Island Time TRANSFORMED
Building a new water park from the sand up entails deep planning—especially when placing the park on a tropical island more than 100 miles offshore … surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean … in the Bermuda Triangle.
In May, Royal Caribbean International lowered the gangplank on a new water park only accessible by cruise ship: Perfect Day at CocoCay.
“You’re seeing people in mixed-use developments and integrated resorts putting more attractions in because they are in competition with others,” explains Chris Perry, vice president of Perfect Day islands operations and hotel operations. “We want to have something that nobody else has.” That includes the 135-foot-tall “Daredevil’s Peak” water slide, part of the stunning red, orange, and yellow Daredevil’s Tower standing as a beacon on the horizon, piercing the tropical blue skies. (The cruise line touts “Daredevil’s Peak” as the tallest slide in North America.)
While following the wafting sounds of calypso music upon disembarking, cruise passengers will discover Perfect Day at CocoCay unfolds in two directions based on the concept of thrill and chill. Turn right for Thrill Waterpark, home to 13 water slides, a wave pool, the “Adventure Pool” obstacle course, a children’s activity pool known as “Splashaway Bay,” and “Up, Up and Away,” an Aerophile sightseeing balloon rising 450 feet above the Atlantic. When turning left for a more laid-back day, guests find the Oasis Lagoon with its giant freshwater swimming pool; Harbor Beach, a saltwater-fed inlet; and several beaches.
“While you have things that can thrill people, that’s oftentimes not for everybody. So, you need this element of chill,” Perry says of striking a balance.
Located 140 miles east of Miami, Florida, in Berry Islands, Bahamas, Little Stirrup Cay was first used by Royal Caribbean in 1988, branded as CocoCay (with “cay” pronounced as “key”). While additional bars were added, along with food and beverage (F&B) locations, the island had not seen major redevelopment until Royal Caribbean began rethinking the island almost five years ago, using the code name: Perfect Day. Soon, the name stuck.
“It was really scary when we started and the name ‘Perfect’ came up because of the weight of what that means is really important,” shares Laura Hodges Bethge, vice president of product development at Royal Caribbean. “Ultimately, the name turned into a North Star for the project, because it made it easy to understand for everybody working on the project.”
Design teams started to challenge themselves, asking each other, “Well, is that perfect?” during concepting. Getting the island to be perfect, what Royal Caribbean also calls “totally amplified,” took serious planning.
“We want to bring the guest what they want, then put it on steroids and add a wow.” — Laura Hodges Bethge, on meeting guest expectations
Logistics in Paradise
Reshaping CocoCay took working with the government in the Bahamas. Royal Caribbean hired local laborers, who, in turn, lived on the island in air-conditioned trailers with bunkbeds and full bathrooms.
“Our team has to be taken care of more than anything,” Perry says. That also meant providing a working commissary to prepare meals, with the island’s water treatment plant and power plant providing the necessary utilities.
With the construction team assembled on the island, crews were in position to take possession of fiberglass water slide pieces and building materials arriving on barges and in the cargo holds of ships.
Royal Caribbean turned to Aquatic Design & Engineering (ADE)—which the cruise line previously used to design water slide attractions onboard several of its 26 ships—to lay out Perfect Day at CocoCay. WhiteWater was tapped to be the water slide provider.
“They weren’t stepping into something that was completely unfamiliar, although it’s on a larger scale than they’ve ever done,” Perry says.
Delivering a Perfect Day Early
While construction was taking place, CocoCay needed to remain open for arriving cruise ships and their passengers—each looking for a day in paradise.
“People want to be connected to the water,” says Hodges Bethge. To educate island visitors of the project, Royal Caribbean created “hoarding walls”—movable perimeter fences around the construction zones—featuring decorative wraps. Showcasing renderings and maps of the coming attractions is a tactic borrowed from Apple’s playbook, according to Perry.
“Let’s give them things they want … that they don’t even know that they want yet,” he says. By creating the fear of missing out (known as FOMO), the cruise line began to get guests thinking about booking a return vacation to experience what’s new. Meanwhile, to keep vacationers from feeling disappointed that they did not receive the full island experience, Royal Caribbean’s operations team also staged special events to keep the focus off the construction.
“We would do things in other areas like, ‘Hey, we’re throwing a beach bash over here! We got a great DJ, and everybody gets a free drink!’” explains Hodges Bethge. She says complaints by passengers during the construction totaled less than 10 on any given voyage. A month before Perfect Day at CocoCay reopened, passengers were given the opportunity to experience a soft opening.
“We were giving guests something they weren’t expecting,” Hodges Bethge says.
Today, Thrill Waterpark operates as a shore excursion, requiring an additional fee. Perry says the cruise line uses a dynamic pricing model, offering tickets at a higher price during busier seasons, and at a lower cost when fewer passengers may be cruising. The “Splashaway Bay” children’s activity pool does not require an additional ticket.
Servings and Staffing
Hodges Bethge’s design teams put an emphasis on food during development of the island.
“I think the whole food culture has evolved from when I was growing up,” says Perry, adding food is vitally important. “It’s a big reason people are very happy on the ships, and I think that carries onto the island.”
Traditional hamburgers are offered along with fresh salads, tacos, sandwiches (Perry highly recommends the Cuban sandwich), fresh fruit, and a portabella mushroom for vegetarians.
Two main buffets join three satellite snack stations and Captain Jack’s, an upscale option requiring an additional cost per guest. Primarily perishable food items are delivered from the cruise ship.
To serve upward of 3,000 passengers per ship, a team of 300 lives on the island full time, while select members of the F&B team serving aboard the ship will disembark to join their island colleagues.
“Once the ship arrives, from the moment the guest steps on the island, it needs to be perfect. Our bars need to be set up, and the food needs to be ready; so the folks on the island do that,” Hodges Bethge says.
The staff living on the island are housed in single-occupant dorm rooms, with buildings named after the islands found in the Bahamas. A commissary, gym, and television room are collectively called “Downtown” by employees.
Planning for Tropical Trouble
Royal Caribbean’s investment in Perfect Day at CocoCay meant designing structures and systems to have strong wind loads that can withstand a tropical storm, like September’s Hurricane Dorian. While water slide towers are securely anchored to cement footers, other items were collected quickly. Forklifts on the island moved cabanas and bungalows before securing them in central locations.
“I don’t want to say nothing is hurricane proof, but there are plans in place,” Perry says of how the island closed days before Hurricane Dorian’s arrival.
Watching the weather is a full-time job for Royal Caribbean’s chief meteorologist. Longtime Florida television weather forecaster Jim Van Fleet joined the cruise line to provide global weather reports. When Dorian became a threat, Fleet recommended ships bypass Perfect Day at CocoCay, giving island residents time to make storm preparations.
In May, landscaping on CocoCay was kept light upon opening, as the horticulture and operations team studied guest movement to determine their traffic patterns.
“Oftentimes, we encourage our landscape design teams to, ‘Go ahead and put a few things down, but don’t extensively landscape. Let’s see where people move to, and then we can put in paving slabs, or we can fill in the other areas with other landscaping.’” Perry says. The same theory applies to garbage can placement.
Another learning that surprised planners was underestimating the interest in the towering “Daredevil’s Peak.”
“We thought it would be so intimidating, we weren’t expecting the line to be as long as it is,” reveals Hodges Bethge. “We’ve had to be very cognizant of how we operate the water park and how we get guests through that line, because we were not anticipating the interest in that attraction.”
In August, to ease lines and give guests more time on the island, the cruise line announced new itineraries that tout two stops at Perfect Day at CocoCay, and others with extended late-night hours on the island.
“The resounding feedback from our guests is that they want more—more time and even more ways to experience the island,” says Michael Bayley, president and CEO, Royal Caribbean International. A nightly barbecue, performances by fire dancers, and farewell fireworks become part of evening activities this month.
Charting a Course for the Future
In December, two additional areas will open on the island. Coco Beach Club
will be a limited-capacity area that guests under 21 can only enter with an adult. The private space will feature its own restaurant with what Perry describes as “an elevated menu” and a private infinity pool. Nearby, 20 “Floating Vistas,” reminiscent of an over-water cabana, will open on the island’s northern edge. Look no further than Perry’s title to realize there are more Perfect Day islands in the works.
“To have a collection of Perfect Day islands, you need to have more than one,” Perry hints, as his schedule takes him to CocoCay every other week, often flying from Miami to Great Harbor Cay, where he takes a tender to the island.
“What we’re trying to do is curate this perfect day for so many people, and it’s not easy. But I like to think we’ve created someplace pretty special.”
With 1 million guests expected in 2019, and 2 million visitors anticipated in 2020, Royal Caribbean created an attraction to “sea.”
Contact Funworld Managing Editor Scott Fais at [email protected].
|Learn more about Royal Caribbean’s successes at IAAPA Expo in Orlando. Neva Heaston, private destinations manager, will speak at the “Mid-Level Manager Roundtable” on Thursday, Nov. 21.||
FUNWORLD VIDEO: Ready to tour paradise? See Perfect Day at CocoCay for yourself. www.IAAPA.org/Funworld/CocoCay