Royal Caribbean’s private-island waterpark an extraordinary achievement

Royal Caribbean's private-island waterpark an extraordinary achievement

COCOCAY, Bahamas — Getting the cruise industry’s first
full-fledged waterpark open would be an accomplishment in itself. But getting
it built on a rocky outcrop in the middle of the ocean, 150 miles from Miami,
was a feat of logistical and engineering ambition.

When it started planning the Thrill Waterpark as part of
what would eventually be dubbed “Perfect Day at CocoCay,” Royal
Caribbean International wasn’t even sure it could be done, despite the desire
of senior executives to upgrade Royal’s land experience to match the quality of
its ships.

“If you need something — and you always need something
— there is no Home Depot, there’s no way to get anything,” said James
Boink, associate vice president of private destinations at Royal Caribbean
Cruises Ltd. Every unanticipated need on CocoCay, he said, meant waiting a
couple of days to get parts flown in from the U.S.

But Royal persisted, and four years after initial blueprints
were drawn, the $250 million attraction is hosting its first ships.

First Look: Perfect Day at CocoCay

One ship to call regularly will be the Navigator of the
Seas, which has assumed the three- and four-day cruise itineraries out of Miami
that not long ago were consigned to the smaller, older Majesty of the Seas.

Worth the wait

On a recent weekday morning, guests streamed off the
Navigator onto the newly built pier that will make it feasible for two
Oasis-class ships to dock at the same time and disgorge more than 10,000 guests
onto the 140-acre island.

Only a third of the island is developed, but Royal has
packed that part with bars, cabanas, shaded walkways, a lagoon, a sprawling
freshwater pool, thousands of loungers, hundreds of colorful canvas umbrellas,
three restaurants, five beaches, a three-station zipline, a helium balloon
attraction, an oasis worth of foliage and the waterpark.

Many Navigator guests headed straight for the tallest
in the park, Daredevil’s Peak, which starts atop the 135-foot tall
Daredevil’s Tower and winds around in a 20-second descent to the ground.

At midmorning, scoring a ride meant a wait of 40 minutes,
but by midafternoon, the wait had shrunk to no more than 15 minutes. Even at 40
minutes, my traveling companion pronounced the slide “worth the wait.”

Twelve other waterslides round out the lineup, which include
seven that launch from the tower and six that occupy the separate Splash Summit
pad. I sampled the Slingshot on Splash Summit, a raft ride that climbs a nearly
vertical wall at the end before backsliding into a large run-out pool.

Like many of the other slides, the Slingshot will be coming
to countless social media platforms near you.

In between the slide areas, there are some other waterpark
favorites such as a wave pool and an adventure pool of aquatic obstacles.
(There is no lazy river feature). Just outside the turnstile of the fee-extra
Thrill Waterpark are two complimentary venues for younger kids: Splashaway Bay,
with fountains, pools and drench buckets; and a large Spanish galleon full of
water cannons and slides for pint-sized pirates.

The chill side of the cay

By their nature, the attractions of Chill Island are not
going to get the same attention as those at Thrill Waterpark. Still, there are
several peaceful beaches, one fanned in an attractive semicircle around an
internal lagoon. The number of rentable cabanas on CocoCay has surged from 15
to 49, a number that will grow by 20 when the overwater cabanas of the Coco Beach
Club open in December.

In that upscale neighborhood, cabanas will rent for as much
as $1,599 a day. Until Coco Beach Club opens with a grill, an infinity pool, a
trio of bars and sports courts and facilities, the chill side of CocoCay will
be less than complete.

CocoCay demonstrates Royal Caribbean’s usual flair for
design and refinement, with features that an average guest might not notice but
that contribute to an overall sensation of quality. Boink cited the bathroom
interiors as an example: “We crafted and scripted every detail.”

By adding “Perfect Day” to CocoCay, as Royal
Caribbean has called Little Stirrup Cay during its 31-year tenancy, the line
has set expectations sky-high. The Perfect Day at CocoCay still has competition
in the private island category with more coming, but there’s no doubt that its
waterpark is in a league of its own.

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