MSC opts for chill over thrill at Ocean Cay

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Ocean Cay will have seven beaches.

MSC Cruises said its new private island near Bimini will open Nov. 9, and that arriving guests will find an authentic, natural Bahamian island that has been groomed to provide a relaxing day at the beach.

Nearly four years in the making, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve will have seven beaches, nine bars, four stores, two lagoons, an ice cream parlor, a coffee shop and a lighthouse, all arrayed on a 95-acre island.

What it won't have, said MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato, is a manufactured, man-made amusement atmosphere.

"It's not a theme park island," Onorato said. "You don't find water slides. You don't find ziplines. Nothing is artificial. Everything has been done to transform this industrial site into natural beauty, with a high level of attention to the environment. We have reshaped the island. And we're going to have an authentic Bahamian experience."

Onorato said Ocean Cay is one of the building blocks of MSC's more permanent presence in the Caribbean. "For us, this is a little bit more than to have a new ship, because it's really something new for us," he said.

MSC decided to base its experience around the common perception of what the Caribbean should be, Onorato said. 

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A rendering of Ocean Cay's entrance pavilion.

"In our imagination, the Caribbean is always viewed with specific attributes, which are sunny weather, beautiful sandy beaches, relaxation and fun. This is what Ocean Cay wants to offer," he said.

Ocean Cay will also have nightlife, something private Bahamian islands haven't had much of to date. Because it is only 65 miles from Miami, ships can depart as late as 1 a.m. and still arrive before dawn at in Miami.

To take advantage of that, original plans called for a 2,000-seat amphitheater with live music and entertainment. But Onorato said that concept has been abandoned in favor of a "Movies Under the Stars" evening.

Another attraction available to Ocean Cay visitors will be a small out-island that will be available for daily rental for parties of up to 40 people. "They will be taken there by boat, they will have some services there, and they will be the owner of an island for one day," Onorato said.

"It's another opportunity to have a different experience, and I think travel agents especially will be very happy to offer this to their groups," Onorato added.

MSC has built a pier so ships will dock directly at Ocean Cay. Onorato estimated that no place on the island is more than a 15-minute walk to the pier.

In addition to food options on the ship, MSC will have a central buffet near the family lagoon, as well as food carts with casual street food distributed at the beaches during the day and near the marina at night.

There will be a Bahamian-themed bar in the marina, a "Hemingway-style cocktail bar" at the lighthouse, and seven beach bars.

Food and drink on the island will come at an extra charge. Beverage packages bought on the ship can be upgraded at a small cost, Onorato said, and WiFi packages will also be extended for a supplement.

Retailers on Ocean Cay include the Bahamian Shop & Market, which will host "authentic arts and crafts by local artisans and Bahamian companies," MSC said. It is the only place where payment will be in cash rather than credit to a guest's ship card. 

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Ships will be able to dock at a pier on Ocean Cay.

Ocean Cay Trading Post offers a wide selection of Ocean Cay souvenirs and gifts inspired by nature, while the MSC Shop will have MSC branded items and essentials such as flip flops, sunscreen and lip balms.

Essentials can also be pre-ordered and collected at the Welcome Center, MSC said.

To landscape the island and screen passengers from the sun, MSC has planted over 2,300 trees on Ocean Cay. Onorato said that MSC will offer a program geared toward young people about the importance of coral to the environment and will be regenerating coral at Ocean Cay with the help of outside experts and biologists.

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