In Grand Cayman
With Selling Long Haul journalist Laura Gelder
The Caribbean Tourism Organisation-sponsored fam trip, Courses in the Caribbean, is for agents who want to learn more about this diverse region. This year’s trip took in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands’ Grand Cayman. Laura accompanied the agents and here reviews their adventures in Grand Cayman.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: The flight from Jamaica to Grand Cayman takes around an hour and we filed into the tiny airport past a cheerful band playing lilting Caribbean music and queued for immigration under the watchful stare of Queen Elizabeth II. The Cayman Islands is a British territory, but its tax-free status means its population is international. The capital of Grand Cayman, George Town, surprised agent Jenny Stephenson, from Many Happy Returns, who said: “I thought it would be quiet but it’s just the opposite! It’s 'Americanised,' although in a good way, because it has great service, restaurants and a lively atmosphere.”
ATTRACTIONS: Pedro St James, is a historic building where the Cayman Islands’ government was formed and now it is restored to its former glory to give an interesting insight into the island’s history. Rum Point Beach is a beautiful calm bay with lots of shady casuarina trees and a long pier stretching out into the turquoise water near the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, with its tropical flowers, mango trees and orchids. This park is also home to a population of blue iguanas indigenous only to the Cayman Islands.
HIGHLIGHT: The azure waters are breathtaking. Exploring them was a highlight. You can do this in a number of ways. The Atlantis Submarine, which leaves from George Town harbour, dives to depths of up to 100 feet. The kids on board loved the jokey commentary and peering out of the portholes. “It’s a great way to experience being beneath the ocean without getting wet”, said Alison Sill, of Star Travel. Or, suggest Stingray City where operators take visitors out to the sand bar that's famous for its slippery residents - you can feed, stroke and even kiss – if you are so inclined – the friendly stingrays. The trip includes two stops to snorkel over a spectacular underwater garden of coral and fluorescent fish.
OTHER ACTIVITIES: We needed our sea legs for a trip on the Jolly Roger, a mock pirate ship complete with a skull and cross bones and a crew who say “arrr” a lot. It’s not for those who don’t like 'interacting' but it’s great fun being made to swill the decks! “The Jolly Roger is perfect for a group of youngsters and I loved sailing along with the sun on my back and fizz in my hand”, said Premier Travel's Christine Smale. There are duty free shops in George Town, as well as a tour to the Seven Fathoms Rum Factory where you’re shown the process of rum making and taste the local rum which is aged in barrels under the sea.
ACCOMMODATION: We stayed at and visited a range of great hotels and resorts:
Caribbean Club is a condominium hotel, overlooking Seven Mile Beach, with huge three-bedroom and bathroom apartments with big kitchens and sweeping deck that provides views of Grand Cayman’s most famous stretch of soft sand. Recommend to groups and families that want to holiday together but still want their own privacy.
Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, also on Seven Mile Beach, is a large hotel with several restaurants, including the ocean-front Solana, and a spa. Recommend to couples, friends, beach lovers.
Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman is a 144-acre hotel with one ocean-front side, one with views of the gardens, golf course and river. Stand-out features include a huge pool and a Tiffany boutique. The Pièce de résistance is Silver Rain, a La Prairie spa with a Narnia-like entrance of crystal and running water. Recommend to those seeking special treat – perhaps ladies looking for a spa getaway or a honeymoon couple splashing out.
The Reef Resort is one of the only all-inclusives on the island because of its relatively remote location. The cheerful apartments have fold-down beds and kitchen facilities for self-caterers, with the blindingly bright white beach just steps away. We loved the rustic thatched beach bar and there’s also a pool and spa. Recommend to those who want to get away from it all and families with young children.
The Westin, complete with mini-shopping centre and the pool bar and spa, offers a spectacular sunset casting pink scales into the sky. Recommend to older families, couples, young groups.
Sunshine Suites Resort is a few minutes walk from Seven Mile Beach with spacious suites and an award-winning poolside Sunshine Bar and Grill. Recommend to independent types who want casual elegance without compromising on comfort.
In the words of the agents I travelled with:
“I’d recommend Grand Cayman to young clients who have the money to go beyond an all-inclusive plan and want to go out and explore,” said Sarah Lee. “Grand Cayman is upmarket and can be expensive, but you won't find better value, with great self-catering accommodation,” added Carol Smith. “Grand Cayman reminded me of the Florida of years ago. It’s a lovely size for exploring,” noted Jayne Nuttall. And remember: "The snorkelling and scuba diving in Grand Cayman is fantastic. With no rivers on the island there is no silt – so the visibility is top-notch,” said Natalie.
• Stingray City
• Eating out
• Any water-based trips and activities