24 Things to Know About Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve

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If you dream of visiting the beautiful Bahamas, the cruise line has just made it even easier with the opening of their private island and Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve. The emphasis is on providing guests with the opportunity to engage with marine life and nature in its natural state. Of course, this all comes with all the expected food, drinks, entertainment, watersports activities, tours and excursions that are part of any self-respecting 21st-century cruise!

The project began in March 2016 and was delayed by the destructive wave action of the category 5 Hurricane Dorian in September 2019. The island welcomed its first MSC guests on December 5, 2019. Four ships will include a day at Ocean Cay on its itineraries in 2020. The development cost £134 million ($200 million).

Ocean Cay boasts beautiful landscaping and Bahamian pastel colors in all the buildings. It includes a welcome center, Bahamian style village, marina, lighthouse, wedding pavilion, sports area, and Ocean Cay Lagoon. Powder soft white sand and clear aquamarine water comes courtesy of Mother Nature in the Bahamas!

Also Read: 8 Cruise Line Private Islands You Must Escape To

Dive in and follow us as we take a tour around this latest private cruise island experience. Read about what you can see and do during you day in the Bahamas and see whether it is something to include on your next luxury Caribbean cruise. So take off your shoes and socks and wade right in!

1. Where is MSC Ocean Cay in the Bahamas?

Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve is part of the Bimini district in the western Bahamas. It is 20 miles south of Bimini and is just 65 miles due east of Miami.

2. How big is Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve?

The island covers 95 acres (38.5 hectares) and has approximately 1.5 miles of pristine beachfront. Not only is it one of the biggest island development by any cruise company it is the only marine reserve experience.

It is comparable to RCI’s Coco Cay private island experience which covers 125 acres on the former Little Stirrup Cay in the Berry Island archipelago.

3. How can I visit Ocean Cay?

Ocean Cay Marine Reserve is a privately owned island. It is for the exclusive use of guests as part of select MSC cruises.

4. How much does a day at Ocean Cay cost?

A day at Ocean Cay is included in the price of your MSC cruise itinerary. The beach experience, some food, entertainment, live music and regular activities are free. However, cruisers wanting to do some of the more unusual experiences and tours will have to book and pay for them on their stateroom account. 

Some beach chairs are provided but floating aqua mats, cabanas and floating rings can be rented for the day for a fee. You can also rent kayaks, bicycles, pedalos, snorkelling equipment, stand-up paddleboards and other beach equipment either by the hour or by the day.

The policy for drinks remains the same as onboard. Most sodas, cocktails and alcoholic drinks can be paid for and charged to your stateroom account. However, if you have pre-purchased a drinks package, that will be honored at bars and restaurants on Ocean Cay.

5. Do cruise ships need tenders to transport passengers to the island?

Part of the development of Ocean Cay included a purpose-built pier and berth so that passengers can disembark directly onto the island rather than by tender (ferry). Getting around the island is on foot along a network of trails. Bicycles, electric golf carts and buggies will be available for those with limited mobility.

6. Which MSC ships first visited at Ocean Cay?

During the 2020 cruise season, four MSC ships had a full day at Ocean Cay in their itinerary. These select cruises ranged from 3 nights to 11 nights with most being part of a 7-night cruise. The MSC ships were MSC Meraviglia, MSC Seaside, MSC Divina, and MSC Armonia. Visiting ships spent all day docked at the pier from arrival to midnight.

MSC Ocean Cay Private Island
Photo: MSC Cruises

7. Ocean Cay is actually a Marine Reserve

When MSC took charge of Ocean Cay it was certainly not the castaway tropical island destination that it is today! It was a site for the industrial excavation of sand. MSC undertook an amazing restoration project, not just to make the island look pretty but to actually restore the ecosystem.

It employed, and still retains the services of a team of experts, marine biologists and scientists. They revitalized the stripped ocean beds, encouraged endangered corals to thrive and in turn attracted marine life back to these pristine waters.

8. Why will Ocean Cay have a Conservation Center?

MSC wants to continue its work promoting the island as a center for education and research so it has plans to open a Conservation Center. This will continue to encourage a sustainable and eco-friendly way to manage the island and surrounding waters. It will include a coral nursery that will provide scientists with a base for education and research into corals.

It shows MSC’s commitment to ongoing marine conservation and protection for the future. Projects like this ensure that Ocean Cay will remain a valuable asset to MSC cruise line and everyone who visits this marine preserve.

9. How many beaches are there at Ocean Cay?

Ocean Cay has eight stunning beaches lined with soft white sand compared to just four on RCI’s rival island at Coco Cay. These include Seakers Family Cove, North Beach, South Beach, Aurea Paradise Sands, Sunset Beach and Lighthouse Bay.

Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve Beach
Photo Credit: mmuenzl / Shutterstock

Ocean Cay has several exclusive areas:

10. Yacht Club Sanctuary

Cruisers who have paid for the exclusive VIP treatment offered as part of MSC Yacht Club amenities will have their own private corner of Paradise on Ocean Cay. The northwest corner of the island has private bungalows and massage huts in its exclusive spa and wellness sanctuary for the use of Yacht Club guests.

They can also have use of their own upscale restaurant on the island – the secluded Ocean House Restaurant. Non Yacht Club cruisers will have their own experiences on the inland lagoon.

11. What about families?

MSC is a family-friendly cruise line and with that in mind it has created a dedicated beach area for families at Seakers Family Cove. It has a kid’s restaurant, play areas and family-friendly facilities to make the experience a pleasant one for families as well as adults. Enjoy the day spending quality time with your children at the following activities:

Family Lagoon Beach – a special lagoon area with shallow water for safely splashing and playing in the sun. Head to the Smiling Fish where you can find a rainbow of favorite ice cream flavors and colors including a few unique Bahamian specialties.

There’s a dedicated Activity Pavilion to keep children amused. Check for details before arriving at Ocean Cay and see what activities are planned.

Guests Arriving at MSC Ocean Cay
5 December 2019, first guests arrive on Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve © AP Images for MSC Cruise

If you are concerned about keeping your child protected from the sun, why not book a private beach cabana. It gives you your own private space with chairs, loungers and some welcome shade. Cabana rentals can accommodate 6 guests and include towels and fresh water. It’s ideal for young children who need an afternoon nap (and older cruisers who just want to have a snooze after a delicious lunch!)

Book a tour and do something special together. You can go on an inflatable family raft, rent snorkeling equipment and enjoy the Marine Reserve inhabitants or go kayaking.

All aboard for a Family Tour to the Bahama Bank Escape. The motorized catamaran transports you to the shallow waters on Bahama Banks where you can enjoy football, Frisbee and water cannons or relax on an aqua-float chair.

Things to Do on Ocean Cay

12. Watersports (some with $)

Watersports play a big part in your day on Ocean Cay. You can go snorkeling with the colorful fish or try scuba diving with an expert guide. Above the waves there’s plenty more wet fun such as sea kayaking, electric pedalos, scenic boat trips, deep sea fishing, inflatable raft tours, glass bottom boat rides and stand-up paddleboarding.

The clear calm waters are perfect for Wave Runners. Rent one and go exploring all around the island. If you’ve never tried stand-up paddleboarding, now’s your chance. Board rentals are by the hour and you can paddle around the island or in the lagoon looking down at the fish.

Watersports at MSC's Private Island
Bahamas, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve – Paddleboard tour

Alternatively, rent your own individual floating beach mat for the day and chill out in the shallow lagoon waters. The comfortable headrest and deep mattress are the ultimate sunbed.

Alternatively, rigid inflatable rafts transport up to 3 and can be rented for the whole day. It’s a great way to float in the lagoon and have fun.

Tours can be pre-booked for many exciting watersports on Ocean Cay or further afield. These include snorkeling, kayaking, catamaran cruising and fishing.

13. Swimming

Families with children will appreciate the special shallow swim area to allow children to gain their confidence. Beaches shelve very gently into the water and the clear aquamarine sea is warm and crystal clear.

14. Glow-in-the-dark luminescent paddling ($)

As darkness falls early on the island (around 7pm in winter) you can even book a glow-in-the-dark experience. Special stand-up paddleboards are fitted with LED lights beneath them. As they cast colorful lights into the waters, curious fish come looking as you sailalong on your paddleboard in this surreal ocean experience.

15. Rent a private cabana ($)

If you want to escape the sun for a while or have youngsters who may need a nap, consider renting a private beach cabana for the day. It comes with beach chairs and all you need to chill out in your own shady paradise.

16. Organized activities

If you like to hang out around the pool during your cruise and join in all the afternoon fun, you’ll find just the same organized activities on Ocean Cay. Sign up for Scavenger Hunts, Sandcastle Competitions, Ocean Cay Olympic Games and other unique activities dreamed up by your cruise director and staff.

Ocean Cay Aerial View
Photo Credit: MSC Cruises

While ashore guests can take Caribbean and Latin dance classes, watch the colorful Junkanoo Parade, practise yoga and join in the lively sports activities.

If you always wanted to scuba dive, now’s your chance. You can book a one hour Scuba Diving lesson with a pro diver and see what’s beneath those alluring turquoise ripples.

17. Beach sports

Ocean Cay has thought of everything and has a dedicated space for enjoying Beach volleyball, Beach soccer, Disc golf, Bocce ball, Aqua gym, Aqua Zumba and Tug-of-war.

18. Food and drink on Ocean Cay

There are currently four areas serving food and drinks to cruise passengers. In the evening you can book a Sunset Evening Beach Picnic and dine beneath he starry sky. Your personal picnic basket comes with a blanket, bottle of sparkling wine, choice of delicious foods and a dessert. It’s unforgettable!

Those who choose to stay onboard will also have use of the limited ship’s facilities including bars and buffet. The onboard casino will also remain open throughout the day as it is still in international waters.

For something a little different, sign up for the Martha Stewart Bahamian Cooking and Cocktails Tour. Enjoy a 3-hour class that includes making and enjoying a cocktail and 3-course meal at the Ocean House Restaurant Kitchen. Imagine recreating that back home!

19. Spa treatments at Ocean Cay

You may have disembarked from the ship, but so too have all the beauticians, masseuses and therapist! The Spa has private cabanas for treatments in the fresh sea air. It also has fitness regimes and relaxation classes while you’re chilling out on the island.

20. Evening entertainment

Don’t worry; even though you are on a desert island, the show will go on! Evening entertainment includes themed shows such as the Evening Lighthouse Show, fire pits for gathering around and enjoying live music from Bahamanian artists and DJs.

Lighthouse at Ocean Cay
Bahamas, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve © AP Images for MSC Cruise

There’s a Luna Libre Party, picnic on the beach and you can book a romantic Sunset Champagne Cruise and hopefully see a “green flash” as the sun dips below the cloudless horizon.

If you can escape the main areas, look up at the dark sky and you’ll be amazed at the density of stars in the unpolluted skies above.

21. Bahamian cultural experiences

Just like other island nations, the Bahamas has its own indigenous culture, skills and crafts. Browse the shops in the authentic Bahamian Village for handmade souvenirs, appreciate the local music and watch the colorful Junkanoo Parade. Dancers wear painted masks and colorful costumes to perform their cultural dances. Music comes from familiar instruments, cowbells and drums made from goatskin leather. It’s unforgettable!

Island Buildings
Bahamas, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve © AP Images for MSC Cruise

22. Say “I do!”

If you dream of a destination wedding, getting married on Ocean Cay could not be simpler or more romantic. Staff will organize your legal paperwork and you can choose from one of the all-inclusive wedding packages. Couples can also renew their vows in this most romantic spot within the specially built Wedding Cabana overlooking the sea.  

23. Climb the Lighthouse ($)

This is your chance to climb up the spiral staircase inside the red and white lighthouse. There are three levels and 165 steps to climb altogether. From the top there’s an amazing viewing platform with far-reaching 360-degree views. Look down on people having fun, boats bobbing in the marina. Your guide will also provide some interesting facts about the island and the marine reserve during the 30-minute tour. It’s a fun experience that you will never forget! There is a fee for this activity.

24. Excursions from MSC’s Ocean Cay

Ocean Cay excursions are available and can be booked ahead of time online or at the Guest Services desk. Costs will be charged to your stateroom account. Activities include boat trips, fishing charters and romantic sunset cruises or check out more unusual cruise excursions below.

Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve Tours
Bahamas, from Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve – Bahama Bank Escape
  • Join an Ocean Cay Waverunner Tour and follow your guide while driving your own jet ski with a passenger on the back (optional). Tour lasts 1.5 hours.
  • Learn more about the heavens with the one-hour long Beachside Stargazing Adventure for Kids.
  • There’s also a one-hour Beachside Stargazing Experience for Adults – all equipment provided including state-of-the-art computerized tracking telescopes.! The experience starts with a welcome drink and an introduction to the universe by an astronomer/guide. If you don’t know your nebulas from your planets, this educational experience is for you
  • Another 2-hour experience aimed at families – Help Doremi Save the Island!
  • Book a one-hour Scuba Diving Course with a qualified diver. You won’t believe what lies beneath the waves in this Marine Reserve!
  • More experienced divers can join a Two Tank Scuba Dive on Victory Reef. Coral caverns and swim-throughs in water from 35 to 90 feet in depth are home to Loggerhead Turtles, Reef Sharks, Nurse Sharks and large fish such as Wahoo and Mahi-Mahi at Bull Run.Wow!
  • If you don’t fancy diving, sign up for the Marine Reserve Snorkel Safari. All snorkeling gear is provided for the full day along with instructions for beginner snorkelers. Then off you go around the island on an unforgettable adventure in the Ocean Cay Marine Reserve.
  • Honeymoon Harbor Stingray Adventure is a one-hour excursion to Honeymoon Harbor. Wade our from the beach or hang out from the boat and interact with the colony of stingrays.
  • Step aboard a luxury twin-hulled catamaran and set sail on a Rum Rendezvous. This tour includes complimentary Ocean Cay Sway Cocktails as you motor gently in paradise. After circumnavigating the cay, the captain will anchor in the shallow waters of Bahama Banks where you can party, swim and soak up the sun.
  • Take the Bahama Banks Escape by motor catamaran to Bahama Banks. The 2-hour tour includes complimentary rum punch. On arrival, play football, Frisbee or relax in the sun on an Aqua Float chair.
  • Where better than the Bahamas for joining a 3-hour deep-sea fishing adventure. All bait and equipment is provided so cast your line and see what you can hook. Ocean Cay operates a tag and release policy so take your camera to capture the moment. Tagging the fish also helps scientists track the fish and see how far it travels.
  • The Glow Night-time Stand-up paddleboarding is an one hour experience. Fitted with LED illumination your board will attract fish as you peddle beneath the starry sky.

Now you know what’s in store at the latest Caribbean cruise island destination – MSC’s Ocean Cay Marine Reserve in the Bahamas – how about booking your next cruise to include it?

FAQ on MSC’s Private Island:

Where is MSC Ocean Cay private island?

Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve is part of the Bimini district of islands in the western Bahamas. It is 20 miles south of Bimini and is one of the closest islands to the US mainland. In fact it is just 65 miles due east of Miami.

How large is Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve?

Ocean Cay island covers 95 acres (38.5 hectares). As well as being one of the biggest island development by any cruise company, it is the only Marine Reserve experience.

Is Ocean Cay only for MSC cruise guests?

Ocean Cay is an exclusive experience for MSC cruisers and guests.The only way to visit Ocean Cay in the Bahamas is by booking a cruise with MSC which includes a stop at the island as a port of call.

Gillian Birch
Gillian Birch
Gillian Birch is a full-time travel writer and author of 12 travel books. British educated with a diploma in journalism she has traveled the world, writing about her experiences with wonderful clarity and eyewitness detail. She uses her personal journals and memories to write about her many cruise experiences around the Caribbean, Mediterranean, trans-Atlantic, Norwegian Fjords, Panama Canal and South America including Cape Horn. Find out more about us here.


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