Spring break is fast approaching, and if you’re done with winter and need a beach getaway, there are few places more stunning than the Cayman Islands.
Three islands make up the Caymans: Grand, aptly named because it’s the biggest and has the most to do; Cayman Brac, a much smaller island with bluffs, caves and great diving; and Little Cayman, which is largely uninhabited but offers beautiful beaches if you’re looking for a getaway day.
Why Go Cayman?
There are lots of islands in the Caribbean, but the Cayman Islands offer something for everyone in your family (unless you have a serious golfer). Stunning white sand beaches, eco-tourism, friendly locals, great food, outdoor adventure, culture—my daughter and I were there for a week on a trip sponsored by National Geographic Kids and the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, and we were busy every minute of the day.
What to Do
Snorkel or Scuba at the USS Kittiwake – This retired submarine rescue vessel was scuttled off of Seven Mile Beach in 2011. The wreck is already attracting marine life, but what we liked best was the feeling that we were snorkeling in a movie. The ship is so mysterious and silent; it’s not scary or creepy, but it definitely gives an added thrill especially if you’ve done a lot of snorkeling. Alternative: Non-snorkelers should try the Atlantis Submarine. You stay dry, while the sub dives to depths of 100 feet. Fun for all except the claustrophobic.
Cayman Turtle Farm – Home to the endangered Green Sea Turtle, this kid-friendly facility is raising and releasing turtles into the wild, but while they are growing, you can see and even hold a turtle. You’ll learn about how they are increasing populations (including raising some turtles as food!) in a fun, interactive way. Just before we left, we watched turtles trudge out of the water and up the man-made beach to dig nesting holes—we held our breath and just quietly watched. Few things are as unforgettable.
Stingray City – Local snorkeling trips include a visit to Stingray City, where you can hand feed the wild stingrays that congregate where fisherman used to clean their catch. Although stingrays sound scary (and yes, one did kill Steve Irwin) they are very docile and sweet creatures. The water on this sandbar is waist deep, so even non-swimmers can kiss a stingray.
Where to Eat
Rum Point Beach – This beach is the antidote to the built-up Seven Mile Beach. It’s at the end of Grand Cayman, and has a laid-back outdoor beach restaurant with hammocks, picnic tables and Mudslides. The food was fine and the drinks even better, but it’s really the atmosphere you’ll remember. Bonus: The very shallow, non-wavy beach is perfect for little ones. We found live conch in the water, and that was a thrill for everyone.
Warf Restaurant – Another great setting right on the water. Here the food is memorable—fresh, delicious seafood—but what your kids will talk about for days is the staff feeding the Tarpons at the end of the night. The ugly, red-eyed, 50-pound fish are best encountered with you on dry land.
The Brasserie – The best meal of the trip, which is saying a lot because we loved the food in the Caymans. The restaurant has its own garden and fishing boat, so yes, the chef is committed to local food. Also loved the pretty, tranquil dining space. Less frou-frou than some of the other upscale restaurants on the island.
Where to Stay
Luxe: The Ritz Carlton, Grand Cayman
Located right on Seven Mile Beach, the Ritz is the nicest hotel on this touristy strip. It has all the amenities one expects of this luxury hotel chain: beautiful lobby, well-appointed guest rooms, twice-daily maid service, gorgeous pool. If you’re paying top dollar make sure that you stay in the building on the beach and not the one overlooking the lagoon.
Family Friendly: The Westin Resort & Spa
Also on Seven Mile Beach, this hotel is in need of a spruce-up. Still the beach is amazing and the pool/bar area fun, but not too rowdy. We stayed in this hotel, and while we didn’t love our room, it was comfortable and quiet.
Private Homes, Apartments and Condos
There are lots of rental options on Grand Cayman, including over-the-top beachside homes to two-bedroom condos. Check out vrbo.com or caymanislands.ky for options and ideas.
Anything to Avoid?
There were only two activities we didn’t love: hiking the Mastic Trail and the Pedro St. James Castle. The Mastic Trail is a point-to-point hike, so it takes some coordinating. It’s also very hot and humid inland, so while hiking is always on our vacation itinerary, this wasn’t one of our favorites. The Castle is historic, but best for a short visit on a day when you need a break from the sand, surf and sun.