Trip report - Grand Cayman holiday

Old Jan 8th, 2012, 01:53 PM
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Trip report - Grand Cayman holiday

Mr Frogoutofwater and I just got back from a 6-night stay in Grand Cayman. We flew from Newark to Grand Cayman on Jan 1 with Continental. The flight wasn't full, which was nice. I had booked the tickets fairly early and, having got a cheap price, decided to upgrade with miles to First Class, which made the trip much more pleasant. The flight and arrival in GCM were uneventful. There was basically no line at Immigration and we cleared the airport, grabbed a taxi and were at our hotel about 30 minutes after touchdown.

We stayed at the Marriott on Seven Mile Beach because I wanted to use points for most of our stay. We booked a 5 nights for the price of 4 deal in terms of points and then paid $ (using gift cards received from exchanging Citibank Thank You Points) for the final night. I was not very impressed with this Marriott (and I'm a fairly loyal customer). The hotel is small, the pool is tiny, the beach is miniscule (it lost a big chunk of its beach in the last hurricane) and the rooms are starting to look a bit shabby. We also stayed at the Marriott in Curacao a few years ago, and thought it was a somewhat nicer hotel experience overall.

When we arrived, there was a long line at check-in and no Elite line was available. Oddly, we were told that they take down the "Elite" line when it's very busy at check-in or check-out. Hhm - Don't you think that's exactly the time when an Elite line makes sense? Notwithstanding this minor service glitch,we found the staff to be very friendly and service-oriented. We also thought the room we were allocated was the best option for us. We were ugraded from what probably would have been a room overlooking a parking lot to a 4th floor room overlooking the interior courtyard. This was fairly private and quiet, as compared with an ocean view room (which would have overlooked the crowded and noisy pool-bar-beach area.)

If we were to visit Grand Cayman again, I think I would either spend the extra points to stay at the Ritz Carlton or look into renting a condo instead.

We took it easy during this one-week holiday, since we had experienced (and expect to face) a lot of stress and heavy workloads at work and school. We went diving on three days (Monday afternoon, Tuesday morning and Thursday morning) and otherwise mostly lazed around, napped, read and ate. Based on recommendations on Scubaboard.com, we decided to dive with Neptune's Divers, because they had a reputation for accommodating divers dealing with some physical limitations. I have a dodgy back and knew I needed some support getting in and out of the boat. Neptune's dive operation looks a bit ramshackle (basically, Casey runs the operation out of her van), but she provides great service. She and her dive masters set up all of the gear (if you want them to), are very safety conscious and pay close attention to their divers. The dive masters made helpful suggestions to improve our diving without being pushy. They also did a good job with pre-dive presentations and with pointing out wildlife during the dives. The dives were interesting and we had long bottom times because the tank fills were very generous, but they always got us out of the water with a good remaining supply of air. I definitely would recommend them for novice divers wanting personalized service. We watched one of the dive masters (Jorge) provide a lesson to a teenaged girl and were really impressed by his teaching style - he'd be great with kids, teenagers and anyone a bit nervous about diving. We also enjoyed the dive sites - lots of interesting coral formations and plenty of fish to watch.

On our two non-dive days, we walked into Georgetown (Wednesday) to do a little window shopping and then rented a car on Friday to see the rest of the island. We were underwhelmed by the jewelry on offer (not that this was a focus of our visit) and by the high pressure sales style. We enjoyed the drive around the island, particularly our visit to the Botanic Garden. While we couldn't time our trip for the behind-the-scenes tour of the Blue Iguana Recovery Program, we nevertheless managed to see (and get some great photos) of four iguanas during our walk around the grounds.

We ate most of our meals away from the hotel. I wouldn't say that any of the meals we had knocked our socks off, but we did enjoy several restaurants. Our favourites were:

- Sunshine Grill (Friday lunch - be prepared to wait for a table and your food, but if you're not in a rush, you'll enjoy the friendly service and the meal)
- Cimboco: We had breakfast here twice (it has a great $5+0.99 coffee breakfast special on weekdays), lunch once and dinner once. The service was friendly, the food was tasty, and it was a 5-minute walk from our hotel.
- Agua: This was probably our best meal of the trip. The service was friendly and professional. We enjoyed our Peruvian ceviche appetizers before moving on to more traditional, Italian main courses.

Runner-up was probably Michael's Genuine Food & Drink. The food was quite creative and tasty, and it was fun to go to a place that was a bit buzzy. We did feel, however, that the restaurant was trying just a bit too hard to be creative (bacon ice cream anyone?), and, frankly, staff wearing tshirts with printed definitions of genuine (i.e., "not pretentious") seem, well, quite pretentious.

We also ate at Guy Harvey's for lunch (not memorable) and Hemingway's. The food at Hemingway's was ok, but the location was lovely for a relaxing afternoon, and the margaritas were quite good.

The few meals we had at the Marriott were decent but, not surprisingly, somewhat overpriced. If you don't eat a lot at breakfast but do want to eat at the Marriott, opt for a la carte menu - I thought the American breakfast (not American buffet) was tasty and not outrageously priced. I also enjoyed the shrimp tacos at the bar enough to order them twice. Skip the cocktails if you actually want any alcohol in your drink.

Would we go back? Maybe. We really enjoyed the diving, and we enjoyed how easy it was to dive there. We found the Seven Mile Beach area very "suburban" in feel - not something we look for in a vacation - but it was nice to be able to walk from our hotel into town and to nearby restaurants. It was a relatively short and easy trip there and back (direct flights from NYC). However, the airport in Grand Cayman was a cramped, mobbed and incredibly loud. (There were PA announcements about every minute, and the speakers seemed to be trying to outdo each other in terms of how loudly they spoke.) There was no lounge available for Star Alliance elite passengers, and there weren't enough seats in the tiny departure lounge to accommodate all of the waiting passengers. You need to arrive early for your flight, because the security and immigration lines can get long - and then you get trapped in that jam-packed departures area for what feels like years. This was probably the worst airport departures area I've experienced in years (which is saying something, because I've flown out of airports in Egypt and India). At least there was some A/C and no mosquitoes that I noticed.

Would we go back? Maybe. The diving was great, and that's a major attraction for us. The direct flight was nice, but the GCM airport cancels out that "positive". Restaurant options were varied and generally decent in terms of quality. Our hotel was ok but nothing special. The blue iguanas were fabulous I expect we'll consider the Caymans again if we're looking for an easy getaway and the price is right. Otherwise, there are many other interesting dive destinations to explore.
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Old Jan 8th, 2012, 02:43 PM
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Oops - I forgot one of the other restaurants we really enjoyed. We also thought Thai Orchid was very good, too.
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Old Jan 9th, 2012, 07:05 AM
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thanks for the report. We'll be going to GC for the first time this april and have rented a house by Rums point. Appreciate the heads up about the iguana program.
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Old Jan 14th, 2012, 12:49 PM
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mnag, you'll love the rum point area. no "suburban" feel. we enjoyed meals at kaibo beach bar, rum point rest (diff than their beach food) and you'll pass over-theedge.com on the way from old man bay to rum point. what house did you choose. we stayed at thatch hill
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Old Jan 21st, 2012, 05:53 PM
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Don't let the airport departure lounge prevent you from returning to Grand Cayman. It indeed claustrophobic. I will share a secret. What I usually do is check in at the airline counter. Then go upstairs to the Hungry Horse cafe, sit outside, have a beer or soft drink, food is mediocre, and get the last whiff of the island breeze. Then 35-45 minutes before the flight I head to the security and immigration. This gives me 15 minutes to get Rum at the duty free shop and then then they call to board the plane.

I usually stay at a condo in north Seven Mile Beach. Much less crowded and commercial than the south part. I don't want to be across the street from Burger King or Wendy's. Not as quiet as the North side, but closer to all the good restaurants.
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Old Jan 21st, 2012, 09:59 PM
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"but closer to all (sic), many of the good restaurants."

Agree with Hungry Horse advice.
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Old Jan 23rd, 2012, 08:49 AM
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Virginia, we will be staying at villa habana.
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