I think it’s safe to say that the holiday season is officially here! And the best part about the holidays is that they bring everyone together. We are certainly looking forward to spending some quality time with our loved ones this Thursday (as well as filling our bellies with a delicious turkey feast). When a family gathers together to relax, laugh, reminisce, play games, enjoy food…and just relish their time together…it’s truly special. Just the thought of it has me daydreaming about all of the sun-filled family fun that we shared on Our Grand Cayman Vacation! Although, the cold temperatures and sporadic snowfall this past week, might also have something to do with my daydreams of palm trees and warm, sandy beaches.
We embarked on our Grand Cayman adventure back in July. And while I had every intention of sharing all of the details with you shortly after we returned, life got busy. As a result, I decided to take a brief break from the blog. Since things are finally starting to settle down, and the holiday season is giving me all the feels, I decided that now is as good as time as any to share our sunny expedition. Besides, if you’re sitting and staring out the window at snow-covered trees (like me), these vacation photos just might bring you back to life. 🙂
We had never been to the Cayman Islands. The beautiful turquoise waters, abundant kid-friendly activities, and the newly-added direct flights from Denver, prompted us to book our very first trip to Grand Cayman – the largest of the three islands! We stayed in a 2-bed/2-bath villa in Plantation Village, on the southern end of the famous Seven Mile Beach. We booked our accommodations through Cayman Villas.
We were very pleased with the location – it was a short drive to/from the airport and grocery store; we were able to walk to several great restaurants; we enjoyed swimming in the two different pools; as well as running and playing in the large grassy area, located right outside of our screened-in porch. We also put the resort’s sea kayaks and stand-up paddle boards to good use!
We definitely enjoyed some leisurely days at Plantation Village…but we also toured around the entire island, savored some magical experiences, and created some incredible memories!
Our Grand Cayman Vacation
Glass-Bottom Boat Tour to Stingray City
Our first big excursion was a glass-bottom boat tour out to Stingray City – an area of shallow sandbars, located in the North Sound of Grand Cayman. Everyone that we talked to (and every travel site/blog that we visited) prior to our trip, said that Stingray City was not to be missed – and it’s true! There are very few places where you can swim with, hold, and even feed stingrays in their natural environment. It’s not like going to a man-made destination (aquariums, dolphin encounters, etc.) to interact with marine life.
We booked the Red Sail Sports‘ glass-bottom boat tour (departing from Rum Point). It was a 1-1/2 hour boat tour that incorporated a 15-minute ride out to Stingray City, as well as a snorkel stop at a nearby reef. I thought the glass-bottom boat would be a great way for our 4-year-old to experience her first Caribbean boat adventure…but I must admit, we were all a bit disappointed when we first stepped onto the boat. In my mind, I had envisioned a boat with a substantial section of glass at our feet – where we could watch fish and other sea creatures swimming by. In reality, there was just a small section of windows in the very center of the boat (surrounded by railings and seating). Before we departed the dock, you could see the sandy ocean floor below. But as soon as we began moving, the view turned into thousands of tiny bubbles.
Red Sail Sports offers numerous sea excursions, so if I had to do it over again, I would skip the glass-bottom boat and book one of their catamaran trips out to Stingray City instead. That being said, our trip out to the sandbar was delightful. The views of the water and the island were amazing. And our two tour guides were friendly, knowledgeable, full of good humor, and safety-conscious.
Swimming with stingrays was definitely one of the highlights of our trip! Standing on soft sand out in the middle of the ocean, while handfuls of stingrays swim around you, is such a calming and beautiful experience. Our guides also brought a couple of the larger rays to the surface, so that we could touch them, take photos with them, and feed them small squid.
On that note: I was incredibly grateful that I decided to purchase an Earth Pak Waterproof Dry Bag prior to our trip, because it came with a waterproof phone case. With the waterproof case, I was able to take my phone into the water and capture bits and pieces of this epic adventure! Though I wish I had been more aware of all of the sunscreen smears I had managed to wipe all over the outside of the case (that in turn caused some of our photos and videos to be fairly cloudy).
Upon our return to Rum Point Beach, we decided to snag a colorful picnic table at the Rum Point Club Restaurant and eat some lunch. The views and ambiance at this outdoor restaurant were fantastic, but it was one of the most expensive meals that we ended up eating on the island. 🙂
After lunch, we decided to take the opportunity to cruise along the highway around the North Side and East End of the island, before returning to the Seven Mile Beach area.
Cayman Turtle Centre
The Cayman Turtle Centre was yet another place that numerous trip advisers said not to miss. It is a conservation facility and tourist attraction that was first established in 1968. The first thing that you encounter, as you step foot inside the Centre, is the large breeding pond, housing massive green sea turtles.
There is a sandy beach at the edge of the pond where female turtles can dig and lay their eggs during breeding season. Their eggs are collected and transported to the on-site turtle hatchery (which you should definitely check out if you ever visit). Some of the turtles in the breeding pond weigh more than 500 pounds!
Once you pass the breeding pond you will find numerous turtle tanks housing smaller turtles. We happened by during feeding time, so we had the pleasure of watching several turtles swim to the surface to snag some food.
The highlight is definitely the turtle wading pools where you can engage with yearling turtles. You can pick them up for short periods of time (for those once-in-a-lifetime photos). You can even don a bathing suit and hop right into the wading pools with them. These pools are not very large, and I couldn’t wrap my head around the hygiene issues involved…so we skipped getting into the actual wading pools with the turtles…but thoroughly enjoyed interacting with them nonetheless. Watching them cruise around the tanks, as the sunshine glistened off of all of the intricate designs on their shells, was truly mesmerizing. I could have watched them all day!
There is also a much larger turtle lagoon where you can swim and snorkel with sea turtles and other marine life. And had we brought our swimsuits along…we definitely would have hopped in. We wandered past Smiley the Crocodile, who was sleeping at the time (though we were told that feed time was a sight to see). We discovered some beautiful birds in the aviary, and watched the nurse sharks, turtles, and barracuda swim around in Predator Reef. We also spied some colorful iguanas during our walk on the Blue Hole Nature Trail.
Not just a turtle conservation and research site, the Cayman Turtle Centre is also known as the largest land-based tourist attraction in all of Cayman. It doesn’t hurt that Breaker’s Lagoon (the largest swimming pool/water park on the island) is also on site. You could easily spend an entire fun-filled day here with the family! It is located in the West Bay district – just a short drive from the Seven Mile Beach area.
When we were up at Rum Point for our glass-bottom boat tour, someone told us that we should venture out to Starfish Point. If you continue past Rum Point and follow the road all the way to the very end, you will find the parking lot and trail to Starfish Point. This area received its name due to all of the starfish that tend to congregate here.
We found several hanging out in the shallow waters. While they say that it is okay to touch the starfish, you are specifically asked not to take them out of the water. We decided it best to leave them be and admire them from above. On that note: our daughter (in the above picture) is playing with some sticks that she found – not a starfish. 🙂 We also happened upon some super tiny hermit crabs wandering around on the beach, and heard that some pretty stellar parties frequently take place in this beautiful location. We didn’t stick around to find out…since we needed to grab a bite to eat, before we embarked on our bioluminescent tour!
Bioluminescent Bay – Electric Boat Tour
The nighttime tour by electric boat into the Bioluminescent Bay (near Rum Point), was another once-in-a-lifetime experience! When I came across the information for the kayak/electric boat tours offered by Cayman Kayaks, I immediately booked us a spot. We chose to go on the electric boat (since our little nugget would be joining us) and it was an excellent choice.
We boarded the electric boat (with one other family, and our tour guide) just after the sun set on Rum Point Beach, and we made our way into the Bioluminescent Bay. Bioluminescence occurs when light is produced and emitted by a living organism. This is due to biochemical reactions occurring inside the organism. Certain types of chemicals when mixed together produce energy, which ‘excites’ other particle’s vibration and generates light, which causes the glow. Bioluminescence most widely occurs in marine organisms, but also occurs in some other land-bound creatures (such as fireflies).
The Bio Bay in Grand Cayman, contains a high concentration of bioluminescent phytoplankton – tiny microscopic plants floating in the water. When they are disturbed, they shoot off a burst of light, lasting only a fraction of a second. After making our way to our designated spot in the bay, our tour guide opened up several sizable holes in the bottom of the boat, where we could swish our hands and feet through the water to make it glow! The effect only lasts seconds at a time, but it is a truly magical experience. We were also able to scoop up buckets of water for our little nugget to more easily interact with the bioluminescent phytoplankton. And we all passed around a long piece of PVC tubing, that we were encouraged to move quickly through the water…or blow air through to create glowing bubbles of water.
Once we finished in the bay, our tour guide took us out into the ocean and used an incredibly strong laser pointer to show us some of the prominent constellations in the night sky. Our little nugget thoroughly enjoyed this part!
I cannot recommend this tour with Cayman Kayaks enough. There are several other companies that offer tours of the Bio Bay, but Cayman Kayaks is the only one with an eco-friendly electric boat option. Their highest priority is the care and preservation of the bay and the mangrove wetlands. They tour by kayak, or their custom-built electric catamaran, in order to keep fossil fuels out of the bay. Fossil fuels can kill the fragile bioluminescent organisms. Cayman Kayaks takes the preservation of the Bio Bay very seriously – and they are hoping to preserve this incredible natural phenomenon for decades to come!
Since Cayman Kayaks requests that you refrain from taking photos on the tour, we chose not to bring a camera with us on the boat. Besides, bioluminescence is incredibly difficult to capture, since the glow only lasts a couple of seconds. This is also something that you will want to fully experience with your own two eyes (instead of seeing the magic from behind the lens of a camera or phone). If you want to see photos of of the bioluminescene in action, they have some pretty cool pictures on the Cayman Kayaks website.
West Bay Beach
There are several incredibly gorgeous, warm, sandy beaches on Grand Cayman. But when we decided to have some dedicated beach time, we went straight to West Bay Beach (a gem we happened to drive by on our way to/from the Turtle Centre). And this beach was perfection!
We ventured over in the morning and had the entire beach to ourselves the majority of the time. There was the occasional tour stop (for the disembarking cruise ship visitors) – but they would hop out of vans, stroll to the water’s edge to snap a few photos, and then they would disappear.
We enjoyed swimming, building sand castles, scouring for sea shells, and watching small fish swim around a shallow tide pool near the adjacent dock. It was the perfect place to spend a nice, relaxing morning!
We ate a lot of delicious food while we were on the island, so I figured I would take a moment to share some of the restaurants that we thoroughly enjoyed. We ate a couple of different meals (breakfast and dinner) at Coconut Joe’s – an outdoor eatery that was less than a 5-minute walk from our villa. This was our little nugget’s favorite place to eat on the island (most likely because there were always chickens roaming around on the deck). My husband and I appreciated the close proximity and delicious food. We also enjoyed some fantastic wood-fired pizzas from XQ’s – another restaurant within walking distance from Plantation Village.
Walking to the restaurants always provided ample opportunity to find lizards, crabs, chickens and roosters…as well as lots of colorful, tropical flowers!
In the Rum Point area, we lunched at the Rum Point Club Restaurant (as mentioned above). We also enjoyed an outdoor dinner at the Kaibo Beach Bar & Restaurant (prior to our Bio Bay tour). But our favorite meal of the entire trip was the sushi dinner we had at Mizu Asian Bistro & Bar. Sitting on the waterfront at Camana Bay (a short drive from Plantation Village)…watching boats come and go as the sun went down, while slowly stuffing delicious pieces of sushi into our mouths…was pure heaven. And if you have restless kiddos…Camana Bay also boasts several small play areas, as well as a pop-jet fountain!
And just like that, our beautiful beach vacation came to an end. As we boarded our flight home, we knew that we wanted to return for another visit someday (which is really how any good vacation should end).
Speaking of flights…just a quick sidebar to discuss how we kept our little nugget occupied during the 5+ hour flight – since I know that this can be the most stressful aspect when traveling with young children. 🙂 I always try to have an abundance of activities, games, and books on hand, that our little nugget has never seen before (or at least has not seen in quite sometime). I hit up the Dollar Tree, as well as the dollar spot at Target, before any planned travel.
The items that I’ve found the most entertaining for our daughter during flights are: window clings (they stick on and peel right back off), small puzzles, and coloring sheets. We especially love the coloring sheets that Kristian @friendsartlab sells on her Teachers Pay Teachers account! We usually always try to save the iPad as a last ditch effort (but let’s be honest, on a 5-hour flight, it is definitely going to make an appearance). 🙂 We make sure to download a couple of her favorite shows (as well as a movie) from Netflix. We also use the iPad for reading books when we are on vacation (so that we don’t have to lug a stack of heavy books along with us). We have used Epic! on a past vacation, but have recently fallen in love with Vooks. We also download e-books from our local library (for free)!
Its been several months since we returned from our Grand Cayman vacation, but looking through all of these gorgeous photos is bringing it all right back again. I can almost feel the warm sand between my toes (as long as I’m not also staring at the snow on the ground in our backyard). 🙂
Have you ever been to Grand Cayman? What are some of your favorite spots? There is definitely a lot more to the island that we would like to experience on a return visit.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed our little vacay recap (be it a few months late). If you’re interested in checking out another family trip that we’ve taken, make sure to pop on over and check out Our Olympic National Park Adventure!
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