Today in Disney History, 1998: The First Disney Cruise Line Guests Arrived at Castaway Cay

by | Aug 2, 2021 | Disney Cruise Line, Disney History, WDW Blog

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You might not be able to board the very first Disney Cruise voyage of all-time, but you *could* still become the first aboard the Disney Wish.

Passengers disembarked from Port Canaveral on the Disney Magic’s maiden voyage on July 30; it was a trip of firsts as these guests became the first to encounter Disney’s Castaway Cay three days later on August 2. Wondering what to do when your own cruise visits Castaway Cay? Check out this post for recommendations.

History of Castaway Cay

The first Disney cruise went to Castaway Cay in 1998

The first Disney cruise arrived at Castaway Cay on August 2, 1998, but the island’s history dates back much further. Photo by Rich Ramos

Originally known as Gorda Cay, Castaway Cay is a Bahamian Island that served a number of purposes before being acquired by the Walt Disney Company to be used as the cruise line’s private island stop. 


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The island’s first known settlements had arrived by the late 18th century, and by the 1930s it had become a valuable stop for bootleggers. Later in the island’s history, the stop became notorious for smugglers and drug runners, with the most prominent cartel being taken down by authorities by 1983. 

By that point, the island was largely left alone, with the exception of its use by Hollywood film scouts who needed locations to film serene beach scenes. Under the Touchstone Pictures umbrella, Disney filmed there long before the cruise line was even considered for the beach scenes featuring Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah in the 1984 film Splash

Woody and Buzz Toy Story tom hanks

Before he was Woody, Tom Hanks made a splash in, well, Splash. Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World

At 225 nautical miles from Port Canaveral, the island offers pristine beaches and clear waters, with plenty of space to hold a variety of activities for cruise line passengers and facilities for Disney Cast Members.

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The island’s land mass reaches 3.1 miles long by 2.2 miles wide. Its ideal size for a cruiseliner to pull right into port combined with its proximity to Port Canaveral made Gorda Cay the ideal destination for Disney Cruise Line.

Castaway Cay Beach disney cruise line

Blue skies and sunshine guaranteed. Photo by Rich Ramos

Following the announcement of Disney’s entry into the cruise industry in 1996, Disney purchased Gorda Cay for $25 million. It took 18 months for Disney Imagineers and construction teams to essentially reconstruct the island to be a guest-friendly destination, but the work and price tag were well worth it when the island opened as Castaway Cay in 1998 and welcomed the first Disney Cruise guests.

Visiting the Island Today

Castaway Cay beach palm tree

Photo by Rich Ramos

Thankfully the island offers an entirely different experience today than it did during some of its pas.! Today, guests traveling on Bahamian and Caribbean Disney Cruise Line itineraries are able to disembark on Castaway Cay and enjoy miles of beautiful, sandy beaches, activities on and off the water, and Disney’s high standard of dining, character experiences, and even weddings and special events. 

Castaway Cay has received such notable distinctions from the cruising industry as the 2019 Cruise Critic Destination Award for Best Cruise Line Private Island

Castaway Cay’s Conservation Focus

castaway cay solar facility

Castaway Cay’s new solar facility will power 70 percent of Disney’s private island. Photo courtesy of Disney Parks Blog

In addition to the quality experience the island provides guests, Castaway Cay is known for its sustainable tourism efforts.

Disney Animal and Science research teams use the waters surrounding Castaway Cay to learn ways to preserve and foster the health of coral reefs and other marine life habitats. Both Disney Cruise Line Cast Members and researchers on the island are also trained to do their parts toward the conservation efforts of Loggerhead Sea Turtles who seasonally nest on the island

Cast Member areas of the island are equipped with solar panels that power heaters needed for bathing, dishwashing, and laundry services. Disney Cruise Line also works directly with the Bahamian government to turn a weekly 7,000 pounds of used cooking oil into recycled fuel that serves to power Waste Management fleets in Nassau. 

Disney Cruise Line also works closely with the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. The Fund was also started in 1998 (to coincide with the Earth Day opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom) and since its inception has helped fund over 800 conservation initiatives through $14 million+ in grants to non-profit organizations in 110 countries

Don’t Miss …

castaway cay - first disney cruise

Photo by Danny Shuster

With so much to see and do on Castaway Cay, you may be wondering where to start on your next Disney Cruise. These are the activities and locations around the island we think you simply cannot miss:

Boat rentals from Marge’s Barges & Sea Charter Dock offer a variety of activities on the water including parasailing, kayak rentals, fishing trips and more. If you’re looking to get out on the water, you’re sure to find something to suit your interests here. 

BBQ lunch hosted on the island has some of the best Quick-Service food of the trip. You always have the option of going back onboard, but with delicious eats right on the island, why make the trek?

Snorkeling is a great way to spend time on Castaway Cay with tons of fish to see and a couple of very interesting wrecks to explore.


Pro Tip: If you pack your own snorkels and fins, you can save some money on renting them while at the island. (You’ll still need to rent a life vest, though.)


Pelican Plunge is an enormous floating play area featuring two water slides that send guests right into the Lagoon. It’s located right off the family beach and is always lots of fun!

castaway cay relaxation

Our fearless CEO Steph Shuster taking a much deserved break at Castaway Cay. Photo by Danny Shuster

Serenity Bay is the adults’ only beach on the island, and it is definitely a must-visit if either the kids are on their own or you’re taking the cruise without the kids. Since Disney Cruise Line is so family-focused, you’ll find many of the adult areas are not crowded at all!

Last, be sure to explore the island. Only about 10% of the island is developed (you’ll be able to get a visual from the maps of the island onboard your cruise). If you’re interested in hiking and nature, consider going for a walk, run, or renting a bike to get around and see more of the island

We can’t wait for our next day at Castaway Cay, and we hope these tips help you make the most of your next Disney beach day, too.

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Written by Brittany DiCologero

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Brittany DiCologero is a freelance writer specializing in Walt Disney World history, along with various travel, and lifestyle topics based in New England. She is the author of “Red, White, and Disney: The Myths and Realities of American History at the Walt Disney World Resort,” and “Brittany Earns Her Ears”. When she is not writing, you can find her exploring local museums and historic sites, and binging documentaries on Disney+.
Brittany DiCologero

Written by Brittany DiCologero

Brittany DiCologero is a freelance writer specializing in Walt Disney World history, along with various travel, and lifestyle topics based in New England. She is the author of “Red, White, and Disney: The Myths and Realities of American History at the Walt Disney World Resort,” and “Brittany Earns Her Ears”. When she is not writing, you can find her exploring local museums and historic sites, and binging documentaries on Disney+.
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