Sponsored by MSC Cruises
When MSC Cruises acquired the Bahamian island that would eventually become Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, the line chose to do things a bit differently when designing this slice of paradise. Instead of turning the private island into a theme park with huge water slides and shops around every corner, MSC Cruises transformed this neglected isle into a marine reserve devoted to restoring ocean habitats – while doubling as a visually stunning oasis for travelers to visit.
This means cruisers who are lucky enough to experience Ocean Cay will find more natural beauty and less plastic and waste, along with an endless number of spots to relax and unwind for the day. Since its restoration, the island has become a tropical utopia where you can enjoy the sights and sounds of nature with the reassurance that every aspect of the destination was designed with the environment in mind.
And from April 2023, you can visit Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve on a series of Caribbean itineraries on MSC Meraviglia from New York. So, if you're planning a cruise and you want a reminder of why you love the sea in the first place, MSC Cruises' Ocean Cay is just the place.
Approximately 20 miles south of Bimini in The Bahamas, Ocean Cay exists in a part of the world already renowned for its natural beauty. However, the island needed some help when MSC Cruises acquired it in 2015.
Once used exclusively for the excavation of its white aragonite sand, the private island and its surrounding waters were scattered with waste and debris. After the acquisition, MSC Cruises excavated and cleaned the entire area, removing 1,500 tons of scrap metal from the ocean along the way.
As part of the restoration effort, a team of marine biologists and divers removed 400 individual hard coral colonies from the ocean bed in order to relocate them to areas where they could flourish. As the clean-up commenced, MSC Cruises helped facilitate the planting of native flora. Now, more than 75,000 plants and shrubs, mostly native to the Caribbean, dot the island paradise and add to its romantic, tropical appeal.
Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve includes 64 square miles of protected ocean waters surrounding the island itself. Scientists living on the island are conducting research for the MSC Foundation’s Super Coral Program. According to the foundation, its aim is to "rebuild the [ocean's] reefs through pioneering the development of coral that is more resilient to environmental threats like ocean pollution and warming."
Restoring and protecting the coral will help ensure the survival of 88+ different species of fish and other marine life discovered in the area during the initial restoration project. Not surprisingly, Ocean Cay now attracts a diverse population of creatures to its skies, sands and surrounding waters. A haven for coral and bird populations, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve has everything from lobsters to crayfish, green sea turtles and eagle rays. Designed purposely as a low-impact destination, the island is equipped with a solar farm and an impressive zero-impact wastewater system, and operates without any single-use plastics.
Considering a plethora of scientific research is happening at Ocean Cay, you're probably wondering how being there for the day actually feels. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that you wouldn't know there was an active coral restoration project in the works unless someone told you so.
A visit to Ocean Cay is like stepping off your ship directly onto a dreamy private island where you can relax, get physical with a range of ocean activities or explore the marine reserve on a guided tour. The island's waters are a stunning shade of turquoise and crystal clear, and the protected interior lagoon ensures you can swim, float or snorkel without worrying about the surf.
Dining options on Ocean Cay are plentiful, diverse and of course included in your cruise fare. Not only will you find food trucks serving up kid-friendly meals like cheeseburgers, hot dogs and fries, but you'll discover a fresh buffet lined with dishes like snapper escovitch, jerk chicken, fried plantains, coleslaw, salads, rum cake and banana bread. There are plenty of bars, too, which means you can try any number of tropical drinks, as well as beer, wine and non-alcoholic options.
Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve is expertly laid out with several stunning beach areas that work for any kind of day you want to have. Whether you want to swim in the protected interior of Ocean Cay Lagoon, relax on the shores of Bimini Beach or stick close to the main buffet at Sunset Beach, there is no shortage of beach chairs, umbrellas, and places to set up for the day.
If you happened to book your cruise cabin within the line's exclusive Yacht Club, you're in for a real treat. Not only does Ocean Cay have its own private beach area that is exclusively available to Yacht Club guests, but it has its own fine dining restaurant and additional staff to ensure all your needs are met while you're on shore.
Obviously, only MSC Cruises' ships stop at Ocean Cay, but the specific vessels you can take to the line's private island often change throughout the year. At the moment, MSC Cruises lists vessels like the MSC Seashore, MSC Meraviglia, MSC Divina, MSC Magnifica, MSC Seaside and the new MSC Seascape as ships with itineraries that feature Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve as a port of call.
It's also worth noting that MSC Meraviglia and the new MSC Seascape are among the world’s most environmentally advanced ships. MSC Seascape features several environmental technologies meant to dramatically limit its impact, including hybrid exhaust gas cleaning systems (EGCS) and catalytic reduction systems (SCR) that help the line achieve a 98% reduction of sulfur oxide (SOx) emissions and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions.
In the meantime, MSC Meraviglia received accolades from Bureau Veritas for its environmental technologies and sustainability features, particularly when it comes to its use of energy-saving materials and cleaning and wastewater treatment systems.
While most vessels with stops at Ocean Cay are currently sailing from ports in Florida, MSC Meraviglia offers itineraries with sailings to the private island from New York City.
The ideal private island getaway to Ocean Cay looks different for everyone, but you can rest assured you'll find something to fit your agenda. That's true whether you want to explore the natural beauty of the marine reserve, get some exercise, or find a place where you can curl up with a book or a cocktail for the day.
Available excursions and activities include everything from marine reserve snorkeling sessions to kayak rentals, catamaran tours, waverunner rentals, guided climbs to the top of the island's lighthouse, a sunrise mimosa cruise and more. If you have an itinerary with a planned overnight stay at Ocean Cay, you can even book a sunset champagne cruise, a glow night-time paddle boarding session or beachside stargazing.
Speaking of overnight stays on the island, itineraries that include this option give you more time to enjoy the endless activities and adventures at Ocean Cay. For example, evening plans include a lighthouse show that features an explosion of light that illuminates the sky. Other nighttime activities include regular Junkanoo parades and beach discos, and of course Ocean Cay has beachside fire pits for when you're looking to rest.
MSC Cruises also offers its spa services in a dedicated spa area on the island, so you can book a beachside massage or a skincare session using only biodegradable and eco-friendly products.
What do I do at Ocean Cay? I book an oceanfront cabana for my family of four, then we take turns in the shade between snorkeling sessions and beachside ball games. It's not as exciting as kayaking through the surf or snorkeling with sea turtles, but there's nothing in the world I would rather do.