Strip
Annual Visitors:
 39.7 M

This list is an excerpt of international home exchange club Love Home Swap’s 50 Most Visited Tourist Attractions in the World. Data was gathered from multiple sources. Attractions that don’t sell tickets provided estimates. Attractions that could not distinguish between tourists and general visitors were not included.

In 2014, the number of international tourists reached 1.14 billion, 51 million more than in 2013, according to the World Tourism Organization, making it the fifth consecutive year of above-average growth in global tourism since the 2009 economic crisis. At the same time, the majority of the sites all those travelers are visiting aren’t getting any bigger.

“Overcrowding is becoming a major issue at many global touristic destinations,” said Randy Durband, president of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. “All tourism destinations need meaningful destination-management plans and management structures that ensure sustainability in a very broad sense, and that includes [addressing the issue of] overcrowding.”

Within private enterprises, such as Disney parks or museums, officials in charge of those institutions can work to implement crowd control measures however they deem fit, but when the problem spills out into public spaces, such as in the entire city of Venice or New York’s Times Square, it’s a bit less apparent whose problem crowding is.

“There’s really nobody who has any authority or jurisdiction to manage this,” Durband said.

Indeed, when the problem is not confined to a single institution, crowd management is often tackled by a patchwork of solutions and strategies.

“Who pays for it? If you’re at Disney, Disney is going to pay for it,” said Harold Goodwin, professor of Responsible Tourism Management at Leeds Metropolitan University and director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism.

However, when it comes to London, where Goodwin lives, crowding has become a burden on the city and its residents.

“There are parts of London which I would now regard, as a Londoner, as a no-go area because there are too many tourists,” he said.

Increasingly, the inevitable logjam of travelers during peak travel periods is creating myriad logistical and security problems for the companies, cities and institutions that manage these tourist draws. At best, travelers are often forced to visit places like Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and New York’s Time Square crammed among hoards of selfie stick-toting tourists, or to wait in hours-long lines to get into places like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Beijing’s Forbidden City. At worst, they can’t get in at all. The Palace of Versailles now has a “crowded days” calendar on its website asking visitors to simply stay away during those times.

“If you can, avoid the days of high attendance,” the website advises. This includes the majority of June, July and August, the high-season months for travel to Europe. But if and when institutions have to actually turn away visitors, or if visitors can’t get through the crowds to see what they came to see, that would appear to defeat the whole purpose of travel. That is, in fact, the moment at which the travel industry’s success becomes its own downfall.

“Limiting the number of visitors must be seen as a means of last resort,” Durband said. “So much can be done long before that step is even considered.”

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul consistently ranks among the most-visited sights in the world. Love Home Swap named it the 11th Most Visited Tourist Attraction in the World. Photo Credit: Michelle Baran
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul consistently ranks among the most-visited sights in the world. Love Home Swap named it the 11th Most Visited Tourist Attraction in the World. Photo Credit: Michelle Baran

He said that tourism institutions need to explore methods to disperse visitors over various times in the day, seasons of the year and areas within or near the destination, which can alleviate many of the biggest problems with overcrowding. Transportation control issues often hold the key to better regulating visitor flow, Durband said, including policies and practices related to parking, the use of shuttle buses, regulating cruise ship access and requiring visitors to use a public transit system. But anyone who has been physically squeezed while trying to visit a popular museum or a jam-packed event might consider these strategies a case of doing too little too late.

“There is no one-way solution on the crowding of tourist destinations, as the issues and the resolutions are often site specific,” the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) wrote in an email statement in response to questions about the issue of crowd control in tourism destinations.

“With more and more people traveling, it is important that travel and tourism grows sustainably,” the WTTC wrote. “Nearly 2 billion people are expected to travel internationally by 2030, with significantly more people traveling domestically. Tourism boards, governments and the private sector should work closely together in order to protect and preserve cultural heritage and traditions while accommodating this growing number of visitors at their destinations.”

Sample solutions

Companies like Disney, institutions like the Louvre or destination marketing organizations (DMOs) that promote popular cities and countries live with the crowding dilemma day in and day out, and many of them have been quietly ramping up their efforts to address the issue in recent years. They are often working behind the scenes to implement a variety of tactics to improve flow, to disperse visitation over a greater area if possible and to spread attendance more evenly over the course of the year.

According to Atout France, France’s tourism development agency, Sacre Coeur in Paris welcomes some 10.5 million visitors annually. Photo Credit: Michelle Baran
According to Atout France, France’s tourism development agency, Sacre Coeur in Paris welcomes some 10.5 million visitors annually.Photo Credit: Michelle Baran

Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, for example, has been able to accommodate a few thousand more guests per day during some peak travel periods due to its recently implemented MyMagic+ program. MagicBand radio-frequency identification bracelets enable guests to reserve time slots on attractions, vastly improving park visitation efficiency, according to Disney executives.

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts last month polled guests for their opinion on a potential three-tiered pricing strategy that theme park insiders said could be another step toward alleviating crowding. Disney asked survey participants about a system in which tickets would be sold at three pricing levels, with the highest priced tickets valid any day of the year, the middle-tier tickets valid on most days save for peak and holiday weeks, and the lowest priced tickets valid on off-peak weekdays.

“There’s the possibility that such as system could reduce overcrowding on the busiest days in the parks, as higher prices, theoretically, would reduce the demand for those days,” Robert Niles, editor of ThemeParkInsider.com, wrote on his site. “The downside is that the demand would shift to less popular days, increasing the crowd sizes on days that now enjoy lighter crowds.”

NYC & Company, the tourism marketing arm for New York City, home to several of the world’s most-visited tourist attractions, including Times Square, Central Park and Grand Central Terminal, continues to push toward its target of welcoming 67 million visitors by 2021. But it is also looking for ways to get those travelers to sprawl out across the entire city, not just congregate in tourism choke points.

“NYC & Company has a five-borough promotional strategy, and our goal is to spread visitors out across the entire city,” said Chris Heywood, the DMO’s senior vice president for global communications. “This strategy has been in place for several years. For two and a half years, we have put a stronger focus on neighborhood travel.”

The campaign, initially called Neighborhood X Neighborhood, was rebranded earlier this year as NYCGO Insider Guides. Recent neighborhood spotlights have included the Flatiron District and Coney Island, with NYC & Company providing itineraries and insider tips via documentary-style short films about these lesser-known areas of the city. Next, it plans to promote Governors Island, St. George on Staten Island and Jackson Heights in Queens.

“We also have marketing strategies in place to shift demand to slower periods like January and February,” Heywood said. “We run programs like Restaurant Week and Broadway Week during those times, for instance.”

The trend of DMOs promoting off-season travel and off-beat locales has been gaining momentum in recent years.

Robin Johnson, head of overseas operations for VisitBritain, said, “A big part of our work going forward will be to address the issue of regional dispersal. Only recently, we set a number of targets to counter London-only travel.”

Throngs of tourists crowd the entry to Buckingham Palace in London to get a glimpse of the changing of the guards ceremony. Photo Credit: Michelle Baran
Throngs of tourists crowd the entry to Buckingham Palace in London to get a glimpse of the changing of the guards ceremony. Photo Credit: Michelle Baran

In an attempt to address crowding head-on, the Louvre in Paris in the fall released details of an ambitious Pyramid Project, a $59 million initiative scheduled to be completed by 2017 that is intended to improve traffic flow, reduce noise and better accommodate the mounting number of guests who pass through the I.M. Pei-designed crystal pyramid that serves as the Louvre’s reception area.

“At the time of their inauguration in 1989, the museum’s reception areas were designed to receive 3 to 5 million visitors,” said Jean-Luc Martinez, the Louvre’s president and director. “Twenty years on, annual museum attendance has reached 9.5 million visitors.”

Martinez said that the new project would double the entry points to the pyramid, which should help alleviate the frustrations and challenges of crowding significantly. The museum is attempting to reduce noise pollution through the installation of sound-absorbing partitions and a sheltered ticket office and to offer visitors better access to information through improved signage.

An age-old problem

The crowding problem is as antiquated as some of the ancient treasures tourists are trampling all over one another to see.

The Grand Palace in the Thai capital of Bangkok is said to welcome some 8 million travelers each year. Photo Credit: Michelle Baran
The Grand Palace in the Thai capital of Bangkok is said to welcome some 8 million travelers each year. Photo Credit: Michelle Baran

Tom Jenkins, president of the European Tour Operators Association, said, “This is a very old subject. It’s been going on forever. Famously, Rome had a major problem with visitor overcrowding in [the year] 1300 when there were too many Jubilee pilgrims. People have been complaining about the crowds at European tourists sites for over 100 years.”

Jenkins predicts that the crowding issue will ultimately sort itself out.

“This is a problem of success and has a pattern of being self-regulating,” he said. “When people see it’s too crowded, they have a tendency to stay away. … It’s not news that popular places are very crowded.”

Jenkins represents a segment of the marketplace that in some ways stands to gain from the crowding. Tour operators often benefit from their ability to get groups past the lines and into popular sites after hours.

Likewise, Trafalgar President Paul Wiseman said, “We overcome the crowding with our VIP entrance program,” which gets guests past the lines and straight into popular attractions. “That part actually is a huge selling point for us on the guided side.”

Wiseman said the crowding of popular destinations during the busy summer months is also beginning to have another effect: increasing bookings in the off-peak travel season. The autumn, winter and spring programs are now upwards of 15% of Trafalgar’s business, said Wiseman, who added that the shoulder or off-peak seasons offer three essential selling points: “Beat the crowds, beat the heat, the prices are lower.”

Companies like Trafalgar are also seeing more demand for off-the-beaten-path destinations. And while that’s as much about repeat travelers searching for new experiences as it is about crowding, a byproduct of extreme crowds in popular destinations is that they can make lesser-known attractions suddenly seem more appealing to the crowd-averse traveler.

A crowd touring the grounds of Beijing’s Forbidden City. Visitors are often forced to wait in hours-long lines to gain access to the attraction, which was named the 10th Most Visited Tourist Attraction in the World by Love Home Swap, a home exchange club that offers 70,000-plus properties in 160 countries.
A crowd touring the grounds of Beijing’s Forbidden City. Visitors are often forced to wait in hours-long lines to gain access to the attraction, which was named the 10th Most Visited Tourist Attraction in the World by Love Home Swap, a home exchange club that offers 70,000-plus properties in 160 countries.

“There are lots of very cool, very appealing destinations that are being developed,” Durband said of up-and-coming destinations that see overflow elsewhere as an opportunity to attract more travelers. “There are places getting ready for more mainstream travel.”

Still, the fact remains that many travelers, especially first-time globe trotters of which a whole new crop is emerging from developing source markets such as China, will want to visit trendy locales during the summer, when the weather is likely to be best and, consequently, when the crowds are biggest.

“First-time travelers, they still want to see the icons,” Wiseman said. “It can be Rome in the middle of summer, 100 degrees on the busiest day of the year, and they want to see the Colosseum.”

That means that the crowding issue is going to continue to challenge the travel industry well into the foreseeable future. According to one industry veteran, it is in fact the single biggest challenge.

“We used to say in the land-tour business that the cruise business was our competition,” Arthur Tauck Jr., chairman of Tauck, said recently. But today, he said, “the competition of the entire travel industry is crowds. The world is becoming jammed.”