The History of Disney's Castaway Cay

When sailing out of Port Canaveral, Castaway Cay (pronounced "Key') is a port of call that always has Disney Cruise Line Guests clamoring for more time on shore. It's white sand beaches and swaying palms offer an enticing day of swimming, snorkeling, and island activities. We've talked before about the Jet Ski Adventure, Stingray Swim, and even Weddings on the beach. But, before Disney became its owner, this posh private island in the Bahamas didn't always have such a glamorous history.

The History Of Disney's Castaway CayThe History Of Disney's Castaway Cay

Located near Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas, this little 1000 acres of sand and scrub has sat just north of a bustling trade route since the 1700s. It's not hard to imagine Pirates like the infamous Black Beard trolling the waters nearby or even stopping on its sandy shores. In the 1950s treasure hunters from Nassau came across several items of interest from a Spanish Galleon in nearby shoals.

Castaway Cay Island OverviewCastaway Cay Island Overview

Known as Gorda Cay, the little island held some unique features for the area. It's round shape sat behind an exposed reef rather than on top of it. The soil was fertile and relatively rock free, which made it the perfect place for farmers from Abaco to grow food. A tiny village formed on the southern shores and it became a safe haven for fishermen in rough seas.

Mount RustmoreMount Rustmore

In the 1960s however the fate of this serene paradise changed when businessman Alvin Tucker bought a 150 acres of the property and put in a small airstrip. Sadly his island Paradise was soon discovered by criminals, and the new runway feature made it an appealing stop over for smugglers and drug runners. Slowly they claimed the land, then eventually purchased it from Tucker when he no longer felt safe. By 1980 the Gorda Cay had become notorious for being patrolled by men with large guns and big dogs. The den of criminals was successful for several years before the authorities made a bust on $100 million dollars worth of cocaine in 1983. The convicted smuggler passed away in prison and his business associates dwindled to a trickle.

Wind Swept "Castaway" DecorWind Swept "Castaway" Decor

1996 Disney purchased Gorda Key and got to work creating a Caribbean Island paradise completely with a more "Disney friendly" backstory. 18 months and $25 million dollars later, they had built a substantial pier to dock the cruise ships at and dredged up 50,000 truckloads of sand from the Ocean floor to create the voluminous beaches. There are a couple of shops, bars, recreation rentals and a first aid station with facilities using only about 55 acres of the total property. The charming Disney buildings are done in that perfectly ramshackle appearance, built by "castaways." Though the runway is no longer used to land airplanes it does serve as a path to get to the adults only beach Serenity Bay. It first appeared to Disney fans as the beach which Tom Hanks discovered his beautiful Mermaid in 'Splash.' The island opened for business as Castaway Cay for the first time on July 30, 1998.

White Sand BeachesWhite Sand Beaches

Have you spent time on Disney's own private paradise? Is Castaway Cay one of your favorite Ports of Call in the Bahamas? If so leave a comment below sharing what you like best about it!

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JeffC wrote on Fri, 03/29/2013 - 04:38:

Wow, I had no idea of the history and background! Very interesting, thanks for posting.

Kris1971 wrote on Sat, 03/30/2013 - 20:27:

Kris1971's picture

Can't wait to go there when we finally get our cruise rescheduled!

Kristen K. wrote on Sat, 03/30/2013 - 20:57:

Kristen K.'s picture

I know that it will be all the sweeter because you had to wait Kris. You'll get there soon!

salejune wrote on Sun, 03/31/2013 - 16:19:

salejune's picture

Thank you for sharing this history! I had no idea! We're ready to set sail for Castaway Cay in September.. can't wait!

Dan C wrote on Fri, 04/04/2014 - 04:31:

Dan C's picture

Awesome history! Thank you. We just got back and it was gorgeous.

chris r wrote on Sat, 01/03/2015 - 03:34:

chris r's picture

Was just there last Friday. After 10 Disney cruises it remains my favorite "port of call".

Kerry wrote on Wed, 01/28/2015 - 22:51:

Kerry's picture

Don't forget that Cay is pronounced "key" -- you'll sound so much smarter when you say it! :)

Will Rogers wrote on Tue, 04/21/2015 - 15:38:

Will Rogers's picture

If I were to take a cruise on Disney and they told me I could only get off at one port...This is it. More peace and serenity here than any other place. ALWAYS our favorite on the Disney's port's of call. And Hey I will be there in just a few days!!! ;o)

gggirl wrote on Thu, 01/26/2017 - 16:49:

gggirl's picture

i will be going there in 6 day.

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