Castaway Cay is Disney Cruise Line’s private island and is one of the highlights of any cruise itinerary in that part of the world. A sign you see when arriving on the island establishes it as part of a larger, fully immersive story. Even if you race by this, notice it on the way to one of the pristine beaches, or headed to an out-of-this-world excursion, you can feel its message anyway.
“Three explorers set sail to the scattered islands of the Bahamas in search of fame and fortune,” it reads. “They brought along their families and a diverse crew. Through mild mishap and extreme good fortune, they located the objects of their desire–sunken treasures and the secret of youth. Though castaway on this island, they had no desire to leave due to the breathtaking beauty of this tropical paradise. Visitors to this island can still see the original structures built by the explorers and take part in many of the same pleasures our castaways enjoyed years ago. Disney Cruise Line welcomes you to the island paradise of your dreams, Castaway Cay.”
First off, Castaway Cay really is an island paradise. Everything about my time on the Disney Cruise Line was beyond magical, but there’s a special place in my heart for the sandy shores of Castaway Cay: the amazing Pelican Plunge slide that’s out in the middle of the water, the calm and gorgeous adults-only beach of Serenity Bay, and the lush tropical nature of the island that are etched in my mind. It’s a place unlike any other, even amongst the idyllic islands of the Bahamas. (There are some sailings where you go to the island twice. Talk about heaven.)
But the extra-special thing is that there are real-life castaways–i.e. castaways that live on the island full-time. I got on the phone with Guenter Schmid, who is the island manager; Keron Knowles, who does landscaping; and Jessica Higman, who is in recreation, to talk about what it’s like to live on the “island paradise of your dreams” 24/7.
Schmid, amazingly, has been on the island for “almost 19 years.” “I go on vacation from time to time, but I’ve been here since the beginning of construction,” Schmid admitted. “At the beginning it was a lot more relaxing because I was only looking after a handful of people, but now in the busy season there can be up to 200 employees here.”
“While it sometimes seems like there are just a handful of people on the island there’s actually a fairly huge team. We have about 150 people living here, but we also have crew members who come in the morning and leave in the evening,” Schmid said, referring to crew members who disembark from the ship to help with the day-to-day demands. “We have a lot of support from the vessels–all of the food and beverage operations come from the ship and also entertainment and custodial crew members that support us,” Schmid said.
When I asked Schmid to describe the island he said, “I would describe it as a subtropical paradise.”
Landscaper Knowles then described his typical day on the island: “We go to meetings at 7 a.m., then we get our orders what to do that day. Our job in landscaping is that we maintain all the plants on the island and make sure they’re green. And we drink a lot of coconuts.” Guenter, who was listening, then interjected, saying that a lot of the job is keeping the greenery under control. “Especially a big deal for us is to keep the coconuts from falling on guests’ heads. There are thousands of coconut trees, so that’s pretty challenging. Our most important thing is safety,” Schmid noted. If you’ve been to Castaway Cay, chances are you’ve never had a coconut drop on your head. Thank Guenter and Keron.
While his time on the island can’t compete with Schmid’s, Knowles has still been here awhile. “I’ve been here for the past three and a half years. When I got here, I did half my time landscaping and half my time with the animals,” Schmid said. “So when the ships would be here I would work with the stingrays. And you’d meet friends for life. It’s been a great experience. It’s awesome.” That’s right–he got to work with the amazing stingrays. He said there are 70 of them and they all have names and distinct personalities. (This is the thing he thinks anyone that visits the island has to experience.)
Higman, who works as a lifeguard on the island in recreation, described her job as “help[ing].”
One of the places she’s stationed is near Pelican Plunge, an amazing slide that I think of at least three times a day. She described what guests are in for when they swim out to the platform. “There are two slides: one is enclosed and the other is open. The open one is a little bit slower and longer–it has three loops. And a lot of the kids like going down that one,” Higman said. “The other one is pitch black, it’s a lot faster, and a lot steeper. Every now and then a brave kid will go down the closed one.” I asked her how deep the water is when you get out of the slide, since it felt really deep when I went on it. She said it depends on the tide, but it’s six feet minimum, and eight or nine feet at most.
When I asked about her experience on the island, she said: “For me, it’s great. I’m from Cape Town, South Africa. I’m fortunate enough to be friends with all of the people I’ve been staying with. It’s really nice to be friends, meet people.” That’s a common trait to living on the island: When a ship is docked, and they have time off, the cast members can go on the ship and hang out or watch a movie (a favorite of Knowles’). But Schmid summed it up thusly: “I’m mostly on the island. Our home is the island.” Spoken like a true castaway.