OCEAN CAY MARINE RESERVE — MSC Cruises’ recently opened private island, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, is unique in several ways, but for passengers, its nocturnal activities particularly set it apart.
Ocean Cay is the only cruise line offering nighttime activities — for now. Royal Caribbean plans to have evening activities on CocoCay and hosted a few late-night test calls in 2019, but has no more on the books. Virgin Voyages’ beach club-style destination in Bimini, opening in March, will have Fire and Sunset Soirees and dance parties with celebrity DJs.
But right now, MSC is the only line that keeps every ship visiting its island docked there until the wee hours. And as I learned on a short MSC Divina trip to Ocean Cay, it makes for a great party.
At 6 p.m., when most cruise ship passengers are waving goodbye, I was one of many MSC passengers that made their way to the island’s Lighthouse Bar for sunset. A guitar player performed while guests sipped cocktails and snapped selfies during the golden hour. The aptly named and nearby Sunset Beach was equally as popular for people to sit in the sand and watch the sun go down.
Ocean Cay provides several lunch options — food trucks, a buffet and a restaurant for MSC Yacht Club guests — but there is no dinner service on the island. A lone food truck stays open and serves a small menu of hot dogs, burgers and pasta salad. Although the Lighthouse Bar has a menu that in theory serves light bites at night, patrons were told the kitchen had closed.
MSC encourages people to take time before the real festivities begin to go back to the ship and have dinner onboard, which my press group did before returning to the island around 8:30 when the party begins. Because the ship is docked right at the island, getting on and off is relatively easy. There was one slight security backup one of the three times I went back on board, but it only added about five minutes.
When the light show ends, a DJ starts the dance party on the beach. Photo Credit: Johanna Jainchill
A Bahamian Junkanoo “street” parade starts at Springer’s Bar and winds its way to the beach as throngs of guests follow and dance along. The high-energy parade, with horn players and dancers in costumes, ends at Lighthouse Bay at 9 p.m., where the beach bar was packed, people sat around fire pits in the sand, and the 115-foot tall lighthouse began one of two nightly light shows. Guests still onboard lined the balconies and open decks on the lit-up Divina to watch from above. When the light show ends, the DJ starts the beach dance party.
As we followed the Junkanoo parade, MSC Cruises COO Ken Muskat said “the whole vibe changes at night” on the island. He was right.
Muskat said the island’s proximity to Miami, only 61 miles away, allows the ships to stay as late as they do and still be in Miami by morning.
Also unique to Ocean Cay are several evening tours, including beachside stargazing with a state-of-the-art telescope, a sunset champagne cruise or sunset beach picnic, and nighttime stand-up paddleboarding atop a paddleboard fitted with LED lights that attract fish. I wanted to do this, but the tour was sold out.