Family Friendly Grand Cayman

By on May 29, 2013

By Michele McIntyre –

Michelle McIntyre_photo-exterior-gcmgc_phototour116Day 1: After landing at Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman (GC), your transportation choices are simple: A personal rental car (the rental car agencies are located across the street from the airport terminal; be sure to reserve a car in advance) or taxi. Hotel shuttles aren’t permitted on the island.

You’ll check-in at the Marriott Grand Cayman Beach Resort. Located on a narrow but very happening stretch of Seven Mile Beach (SMB), this compact golden-hued resort forms a U-shape around a central courtyard and pond that is home to the resident turtles – a magnet for kids.

Michelle McIntyre_photo-gcmgc_phototour88

If your room isn’t ready yet, head across the street to Marquee Plaza for a meal at Cimboco. Located in a strip mall, Cimboco is a colorful cafe’ serving upscale diner-style food with a Caribbean twist. Well priced, even by Cayman standards, this may end up being one of the least expensive meals you’ll have on the island.

In the evening head over to Camana Bay, a waterfront shopping, dining, living and entertainment district within easy walking distance of The Marriott. There are interactive fountains with multicolored lights for kids to play in and plenty of upscale shopping and interesting dining options for everyone. Climb the mosaic-lined 75-foot observation tower for a bit of exercise and beautiful views.

Day 2: Take a stroll on Seven Mile Beach and see where the journey takes you. Bring your snorkeling gear, sunscreen and beach towels and set out heading north. Since all the beaches in Grand Cayman are public, you can play in the water and on the sand wherever you please. The views are picture-perfect, worthy of a postcard.

When hunger strikes, lunch at the Royal Palms beach club. It’s normally a magnet for cruise ship passengers seeking an inexpensive day on the beach (5 to 10 minutes from the port, entrance fee is $2, beach chair and umbrella rentals $5 each), but if you’re lucky there will be no ships in port and you will have the place nearly to yourselves. Lunch and the service are average but the setting on the patio is priceless.

Head back to the Marriott and meet up with Red Sail Sports for a one-tank reef dive (reserve ahead of time; certified divers only). The dive outfitter will pick you up right in front of the hotel. Otherwise, spend the afternoon hanging out at the pool enjoying the complimentary frozen treats that are served every afternoon.

For dinner that evening, head to Coconut Joe’s Beachouse Bar & Grill. It’s not on the beach – it’s actually across busy West Bay Road from the beach, but it’s right across the street from the Marriott and fares well on TripAdvisor. Great meal, great cocktails and a fun family-friendly atmosphere on a large outdoor deck with a huge screen TV.

Day 3: Check out of the Marriott and make your way up the west side of the island to the Cayman Turtle Farm. If you’ve opted not to rent a car, the public bus system is a safe and inexpensive transportation option. Visit the breeding pond where there is adequate shade to view the giant turtles. Before it gets too hot, head to the Blue Hole Nature Trail where you may see roosters, iguanas and geckos. Timing is everything when planning a visit to the Turtle Farm. Arrive early to beat the cruise ship crowds and the heat. Better yet, pick a day when there are no or few cruise ships in port; this is a popular shore excursion for cruising families. Follow these tips and you will enjoy an uncrowded day. More than your typical passive viewing of wildlife, this encounter puts you in the thick of the action – snorkeling in the saltwater lagoon among the turtles and wading in the turtle touch tanks.

Drive five minutes from the Turtle Farm and pay a brief visit to Hell, a tourist-trap style attraction comprised of Ironshore rock formations, the official Hell post office and a few gift shops. It’s fun to buy postcards from Hell and mail them to family and friends. They’ll bear the official “postmark from Hell” when they arrive on the mainland 5 to 6 business days later.

Michelle McIntyre_photo-Westin Grand Cayman - Renovation - Pool- VerticalYour hotel for the next two nights is the lively Westin Grand Cayman Beach Resort & Spa. Reserve a room that has a stunning view of the ocean and the beautifully landscaped tropical pool area. The Westin has quite possibly one of the widest, most centrally located and pristine sections of beachfront on SMB. Recently renovated rooms are simply decorated and you’ll appreciate the in-room mini fridge to store leftovers, cold water and Caybrew from the Cayman Islands Brewery.

Dinner that evening is across the street in the Falls Shopping Center at Eats Cafe, a kid-friendly, diner-style family restaurant serving great American and International favorites at affordable prices. It’s a popular restaurant due to it’s proximity to the local hotels, so prepare to wait to be seated and for your food if it’s busy. Once your food arrives, you’ll agree it was worth the wait. Try the Pad Thai or the sizzling fajitas.

Day 4: Mark Button from Moby Dick Tours – consistently voted by TripAdvisor contributors at the #1 rated tour on Grand Cayman – will pick you up in front of the Westin for your Stingray City tour. But first, tank up with a hearty breakfast at Eats Cafe. (Good enough for a repeat visit!) Your pickup time will depend on the arrival times of the cruise ships in port.

After a short ride, meet up with Moby Dick’s friendly crew at the Yacht Club to board your vessel. During your journey out to the reef where you’ll stop for snorkeling, your guides will demonstrate proper behavior and handling around the friendly stingrays using a blend of salty humor and – you’ll never guess – stuffed animals. They have names for all the stingrays – lefty, stubby – and know them intimately. The snorkeling is decent and guest safety is the number one priority while on the boat and in the water. Your next stop is Stingray City sandbar where the water is crystal clear and waste deep and the stingrays are abundant. They swim around gracefully, brushing against you and allowing you to feed them, hold them and kiss them.

Ask your guides at Moby Dick where they recommend for dinner and they’ll tell youtthat the fish n’ chips at Rackam’s Waterfront Bar & Grill is particularly good. Take a bus into Georgetown to watch the cruise ships depart and the sunset over the harbor. Snag a waterfront table with a killer view and feast on those famous fish n’ chips, lobster cakes and a sinful basket of flavorful curry cheese fries. They are saucy, greasy and in a word, terrific. Washed down with cold ginger beer and Caybrew, it will be the perfect evening. If you’ve timed it right, you will see the giant tarpon being fed at 7:30.

Day 5:  Begin your day with a visit to Hibiscus Spa at the Westin. If you’re lucky, Anca will be your therapist for your Chamomile Body Scrub or any other relaxing and hydrating treatment. Bring your swimsuit for a dip in the whirlpool and plan enough time for a visit to the steam room and sauna.

You’ll reluctantly depart the Westin and hit the road for the next part of your journey: a trip to Kaibo Beach and a few nights on the Eastern side – or more quiet side – of the island. Kaibo is an hour or so drive from SMB but by now you’ve got driving on the left mastered. It’s really helpful to have a rental car for the remainder of your stay on GC and you can always arrange for a car at the onsite rental agency at the Westin. Once you get outside of Georgetown, the traffic dissipates and it’s a peaceful drive that takes you along the coast for much of the way.

For convenience, have lunch at Kaibo Beach Bar & Grill, a local beach bar in Cayman Kai on the North Sound of Grand Cayman. Lunch is adequate but the service may be painfully slow. You have an appointment to meet your guide at The Sweet Spot Kaibo for a standup paddleboarding (SUP) lesson and tour so allow plenty of time.

Fortunately, The Sweet Spot Kaibo is within steps of the beach bar.  If it’s too windy to paddle over to the mangrove swamps as planned, your guide may switch gears and take you over to the other side of the road where calmer waters await. First a demonstration of the SUP technique on land and then, one at a time, you’ll enter the water on your boards. You’ll paddle around on your knees for a bit till you get comfortable and then move to a standing position. When you’re ready, you might caravan over to Starfish Point to spy some Cushion Starfish. It’s impossible to resist picking up these intriguing creatures, but they thrive more when they’re left alone in the water. It’s a really cool experience not to be missed.

Heading farther east you will check into your home for the next three nights, theReef Resort. All 152 units are beachfront with full views of the ocean set along a 1600 foot (1/4 mile) beach. It’s a full service resort (spa, gym, entertainment and activities, water sports center, restaurant and beach bar), partially built in 2000 as a timeshare resort but many of the buildings were built more recently in 2008. theReef is isolated but in a good way. It’s a far cry from the crowds, shops and restaurants of the SMB area. You will come to realize that this itinerary gives you the best of both worlds by splitting your time between the more exciting west end and the peaceful east end.

For dinner you can cross a quiet road to The Italian Kitchen, located in a tiny strip mall just across from the resort. This plaza contains everything you need for your vacation – a small grocery store, a liquor store and a souvenir shop. Feast on the best garlic knots you’ve ever tasted, plus gourmet pizza, pasta and other Italian specialties. On an island with more than 150 restaurants, it may be one of the best meals of your trip.

Day 6: Enjoy your first morning at theReef Resort by exploring the pools, the excellent snorkeling and the uncrowded beach. When you tire, hop in the car and begin your day of relaxed exploration. Have an excellent pasta and garlic bread lunch at The Lighthouse Restaurant overlooking the water; the daily pasta special is a bargain at $9.99 (CI$) and the service is excellent. It’s here that you should try the islands famous dessert of sticky toffee pudding served with Bailey’s ice cream. It’s incredible and will be gone in an instant.

Continue your drive around the island and visit the exciting Blowholes, the historical Wreck of the Ten Sails Park and serene near-empty beaches. It is one postcard-perfect stop after another and promises to be a memorable day of sightseeing.

A few minutes by car from theReef, the Caribbean Australian-fusion Tukka should be on your list for dinner spots. Make a reservation for one of five tables in the sand just steps from the sea or on the lively covered deck overlooking the water. The meal, with its wild menu combinations (conch and crocodile fritters, kangaroo fillet mignon), will not disappoint but the setting is ethereal and the service achieves casual perfection.

Day 7: If you’re a scuba diver, sign up for a two-tank morning dive with Red Sail Sports which conveniently departs from the dock at the resort next door (Morritt’s Resort). The dive staff is friendly and attentive. Otherwise, sleep in a little and dedicate the morning to some relaxing beach or pool time. The pools are warm but refreshing in the hot Cayman sun.

Hungry again? Have lunch under the palapas at theReef’s Rusty Pelican with your toes in the sand. Try the Black & Blue Mahi sandwich on coconut bread – moist blackened fish, tangy blue cheese dressing, slightly sweet coconut bread. It comes with a side of Blue Reef salad which offers a blend of sweet and savory in every bite.

That evening, head over to Rum Point just before sunset. Rum Point is named for the rum barrels that once washed ashore from nearby ships. Today it’s a popular beach bar and grill, fine dining restaurant, water sports center and beach with good snorkeling. Dine at the Rum Point Club Restaurant for its proximity to your evening activity (reservations required). The service is excellent in this slightly upscale but casual venue with menu items that lean more towards fine dining than casual burgers and sandwiches.

At your appointed time head just a few paces away to the jet ski rental area to meet up with Tom of Cayman Kayaks for your Bioluminescence Kayak Tour. Suit up with your life jackets and paddles and attend a safety briefing before you board the double kayaks in the dark. Follow Tom and his green glow sticks along the shore for a fifteen-minute paddle until you reach the bioluminescent bay, one of only twelve in the world. Sticking your toes in the water, it sparkles like the Fourth of July. Run your paddle deep into the bay and the water appears to be on fire. You’ll play around in the magical bioluminescent bay for about 30 minutes before following Tom back to Rum Point. The tours only run 15 days a month when the moon rises late or when it isn’t very bright, so plan accordingly to avoid disappointment. It will be the highpoint of your week.

Day 8: Check out of theReef Resort and head to the airport for your flight home. Heed the warning to be at the airport 2 to 3 hours ahead of your departure time. The vacation is over but the memories and photos will last a lifetime!

Michele McIntyre

About Michele McIntyre

Michele McIntyre is a freelance writer who covers spas, travel, fitness, wellness, beauty and healthy living/eating. She is happiest when lying face up on the treatment table, writing about her spa and travel experiences or testing new products to share with her readers. She lives near Syracuse, NY with her husband and son. Michele is a regular travel contributor to LivingBetterat50+ and has written for Today’s Central New York Woman Magazine and online at Tripology, TripAtlas, and Splash Magazines Worldwide. Michele blogs about the spa and travel industry, and anything else she can think of, at everythingspa.wordpress.com. When she isn't writing about or visiting spas, Michele loves traveling, hiking, skiing, camping, yoga and reading. If any of these pursuits can be combined with a visit to the spa, even better! Michele can be reached at [email protected]

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Family Friendly Grand Cayman