Grand Cayman….Paradise Found

Grand Cayman is the largest of the Cayman Islands. It’s a popular tropical beach destination and I can see why. As a matter of fact, in my opinion it’s one of the nicest islands in the Caribbean. What makes it such a great vacation spot? It’s got miles of heavenly white sand beaches, clear turquoise waters and fun activities, all to be had on one of the safest islands in the Caribbean. All of these fun in the sun shenanigans do not come cheap. Grand Cayman is one of the most expensive islands in the Caribbean to explore, but can become more affordable with some planning…..Find out how!

What to Do

Visit Stingray City. Can’t swim? No worries…Stingray City is located on a sand bar in about 3-4 feet of water. Afraid of enormous creatures swimming around you sporting dangerous/poisonous barbed tails? ? No problem…They are friendly, used to being around people (so we were told) and as long as you are not aggressive towards them (for example, pulling on their stinger), they won’t do anything but swim around. We took a tour with Rowan Watersports, booked through Tripadvisor for $40.00 per person. They provided hotel pick up and water throughout the trip. The boat ride to the sand bar took about 30-40 minutes in relatively smooth waters. After a safety briefing, we entered the water as these massive black blobs glided toward us…….Yikes! They were swimming in between my legs and rubbing up against me without even catching my name. Dinner and a drink would have been nice. Then you get these slimy squid to feed to the stingrays… the guide was pretty adamant about us tucking our thumbs into our fists when we fed them, which led me to ponder what unspeakable act of horror had occurred involving a stingray consuming a person’s thumb!? Regardless, I kept my thumb tight in my fist…..I wasn’t taking any chances! Then there’s the matter of getting the squid slime off of your hands without wiping it ANYWHERE on your body. Otherwise the stingrays will come and attach their little mouths to you….again, without so much as a drink first. The good news? They don’t have teeth. The trip we took also included a fantastic stop at a reef to snorkel. Lots of cool fish everywhere! Tip; wear sunscreen and bring a small bottle to reapply or you will burn! This was a great excursion to take.

Swim with the horses at Barker Beach. Well…..attempt to stay on a wet slippery horse while riding bareback as he swims! After a nice ride on the beach with your horse, your guide removes the saddles and you all go out into about 10 feet or so of water in the ocean. It’s actually really fun once you get used to it! Tours were a little pricey, running about $125.00 per person (including transportation) and lasted several hours. I went with Spirit of the West and had a great experience!

Grab your paddle and go kayaking through the mangroves. I loved this tour! My son would not join me for this activity as he suffers from a kayak phobia. He blames me for the time that we were out on a kayak and almost got pulled down a waterfall. “Almost” is the key word here. Anyway, if you enjoy gliding on top of the water and getting some good exercise while taking in some great scenery, this might be the tour for you…We actually went deep into overgrown mangrove forests, pulling ourselves through branch by branch at some points. This company was environmentally responsible (which I love) and even asked us to pick up any trash we saw floating and put it in our kayaks…The good news is that we did not see any! The tour was with Sea Elements and costs $50. USD including transport. Tip; bring a thermos of water. Wear sunscreen, then put more sunscreen on. Use a handy clear waterproof phone case that goes around your neck (I used this on the horseback ride and stingray tour as well) You can use the camera right through the plastic! I got mine on Amazon for $10.00.

Spend a few hours with the turtles at the Turtle Farm. I know….I was skeptical too. My morning there was actually pretty fun! There is a small nursery where you can see the tiny baby turtles hatching in different stages. There were quite a few touch tanks with clean healthy looking turtles and a lagoon where you can snorkel with them!! I learned a lot about the farm’s role in maintaining the green turtle population out in the wild. They do sell a percentage of the turtles to local restaurants, (turtle soup anyone?) but this is done in an effort to prevent the fisherman from farming them out in the wild and upsetting the natural balance. They set many of their baby turtles free on the beach across from the center after they are bigger and stronger to give them a better chance of survival. They also have rescue turtles and a rescue shark at the center. Their aviary and butterfly garden were not as impressive! The Turtle Farm provides free transportation to and from several hotels along 7 mile beach, including the Marriott and there are always online deals and coupons in their brochure, so no need to pay full price.

Take the 5.00 catamaran to Rum Point with Red Sail Sports. The catch? They bring you to Rum Point at dinner time when the only place open is the restaurant owned by Red Sail and you spend 1.5-2 hours before heading back. When I did the math… it was still much cheaper than paying for a sunset catamaran cruise and then going out to dinner…so I thought it was a great deal. The food at the restaurant was very good. The bill was about 90.00 USD for my son and I ( pricey) , but the ride there was fantastic and going back was equally fun in the dark with an amazing star filled sky….

Visit Canama Bay. This was within walking distance of 7 Mile Beach. There’s a small (free) tower that you can climb to enjoy some nice views of the bay and a bunch of restaurants to choose from if you are hungry. There is also a grocery store, liquor store, some high end shopping and fun dancing fountains.

Did I mention 7 Mile Beach??? All you need are your flip flops and sunglasses… Oh! And a bathing suit, nude sunbathing is not legal on this island! The water is warm, clear and the most amazing shade of blue. I brought snorkel gear from home and there were some cool fish right off of the beach to look at.

There are two trips that I regret not taking while visiting Grand Cayman that I want to mention.. One was the Bioluminescent Bay Tour. You can go by kayak or boat at night and view the magical algae that light up the water. It has to be done during certain phases of the moon for optimal visibility and I just missed the new moon when I was there. The other tour involves going snorkeling directly off of 7 mile beach at night in search of nocturnal sealife with a guide who has underwater flashlights and a wealth of knowledge. We met a family who did this and said it was the highlight of their trip. They had unbelievable pictures! Unfortunately we met them our last night, so I did not have any time left to do this excursion….

Quick Tips

Get a waterproof clear phone case that goes around your neck before you go. It will be very useful throughout your trip. They sell them on the island for 3 times the price!! I got mine on Amazon beforehand.

Get some things at the grocery store to cut down on costs. there were sandwiches, yogurts, fruits, etc. at the store that could be kept in a hotel fridge for a quick breakfast or lunch.

Bring a thermos on your trip. Water is safe to drink in the Caymans so you can fill it every day before you go out. Saves money and does not waste plastic. Win win.

Gratuity was included on almost every bill… so check carefully to avoid adding a second tip!

Taxis are super crazy expensive on the island, but there are public “buses” (mini vans) that have specific routes around the island for around $2.00. Get a bus map at your hotel.

Buy a bottle of wine at the liquor store instead of the bar at your hotel…. I always do this when travelling. My name is Christine and I have a problem… actually, I do not have a problem because I save on my alcohol with a quick stop at the local liquor store and am always prepared with my pre packed TSA approved wine opener. OK, maybe I have a problem.

Many places accepted USD in the Caymans, but I felt that I got the best rate by taking out Cayman dollars and using credit cards whenever possible.

Where to Stay

I have three recommendations ……

The Marriott on 7 Mile Beach

This is an amazing hotel with a first class pool right on the ocean. The location is awesome and the hotel offers fun nightly activities such as S’more Night where you make your own S’mores and heat them on open fires right on the beach. My son loved this! The hotel comes with free bike rentals and non motorized water sports on the beach. The hotel also comes with a hefty nightly rate (comparable to other quality hotels on the beach).

The Comfort Suites

This hotel is actually right next door to the Marriott. They pretty much share the same beach. There are some differences between the two hotels including the price, the pool and the amenities…but the location and the beach are the same! It just depends on what you are willing to pay..The Comfort Suites is known for being the most affordable accomodations on 7 Mile Beach, and even comes with breakfast!

Margaritaville

We stayed here one night at the end of our trip and really enjoyed the entire resort! Beautiful beach, several heavenly pools, live music playing Jimmy Buffet classics (does it get better than that?) and a variety of restaurants. We were given a free upgrade to a room with a balcony but wondered if all rooms actually came with balconies?! Overall it was a great stay. Even sock monkey would have given it a thumbs up….if he had thumbs.

Places we Loved to Eat

Brooklyn Pizza and Pasta in Camana Bay. Loved the food, great service!. We had a really good dinner at this place…I had a great pasta dish and my son got his usual..pizza!

Coconut Joe’s Beach Bar. This casual restaurant is directly across the street from the Marriott on 7 Mile Beach. The food is good, there’s a nice outdoor patio and quirky little roosters roaming around….which is common throughout the island!

Wendys…. I am not a fan of fast food in general.. but, for a quick cheap meal on the island this isn’t a bad option. We had lunch here one day.

Gelato & Co. Cremeria Italiana in Georgetown. Excellent and refreshing ice cream right off the main street! Local bus will take you to Georgetown from the stop across from the Marriott.

Despite the pricetag, Grand Cayman can be a great vacation destination and with a little work, can be affordable! There are some fun things to do and see, the weather is awesome and the island is one of the safest in the Caribbean. If you go, don’t be afraid to swim with the stingrays …they never kiss and tell.

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