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We have returned annually to Grand Cayman since our first trip in 1994 when we got certified to dive. I never thought that I would make return trips to a bustling island that boasted multiple Burger Kings and KFCs, as that did not coinicide with my idea of a peaceful Caribbean island (Little Cayman is a better place to go for a gorgeous, quiet and very natural setting - in fact, many Grand Caymanians go to Little Cayman and Cayman Brac for their holidays). However, I came to love this Caribbean paradise and its bustling economy, with all of its interesting politics and growth. The East End of the island is a lot less built up -- I'm not as familiar with this end -- stayed here once at Cayman Diving Lodge (gone with Hurricane Ivan) and in a rental home (very windy week!) It is worth exploring for a less developed feel.
Our children (ages 13 and 10) have come with us since they were born, and it is a very safe island with little turmoil and very welcoming to visitors. The medical facilities are good (and we have had to use them) and it is a very easy trip. We also appreciate the easy access to diving that allows us to be back on the beach with our kids before noon -- and seven mile beach is one of the best stretches of beach in the Caribbean. Cayman also has an incredible mosquito control program that visitors usually aren't even aware of, but makes an amazing difference. My biggest concern is that the development is going "high", and I don't prefer it. Along seven mile beach there was a limit of 3 stories for buildings. The Ritz Carlton fought for many years and won approval for a variance to go 7 stories. Since they built, there are numerous 6 to 7 story structures already built, under construction, or in the planning process -- so the "skyline" of the area is changing rapidly. It is also getting fancier -- with many more multiple million+ condos with underground parking etc. Cayman also is reputed to have high-end shopping and a decent nightlife, but this is not our "thing" so I can't comment on what's available in this arena.
Grand Cayman has also become a huge cruise ship destination.
A few things to know for first time visitors: The main grocery stores are closed on Sunday; Caymanians are fairly conservative, so don't wear your bathing suit around town; the exchange rate does not fluctuate -- it is always $1.25 US equals one Caymanian dollar, and the island is expensive -- not a good destination for a budget vacation; you can pay in US dollars, but in most places you will get Caymanian dollars back; drive on the left; traffic jams are common at rush hour in and out of Georgetown, even with the new bypass roads and the third turning lane, so be aware of this and be patient.
One of our favorite places to stay. Very centrally located with easy walking distance to restaurants etc. One, two and three bedroom units, nicely landscaped and a decent pool. Beautiful stretch of beach.
This also is a nice condominium. It is on a lovely section of beach and is in a much quieter part. It is right near great snorkeling at seven mile beach.
When we travel on business or without the kids we stay at the Westin. Of the large hotels, it has one of the wider sections of beach so the beach chairs aren't lined up wall to wall. The pool is great and the overall service is fine.
We have been diving with Paul Deegan of Dive 'n Stuff for the past 6 years. He has a flat top boat with a maximum of 12 divers and a smaller V-hull. Paul does a great job of allowing experienced divers to dive their own profile, but is also good with beginners. We see the same divers on his boat year after year, which makes for great camraderie. In January, 2008, my children did their full Junior Diver Open Water certification with Paul. He was a great instructor. He was very thorough, followed a process to make it fun, was very safety conscious and always treated them as people. He also does beach pick-ups from most of the hotels/condos along seven mile beach for west wall diving. Don't miss the North Wall diving, though. The boats leave from the harbor on the east side of West Bay Rd and it is still a short boat ride out. This wall is more dramatic and you are more likely to see big stuff. My husband also like to book an occasional East End dive with Ocean Frontiers. The East End supposedly has a great reef. In my short experience on the East End I found the conditions very choppy, and I am a fair conditions diver, so I do not dive east much. I'm sure many experienced divers would say the diving is not as great as other places (Indonesia etc.). We haven't dived everywhere, but we have dived in the Caymans (Grand and Little), Bonaire, Virgin Islands, Turks & Caicos and the Great Barrier Reef. We love the diving "zen" here, where we can putter along and just enjoy. This past January we saw eagle ray, nurse sharks, green, golden and spotted moray eels, loads of turtles, yellow rays and sting rays, rare red banded lobster, spiny lobster, huge crabs, tiny shrimp, flamingo tongues, juvenile drums, schools of tarpon and horse-eye jacks, as well as the ubiquitous porcupinefish, grouper, tang, etc.
One of our favorite restuarants in Morgan's Harbor. Requires a taxi ride or a car. The food is great. Be aware that this a a very popular place, so make reservations ahead of time during the high season. In the winter, we are careful to request indoor seating as it is often windy.
The patio dining at the Reef Grill is a great spot for a quieter meal. We go back here every year. Great seafood.
We love this italian restaurant. It is very busy and bustling, but the food is consistently good. Great seafood, great pizza.
One of the best gourmet restaurants on the island. Great outdoor dining.
A superb, gourmet Italian restaurant. Requires taxi ride or car (about a 15 minute ride from seven mile beach)
Often considered a must, especially if you've never seen a stingray. Be aware that this is a huge tourist attraction. My recommendation is to find a small operation and try to schedule it for a day when there are fewer cruise ships in the harbor.
We finally visited this site for the frist time in 2008 and were pleasantly surprised. There is a "theater" show that introduces you to the history of the home and the island (it was built in 1780) and our tour guide was a descendant of the original owner!
Cayman Kayaks runs great trips from the Kaibo (you need to drive to this part of the island -- I don't know if Cayman Kayaks has any transportation assistance -- you'd have to ask). We did a mangrove kayak tour last May and it was great. The guide was extremely knowlegable and we learned a lot about the ecology of the mangrove swamps and saw a lot of interesting creatures, too (this is where we learned the details of the mosquito control program).
One of our favorite sites is the reef off cemetery beach.