Grand Cayman

Grand Cayman. I'd been here before, once, for a day, on a cruise ship. I enjoyed it then, but this trip I would get to know Cayman a lot better than you can in the afternoon a cruise ship provides. The island gets most of its attention for being an offshore tax haven, and featured prominently as such in the movie The Firm. There are still businesses there that proclaim they were featured in the film, in fact. Our purpose in being here is the scuba diving. On that cruise I got to make two dives, and I got to visit Stingray City, which is one of the wonders of the underwater world as far as I'm concerned. We would be staying in Cayman for longer than prior stops because we were meeting Steve's family.

Grand Cayman is the antithesis of Cuba and the other stops we had made to date. It is the most modern, most-home-like stop we will be making, right down to familiar fast food franchises. I'm not sure that's all good, but it was kind of reassuring not to be immersing in yet another new culture.

Join me now for this pleasant island stop.

For this leg, Rich is playing pilot. If you've never flown up in the cockpit, you don't know what you are missing. The visibility up here is just amazing compared to sitting in the back. Even in back, the windows are so much larger than on a commercial aircraft you can see a lot more. To make the difference even more profound, these little private planes are flying at 10,000 feet or less instead of 40,000 feet, so everything is just that much easier to see.

It's really a visual treat!

We're on final approach here, with the runway dead ahead. Doesn't it look like we're right of the runway? This is an optical illusion that pilots have to get used to.

During the last 1/3 of the trip we've been hearing a lot of chatter from the Cayman Caravan on the radio. This is a group of pilots that visit Grand Cayman in their planes every year. What we heard were the US Air Force planes that were coming to participate in the airshow that goes along with the Caravan. There were the KC-135 tanker, a flight of F-16's, and a flight of A-10 Warthogs.

As we roll down the runway, we get to see these interesting planes. Here are the A-10's and a tanker based on the L-1011 (not sure what its called, KC-135's are 707-based tankers, I think this might be a KC-10).


A Hercy bird (C-131 Hercules). These STOL turboprops are used to transport personnel and spare parts. This airshow detachment has quite an entourage!

Last, but not least, are some of the hundreds of private planes that flew in as part of the Caravan. These planes carpeted the grass between the runway and taxi areas, but they were being kept fairly well away from the military planes.


Once parked, it was time for us to unload again. Customs officials here were very friendly. In fact, the fellow that came out on his golf cart said that normally they charge a landing fee, but were waiving it during Caravan week. That's very neighborly!

Unfortunately, once past customs, we began to experience what Caymanians call service, or rather the lack thereof. The island has no unemployment, and bills have an automatic 15% gratuity added. Translation: nobody tries very hard to make you happy. Our cab driver, for example, made no effort to help with the mountain of bags that had to be loaded into the back of his van until we very pointedly asked for assistance. He went on to make us change cabs in order to get to both hotels we were checking into. Meanwhile, he had his wife riding up front, and she was definitely the brains of the operation. It wasn't a very impressive start to our visit, and it got worse in many respects where service was concerned.

Rich and I would be staying at the beautiful Westin Casuarina Resort. The Elefants were going to stay about a mile down the road at the Hyatt. We split hotels in order to use Steve's travel agent discount at both hotels. Even still, this was by far the most expensive hotel stay of the trip. Cayman is expensive!

Rooms here are comfortable, but nothing really special.
The Pool, on the other hand, rocks. It's not so good for swimming, because of the narrow canal connecting the two ends you can't really swim laps, but it is awesome for staying cool and drinking your daiquiris. There's a swim up bar, and lots of nice healthy palms provide just the right amount of shade.

The lunch menu at the pool was excellent. I like the club sandwich the best, but they had an awesome beef tenderloin as well.

Did I say I was unhappy with the service? Well, sometimes it wasn't so bad!

Aaahhhhhhh! Those daiquris are so good!

Here I am enjoying tunes from my Nomad jukebox, and relaxing by the pool.

No, that's definitely not a mermaid headed my way, that's my snorkel buddy Rich. Snorkelling here is awesome. The water at the West End is smooth as glass. There's very little wave action, very little current, and it is very very clear. It's easy to swim far offshore, and you'll need to in order to get off the sand and onto the reef where the fish are. Rich and I went out for a couple of hours nearly every afternoon, and would finish out by sitting by the pool for a drink. Now that's the good life!

We saw lots of fish while snorkeling, and I even managed to find a small nurse shark wedged under the rocks. Even by grabbing its tail with both hands and pulling I couldn't persuade it to come out though. I thought the snorkelling in Cozumel and Hawaii (Big Island) was better, but Grand Cayman is very good.

The beaches are also delicious. The sand is very fine, almost like talcum powder. In fact, the pool had channels with circulating water so you would walk through and rinse the sand off before getting in. You can see one a few feet behind Rich. The beaches here are much nicer than either Hawaii or Cozumel. I would say the only place I've been that might be better would be Aruba where beaches are concerned.

And speaking of that beach, the sunsets here are gorgeous!

Tomorrow, Diving...

All material 2001-2006, Robert W. Warfield.