My wife and I just returned from our honeymoon on Grand Cayman, staying at the Grand Cayman Beach Suites which sits directly on the famed Seven Mile Beach. The hotel is the former Hyatt which was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. They rebuilt and re-branded the beachside suites as the Grand Cayman Beach Suites, with the rest of the Hyatt undergoing demolition and re-development across the street; this part is accessed via foot through the Brittania parking lot, adjacent to the hotel and next to the Brittania Golf Course.
1. Location of the Beach Suites is near everything, superb for first-timers in Grand Cayman: grocery store, bars, restaurants, rental car agencies, 10 minutes from the airport.
2. The rooms are spacious, updated and clean. We had a one bedroom suite on the 4th floor overlooking the pool bar with a nice view down Seven Mile Beach toward West Bay. There is a small kitchenette and, one of the best features, full floor to ceiling sliding glass doors that open across about 25 feet in the living room creating an awesome inside/outside feeling common in high-end tropical properties. Excellent full American breakfast menu was included in our room payment every day we were there, applicable at either Hemingway's right on Seven Mile or at Brittania Restaurant overlooking the Golf Course a mere five minute walk from the property.
3. Grand Cayman in general is a fantastic Caribbean destination. Not over the top Michelin Star presumptuousness, and not "ghetto" Caribbean like other islands where security is a factor and constant hawking being an annoyance.
4. Wildlife. The underwater life speaks for itself as Grand Cayman is one of the preeminent diving and snorkeling destinations in the world. On land, it is a treasure for birders and ornithologists with also an abundance of endangered iguanas and feral roosters everywhere you go.
5. Pirates Week. We serendipitously traveled on our honeymoon during the beginning of one of the biggest events of the year: Pirates Week. Think Mardi Gras with a pirate theme. Activities included: fireworks, parades, a mock pirate invasion of the capital of Georgetown (which incidentally is one of the coolest world capitals ever), thousands of locals, ex-pats and tourists dressed to the hilt in all things buccaneer, pub crawls and parties galore.
6. The people. The Caymanian people could not be more gracious and welcoming, most speaking with the unmistakable Jamaican accent. Despite common misconceptions, Grand Cayman is not overrrun by Manhattan hedge funders, I-bankers and insurance executives in khaki shorts, Teva Sandals and Reyn Spooner button-downs. Of course many businesses from a variety of sectors house some their operations in GC for financial reasons, the vibe is decidedly laid back Caribbean while providing all the creature comforts anyone could desire.
The not so good:
1. The tourist traps: Hell and Rum Point. The town of Hell on GC is truly the tourist trap from hell and Rum Point is beautiful but the main area where tourists arrive is a bit exaggerated and tiresome. Do yourself a favor, visit the Rum Point tourist section then keep driving or walking to the end of the road where there are some outstanding properties many which are for rent by the day or week.
2. Exchange rate for the US dollar. US dollar= 80 cents in Cayman dollars. The prices are already pretty steep at the resorts, with this exchange rate it is even worse. Expect to pay 20-25% more for everything in GC, that being said see below recommendations for true local experiences, which also will save you a bit of cash.
3. New Developments. The new developments like Camana Bay are an eyesore and not in synergy with the Caymanian landscape and background. Certain developers are trying to turn GC into Irvine, CA...for shame.
4. The construction noise from the new development right next door to the GC Beach Suites. They are building a large tower of high-end condos, starting at a mere $3 mil US, and the construction noise was at times a bit distracting.
Recommendations for a true GC experience:
1. Restaurants: Heritage Kitchen (West bay), Viviene's Kitchen (East End), Chicken! Chicken! (Seven Mile Beach), Sunshine Grill (Seven Mile Beach/West Bay border), Alfresco (West Bay)
2. Georgetown: what other world capital can you open an offshore account then snorkel right off the main road 30 seconds later? The capital is quaint, clean, vibrant and charming.
3. Choose a mode of transporatation and meander through the dirt roads among the mangroves out to Barker's and Palmetto Point. These are remote beaches and most of the time you will be the only one out there.
4. Rent a car and explore the East End, marveling at the open space and non-development.....for now.