A popular stop on Western Caribbean cruise itineraries, Grand Cayman is best known as a paradise for divers as the clarity of its waters afford visibility of up to 200 feet. The island offers family friendly attractions, including beautiful beaches with calm, warm, waters, and duty-free shopping in the capital of George Town.
Arguably, Grand Cayman's top attraction is Stingray City. Here, in relatively shallow waters, visitors can swim with dozens of stingrays in the wild--they are free to come and go as they please. Visitors can stand around in the water and often the rays caress their legs, like kittens, as they swim by. Excursions to snorkel with the rays at Stingray City are sold onboard cruise ships and a variety of George Town companies offer them as well.
Seven Mile Beach, a few minutes by taxi from George Town, is the island's most popular beach, an idyll with white, fine sands and and water featuring a dozen shades of blue. Ships sell programs to Seven Mile Beach including transportation, use of facilities at an oceanfront hotel and sometimes including lunch.
Another family-friendly attraction ideal for those cruising with children is Boatswain Beach Adventure Park & Turtle Farm, a 23-acre park in West Bay, where visitors may see thousands of sea turtles of all ages, from babies to adults--and hold a young one--as well as enjoy an aviary and lagoons for snorkeling.
To see the bottom of the sea without getting wet, Atlantis Submarine, steps from the pier where ships' tenders deposit their passengers, offers excursions several times each day. Submarines typically descend more than 100 feet from the surface and offer vistas of the reef, tropical fish, stingrays and more.
Land tours of Grand Cayman take in George Town with its multiple banks, and "Hell," an area of old, black, rocky formations that give the impression of having been charred by flames. From "Hell" visitors can send postcards to the folks back home, stamped from "Hell."
Other points of interest include the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, opened by the sovereign herself in 1994, with 40 acres of plants and flowers. Located in the district of North Side on Frank Sound Road, its highlights include the Woodland Trail, color garden, butterflies and the blue iguanas of Grand Cayman. Pedro St. James, the oldest structure on Grand Cayman--it dates from the 18th century--is a restored three-story plantation great house built by a wealthy Englishman using slave labor from Jamaica. Sitting on seven acres by the sea in Savannah (a 20-minute drive from George Town), it has lovely gardens, period furniture and artifacts.
Cultural opportunities include the National Gallery on Harbour Place, with exhibits of work from local artists, and the National Museum of the Cayman Islands on Harbour Drive, with more than 8,000 objects that tell the story of Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac--the three isles that form the Cayman Islands.
Most visitors don't leave Grand Cayman without picking up a souvenir in the shops and boutiques of George Town that offer imported merchandise, jewelry, fashions and accessories from such designers as Versace, Gucci, Tiffany, Cartier, Louis Vuitton and more at duty-free prices. Local arts and crafts including woodcarvings and birdcages are popular souvenirs. The Cayman Islands Craft Market on Hog Sty Bay in the center of George Town features a wide variety of local art and crafts. To take home a bit of island flavor, a Tortuga Rum cake and a bottle of hot "Hell's Fire" sauce may be the ticket.
For even more local flavor, cruise passengers find a variety of restaurants within walking distance of the tenders' pier, such as Breezes By The Bay, a restaurant/bar with indoor/outdoor seating and great views of the sea and port. Among the items on the menu are fish sandwiches and Creole chicken with rice and beans.
Cruise lines that call on Grand Cayman include Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Crystal, Cunard, Disney, Holland America, MSC, Norwegian, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean and Windstar.
IF YOU GO: Visit www.caymanislands.kyCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun