Grand Cayman, the largest of the three Cayman Islands, is a 76-square-mile slice of paradise. Swim with stingrays, snorkel, jet ski, or just enjoy your beautiful surroundings. A summer day spent in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea is not one you will soon forget.
Last summer, I took my five children on the adventure of a lifetime: a Carnival Cruise to the western Caribbean, with stops in Montego Bay, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. I didn’t think anything could possibly top our first excursion in Jamaica, which included jumping out of trees and hiking up the incredible Mayfield Falls, but our day in Grand Cayman turned out to be equally memorable.
Grand Cayman Excursion
Knowing that my friend Rebecca of R We There Yet Mom had recently visited Grand Cayman with her three children, I asked her for some direction in booking a kid-friendly excursion that wouldn’t be overwhelming for me as the only adult in our party. She recommended Captain Marvin’s, a local touring company with an office located across the street from the cruise port. After reading up on the tour options, including a dolphin tour and a Turtle Farm Island tour, I booked the reasonably priced three-hour snorkeling tour, which includes a trip to the Stingray City sandbar plus two snorkel stops, at the Barrier Reef and the Coral Gardens.
Captain Marvin’s Stingray and Snorkel Tour
After disembarking the cruise ship, we headed across the street to Captain Marvin’s to pay for our tour. We were early, so we milled around nearby souvenir shops while waiting for the free shuttle that would take us to the boat. Riding the shuttle was a great introduction to Grand Cayman because our driver entertained us with stories about life on the island while he drove (on the lefthand side of the road) to the dock.
The first stop on our boat tour was the Stingray City sandbar. This area is a popular tourist destination, but there was plenty of room for all and stingrays aplenty. The waist-deep water was the perfect temperature and the sand beneath our feet was powder soft. It was amazing – and only a little bit daunting – to be out in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, surrounded by stingrays. My boys practiced with Captain Marvin’s snorkels and masks and watched the stingrays swimming beneath the water. We all had the opportunity to feed the stingrays and have them “kiss” our faces (both equally scary for the squeamish).
Snorkeling in the Caribbean Sea
Before this trip, I had never tried snorkeling. I didn’t think it would be all that great, because you have to stay near the surface of the water. I was wrong. When you are in the Caribbean, sticking your head underwater transports you to another world. It is quiet and beautiful, with colorful coral, tropical fish, and stingrays so close you can almost touch them. Many snorkelers held their breath and swam down to the bottom of the seafloor to collect unique shells. Our guides told us that if conch shells had no critters living inside, we could keep them.
At the second snorkel stop, we could feed the fish, allowing for an even more “up close and personal” experience with marine life. My teenage son unwittingly swam a little too close to some fire coral, though, and was “stung.” It took him awhile to recover from that unpleasant interaction.
Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman
Following our tour, we asked the shuttle driver to drop us off at a public access beach entry. It seemed a bit risky because I wasn’t sure how we were going to find our way back to the cruise port, but the Caribbean was calling. There was hardly anyone on the beach and my kids couldn’t wait to get back in that perfect water.
Seven Mile Beach offers free bathrooms, food trucks, playgrounds, and vendors on the sand who are happy to rent jet skis and snorkeling equipment. Trailed by begging children, I approached one vendor, Blue Water Island Adventure Tours, and rented a jet ski for my teens (which came with complimentary life jackets) and snorkel gear for the smaller kids. They played and played until I dragged them all out of the water.
The one downside of going rogue in a foreign country is that the cruise ship won’t wait for you if you don’t make it back on time. So, we headed to the street in search of local transportation.
Public Transportation in Grand Cayman
Thankfully, everyone we encountered on the tourist side of the island spoke English. We were told that buses come around the corner every 15 minutes or so. There was no actual bus stop, so I was hopeful but just a tad nervous. The bus turned out to be van, but it did stop to pick us up. The price was apparently flexible (a passenger told us one price and the driver quickly said it was higher), but I was more than happy to pay $15 to get the six of us back to the port. We enjoyed the ride, got to see a bit more of the island, and met some friendly locals in the van.
Know Before You Go
Before heading off to Grand Cayman, here are a few tips:
- Know what time it is, so you don’t miss your tour or your cruise departure. Time in the Cayman Islands is the same as EST, but without daylight savings (so in the summer, it’s actually the same as CT).
- Bring small bills. You can pay for things in US currency, but locals won’t have change. We needed cash for tips for the tour guides, for the bus driver, and for street vendors selling coconuts. Local businesses, like Captain Marvin’s and Blue Water Island Adventure Tours, accept credit card.
- Captain Marvin’s provides snorkel vests, life vests, masks, snorkels and fins for everyone ages four and older. For younger children, you will want to bring your own life jacket along.
- Bring your own floatation devices for small children if you plan to visit the beach on your own.
- If you have your own snorkels and masks, bring those along too! They are fun to use at the beach for DIY snorkel adventures.