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At MSC Cruises' private island Ocean Cay, nature reigns

Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve has seven beaches, all with sun beds and some offering cabana rentals
In developing its Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, MSC Cruises is going for a more relaxed, nature-oriented experience than some of the other action-intensive cruise line private islands in the Bahamas. This will not be a 'theme park' but rather a 'paradise in the Caribbean,' as Gianni Onorato, CEO of MSC Cruises, put it.

Travelers will find beaches galore, two lagoons, food and drink, a coral reef for snorkeling, spa treatments and movies under the stars. A smaller island nearby will be available to rent for groups of up to 40 people.

A dock, and night stays

Other differentiating factors for Ocean Cay (pronounced 'key') are a dock, so passengers can easily go back and forth between the ship and the island, and night stays. Since the destination is just 65 miles from Miami, the ship can linger until 1 a.m. and be back at PortMiami early morning.

Onorato said it takes just 17 minutes to walk to the furthest point of the cay from the ship, or people can hop aboard electric carts.

Describing his perfect day in paradise, he envisions relaxing on a white sand beach, cocktail in hand, then snorkeling, enjoying light food and souvenir shopping, watching the sunset with a drink then going back on board for dinner at a fine restaurant. Afterward, he'd return to Ocean Cay for a movie under the stars.

No amphitheater

When Ocean Cay was announced three years ago, a 2,000-seat amphitheater was in the plans for shows with entertainers from the ship. That's no longer the case.

'We thought that was too intrusive,' Onorato told Seatrade Cruise News. 'We want this to be shoes off, sit in the sand, very authentic.'

MSC realized there was no need to build extensively on an island that already had the ingredients of a natural paradise and so the evening activities are designed to fit with this philosophy. The movies under the stars will be a key feature, along with stargazing, romantic sunset catamaran tours and the opportunity to watch sunsets from an iconic lighthouse. There will also be music and DJs at the lighthouse, and food trucks will move closer to the marina area to create a festive atmosphere at night.

It all sounds very different from the massive water park with its 13 waterslides, wave pool and zip line of Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean's amped up private island that will debut in November, the same time as Ocean Cay. (CocoCay will also have chill experiences.)

Connecting with nature

MSC's vision is a destination where people can relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the Bahamas, Onorato elaborated. 'The experience is about allowing guests to connect with nature and make the most of the island’s natural features—the crystal clear water and beautiful white sandy beaches. It really will be a place where, if you want to, you can switch off and unwind.'

For those looking to be more active, though, there will be paddle boarding, snorkel safaris, kayaking and activities like beach volleyball plus other water sports and excursions.

'But the most important thing to us,' Onorato added, 'is we also want guests to learn and discover the importance of preserving and protecting the ocean with a series of edutainment activities. So, yes, our approach is more nature-oriented. Our ships offer plenty of thrills and excitement and this is all still there for the guests to enjoy if this is what they are looking for.'

The $200m Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve is transforming a former industrial sand extraction site into a flourishing marine reserve that will exist in harmony with the local ecosystem. Visitors will have opportunities to learn about the protection of the oceans and the importance of preserving coral reefs.

Ocean Cay is ringed by 64 square miles of protected waters, and a coral nursery is being established to encourage and sustain the growth of new coral. Plans are under way for a marine laboratory to be situated on the cay for researching climate-change-resistant coral.

Two miles of beaches

The seven beaches span two miles. Sun beds will be available on all, and some will offer cabana rentals. The great lagoon is ideal for protected swimming and water sports, while the smaller family lagoon has shallow, calm water and plenty of games. At over half a mile long, Great Bimini Beach is the largest stretch of sand and the place to go for a variety of water sports.

Games, tournaments and dance lessons will be among the other activities.

MSC Aurea Spa will offer special body and facial treatments like the Ocean Cay Breeze Boost massage.

A buffet will be located near the family lagoon, and food carts stationed at the beaches by day include a taco truck and a conch fritter truck. There will be seven beach bars, a Bahamian bar, ice cream parlor and coffee bar in the marina and a Hemingway-style cocktail bar at the lighthouse. Shops will sell Bahamian arts and crafts, souvenirs and gifts, MSC-branded items and beach essentials.

MSC Meraviglia first to call on Nov. 9

The first ship visit will be MSC Meraviglia on Nov. 9. Others scheduled initially are MSC Armonia, MSC Seaside and MSC Divina, all Miami-based.

MSC expects Ocean Cay will help sell cruises by adding a unique enticement to the itinerary. 'We notice it already,' Onorato said. 'We'll see that more and more as the renderings and images come out,' he predicted.

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