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My husband and I just returned from a wonderful week spent in Grand Cayman! All arrangements were made on-line with sunfinders.com. This agency specializes in Caribbean travel. We found them to be very professional, knowledgeable and extremely helpful in our planning. I wouldn't hesitate to use this firm again for future Caribbean travel needs.
After carefully researching the island's hotels and after much deliberation, we elected to stay at the Westin Casaurina located on beautiful Seven Mile Beach. We opted for an ocean view room with balcony. We found the hotel, pool area and surrounding gardens to be well maintained and tastefully decorated. We were also very pleased with our room and found it to be well appointed. In addition to garden view and ocean view rooms, the Westin offers ocean front rooms at a higher cost, however, please note that these rooms are located near the two swimming pools and swim-up bar. If you're looking for a little quiet time during daylight hours, you won't find it in an oceanfront room. The service received at the Westin was superb!
The beach at the Westin was fabulous. The beach itself is well cared for and beautifully landscaped. Lounge chairs and towels are free of charge to guests of the Westin. If you're planning to spend as much time on the beach as your vacation will allow, this is the hotel for you! The Marriott no longer has a beach and the Hyatt Regency is actually located across the street from the beach. I would estimate the walk from the Hyatt to the beach to be about 7 or 8 minutes, depending on your pace. The Treasure Island is also located on Seven Mile Beach. The Treasure Island Hotel definitely targets those in there 20's and 30's that like to par-tay! By noon, their pool bar was packed and although we weren't there in the evening, I got the impression that it probably turns into 'party central' at dusk. The beach at Treasure Island was small in comparison. There were also large sections of coral sticking out of the water, which could make swimming at their beach a bit of a challenge.
After poring over numerous trip reports, we were prepared to pay premium prices for meals. Surprisingly enough, we weren't shocked at the cost. Think NYC prices. We ate breakfast daily at Eats Café, located across the street from the Westin. They offer everything from freshly baked muffins to a full steak and eggs breakfast. Prices ranged from $4.95 to $10.95 per person for a full American style breakfast. I highly recommend the banana pancakes! Located adjacent to the Treasure Island is a great little lunch spot called the Lazy Lizard. It's a great place for wrap sandwiches, burgers and cold drinks! Prices were reasonable there as well with most entrees in the $7.00 range. Service at both of these restaurants was fast and friendly!
We ate our dinners at Ragazzi's, Decker's and Edoardo's. Ragazzi's is reminiscent of a trendy Soho Italian eatery with an extensive wine list and an ample selection of pasta and fresh seafood dishes. Again, think NYC prices with entrees starting at $12.95 -$26.95. Appetizers, soups and salads are available for an additional charge. The service and atmosphere were outstanding! Decker's, also located next to the Hyatt Hotel, has a menu consisting largely of seafood and steaks. Prices range from $15.95 - $19.95 per entrée. Decker's also offers an all-you-can-eat lobster special for $34.00 per person, which the locals highly recommend. Again, appetizers, soups and salads are separate. Edoardo's is also a restaurant offering Italian cuisine as well as beef and lamb dishes. Entrée prices ranged from $12.95 - $22.95 per person. The service at Decker's and Edoardo's was superlative! Note that some restaurants will automatically add a 15% gratuity to the bill. If this is the case, it will be printed on the menu. Tips for above and beyond service are gladly accepted! Be sure to pick up a free Cayman Islands Menu Guide when you arrive for more detailed restaurant information.
Now, let's talk money. The above prices are all in C.I.'s, the local currency. Please note that during our stay $1 Cayman dollar equaled $1.20 U.S. Everyone, including shops, will take American dollars and they'll gladly calculate the exchange rate for you. But, if you pay in American dollars, you will be given change in Caymanian dollars and cents. Banks will gladly exchange your money and travelers checks for you without a fee.
Our first day on the island was spent on a bus. Because we like to learn a little bit about the islands that we visit, we've found that a ½ or sometimes a full day bus tour gives us a number of interesting facts about the island and it's culture. We took a ½ day bus tour with Reality Tours. We visited Hell, the turtle farm and Georgetown. You won't need more than 15 minutes in Hell, but it's a definite must see! It's an area of land that features limestone and coral peaks protruding from the ground and indeed brings Hades to mind! For your souvenir shopping convenience, there's a couple of gift shops located there and a post office, so be sure to send your friends and family a card postmarked Hell! The turtle farm is interesting and educating and allows you the opportunity to have your picture taken with a baby sea turtle! As far as shopping in Georgetown is concerned, forget it, unless you're shopping for cheesy souvenirs or fine jewelry. There are better islands to shop, so I'd recommend you take advantage of the islands coral reefs and aquatic life instead. Reality Tours did a wonderful job and offered pick-up service at our hotel. Check with the concierge desk for current pricing and other bus tours available with this company.
Speaking of aquatic life - the stingray sandbar is an absolute must! It was definitely the highlight of our trip. There are two areas in which to swim with these remarkable creatures - the sandbar and Stingray City. The water at the sandbar is about 4' deep; where as the water at Stingray City is approximately 10' - 12' deep. We made arrangements directly with Captain Dexter of Dexter's Fantasea Tours. Captain Dexter is a life-long Caymanian with a 2-hull catamaran. He offers pick up service, snacks, snorkeling gear and his vast knowledge of the sea. He will only accept 18 passengers on his boat per trip, so it makes for an intimate setting. Once we arrived at the sandbar, we immediately jumped into the waist high water to swim with the stingrays. Shortly there after, Captain Dexter joined us in the water. While giving us a lesson in stingray anatomy and their behaviors, he hand fed squid to the stingrays and offered us the opportunity to do the same. After about a forty-five minute snorkel with the stingrays, we pulled up anchor and motored out to the barrier reef for more snorkeling. Captain Dexter introduced us to his 4' 'pet' moray eel and continued to educate us on the different types of coral, plant life and wildlife that make the reef their home. Captain Dexter was an absolute pleasure! I truly can't say enough good things about this experience! For more information, see his website at www.dexters-fantaseatours.com/about_our_tours.htm
For those of you interested in diving, it's possible to take a resort diving course with a number of diving companies on the island. A resort course requires no previous experience or bookwork, just an open mind and lots of enthusiasm. We chose Bob Soto's Reef Divers LTD. They offered pick-up service at our hotel, a 2½ hour resort course in the pool at the Treasure Island and a 1-tank shallow dive the same afternoon. My husband actually completed the course. Because I wasn't able to complete one of the required skills, for safety reasons, I wasn't permitted to participate. Our instructor, Sara, was patient, reassuring and very professional. Upon completion of the course, we headed to the dock and boarded their newest boat. My husband dove the Wreck of the Balboa, while I snorkeled the site, just off the Georgetown shore at a depth of 32' for 40 minutes. Again, Sara was very attentive to insure that my husband had assembled his equipment correctly and was indeed prepared to make his first dive. A video pro also joined them and we brought home an amazing twenty-minute video of my husband's first diving experience - a memory that will last a lifetime!
Two days later, my husband signed on for a repeat novice dive at the Wildlife Reef with Bob Soto's Reef Divers. This time, he was assigned a different dive guide. Before entering the water, none of the basics covered in the resort course two days prior were reviewed with him. The guide did do a brief check of my husband's equipment before entering the water. After 25 minutes in the water, the dive guide asked my husband to read his air gauge and respond using the standard hand signals. My husband responded inadvertently with the wrong reading and the dive guide didn't verify this information by checking my husband's air gauge himself as a precautionary measure. The oversight came to light, briefly thereafter, when my husband noticed that his breathing had become shallow. So he tapped the guide on the shoulder and pointed at his gauge, who immediately gave him his buddy regulator so he could breath and brought him to the surface. This is where things got really unprofessional. At the surface, the dive guide made a very cutting remark to my husband about not reading his gauge correctly. It was obvious that the guide was upset, but to behave in that manner was completely irresponsible. When they got back onto the boat, the guide didn't speak another word to my husband, who didn't tell me anything had gone wrong until we returned to the dive shop because he was still trying to digest what had just happened at 40 feet below the surface. Because this was at the end of our visit to the island, my husband elected not to bring this incident to anyone's attention. However, since our arrival home, he has e-mailed this dive shop several times with his concerns in hope that this type of situation can be avoided in the future. It's our opinion that the guide should have been more attentive and should have reviewed the procedures with my husband, considering his status as a novice diver. We were hoping for an apology and nothing more from this outfit. It's been more than two weeks since the e-mails were!
sent and we've received no response to date. Despite this occurrence, my husband is considering a dive certification course and looks forward to his next diving opportunity!
Though we had no need for a rental car, there are a number of car rental vendors available. I advise you to check with your hotel's concierge desk for discount coupons. We took taxis during our stay and found them to be clean and cost effective for our needs. Please note that the cabs are not metered, but each driver we encountered referenced a binder with a set price upon arrival at our destination. This is contrary to what we had read in trip reports, so I'm assuming that some kind of cab rate regulation must have been enacted in recent months.
In closing, I would like to express how much we truly enjoyed our trip to Grand Cayman and look forward to revisiting the Cayman Islands very soon!
Thanks to Kim for this trip report ...