NEW YORK — Royal Caribbean's private island in the Bahamas, CocoCay, is about to get a massive makeover that will include the addition of one of the largest water parks in the Caribbean or Bahamas.
The $200 million overhaul of the 125-acre beach hideaway, to be renamed Perfect Day at CocoCay, also will bring the largest freshwater pool in the region, a helium balloon ride that takes cruisers 450 feet into the air and several other over-the-top features.
"We've been working on it for about three years," Royal Caribbean president and CEO Michael Bayley told USA TODAY on Wednesday, describing a project on a scale never before seen for a cruise ship private island. "It's really about bringing the kind of innovation and creativity that we've brought the past few years to our ships and creating the kind of experience ashore that we think (will) deliver the perfect day."
Speaking with USA TODAY in advance of announcing the makeover Wednesday evening at a New York event, Bayley said the overhaul of CocoCay will include the installation of a pier that will be able to accommodate even the biggest of Royal Caribbean's 24 ships. Vessels visiting the island now must anchor off shore and ferry passengers to land, and the island is off limits to Royal Caribbean's biggest vessels.
"It's a big change," Bayley noted. "It's going to allow our Oasis Class ships to visit."
Measuring more than 225,000 tons a piece with room for more than 6,000 passengers, Royal Caribbean's three Oasis Class ships are more than 30% bigger than the world's next biggest cruise vessels. They are so big they only can visit a limited number of ports in the Caribbean and Bahamas.
A fourth Oasis Class vessel, Symphony of the Seas, is scheduled to debut later this month, and there are plans for a fifth ship in the series.
The makeover of CocoCay comes as fast-growing MSC Cruises prepares to open what it has been billing as the biggest cruise line private island in the Caribbean and Bahamas region. Dubbed Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve and located 20 miles south of Bimini, the man-made escape also will have a pier that can accommodate some of the world's biggest ships.
Another major cruise line, Norwegian Cruise Line, also is touting a new private island experience after a massive makeover of its longstanding hideaway in the Bahamas, Great Stirrup Cay.
Still, Bayley said the moves by competitors didn't influence the CocoCay revamp. The project has its roots in research that showed Royal Caribbean customers wanted a private island experience that combined the ability to "chill" on lovely beaches and around elaborate pool areas with the "thrill" of adventurous activities, he said.
"This is particularly true of the family segment, who wanted to have some thrill and fun," Bayley said.
To that point, Bayley noted the water park planned for CocoCay will feature 13 slides — the most found at any water park in the Caribbean or Bahamas — as well as the region's largest wave pool and a kid-friendly obstacle course pool.
Descending from two towers, the water slides will include the tallest water slide in North America. Dubbed Daredevil's Peak, it'll be 135 feet high. Also planned is a high-speed, fully vertical slide called Screeching Serpent.
The new CocoCay also will feature a 1,600-foot-long zip line that ends with a splash water landing — a first for the Caribbean or Bahamas.
The giant freshwater pool planned for CocoCay will have three distinct coves. One will cater to families with a kid-friendly beach-style entry area. Another will offer adults frosty drinks at a swim-up bar. The third area will feature private cabanas available for an extra charge.
Bayley said cruisers who ride the helium balloon attraction into the air will experience the highest vantage point in the Caribbean.
The overhaul of CocoCay also will include an overhaul of its eateries. The largest of the options will be Chill Grill, which will offer beach-side dining. It'll be located at a beach area called Chill Beach that also offers wave runner excursions, boat tours, snorkeling, cabanas and daybeds.
Another beach area called South Beach will be a hub for active pursuits including volleyball, beach-side basketball, soccer, paddle boarding, glass-bottom kayaking and zorbing in an inflatable zorb ball. It'll also feature a floating bar.
In addition, the new CocoCay also have a private beach club with the only over-water cabanas in The Bahamas.
A number of the new features at CocoCay, including the water park area, will come with an extra charge.
Bayley said the upgrades will roll out in phases starting in September with the completion of the pier. The bulk of the overhaul will be done by spring 2019 with the final pieces completed in November 2019.
Bayley also revealed Royal Caribbean is planning more Perfect Day private island getaways to debut over the coming years in destinations as far-flung as Asia and Australia. An announcement on at least one of the new projects could be coming within a few months, he said.
By Gene Sloan, USA Today
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