Monday, July 7, 2014

Our Grand Cayman Adventure


The @MaineSkiFamily crew had a great trip to the Caribbean Island of Grand Cayman in June 2014. There is certainly no chance of snow on this island!

My wife Juley and I originally saw this island for a few hours on our honeymoon cruise, and we took a week long 20th wedding anniversary trip to the Cayman's in July 2013. We knew we just had to bring the kids back to see the underwater beauty available 'under the sea' as the Cayman's are a world class snorkeling and diving destination in its crystal clear blue waters. So we figured out a way to make this happen! #justdoit

The short version of our trip is that it was hot as we visited in the summer off season (we are not going to miss winter skiing after all), but the underwater adventures are wondrous. Cayman is not an island that you spend a lot of time on dry land. All the action is on and under the sea. Browse through the pictures below to see some of the sights we saw. For those that what a more in-depth review, and perhaps you found this blog through a Google Search because you are considering a trip of your own, read on for all the details and our tips and insights on the Caymans. A lot of the links below point to Trip Advisor as we find that website quite helpful in deciding what to do and we are frequent contributors to that site.

Travel and Island Transportation 
For our flight, we ended up driving to Boston, and flying to 'Uh - Going to Miami' (Bad Will Smith reference) to Cayman.  Not ideal, as these were pretty long travel days but this was the only way to do it without selling our first born child. We flew American Airlines and it was acceptable. Tip - If you plan to drink a bit buy alcohol duty free in the US airport prior to going to Cayman. For example, a bottle of Kahlua cost $20 duty free in the Miami airport and was close to $46 on the island liquor store. I think you can bring one liter per person into the country.

For Island transportation it depends where you are staying. Grand Cayman is famous for its 'Seven Mile Beach' (SMB) which contains a lot of beach front hotels and amenities. It is busy but very nice for those wanting to be closer to the action. It is how we first experienced Cayman for a few hours on our Honeymoon cruise. I still have very vivid memories of being amazed at the fish swimming around us as we put our flippers on. If you are staying on SMB most of the hotels have shuttles and taxi's so you don't have to rent a car. If you are staying elsewhere on the island - notably the East or North Ends and car rental is advised as this area is more remote. Last year we rented from McCurley's and they pick you up at the airport, stop for groceries and bring you to your hotel / condo where your car is waiting. It was a nice way to get settled in but the car they gave us was kind of a beater. This year we rented from Avis / Cisco and were satisfied with the car and since we already knew our way around the Island it was a piece of cake. Remember - you have to drive on the left in Cayman!

Places to Stay 
Getting Ready for a Rum Point Sunset Kayak
As I mentioned above, there is plenty of places to stay on SMB, but if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle our favorite location is Rum Point. This is located at the northern tip of the island and is our favorite place to snorkel. We stayed at a condo development called The Retreat and we stayed in Unit #21. It is a nice mix of immediate beach access, well appointed air conditioned condo's, pool / game room and on-site management in case you need anything. Last summer we stayed at the Sea Lodges which is a but further down from Rum Point. It was nice but the particular unit had no air conditioning and relied on the island breezes. The breeze was blowing but it was still hot. AC is recommended especially for ski bums not used to the heat. The Rum Point Beach / Restaurant / Bar area is right around the corner, but you would never know it. Even when it is really busy on that side of the point the Retreat is tucked away around the corners shielded from activity, but it is nice to hop over there for a drink and fun if you want!

Snorkel, Snorkel, Snorkel
A Variety of Grunts During our Drift Snorkel
The main attraction for us is the snorkeling opportunities in Cayman. While we focused on Rum Point, there are many places to snorkel in Cayman. A must read is Testudo's Snorkel Guide. It is a non-commercial web site / blog with a wealth of information on snorkeling spots in Grand Cayman with 3 great snorkel trips you can do right off Rum Point. Our favorites were the Rum Point Drift Route and Boulder Coral Gardens. I highly recommending reviewing this website



The Retreat is a great place to learn to
Blue Tangs Right under the Rum Point Dock Close to Shore
snorkel as well. Just 20 yards from the beach is a row of rocks / coral with a wide variety of fish life and you can swim the entire Rum Point dock and probably see Barry the Barracuda. All of this can be done in water you can stand up in if you need to fiddle with your mask or take a break as you get used to snorkeling. Once you get your fins under you per say, you can then venture out to deeper waters to see some pretty amazing coral and fish life. A tip for a fog free mask - diluted baby shampoo. Just put some in the inside of your mask, swish around then dump out but don't rinse! This will keep your mask fog free.

A Queen Angel Fish in Vivid Technicolor
We also rented some kayak's (and our fins) from White Sands Water Sports that allowed us to go out deeper. A few hundred yards from shore of Rum Point there are some white buoys close to the reef edge where you can tie off your kayak's and snorkel with the fish, turtle's and ray's. Don't worry if you flip the kayak when your partner jumps off. They turn over pretty easy as we found out. :-)

The Coral Formations were Quite Remarkable




We didn't see any Nurse Sharks or Moray Eels this trip like we did last year but don't worry, they are harmless if you leave them alone. We did see a turtle, numerous sting rays and probably a 4-5 foot long barracuda along with over 50 species of tropical fish.

We snorkeled a couple of times a day. Earlier in the morning is best as it is less busy with other boats and the waves while never big, are typically calmer. One calm morning we snorkeled all the way out to the first buoy. It is so relaxing and enjoyable. The marine life and water quality is spectacular. Think "bucket list" on this.




Other Things to Do
Probably the most famous attraction is Sting Ray City - an opportunity to swim with wild sting rays on a sand bar in the middle of the North Sound bay. Definitely worth the trip. I highly recommend an early morning trip especially when the cruise ships are in town and again we used White Sand Water Sports for this trip.  After the trip White Sand takes you too a fabulous snorkel location right on the edge of the reef. Here are a couple of pictures and a video from our trip. Another 'bucket list' moment.

You Do Literally Swim with the Sting Rays at Sting Ray City

The Magnificent Southern Sting Ray

And check out our video we made from our Sting Ray City visit!



Cayman is also a great fishing destination and we decided to charter a boat for a half a day via Slackem Charters. While they tried, we just could not get the fish to bite and it ended up being a long and expensive boat ride with some sea sickness to boot. If we were able to get in the fish it would have been a lot of fun but they were just not biting that day. So it is a bit of a roll of the dice if you want to try deep sea fishing.

Places to Eat
We are not super knowledgeable on the dining in Cayman. Since we had a condo we did a lot of eating in the condo to try to save some coin as eating out is quite expensive. However, we did like Over the Edge on the north side as a nice place to eat. Casual, relaxed with great food - especially the seafood - at reasonable prices for Cayman standards. We tried Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville on a trip to Georgetown - Not great. Don't recommend it! Wrong orders (and no orders) delivered after a mega wait! I do think the seafood cuisine in Cayman is excellent and the SMB area has a ton of dining options. The Rum Point Wreck Bar is right around the corner from our condo as was great for afternoon mud slides and other fun drinks! We didn't visit the Rum Point restaurant but it was full every night and has good reviews.

So obviously we had a great trip and would love to go back again some day. It is one place where we can unplug, unwind and relax within minutes of arriving at Rum Point. For those looking to visit Grand Cayman someday I hope you found this blog helpful. If you have any questions don't hesitate to use the comment section!

2 comments:

  1. Fantastic video of the stingrays! Was that with a Go Pro? We are going to Cayman in less than 2 weeks and my boys are bringing theirs. What camera did you use for underwater? I also loved your blog. Thanks for posting

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    1. Hi - thanks for posting. We primarily used a GoPro Hero 3+ Black for the video and most of the still footage. My son tried to use a waterproof bag from Amazon for his Cannon T2I with mixed results. It leaked a little bit and it was like swimming with a big water ballon. We got a little floating handle for the GoPro and that worked pretty well.

      Enjoy your trip to Cayman. It is awesome!

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