Pirates Week Festival

For 11 days in November, Grand Cayman is transformed into a nonstop, fun-filled festivity every bit as flamboyant as Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow performances. The annual Pirates Week Festival (www.piratesweekfestival.com) is the country's largest celebration, encompassing more than 30 different events, including street dances, five heritage days (where various districts showcase their unique craft and culinary traditions), a float parade, landing pageant, fireworks, song contests, costume competitions, cardboard-boat regattas, golf tournaments, swim meets, autocross, races, kids' fun day, teen music nights, underwater treasure hunt, and more.

Everyone gets involved in the high-spirited high jinks (for example, dive boats stage mock battles and play practical jokes like filling the decks of "rivals" with cornflakes or jam, while swashbucklers "capture" hotel employees and guests). The opening night is an explosion of sights and sounds, from fireworks to rocking, rollicking bands that keep thousands shaking booty in the George Town streets into the wee hours of the morning. Later in the week, another highlight is the mock pirate invasion of Hog Sty Bay and the spirited defense of the capital, culminating in the buccaneers' trial and extravagantly costumed street parades with ornate floats.

Most of the major events are free. The music sizzles, and the evening functions feature heaping helpings of yummy, affordable local fare (turtle stew, conch, jerk chicken). Given the enormous popularity of the festival, travelers should make reservations for hotel rooms and rental cars well in advance. Even taxis are in short supply for those wanting to attend the farther-flung heritage days. Hotels, shops, and the festival's administrative office do a brisk biz in corsair couture (though you can bring your own stuffed parrot and patch; just leave the sword at home).

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