This “hot” three-island British Crown Colony markets to families interested in sun n'surf, a pristine environment and accessible marine wildlife with tours to meet its native stingrays.
Having returned from a press trip to the Cayman Islands, a three-island British Crown Colony just a 70 minute flight from Miami, I was surprised to hear friends singing “Cum to de CAY-mahn EYE-lanz, cum to de CAY-mahn EYE-lanz…” A TV advertising campaign and accompanying media blitz was trying to make the Caymans a household word.
The good news is that they deserve a hard sell. As a family destination, the Caymans are clean, extremely civilized, safe, beautiful, and conservative: no gambling, no dreadlocks, no gays.
A whirlwind five days’ tour with five journalists, a photographer, two spouses, five kids (ranging in age from 2 to 10-years-old), and two very energetic PR people enabled us to see Grand Cayman (the less-developed Cayman Brac, with a population of about 2,000, has only a few small hotels, and Little Cayman, with a population of less than 170, has even fewer).
Our group took in the sights, sampled many restaurants, toured a dozen welcoming hotels and condos in all price ranges, and most importantly, experienced the Caymans’ special marine environment.
What’s the only bad news — and it’s a big drawback — for many traveling families?
Money — not the offshore kind that investors associate with this bastion of international finance, but rather the vacation kind that many families like to budget before departure.
Since everything is imported on this arid, isolated island, most excursions, meals, and attractions are surprisingly high-priced. However, unique activities are what make the Caymans a wonderful family destination.
There are bargain packages to help keep costs down; if you visit the official Cayman Islands Department of Tourism site you can search for hotel and villa rental discounts as well as seasonal packages offering attractions tickets.
There are dozens of condo rentals on Grand Cayman and of course, saving on multiple hotel rooms and cooking your own meals, can hlep you survive within your budget. Condos and more moderately-priced restaurants (remember, you’re on vacation so you have to eat out sometime!) are detailed in FTF’s Cayman Islands accommodations and dining guides.
And you can save on the many great tourist attractions (such as snorkeling, the turtle farm, underwater tours, scuba, snuba and more detailed in FTF’s Cayman Islands attractions guide) by doing only the one, truly must-see, must-do Cayman activity: Stingray City.
Justifiably advertised as one of the Caymans’ unique sights, this is actually a sandbar in the midst of North Sound where stingrays gather to be fed by visiting humans. Because the water is calm and about two to three-feet deep, even preschoolers can stand, without snorkel gear or life jacket, and stroke the fuzzy, soft Southern rays who waft their way through tourist legs to reach morsels of fresh squid and fish filets.
A New York mother of a 3-year-old, who’s returned to the quiet north coast Cayman Kai for three winters running, described her son’s interaction with these vicious denizens of the deep as “petting pussycats.”
At our visit, the group was transported by the amiable skipper Ian and his sidekick Gene Autry (no kidding) on the comfortable boat Reel Hooker. We spent the first half-hour in the water admiring the stingrays before any food was distributed. Alternately frightened and fascinated, we all soon learned to love the thigh hugging and hand kissing of these larger-than-our-kids fish.
Try to go when there are no cruise ships in port. Stingray City is the favorite shore excursion, and hundreds of cruise passengers on the reef at one time just overwhelm the rays.
If your sightseeing funds are so limited that you’ll have to skip it, plan on the Caymans next year!
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