Grand Cayman: Just Another Day in Paradise

 
 
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This post is not sponsored. This week in paradise is the vacation all the Fyre Festival millennials wished they had instead. Piña Coladas on the beach, the freshest ceviche, scrumptious jerk chicken, runs along the ocean, reading to the sound of waves, and swimming in saltwater. In this post you will find my thoughts on all the restaurants I tried, different activities the island offers, where I stayed, and what I’d do if I went back to Grand Cayman.

The Rundown:

Quick Details:

  • Visited in January 2019 with my family — high season is around spring break, low season is in the fall

  • Seven Mile Beach is where to stay if you’re not there to go scuba diving— we stayed at The Avalon

  • Didn’t schedule too much ahead of time — spent a lot of time relaxing at the beach

  • Jerk chicken and fresh fish should be a part of your diet during your visit

Facts to know:

  • The three Cayman Islands are actually peaks of the Cayman Ridge, a huge underwater mountain range in the Caribbean Sea.

  • The water off the island gets deep quickly because there is a spreading fault zone called the Cayman Trench between the Cayman Islands and Jamaica. The maximum known depth is 25,216 feet. That’s almost an inverted Mount Everest in the ocean!

  • The US Dollar is not strong — the conversion rate was 1.22:1 when I visited. 

  • The Caymans are known for their incredible scuba diving sites.

  • The country is also known for it’s offshore banking industry and duty free shopping.

  • The tourism industry is heavily dependent on cruises — the cruise ships were supposed to bring 61,000 people to the island the week after we visited.

  • Everyone in the restaurant industry seems to be a transplant from another country.

  • Roosters roam freely all over the island — get ready to hear a lot of cockadoodledoos!

What to do:

My Choices:

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Relax on the beach — You booked a beach vacation for a reason, so give yourself the time to truly enjoy relaxing in that beach chair. Get out your Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen, put it on, and bake. This is what I spent most of my time doing. What I would give to be soaking up the sun with a book in hand, cooling off in the refreshing saltwater, and enjoying the sand in between my toes again.

  • Run on the beach — I enjoyed running barefoot in the morning before it got too hot and seeing all the other active people out for runs and walks along the water. It was a nice switch-up to my normal routine.

  • Paddle Boarding — You can rent paddle boards for the day or a couple days. Many places will bring them right to you!

Treat yourself to the spa — My mom and I had a nice little girls morning one day and booked 90-minute massages at The Hibiscus Spa at The Westin. The masseuse that did my deep tissue massage was fantastic. However, the steam room, sauna and whirlpool are all in need of an update. Despite the amenities being dated, their effects were still calming. I felt very zen for the rest of my vacation. If I were to go back, I would definitely check out the spa at the Kimpton Seafire. It is very new and looks gorgeous.

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Snorkel at Starfish Point — You can find this calm oasis 45 minutes from Seven Mile Beach near Rum Point/Cayman Kai. When Rum Point Drive ends you will find Water Cay Road to lead you to this park. We stopped by on a very windy day and were pleased by the calmness of the water in Water Cay. The area is known for being home to many starfish. Unlike the way I make it look in my picture, the starfish aren’t just sitting together in pods. My grandma and I collected a few to admire. Starfish breath through their gills on their underside, so taking them out of the water for too long will kill them. Be careful with the little cuties!

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Go Deep Sea Fishing — Fishing out on the big water is a fun family activity. We had originally booked a full day experience through Slackem, but the wind picked up and created conditions that prevented us from going. They tried to reschedule us to a better day, but their books were full for the rest of the week. We ended up finding availability with Captain Charlie Charters and had a great time. Captain Charlie’s does deep sea fishing, reef fishing and stingray city snorkeling excursions. Captain Charlie and his mate, Joe, were fantastic hosts.

We heard that a full moon is the worst time to fish, so visiting during the blood moon was not ideal for catching mahi or wahoo. The moon affects the tides and the tides affect the fish’s feeding patterns. I’m not a fisher-woman, so I am not familiar with what “perfect” fishing conditions look like. I became curious about this moon thing and apparently it is all about who you ask. I found this interesting article if you’d like to read up on the debate.

The barracuda were the only fish out to play during our morning deep sea fishing excursion. Apparently, the locals eat them, but tourists don’t because they could be poisonous from the things they nibble on in the water, like rust from shipwrecks. We were told that to test if they are poisonous, the locals will leave some meat for the ants. If the ants eat it, they are in the clear. If the ants don’t, they know its bad.

We were originally supposed to go on a full day trip, but cut it to a half day with the reschedule and I am so thankful. I was exhausted after four hours on the water. When we got home I went down to the beach and took a long nap.

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Visit the Cayman Turtle Centre — My parents took us to the West side of the island to check out this local wildlife center. I hadn’t done any reading about this place before visiting. I was devastated to learn that they actually farm the cute little turtles, but at the same time I’d feel that way if I visited any other farm. The existence of the farm is actually good for the natural population of the green sea turtle as it protects the species from being overfished in the wild. Their website offers a lot of great information to read up on before visiting. Here is one interesting blurb I read about the history:

The people of the Cayman Islands have a history tied to the turtle. In the 1600 and 1700's the Cayman Islands became a provisioning stop for vessels sailing the Caribbean because of an abundance of green sea turtles, which could be caught and kept alive on board as a source of fresh meat. Permanent settlements developed on the Cayman Islands in the seventeenth century and turtling became a means of income as well as providing a local source of food.

However, the turtles around the islands were depleted by the early 1800's and the turtling industry focused around the Miskito Cays off the coast of Nicaragua. The Cayman turtling fleet continued operating at a sustained level until the early 1900's. By this time turtle populations were dwindling and, in subsequent years, national and international regulations and alternative sources of income reduced the turtling industry to a negligible level. The appearance of the turtle on the Cayman Islands' flag, seal and currency reflects the close association the people have to the turtle.

We decided to get tickets to see just the turtles ($18/adult, $9/kid), but the center offers experiences with many other wildlife creatures. If you have little kids, this would be a great place to spend a day. The other ticket option offers the opportunity to snorkel with the turtles and fish in the pond, peer into the predator reef, and swim in the largest pool on the island. You can book your tickets in advance here.

There are a few different ways to enjoy the turtles. Some of the pools give you the opportunity to admire the bigger turtles up close, some pools offer the interactive experience of touching and holding the little shelled creatures, and two pools even allow you to get knee deep in the water with the babies. It was so fun to pick up the cute little squirts. However, all I could think about was the scene in Finding Dory where all the animals prepare for the hands to enter the petting pool...

I am glad we stopped by. You can grab a meal at The Cracked Conch across the street and visit Hell on your way home.

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Brave the Blowholes — This attraction is essentially a dried up coral bed with holes throughout it. When the waves roll in and hit the rocks, the water splashes up through the gaps. We only stopped by this unique shoreline because we took the long way home from Rum Point via the East side of the Island. My grandma was underwhelmed when she went on a calm day the previous week, but we visited on a windy day which made the splashing much more exciting. Wear tennis shoes if you plan to visit the blowholes. My flip flops kept getting caught on the jagged edges and became very slippery with the water. We stuck around for about 10 minutes before continuing home.

TOP 3 Other popular Options:

Diving — The Cayman Islands are known for their world class scuba diving sites. The plethora of shipwrecks, the vast array of sea life, the range of difficulty, and the high visibility waters attract people from all over the globe. I am personally terrified of big, open water, so this was not an activity that I sought out. I know this is weird because I have been a competitive swimmer most of my life…However, these 24 Reasons to Dive the Cayman Islands, make me want to overcome my fear. Eagle Rays, a diving company on the East side of the Island, intrigued me as well with their Green Shorts challenge— learn more in the blurb on Eagle Rays under “Where to Eat” below.

Stingray City — You won’t visit the Cayman Islands without hearing about Stingray City. It is the most touristy excursion there is on the island. There are tons of charters that will take you out to the sandbar off Rum Point to see the rays, including Captain Charlie Charters. For those that are willing to take the chance of leaving this earth like Steve Erwin, go right ahead! Just kidding, these strange, cartilaginous fish aren’t going to hurt you, they just want free food. I can relate! However, I simply didn’t want to get in the water with these shark-related creatures, so I am glad we avoided this! If my dad had his way, we would have gone…

George Town — This port city is the capital of the Cayman Islands and the heart of their financial industry. Cruise ships anchor in the George Town Harbour and let thousands of tourists per week off to explore, starting in the town. Many bars and restaurants are only open when the cruise ships are in. Due to the duty free and sales tax free shopping, you will find a multitude of jewelry and diamond boutiques.

Bonus: KAABOO Cayman is coming up February 15-16, 2019. This music festival has an eclectic mix of artists for all ages.

There are a myriad of other activities to keep you busy during your time in the Cayman Islands, but I encourage you to not over schedule your days in order to give yourself the relaxation time you deserve.

Where to eat:

Piña Colada with a view at Cocoloba

Piña Colada with a view at Cocoloba

First things first. If you’re reading this post about an island vacation and not thinking about having a frozen drink in your hand, there is something wrong with you. A good Piña Colada is my island drink of choice. It is smooth, refreshing, and tastes like the scent of Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen.

Here are the Top 3 Piña Coladas I had in Grand Cayman:

  1. Rum Point — smoothest of them all

  2. Cocoloba — lots of dark rum in this one

  3. Calico Jacks — lots of light rum in this one

  • Honorable Mention: The Ritz Carlton— I didn’t try one here, but they looked FIRE.

Okay, let’s get into the tasty bites…

MOST NOTABLE:

The nibble sampler at Bacaro

The nibble sampler at Bacaro

Bacaro- My grandma loves striking up conversation with people around us no matter where we are. So naturally during lunch on our first day, we got on the topic of the best food on the island with the woman eating next to us. She praised Bacaro’s creative Italian tapas menu and we immediately put it at the top of our list to try. This meal did not disappoint.

The ambiance and the shared plates were delightful. Our waiter, a transplant from the Netherlands, put together a sampler of the “nibbles” which featured tuna tartar, wahoo ceviche, cod mousse crostinis, fish cakes, blue cheese & potato croquettes, smoked goat cheese and tomato bruschetta and “mad” deviled eggs. YUM. Our party of six then shared lobster stuffed calamari, a brussel sprout salad, short rib Wellington, black Tagliolini with lobster, buffalo milk burrata, porcini crusted lamb chops, fresh spaghetti with duck ragu, and pork belly. WOW. And then to round it out we had tiramisu and creme brûlée. Everything was absolutely delicious!

Morgan’s Seafood— Had to eat here for the namesake… obvi. This meal was a wonderful way to conclude a week on the island. Morgan’s is across the parking lot from Bacaro and sits within the Cayman Island Yacht Club. They boast an ocean-to-table menu with a specials list that is longer than the regular menu. I enjoyed the fresh Mahi blackened. It was cooked to perfection. Everything they brought to the table was done right.

Cocoloba— This was a place worth visiting multiple times. Located right on seven mile beach, you can dine barefoot with a view of the turquoise ocean water. The fish tacos were perfect three bite piles of fish, slaw, and crema. My mouth is watering for the ceviche as I write this. The Piña Coladas are smooth, tall and topped with dark rum.

Ceviche, crab dip and salsa at Cocoloba

Ceviche, crab dip and salsa at Cocoloba

Morgan at Morgan’s

Morgan at Morgan’s

The best Piña Colada of the vacay.

The best Piña Colada of the vacay.

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Rum Point Club— Located at the middle northern tip of the island, Rum Point is about 45 minutes by car from Seven Mile Beach. This little village of colorful huts serving up jerk chicken and Piña Coladas is exactly the type of place I had been daydreaming about leading up to this trip. Brightly painted picnic tables line the shore and the menus are held at the table by coconuts. The Piña Colada I had here was my favorite of the trip. The jerk chicken wrap was spicy in the best way. Others ordered fish and chips and the jerk chicken platter, which was less spicy than the wrap. Get the fried pickles, skip the Caeser salad.

Eats Cafe/ Legendz Bar & Grille/ Yoshi Sushi— If you’re wondering why I have listed this eclectic mix together, it is because they are actually all connected in a strip mall located along Seven Mile Beach. Whether you want American, Mexican, or Asian food or to catch a big sports game, this place will give you what you’re looking for. We stopped in to order takeout during the AFC Championship Game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots and the place was packed full of jersey wearing fans. We sipped on a 19-81 IPA as we waited for our food and I learned that the name of this local brewing company comes from the location of the island, 19° North, 81° West. My takeout choice was the jerk chicken wrap, but I spotted some tasty looking nachos while we were waiting. The food was solid and Legendz definitely has a good bar scene during a sports game.

Morgan with Captain Morgan at Calico Jacks

Morgan with Captain Morgan at Calico Jacks

Peppers— When my brother and I went through immigration we asked our friendly agent what we can’t miss on the island. Peppers was one of those places. Everyone in my family raved about their food. I inhaled the jerk chicken panini, which really hit the spot after an extended happy hour on the beach. The ribs were also a crowd pleaser. Peppers recently built a new addition to the space to offer more room in their causal island restaurant. Stop by Peppers, you’ll be happy you did.

Calico Jacks— Since this place sits next to the public section of Seven Mile Beach, it is a zoo when any of the cruise ships come into port. My family and I love to people watch, so naturally we visited when the seafaring tourists rolled in. I cooled off with a Piña Colada…surprise, surprise. Then we nibbled on some onion rings and jerk chicken— both pretty solid for a beach-y dive bar. It is rumored that Calico Jacks will give up their lease when it ends in 17 months. There is speculation that a wine bar will move into the space in its place.

Andiamo — One of the Ritz Carlton’s six restaurants, Andiamo is serving up Italian classics with an island flare. It is located across from the pro shop for The Ritz Carlton Golf Club on the residence side. We had a drink and nibbled on jerk chicken pizza and fried calamari while we waited for my grandma to come in from playing a round of golf. If you come before sunset, you will find many Iguanas sun bathing on the adjacent rocks. We snacked here on a Wednesday, which seemed to be kids night. Every single table filled up with parents and children and it looked like there was an outdoor movie night happening. I’d go back for a meal here on a different night of the week.

NEUTRAL FEELINGS:

Agua — This was one of the restaurants I was most excited to try because of it’s extensive ceviche menu and trendy design. We stopped by for lunch after a morning of fishing. While the patio’s view of the marina is nice, it is located in the business area of the island so the lunch crowd is a more professional bunch versus laid back vacationers. Our waitress was about to be out of the job with the service she gave us, but the restaurant’s manager tried to make everything right. The food was actually pretty good. Of course I ordered a ceviche sampler: Clasico Peruano, Thai style, and Nikkei. The Classico and Thai were perfect, but I wouldn’t run back to a tuna ceviche. I think I just prefer tuna raw. They do offer a lunch special where you can choose two or three courses for a special price. I’m neutral about this place because of the location and service. However, if you’re out shopping or you’re working in this area, you won’t be disappointed with the food.

The view from Eagle Rays

The view from Eagle Rays

Eagle Rays — On the windiest day of our visit we took a drive around the East side of Grand Cayman. On our way back we stopped for drinks at Eagle Rays, which is a dive bar… literally a bar to serve divers after an excursion. The drinks were classic concoctions of sugar and alcohol. It was the view and the Green Short Challenge that fascinated us. None of us are divers, but we struck up conversation with a couple instructors that were filling tanks on the premises. They told us that there are 55 dive sites in the East End dive zone. Once a diver successfully completes all 55 sites, they earn their Green Shorts! Since visiting the sites is dependent on the conditions, they claimed it takes people around 6 years on average to complete the challenge. I respect the dedication & I can’t blame people for wanting to come back to the Caymans over and over again!

Ragazzi — Located in a strip mall along Seven Mile Beach, this unassuming restaurant has been whipping up Italian fare and seafood for 20 years! After having an amazing meal with her friends, my grandma made sure to secure reservations here for our first night on the Island. She raved about the mussels she had. Since it was a Saturday night it was absolutely packed and we ended up with a table outside. I’d aim for a table inside if you can. Our dining experience was not quite the same as my grandma’s first visit. Our waitress was kind, but VERY busy. My brother and I had tuna that was pretty over cooked and the pizza wasn’t anything special. I’d give it another try due to their reputation. I hope you have a wonderful experience if you go here. We had a great time just being with each other!

Macabuca Tiki Bar/ The Cracked Conch — One afternoon we decided to explore the West side of the island and had lunch at the Macabuca Tiki Bar. The food was average, but the coconut ceviche stuck out. It was cool, refreshing and unique. The restaurant and bar are situated on a bed of dead coral that the waves of the ocean wash up onto. This is close to the Cayman Turtle Centre and Hell.

Tortuga Beach Grill and Bar— This is the beach side casual dining option at the Westin. The menu was relatively basic offering very approachable dishes. I had a decent jerk chicken wrap for lunch. However, if you are making your lunch choice, go to Cocoloba (see above recommendation).

Duke’s Seafood and Rib Shack — This off the water tiki bar restaurant was just right for a low-key dinner. One evening when only half of us were hungry, we walked down the block for a casual meal at the bar. I enjoyed the blackened chicken sandwich with fries and a beer. They do an all you can eat lobster boil every Saturday.

Edoardo’s — Our welcome to Edoardo’s was confusing. The bartender greeted us and when we told him we had a reservation he didn’t seem to care, even though when we called they couldn’t take us right away. We entered on the lounge side and we were confused where we were supposed to eat since the room was full of couches. It turns out that there is a restaurant in the back, but we ended up on the patio that sits 5 feet from the road with Today’s Hits blasting from speakers in the bushes. The food was okay, not great. The pasta in the bolognese tasted fresh, but the sauce itself had little flavor. They are also not shy with their wine list. It jumped from a few $70 bottles, to a longer list of bottles that cost a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars. If I was buying wines like that I wouldn’t want to do it here.

What to pack:

  • Passport — The Cayman Islands are located in the British West Indies

  • Phone plan— The plan I had allowed me to use my phone like normal, even though I was abroad for a fee of $10/day. If you don’t use your phone one day, you don’t get charged $10. I only used my phone one day and used wifi the rest of the time. There are other less expensive options. If you plan to use any cellular data or make phone calls while you're traveling in different countries make sure to call your provider to let them know, otherwise your phone won't work unless it is on wifi. 

  • Books/Kindle — I read Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah for my book club & got into A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

  • Sunscreen & aloe — You can also buy it there, but it will be more expensive

  • Sunglasses & beach hat

  • Bathing suits & beach cover-ups

  • Flip flops/sandals

  • Beach bag

  • Dinner attire

  • Toiletries

Where to stay:

Seven Mile Beach is where you’re going to have the most fun. If you’re there for scuba diving, there are many homes along the East side of the island, but the coastline isn’t beachy.

My grandma booked a three-bedroom condo at The Avalon for three weeks and welcomed my family to join her for a week. This pastel purple property was the perfect place to relax. The condos look out to the ocean and it has its own private beach and pool. There are only 27 condos so the shared spaces were never overrun with people. Many folks stay for extended periods of time, but there was an array of vacationers from new families to retirees.

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When I go back:

The first thing I would do when I go back is go to a jerk chicken shack off the side of the road since I didn’t make that happen this trip. On the other end of the dining spectrum, I’d make a reservation at Seven, one of the fancy restaurants at the Ritz. Starfish point would be worth revisiting on a less windy day. Afterward, I’d stop at Kaibo for lunch and a drink since it was closed for a private party when we tried to eat there. Another fishing excursion would be fun, but only if we could catch more than barracuda. George Town was low on the list this trip, but I’d like to take time to walk around and see the small town has to offer. I would still avoid Stingray City.

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