This fall has been a great season for us, travel-wise. I suppose you could say we’re behaving as if the world is going to end when this baby arrives in a couple of months. (Is it?!) On the heels of fun weekends in Yosemite and Monterey, we spent a glorious week on Grand Cayman, a British territory in the Caribbean sea.
As goals for most beach vacations go, we aimed to spend the majority of our time relaxing and swimming in warm water. But we discovered a few things about the island that might come in handy if you’re planning a visit—owing completely to our friends Emarie and Nick, with whom we traveled there. Emarie lived on the island for a few years and knew all the best places to go.
Here are some of the highlights…
The flight there from Sacramento is pretty painless (a short trip to Houston, then to the Cayman Islands) save for the early hour. We pulled Hudson out of bed at 4am for the drive to the airport. But on a positive note, we got to see the sun rise over Lake Tahoe before passing over the Grand Canyon.
Because our friends were such experts on the island (and had, thankfully, done most of the arranging of details—a rare treat for me!) I neglected to read up on the island in advance the way I usually would. I had forgotten it is a British territory and was a bit surprised to be greeted by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip upon arrival. Probably the most notable tell of its place in the UK, however, was the left-side driving.
We rented a van (with steering on the right) and I was happy it wasn’t me who was going to have to remember the rules.
That night, after dropping off our bags, we shared dinner at Sunshine Grill. (Couldn’t their son, Leon, and ours be brothers?!) Leon was like a turtle drawn to light when it came to that pool, by the way. Turn him around and it was like his inner compass just drove him to crawl quickly back!
After dinner, Emarie and I went to the store to stock our refrigerators. Grocery (and liquor) stores are all closed on Sundays.
The next morning we had a chance to fully appreciate where we were staying: we shared a duplex cottage nicknamed “Nautilus” at the far end (toward West Bay) of Seven Mile Beach, which meant just the right balance of seclusion from the big resorts and access to Georgetown and resort amenities. Each cottage had two bedrooms upstairs and a private, but co-joined deck. The stairs (a windy, steep staircase) were a little scary, but it was perfect for two families. We could cross easily between the two decks, and still have our own sense of space for the week.
The rental included Kayaks, but we decided to add paddle boards from White Sand Watersports—who will deliver and pick-up. (And while just about every picture is of me on my knees, I swear I was mostly up! Big belly and all!) The water was perfectly warm and clear, and there were some great coral heads for snorkeling just off the shore from the cottage. We watched the snorkel and dive boats pull up and anchor in front a few times, and had the sense we were incredibly lucky to be situated where we were.
Aron and I both would have loved to have gone diving by the way—and he did go on a one-tank dive one afternoon—but it’s off limits when you’re pregnant (and not so easy to coordinate with a toddler). There was a recently sunk dive site—the U.S.S. Kittywake—down the beach, around 65′, and the reef wall is fairly legendary. Another time!
This fellow was using small crabs as bait to catch fish from his kayak, just in front of our cottage, and harvesting sea snails.
There was a great local spot called Heritage Kitchen about a block away, which may have been my favorite food on the trip. Aron and I had fresh fish from there three times during the week! My favorite was the Grouper filet, served with a topping of stewed onions and sweet, shaved coconut, over yellow rice. Emarie loved the whole snapper and the boys dug into the fish fritters. Everything was fresh and good and reasonably priced. (Though I should note that, while perhaps relatively affordable as Caribbean islands go, nothing is cheap.)
Our place also had grills for barbecuing, and even though we only used them once, you could easily decide to eat every meal there with that view. Aron and Nick shared a great deal of Dark & Stormys (dark rum and ginger beer) out there.
Do be sure to bring bug spray, though. As soon as the sun dipped, the mosquitos were out! I suppose that’s why there was such a healthy number of lizards around (something Hudson especially loved).
One of the only downsides to the cottage? The wifi only reached the street. So this was the scene at least one time a day when we would go out to check email or whatnot. I suppose if you’re prepared to really disconnect, it might be a real upside!
One of my favorite days on the trip was when we shared a boat charter out of Camana Bay. Emarie’s friends, Wayne and Dave, have their own charter company, Cayman Charter, and so she arranged for them to take us all out for the morning—to Stingray city sandbar, Starfish point, and Coral Gardens. It was awesome! Especially with two little kids who can’t yet swim, it was so nice to have the boat to ourselves. And Dave, a father to a two-year-old himself, was an awesome host.
There are two stingray-frequented sandbars off the coast of Grand Cayman, in the North Sound. We went to one that brings the water to about waist-high. It’s fairly surreal pulling up to it, in fact, in the middle of the sea. And sure enough, stingrays (accustomed to visitors as they’ve been getting squid handed to them here for years) swarm around to investigate each new arrival in the water. It’s a little unnerving (and we all admitted to some qualms about the practice of feeding wild sea life), but (at least for me) it was exciting. They’re just so magnificent! I couldn’t believe how big some of the females were!
Hudson got to touch them, too (before he got a little shy) and still talks about how there was a tiny one (actually, a full-grown male) and how it splashed him.
And then… as if tons of sting rays weren’t enough…
this dolphin showed up! Apparently it’s a bit of a sad story in that he lost his pod and is now a lone bottlenose who tends to get a little too friendly with divers. They’re not sure where he traveled from, as the nearest pods are apparently near Cuba and the Bahamas.
Starfish point was the perfect follow-up. The shallow waters (and calm creatures) made for an ideal toddler break.
From there, we drove out to Coral Gardens (off Rum Point) for snorkeling. Nick spotted a reef shark (“this big”), but the rest of us missed it. We did see plenty of beautiful fish, soft corals, large conch, and some huge lobsters.
(Did you catch a recurring theme? That shovel rarely left his side.)
After the boat ride (which knocked both boys out with exhaustion), we drove into Georgetown for lunch at a real gem find, Singh’s Roti Shop. Roti is a West Indian tradition, more likely tried on the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago. It’s sort of like a whole wheat crepe—flatbread—wrapped around curry. Delicious! There were all kinds of great, spicy sauces for topping (here and everywhere), but my tolerance wasn’t quite that of the others.
Hudson really liked the paratha (and had some mild chicken stew over rice) and then tried to blend in with the locals, catching a cricket match on the telly.
Emarie’s friend on the island shared her babysitter with us for two nights, and so we set up both boys in our cottage on Monday evening. Hudson was a little wary of Miss Bev at first, but warmed up quickly; he actually mentioned her fondly after we came home.
After drinks at the Ritz on Seven Mile Beach, we all went back to Camana Bay for dinner at Michael’s Genuine, a great Grand Cayman restaurant that originated in Miami and has a focus on fresh, locally-grown ingredients. Everything was delicious! And I highly recommend saving room for dessert.
One day, Aron and I took the van so the three of us could cross the island to Rum Point, where shallow waters extend about 20 feet out from shore and where chairs are set up for daytrippers under the shady Casuarina trees. It was a bit of a long trek to get there, but it was a really great stop. One could rent water sport equipment, book a sailing trip from the dock, get drinks and fish sandwiches, or just borrow a flag to set off snorkeling. We were pleasantly surprised that the chairs were all free for use (you’re pretty likely to at least buy a drink, I suppose they know), and that we didn’t have a single person walk by with a sales pitch. It was a really pleasant stop, with lots of kids around.
We walked out onto the dock to see what the snorkelers were seeing (some more rays!) and took some photos before discovering a… well… poop-splosion.
Oh, what we didn’t know as he sat in our laps. And what you don’t see. Haha!
The wide sandy beach had washed out just in front our cottage (something that can change with every storm, when the sand will likely return), but it was just two minutes to either side to where the kids could dart in and out of the water easily. Not a big deal…
…but it required a closer watch.
For the most part, the rest of the days: Snorkel… paddle… make “cookie water” (Hudson’s invention, pronounced “cookie wawl-o” with sand…
Hudson was thrilled to be atop a board like “Pete” as in Pete the Cat.
It was great traveling with another family and having another child on the trip. Even though Leon is much younger than Hudson, the two entertained each other and occasionally conversed in the back seat with clicking sounds. And it’s a relief to know that your traveling partners are understanding of things like naptimes.
And, of course, it was great sharing some babysitting duties for dates! One night, after we all had drinks out again, we stayed in with Leon (as if reading on the deck really felt like staying in), and the next they stayed behind while we went out.
They said they’d definitely recommend their spot (Eduardo’s), and I have nothing but positive things to say about our meal at the Cracked Conch. (If you were to go, by the way, you should definitely order the namesake dish. Essentially just fried conch strips, but so tasty with a spicy tomato sauce and pickled fennel on the side.)
When we were in Monterey, Hudson asked about his toys at home A LOT, so we were sure to pack a few more this time. Some favorites made the trip with us… Clifford, Thomas & Emily, a dump truck, that shovel… and we let him start every day with his absolute favorite, always requested dish… peanut butter and banana.
On one of the cloudier days, we drove into Georgetown and joined the cruise-daytrippers for a little shopping. Aron tried on some fancy watches and we all sampled some fresh coconut before heading on for lunch.
First we stopped at MacDonald’s, which is a local spot known for fried chicken. We picked up some milder food for the kids and I got myself a couple of pieces. It was some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. The breading was incredible. Then we drove on to Seymour’s Jerk Chicken where everyone dug into spicy Jerk Chicken and Jerk Pork.
That afternoon, while Hudson napped, Emarie dropped Aron off at the Westin where he joined a Red Sail dive boat for a one-tank dive just off of Seven Mile Beach. He reported that the highlights were turtles, ghost and banded shrimp, and some lovely corals, and noted that the boat was like a dive shop, with all of the equipment waiting for him to walk on. Having both been certified in 7mm wetsuits off the Pacific Coast, I can say that the other highlight is any time you get to go diving where you don’t need one at all. The surface water temperature was probably around 85 degrees.
After a sunset from the water, Miss Bev returned, leaving us to have one more decadent dinner out at Calypso (oh my goodness, try the Calypso shrimp and the sticky toffee pudding dessert) before the trip home.
It was a wonderful place to spend a week. Aron and I were both really impressed with the ease of travel—even when compared to other Caribbean islands. The water is drinkable, there’s no language barrier, the food is varied (and delicious), and we never even visited an ATM! Change was often given in Camanian dollars, but we would just use that as it came. The driving would be the toughest adjustment for me. The primary draw is of course the water—and especially what lies beneath its surface—so it’s probably most suited to those with an interest in diving or snorkeling, but I doubt anyone would be complaining even if he or she were just going to sit in the sand.Haute Living]