Grand Cayman Overview
Imagine the stereotypical cruise port -- one with white sand beaches, a plethora of duty free shops selling jewels and liquor, and de rigueur water activities like snorkeling and scuba -- and Grand Cayman might just be the destination the cliche is based on. In addition to the lovely Seven Mile Beach, George Town's retail center and water sports galore, Grand Cayman celebrates marine life at Stingray City and the Cayman Turtle Farm, and even offers a twist on island paradise with the town of Hell (THE place from which to send a postcard).
Yet the cliche does have a negative side -- and those are the crowds. It's not unusual to find five mega-ships docked in the harbor at the same time, which makes the tendering process slower than usual and the downtown streets jam-packed. (A new cruise pier at which ships could berth has been discussed, but work has yet to start.) The constant influx of cruise passengers keeps the waterfront restaurants bustling, so lunch in port is never a cheap affair. A stroll along the beach quickly turns into an obstacle course of sunbathing tourists, sandy children and watersports vendors.
Visitors have two choices -- embrace the crowds and touristy places with a laidback island mindset or escape them. Secluded beaches, like Cayman Kai or Rum Point, are a cab ride away, and even Seven Mile Beach has its less crowded spots. A new mall at Governor's Square offers designer clothes, housewares and even a healthy cafe for a refreshing change from pareos, shell necklaces and over-priced seafood. And the seemingly endless stretches of sea never feel too congested when you're swimming peacefully through coral formations.
And like any island worth its salt, and sand, Grand Cayman has weathered a few hurricanes -- most recently Hurricane Ivan in 2004. The island has bounced back from the devastation, and George Town has been restored to its jaunty self. After all, if Grand Cayman didn't offer its 1.7 million cruise visitors the beaches, shops, restaurants and attractions they've come to expect, the cliche wouldn't hold. And where would Grand Cayman be then?
Grand Cayman Quick Facts
The eclectic shopping in George Town includes artifacts for making handcrafted jewelry, antiques, salvaged coins and old maps. Cardinal Avenue is the main shopping street. On it, you'll find Caymania Duty Free, one of the island's best-known duty free shops for perfumes, cosmetics and gemstones. Kirk Freeport is another terrific duty free choice, with Swiss watches, fine china and crystal. The Jewelry Center offers designer baubles. At the Galleria Plaza (West Bay Road), a number of shops sell duty free stuff. The Tortuga Rum Company (S. Church Street and various other locations) makes incredible rum cakes. You can sample the different flavors before buying.
Scuba diving is one of the Cayman Islands' main attractions, and the Cayman Wall is a world-renowned dive site. The island abounds with dive and snorkelling trip operators, such as Ocean Frontiers (800-348-6096) and Bob Soto's (800-262-7686).
The Cayman Turtle Farm is home to 16,000 turtles. It's a unique breeding ground and research center for five species of green sea turtles. (Northwest Point Road, West Bay)
Best Beach for a Half-Day: Seven Mile Beach (which is actually about 5 1/2 miles long) starts at George Town and has everything from beachfront bars to watersports.
Best Beach for the Dedicated Beach Bum: Again, Seven Mile Beach is great for catching rays (sun rays, not stingrays) and has watersports rental facilities galore.
Best Secluded Beach: Try Cayman Kai, Rum Point or Smith Cove.
Best Beach for Watersports: Aside from Seven Mile Beach, the best windsurfing is found off of East End, near Morrit's Tortuga Club.
Best beach with the worst name: Cemetery Beach off West Bay Road (just north of Seven Mile). Offers good shade, excellent snorkeling and a reef that's close to shore.
Best beach/shopping combo: Governor's Beach, which features the new Governor's Square Mall.
English -- the British version -- is the official language.
On Foot: You'll be dropped a few steps from town, where you can easily walk to numerous shops and restaurants.
By Taxi: Cabs without meters are available at the dock. Rates are fixed and posted, but be sure to confirm the fare before the driver takes off. New cabs have meters.
By Bus: You can hail minibuses that shuttle passengers along the main routes. To hail one, respond with a wave when the driver toots his horn. The bus depot is next to the library (across from the Hero's Square Fountain).
By Car: Cico Avis offers one-day specials to cruise passengers and runs a courtesy shuttle between the port and the rental office (345-949-2468). Out at Seven Mile Beach, Andy's Rent A Car (345-949-8111) has good Internet discounts. Americans are required to purchase driving permits (the tourist office quotes a fee of $7.50 while some car rental agencies charge $8), but you can buy it at the rental office. Drive on the left side of the road.
Where You're Docked
All ships are currently required to anchor in the harbor and tender passengers on to the island. Ships tender passengers to one of two George Town docks (North or South), both of which are right in downtown George Town.
Staying in Touch
Cable and Wireless has two in-town locations: right at the North Terminal dock and on Cardinal Avenue behind Columbian Emeralds. You'll find other options at Galleria Plaza and West Bay Road, and there is an Internet Café up an alley opposite the main George Town post office, a five minute walk from the tender stations.
Casual island eateries: In George Town, Maxin's (Monday - Saturday, 11:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.) and The Brasserie (11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; Cricket Square) offer Continental fare.
Along Seven Mile Beach, choices include Cimboco (open from 7 a.m.), which has great jerk chicken Caesar; Ragazzi for pizza (from 11:30 a.m.; West Bay Road); and Thai Orchard (11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m., Monday to Saturday) for Thai food. For guaranteed free range chicken dishes, try Calypso Chicken Coconut Place, which offers both indoor and alfresco dining.
The Cracked Conch (from 11:00 a.m., West Bay, near the Turtle Farm) has jerk chicken and conch fritters. Kaibo Yacht Club Beach Bar & Grill (from 11:00 a.m., Cayman Kai, North Side) is known for its crab cakes. The Wreck Bar is the place on Rum Point for burgers (from 10:30 a.m.).
Gourmet Lunching: The Grand Old House, located in an old plantation house, is full of atmosphere. The building was shipped from Boston and reassembled in George Town nearly 100 years ago (648 S. Church St.; Monday - Friday, 11:30 a.m. - 2:00 p.m., reservations highly recommended, call 345-949-9333).
Here are our choices for the best ship-sponsored shore excursions:
Best Hands-On Choice for Nature Lovers: Visit Stingray City, where the stingrays are so tame they suck the squid right out of your hand. Warning: When there are lots of ships in port, the water gets very crowded and the stingrays are positively swamped by eager humans. Duration 3 - 4 hours.
Best Choice for Sightseeing Nature Lovers: Take a ride on the Atlantis Submarine, a real, 50-foot long submarine that carries 46 passengers 65 to 100 feet below the surface for a close-up look at the Cayman Wall. Not to worry, you won't get wet -- or hot, as the sub is air-conditioned. Duration 1.5 hours.
Best for active types: The Cayman Jeep Wrangler Adventure and Beach Snorkel tour is an island tour via 4x4 jeep. Travel in convoy to Morgan's Harbor, through Barkers National Park and the Cayman mangroves (home to the blue iguana), and on through local towns and villages with stops at Hell, a rum cake factory and Beach Club Colony, where you get two hours to snorkel in the turquoise seas off Seven Mile Beach. Duration 5.5 hours.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Local currency is the Cayman Island Dollar, but U.S. dollars are also accepted throughout the island. The Cayman dollar is pegged to the U.S. dollar at a rate of $1 CI to $1.20, though you may see currency exchange rates of $1 CI to $1.25.
The Cayman Islands are an international banking center, so finding a financial institution is not difficult. There are ATMs located throughout downtown George Town.
George Town, where there's a cluster of shops, restaurants and museums, is within walking distance of the dock.
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