Aerial view of CocoCay on a gorgeous day; Image courtesy of Royal Caribbean International

The best family vacations are the ones where EVERYONE gets to do what they want, right? This can be tricky of course, because you and your 7-year-old don’t have the same definition of a good time. This is especially tricky since, when on a gorgeous Caribbean island, your definition probably involves alone time in a chaise lounge peacefully overlooking the water (sipping a mai tai). Your 7-year-old, on the other hand, is planning to snorkel and sandcastle and party till he drops. And this is the often unsolvable rub of family beach vacations. Who gets to have the vacation day they’ve been dreaming about?

Good news. You both do, because there’s CocoCay.

We recently visited the newly re-imagined (to the tune of $250 million) Royal Caribbean private island in the Bahamas on one of the 11 ships in the cruise line’s fleet that docks here, and man, is it just what the vacation doctor ordered. For everybody.

When you disembark into brilliant Caribbean sunshine, you walk (or shuttle) to the end of the pier where the beach path splits for your first decision of the day—will it be Thrill Waterpark or Chill Island for you?

The path to Chill Island (image by Liz Zack)
Thrill waterpark entrance (image courtesy of Royal Caribbean International)

Luckily you can start in one place and finish in the other like we did—or if you’ve got big kids who can be on their own—make a family base by the water and let them loose in the thrill park with hourly check-ins. (Incidentally, this is why walkie-talkies are so key on all kinds of family vacations. Never leave home without ‘em!)

Your kids (and maybe you, too) will dash off to the water park first. It’s an additional fee ($44 to $99 for the full day $39 to $74 for a half day) and the park is full of 13 epic waterslides. There are height restrictions starting at 40”, but as long as your little is 48 inches he or she can ride anything on Daredevil Tower, including the 135-foot-tall Daredevil’s Peak, which clocks in as the tallest waterslide in North America. My 10-year old rode it four times—“SO fast.” He kept saying, shaking his head and smiling the largest ear-to-ear grin I’ve ever seen. “SO fast.” My favorite part was stationing myself at the bottom of the slide to hear the screams. By far the loudest of them came from the parents trailing their over-the-moon kids on the way down.

The finish line of Daredevil’s Peak waterslide, the tallest waterslide in North America; image by Liz Zack

We also loved the zip line, where you can sail above the island from landing to landing in a comfortable seated harness (minimum weight requirement is 50 lbs.). Be prepared however—they actually weigh you on the spot before you harness-up and you have to wear your weight on an EXPOSED WRIST BAND for the rest of your journey. This injury is made slightly more tolerable by the ride’s cool ending— one thrill-seeker (they have tandem lines so you zip in pairs) goes through a water feature (surprise!) during the last leg of the zip line.

The CocoCay zipline; image courtesy of Royal Caribbean International

There’s an enormous salt-water lounge pool, a wave pool and splash pool for the littles in addition to a tethered hot air balloon. There is truly more “thrill” here than you could tackle in a week.

After lunch, wander over to Chill Beach. Keep walking. Get as far away from the snack bars and thrill spillover as possible and find a chair with plenty of empty space around it. You will, since the CocoCay engineers deliberately designed the island for low to medium density fun. Let the kids wander back to Thrill island, or better yet, rent snorkels and dive with them into the Caribbean. Here there are thrills of a different kind: In a single afternoon we found a huge conch, thousands of colorful fish and two pretty big sting rays.

Liz Zack

By the end of the year, Royal Caribbean plans to launch overwater cabanas on CocoCay, and I can only imagine how those will elevate afternoon “chill” to olympic levels. But that’s all frosting on the cake. We had a blast—I got to laze under an umbrella and we both had so much thrill that we fell asleep before dinner. A perfect day.

Liz Zack