A $200 Million Private Island Is Being Designed by Royal Caribbean

A $200 Million Private Island Is Being Designed by Royal Caribbean

By Fran Golden, Bloomberg News

If your idea of a perfect day includes white sands, blue seas, and complimentary beach barbecues on a relatively quiet private island, Royal Caribbean International has you covered.

At least, that’s what Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. has been offering passengers on its Bahamas and Eastern Caribbean cruises since the line debuted its tiny Bahamas island, CocoCay, three decades ago. Now, as the focal point of the brand’s “Perfect Day” program, CocoCay is getting a $200 million renovation.

A rendering of the entryway to “Perfect Day at CocoCay,” Royal Caribbean’s re-imagined private island.Source: Royal Caribbean
The new-and-improved version of CocoCay will comprise 125 acres of “thrill and chill” attractions—including what will be one of the Caribbean’s largest water parks. Dubbed “Perfect Day at CocoCay,” it represents an effort to court millennials and new-to-cruise families.

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Included in the revamp: two massive water towers and 13 water slides, including Daredevil’s Peak, which, at 135 feet above the sand, will become the tallest slide in North America when it’s completed next spring. 

A 1,600-foot zip line will deposit guests into the water, while a helium balloon ride will take passengers up 450 feet in the air. All this takes place above the largest wave pool in the Caribbean. A freshwater pool, also the Caribbean’s largest, has in-water loungers, a swim-up bar, and poolside cabanas.

If all that sounds like the opposite of your perfect day, there are plenty of opportunities to escape the crowds—two ships docking simultaneously at CocoCay can deposit as many as 10,000 travelers on the little island. (However, the company is trying to limit the influx of visitors to 6,500 at any one time.) Those looking to unplug should check out the island’s new VIP zone, Coco Beach Club, where there will be Maldives-style over-water cabanas with private water slides that plunge into the sea. Each will be staffed by a cabin attendant who can fetch bottles of bubbly or a variety of snacks.

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This two-pronged “thrill and chill” concept is part of a strategy that followed extensive market research. “We talked to a lot of customers and guests about what really would be their perfect day in the Caribbean on vacation,” says Michael Bayley, president and chief executive officer of Royal Caribbean. “We’re intending on delivering literally the perfect day for you,” he tells Bloomberg, acknowledging that this can mean radically different things to different people.

One group that won’t be satisfied? Culture hounds. CocoCay will ultimately be a completely manufactured experience. While 160 Bahamians will be hired to staff the island, integrating Bahamian traditions and meaningful interactions with locals simply aren’t part of the equation.

The Bigger Picture

Royal Caribbean expects its $200 million investment to drive demand for sailings to the Bahamas. And the amped-up CocoCay will encourage consumers to shell out for a new array of amenities: Separate charges will apply for water slides, wave pool, balloon rides, zip line, and the Coco Beach Club. Bar tabs may also increase, thanks to the new swim-up bars. (The food, however, will remain free.)

Royal Caribbean sees the Perfect Day experience as having legs elsewhere in the Caribbean and beyond, including Asia and Australia. The company is already teasing announcements of new “purchase and lease deals” for other private islands that will form a “Perfect Day Island Collection.” Each will have experiences that relate to the location, at least in the subtle way that CocoCay reflects a Caribbean day at the beach, Bayley says. 

His initiative is part of a broader trend: Disney Cruise Line, Carnival Corp. & Plc’s Holland America Line, and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. also own private islands in the Bahamas, and MSC Cruises plans to open its own Bahamian island next year. Across the board, passengers tend to rate these private retreats as some of their favorite ports of call.

Not everyone is so enthusiastic. Some 55 miles from CocoCay in Nassau, Bahamas, environmental activist Heather Carey took to Facebook to criticize Royal Caribbean’s plans.

“Just another example of how the cruise ship industry does little to benefit us locally, and instead continues to make the visitor experience more insular to the cruise ship islands,” she said. Among her main concerns was that the private island will funnel visitation and excursion revenues away from Nassau—which relies heavily on the cruise tourism economy. “We cannot give away any more of our beautiful Bahamas to these bottomless pits,” she wrote. (Carey did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.)

One Piece in a $1 Billion Puzzle

The redo of CocoCay is taking place in stages: The water park will open in spring 2019, and the rest of the project should be complete about six months later.

At a press announcement last week, Royal Caribbean also said it would spend $900 million over the next four years to modernize 10 ships with such features as virtual reality bungee jumping, laser tag, and Tiki bars, including two ships that will focus on three- and four-day cruises around the Bahamas. And that doesn’t include the Symphony of the Seas, a bigger and louder follow-up to the current “largest ship at sea,” which will debut later this month. 

More is more, Royal Caribbean seems to be saying, both on land and at sea.

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