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On a revisit to Grand Cayman we were very pleased. If anything, we left with even fonder memories than during our original trip in the late 80s. The Cracked Conch had moved locations--out near the turtle farm but it was still a great restaurant. However I'm getting reports that the restaurant may now be gone. Their web site is caput. The Lobster Pot is still a super place and they now feed tarpon each night and its an interesting sight from your dinner perch if you arrive at the right time (check when you get down there). More and more boats head for Stingray City now and the stingrays are even more boisterous than before (they push into you) but are still harmless for most people (see red note below) and are only interested in a hand-out. If youre gonna take in Stingray City Id like to recommend captain Crosby Ebanks or Eubanks, cant remember which. He makes the trip a pleasure. A new ferry takes folks from the main tourist area to Rum Point and its a nice trip you might wanna consider. Oh yea...theres a brewery on the island now. A micro brewery called Stingray Beer. Its quite good and at the brewery they have an excellent little gift shop offering free taste testing and neat knickknacks you can bring back. The money is newly designed and even prettier than before with neat little fish in bright colours (British spelling!). Delta Air Lines now serves Grand Cayman from its Atlanta hub. As you know if you read much about us, were Delta fanatics and we're delighted that Delta now makes a daily non-stop to Owen Roberts International Airport from Atlanta.
One thing that has changed on the island is the Holiday Inn. The original Holiday Inn was right on the beach. Then they moved it across the street from the beach. And later it became a Courtyard by Marriott property. At last check it was still a Courtyard. It's hard to keep up with that place!
Ask anybody about the Cayman Islands and one thing stands out above all others---the diving. Its perhaps the best in the world for both scuba divers and snorkeling.
The Caymans consist of three main islands---Grand Cayman (the biggest and most popular), Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman. Weve been only to Grand Cayman but would highly recommend it to you and your family.
We have stayed at the old Holiday Inn on each trip. It was the oldest hotel on the island but sat on one of the best strips of beach and has fabulous snorkeling right off the beach. As I mentioned above, they've built a new version just across the street from the Caribbean. One slight negative about the Cayman Islands is that theyre not cheap. Even in the off season (summer) a decent hotel room is going to set you back at least $150 to $200. The same room in the summertime in Aruba might go for $125 or less.
One thing you wont want to miss is a trip to Stingray City. (Again, please see red note at the bottom of this page.) Its usually an all day trip on a motorized boat or sail boat. The trips vary from boat to boat and crew to crew but here's an idea of how your trip might go. You start the morning out by jumping into the water over grassy seaweeds collecting conch shells with the animal still alive and inside the shell. Next stop is a beautiful snorkeling reef. On your way to the reef the crew cleans the conch by cracking into the shell and getting the meat out. The good portion of the meat is mixed with lime and lemon juice, a dash of catsup and other goodies and served on crackers raw (or semi-cooked with the lime and lemon juice acid). You then head for a shore lunch (while you were snorkeling, your crew was busy spearing fish) and youll dine on beautiful parrotfish among others. (Youve got to know what youre doing when eating parrotfish--it can contain fish poisoning and it always must be eaten soon after its speared because its flesh goes to pot quite quickly.)
After lunch everybody wades back out to the boat and you head for Stingray City. This is truly one of the underwater wonders of the world and has been featured in National Geographic Magazine.
Years ago, as the story goes, fishermen would anchor up in a protected sound to clean their fish. Theyd toss the entrails (guts) overboard. The local stingrays figured out that whenever a boat anchored up it was dinner time so theyd swarm around the boats waiting for the handouts. Eventually a swimmer or diver wound up in the water and the rays didnt bother him. Now, dozens of tourist boats converge on Stingray City every day. As you anchor up you see these HUGE southern sting rays coming toward the boat--some with wingspans of 5 feet!
Let me say as a veteran worldwide snorkeler, stingrays are usually NOT DANGEROUS AT ALL unless you accidentally step on one and pin it down. Then it will whip its tail around and stab you with a barb hidden under its tail. So its not really a sting you get but a barb that breaks off and can easily get infected. Most bad encounters occur in murky water when people step on one.
Everybody goes into the water armed with conch tidbits leftover from earlier in the day. You then hold your hand out and the stingrays glide over and suck the conch right out of your hand. Theyll swim between your legs, even take a piece of conch off your head if you dont mind your hair getting sucked a little bit.
Its a great experience and if you do it, by all means take an underwater camera. Even if its a little throw away job youll get some of the most incredible shots youve ever seen. And dont be afraid to let your kids go in. Just explain to them that they should not try to HOLD the sting rays. They can pet and stroke and feed them but they shouldnt try to hold them. Again -- see red note at the bottom of this page and be sure to follow the instructions of your dive crew to avoid possible injury.
Grand Cayman is home to hundreds of offshore banks, probably second only to Switzerland for people stashing dough where it's not "traceable." Standard of living is very high. People are nice and there is a noticeable lack of racism. Thats probably because years ago blacks married whites, whites married blacks and the end result is an average Caymanian who is a pleasant mix of both.
The turtle farm is a popular tourist attraction. They raise sea turtles for local food and at the same time release many into the wild to help these endangered critters. (Ive eaten sea turtle in the past when it wasnt in such bad shape but dont consume it now. I have a great compassion for these gentle giants and have gotten some great close-up underwater shots of them. Also, keep in mind that its against U.S. law to bring any turtle shell products back into the country from the Caymans or anywhere else.)
Do go to the Caymans. Youll enjoy your stay and if youve never snorkeled, this is the place to give it a shot. You wont believe the bright reds, blues, yellows and other colors youll see down there. And remember, theres NOTHING IN THE SEA THATS OUT TO GET YOU. About the worst thing youre likely to encounter is a jellyfish but even that doesnt usually happen. And be careful not to step on sea urchins (or drag your belly over one like Ive done too many times!!!). But believe me, its safe. Shark attacks are about as rare as getting struck by lightening in most places. Moray eels are beautiful and only LOOK sinister because of the way they filter water in and out of their mouths. And if you even see a shark, consider yourself LUCKY! Barracudas are everywhere but attacks are practically unheard of unless youre spearing fish and have a stack on your spear. In that case, you might just as well hand em over to the big guy cause he might nip you trying to get your pancake stack of fish! Other attacks have come in extremely murky water where a diver is wearing a dog tag and it flashes in the sun resembling a darting fish and the cuda attacks thinking its a fish. Just enjoy the curious barracuda--they like to tag along with snorkelers and Ive found that theyre quite attracted to a red divers down buoy we drag along with us so we dont get run over by a jet ski or windsurfer. We usually weight it down with a rock and the cudas love to hang around the dangling rock under the buoy.
Update: We got a rather distressing e-mail in the late winter of 2001 with regard to Stingray City. A woman wrote to tell us that she had gotten a nasty and serious injury to her hand when a stingray "barbed" her while passing by and that the incident had ruined the family's entire vacation. Her injury is among the first we're aware of at this popular dive site. I asked her if she would e-mail back with details so we could caution others going to the dive site but she said her hand was smarting too badly and that she was typing with only one hand. Two other women wrote to us in the fall of 2001 saying that they had been barbed by rays. While the tour operator told them that nobody had been barbed in 40 years, the attending doctor at the local hospital said that she had seen several cases in the recent months. So use caution, obey the instructions of your dive crew, exercise common sense and hopefully you'll join thousands and thousands of others who have had an incredible and enjoyable experience.
Currency is the Cayman Dollar. Driving is on the left.
IMPORTANT: All Americans visiting the Caymans now need a valid passport.