On Disney's cay, whistle while you work (out)

By Tom Stieghorst

Participants in the Castaway Cay 5K.The name Castaway Cay doesn't exactly conjure up images of vigorous exercise. The first thing on the minds of many visitors to the Disney Cruise Line private island is a nice lounge chair, a shady umbrella, a cool drink and a relaxing beach experience.

But not everyone is wired for the same kind of relaxation. And in recognition, Disney has created some more active forms of leisure to make a day on the island enjoyable for fitness buffs.

First and foremost is the 5-kilometer run that Disney organizes for every ship that visits the Bahamian stopover. It is held first thing in the morning before the sun gets too high and typically attracts between 20 and 90 participants.

"It gives everyone a chance to participate in a run," said Fiona Abernethy, a crew member who organizes races on the Disney Dream. "It's a good way to explore the island and get your exercise in at the same time."

Castaway Cay covers 1,000 acres, although only about 55 are developed. Located southeast of the Abaco chain of islands, it was leased in 1997 after Disney got into the cruise business.

As one might expect with Disney, a tram operates between its three main beaches: one for young children, one for families and one for adults. There is an old runway down the center of the cay, which is a touchstone for the extensive castaway theming.

A tiny Bahamian post office is the only place on the island where visitors need to bring cash.

A prop plane adds to the islands castaway character.Disney refreshed the property several years ago in preparation for the arrival of the larger Dream and Fantasy ships. It continues to benefit from a dredged channel that allows the ships to dock, rather than tender as at most private islands in the Bahamas.

Scattered about the island are the carefully positioned remains of old twin-engine propeller planes, rusting vintage gas pumps and other flotsam that gives the island its castaway character.

"It's a little mini-Disney resort," Disney spokeswoman Cara Allen said.

Active passengers looking for something else besides the 5K run can rent bicycles for $6 a day and pedal several maintained paths, including a secluded one lined with pines by the adults-only Serenity Bay beach, or a loop that takes you to the island's observation tower.

A pause to climb the 40-foot, two-story tower adds 47 steps to your workout and gives you a view of the level expanse of the cay and its aquamarine waters, along with a few Donald and Goofy sculptures out in the tidal flats.

Another way to work off some cruise dinner calories is with a beachfront yoga class. The aptly named Serenity Bay beach provides the setting for a one-hour session. While billed as Sunrise Yoga, the class on my cruise was scheduled for a more civilized 10:30 a.m. start.

Water sports are yet another option. Visitors can choose from parasailing, water cycles, paddleboats, kayaks and sailboats. Snorkel mask and fins can be rented for exploring a 12-acre lagoon dotted with sunken submarines and Disney character statues.

Boat rentals, priced in half-hour increments, start at $8 for paddleboats and sea kayaks. The charge is $15 for paddleboards, Fun Cat sail boats and Aqua Trikes; Hobie Cat rentals are priced at $18.

Serenity Bay on Castaway Cay.A trip on a 63-foot power catamaran can take snorkelers out of the lagoon to a secluded ocean snorkel spot, where the coral and marine life are more abundant. There is no scuba excursion at Castaway Cay.

On a recent visit by the Disney Dream, 44 passengers out of 3,722 took part in the 5K run. The winning time of 22:30 was recorded by Mark Zorn, 31, who let his family sleep in while he ran the race.

Like many dedicated runners, Zorn finds it hard to resist when he's in the neighborhood of a race. "I try not to miss any," said Zorn, an auto body shop owner from Russell, Kan.

Zorn, who has helped organize races in his hometown, said he would have brought his 6-year-old son to run with him, but participation is limited to age 12 and older.

There is no separate fee to enter the Castaway Cay 5K, which Allen said is a nice plus because many sponsored 5K races can cost $25 to $50 to enter.

No other private cruise island offers a regular 5K, although Royal Caribbean International has for the past four years held a year-end Royal 5K in St. Maarten for passengers on the Allure of the Seas.

This year's run takes place on Dec. 8, and the entry fee is $25.

For those inclined to be sedentary on Castaway Cay, there is a healthy supply of lounge chairs, beach mats and inflated inner tubes that can be used to bob in the sheltered lagoon.

Colorful beachfront cabanas are available to rent at $499 for the day. The 20 cabanas, which can be reserved onboard or online, are typically sold out before each Disney ship hits the dock to unload passengers.

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly. 

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