Castaway Cay, formerly known as Gorda Cay, is a private island in the Bahamas owned exclusively by the Walt Disney Company, which runs it as a tourist resort. But the island’s history wasn’t always full of the magic and wonder of Disney. Tainted by drugs and crime, an abandoned aircraft can still be seen at the end of a disused airstrip, reminders of Castaway Cay’s more disreputable past.
Gorda Cay was reputedly used by pirates in the early 1700s and later hosting farmers from the mainland seven miles away. The island also sheltered fishermen caught in bad weather. But the real story begins in the 1960s when businessman Alvin Tucker flew over Gorda Cay with a real estate agent from Nassau. Accessible only by sea at that time, Tucker saw the investment potential and, after purchasing 150 acres, set about clearing space for the 2,400 foot runway that still exists today.
It later came to Tucker’s attention that his runway was being used by drug runners bringing narcotics into Florida. His attempts to end the illicit activity failed – the police were reportedly in on it also – and he was forced to sell his corner of paradise to a private company. By the 1980s, Gorda Cay was so notorious that residents were no longer welcome and witnesses saw up to six planes a day using the runway for drug smuggling activities.
(Image: U.S. Navy, public domain)
In 1983, a drugs bust reportedly led to the seisure of $100 million of cocaine, after which Gorda Cay was eventually bought by Disney who turned it into a resort island complete with a pier for visiting cruise ships. Eighteen months, $25 million and 50,000 truckloads of sand later, Gorda Cay was transformed into Castaway Cay, a castaway-themed island with buildings designed to look like they had been fashioned from timbers following a shipwreck.
The beach where Tom Hanks encountered Daryl Hannah in the film Splash is on the island, while the Flying Dutchman pirate ship from Pirates of the Caribbean is also displayed there. Two submarine ride vehicles from the now defunct 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage ride at Disney World, Florida, are submerged in the snorkeling area. Guests can also ride bikes, parasail and rent personal watercraft.
Alvin Tucker’s abandoned runway, which aided drug runners for years before Disney stepped in, is now part of a bike and tram path to Serenity Bay, the “adults only” area of Castaway Cay. Lying in the tropical trees is an abandoned plane, now adorned with Disney nose art. Now an attraction for kids and tourists, was this aircraft once used in the island’s infamous drug trade?