Grand Moments in Grand Cayman
Finding a gem within the Caribbean Sea.
Everyone’s dreamt of the beautiful island life- crystal clear turquoise waters filled with beautiful marine life, sipping on an ice cold drink with your toes wiggling in the sand, or just listening to the palm trees swaying in the wind as the sun goes down below the horizon. Well that’s just where I’m going to take you!
Taking off from Toronto was a quick trip for me, not home for a week and already packed to hop on a plane again. Walking through customs in Toronto Pearson Airport was a comical one, actually one of the more comical ones I’ve had. Having traveled so much, I’ve got quite the number of stamps in my passport and a bag of Maynards Wine Gums and all dressed chips in my bag… I was just screaming for attention wasn’t I? I didn’t think so, but the guards thought otherwise. Removing the wine gums from my bag and just short of pulling me into interrogation to search the rest of my bag and question me, I stood there trying to put up a fight to bring my snacks down to the Caribbean with me.
Was it because of my charming smile that made them uneasy and want to take away my birthday present for my friend who’s been deprived of her favourite candy for so long? Or maybe the fact that I looked so tired because I hadn’t slept for almost 36 hours by the time I hit security lines? Who knows… all I know is I lost my wine gums and all dressed chips at the US customs security in Toronto Pearson Airport on zero hours of sleep and I just wanted to get on that plane, so my fight levels were at an all time minimum. Sorry Lee, no wine gums for you this trip.
Walking off the plane in Grand Cayman, you step down directly onto the tarmac into the warmth of the Caribbean sunshine (if it’s sunny that is…) and are guided into the arrivals area to go through customs in the Cayman Islands. Don’t be one of those tourists getting off the plane and step outside the pylons and get yelled at by airport security, because that happens quite frequently.
After having flown into Grand Cayman for the second time, I still didn’t realize that there’s a wonderful little welcome platform just above the tarmac when you walk off the plane. It’s got a beautiful peaked roof with a little restaurant patio up top as well. A great little spot to sit and have a beer while your arriving visitor makes their way through customs and into the parking lot.
This trip to Cayman was a special trip, a special champagne birthday for a special friend who I haven’t seen in a very, very long time. 27 years old on the 27th day of the month. Lucky lady! My champagne birthday was when I turned 12 years old, I can’t really drink too much champagne and celebrate too crazily at that age can I? Lee is a friend I met years ago in Ottawa who started out as my manager in a fine dining restaurant, we hit it off within minutes of meeting each other and the rest is history. Anyways, it’s her birthday and her husband is a fabulous human and wanted to surprise her with some of her friends showing up on the island for it. It was going to be great!
So here I was, walking out of arrivals into the parking lot and looking for Lee’s tall hubby, but I wasn’t able to see him anywhere and Tom is not one to be late (even being from an Island and raised on island time, he’s always on time). But tall 6’6 Tom was not anywhere to be found and after a few seconds of looking around I realized that someone was looking directly at me with a huge smile on their face- it was little 5’5 Lee standing there waiting for me. Let’s talk about who was going to surprise who, because that was not the way it was supposed to go down. I was the one getting totally surprised walking out from arrivals when I was supposed to be the one doing the surprising. She got me good I tell ya!
It was going to be a busy week as Tom and Lee were both working full swing. Owning a tour company, there’s never any down time. In the Cayman Islands there are bays filled with bioluminescent waters that glow unbelievably bright three weeks of the month in turn with the moon. Tom and Lee have a kayaking company that will take you out at night to paddle through the magical and fairytale like waters. If you ever plan on going to the Cayman Islands… this is an absolute MUST for you to check out! Click here to get all the booking details you need for it!
After the typical island life grocery shop and running into so many people that Lee knows there, we made our way home and walked to the backyard. Which is a beautiful pool and a beautiful beach with a beautiful rock pool in the beach with a little rock wall separating the open ocean from this little tidal pool. It’s gorgeous. Sitting out here drinking a nice cold beer with little kitten Snickers exploring around us, we watched the sun go down behind the clouds as we caught up.
One thing I’ve come to learn about travel is when you meet people and make friends, it can be weeks, months or years without seeing these individuals and when you do- it’s like not a day has passed. Travel not only allows you to find yourself and learn who you are deep down, but it also allows you to appreciate and love what you have all the more. I really do believe absence makes the heart grow fonder. That goes for friends, family and lovers.
Having seen Lee and Tom for only one afternoon in the last 4 years, this was a great reunion and the conversation didn’t stop flowing. We decided to go on a little work adventure as Cayman Kayaks needed to drop of brochures at one of the hotels close by, and so we hit the road. Caymanian driving was one of my first “crazy” road experiences when it came to travelling. I mean, I had travelled to Thailand back in 2010 and saw some wild things on the road there that kept me from driving when I got back home for a little bit. But being up in the passenger seat and popping in and out in front of cars, taking sharp turns and the constant honking? I must have completely forgotten what the roads were like in countries other than Canada, because first time in Cayman and I was white knuckled the entire time in the car. This time? Not so much!
Living and travelling places with locals is one of the best ways to really explore a country, driving down the backroads I see Tom just peering up at the trees from the dashboard and finally pulls over. He climbs out of the truck and up on top of the roof, noises from the truck top seemed the roof was about to buckle and collapse from Tall Tom being on top.. but surprise surprise, it didn’t. Classic car roofs making you uneasy. Tom was trying to find the perfect handful of a little fruit called a guinep (pronounced ginnup) which is a fleshy little fruit similar to the flesh of a lychee and the build of a coffee bean. A shell that you bite and it cracks in half, and then suck the flesh out and suck it off of the seed in the middle. They range from suuuuuper tart to deliciously sweet, it’s just a matter of learning which are ripe and which are not!
There are three islands that make up the Cayman Islands: Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. All of which are small enough to drive around, yet big enough to still be discovering beaches and neat little spots after living on one for 25 years. There are beautiful caves to explore and dive into, fresh water wells that go hundreds of feet, giant mud pits that are better than a day at the spa and sand bars out in what seems to be the middle of the ocean.
We took a stroll down one of the beaches and came across a little jungle that had a small tunnel-like opening and the kid in us went for it, and this little tunnel opened into a huge space that had benches and a hut built under the canopy of the trees. It was beautiful! Tom said he’s never seen it before and lit the conversation of what other kind of hidden treats there are all over the place.
One of these not so hidden treats that has become somewhat of a tourist attraction is called the blowhole. It’s a little bit further down from Lovers Wall and even though it was a cloudy day, it was still magnificent to watch the turquoise waves break and crash into the cliffs with a burst of ocean like a column straight into the sky with a cloud of sea mist left behind.
Owning their own company, there’s flexibility in carrying the business with you and not being tied down to an office. Driving around the island and deciding to take Maggie out for a spin was the next logical move to make! Seeing the island from the water is seeing the island in a whole other light. We went to tour the mangroves and sailed under an almost stormy looking sky for the remainder of the afternoon. The sun was bright, the clouds were ominous and the mangroves looked thirsty for more rain water. Maggie is a funky little sail boat with a small cabin (pretty much for storage and potential sleeping area) and a keel that will hit the bottom of the bay unless everyone on the boat sits on one side to tilt it enough so it doesn’t scratch. That was almost ten minutes of fingernail biting suspense when we had to climb to the one side and go down the narrow canal, and to distract ourselves we made bets of how many ‘goannas we would see on the rocks on the side of the canal and counted them until we got to our dock.
The next day was when the third musketeer arrived: Sags. And the laughter ensues. Getting into the truck and admiring the coastal beauty not 20 feet away from the road and unanimously deciding it was about time to get some food and a drink. We stopped at this little beach shack for what’s said to be the most delicious fish fry on the island, and today’s fish? MahiMahi, but I asked for only one Mahi, because I wasn’t really all that hungry.
And I almost stole a baby beach chicken.
The big day was the 27th of July, but we each got an itinerary for a full 48 hours, from the moment we woke up on the 26th until the sun goes down on the 28th. And man oh man, did we have an exciting few days ahead of us!
A big and beautiful brunch with “all you can drink champagne” at the Westin and a gourmet all you can eat brunch to go along with your mimosas. I couldn’t get over the deliciousness of the food and how I just kept going up for more and more and more. I never wanted it to end! This brunch happens every Sunday at the Westin and you should reserve in advance to ensure that there’s a table for you. They have their own pressed juices, handmade sushi, big delicious crêpes they make right in front of you and the freshest of breads and cheeses. I felt I was in heaven!
After we finished brunch, we had to run down to the beach as it was time for our parasailing excursion! Parasailing!!! I’ve never been before and it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do, and today was that day! So we ran down to our pickup boat (champagne glasses in hand mind you), scrambled aboard, waited to get clipped up (because safety third right?) and then up, up and away we were off! Looking for sharks, hanging around upside-down and spinning ourselves silly.. it was everything I wanted it to be and more! On our way back down, I was a little upset it was going to be over and then our driver ended up dunking us a few times, brought us back up and then finally reeled us in.
If you’ve never been before, I highly recommend it! It can take a lot out of you though after an all you can drink champagne breakfast though…
The rest of the day became a leisure pool and ocean lounging day, with a 2km swim for Sags and myself along the beach trying to make our way down to the Royal Palms Beach club. The water was beautiful and after putting in a little exercise to get to Royal Palms, we went right from the ocean to the pool with the poolside bar and finished the night off like a couple of prunes.
The next morning was Lee’s actual birthday, which involved some ocean swimming and lazing in some of the floating beds just off the beach (had a massive barracuda swim by us when we were out there!) for a few hours. We all had a feeling we were going to soak up the sunshine, but boy… did we soak up that sun. shine! All of us burnt our bottom cheeks and had some rosy noses by the end of that relaxing morning. I couldn’t have been more excited to be heading to the spa to get a body scrub on my freshly burnt body. I’ve had one of those before, and that fire is one of a kind let me tell you!
We each had a different spa treatment: Energy recharge, Diamond Treatment and Island Dream Body were the names. Each so different and all coming out so relaxed afterwards, I could have spent an entire day getting pampered like that!
Leaving the spa, Tom picked us up on their catamaran style boat named Moonless Moments and we went for a rip around the bay, searched for star fish and almost got lost trying to find sting ray city. Sting Ray City is not a place you can buy souvenirs or gelato while enjoying the view. Stingray City is a sand bar in the middle of the ocean that began with fishermen dumping their scraps overboard, with the stingrays gathering in large numbers for free feeding everyday, it became a tourist destination. It’s usually a spot that’s crawling (splashing is probably the word I should use) with tourists and boats, but as we were getting there so late in the day there wasn’t anyone around. Not a soul in sight.
You can get in the water and some of the local guides will pick up a stingray for you and show you how to hold it (making sure to keep their eyes in the water as that’s where their gills are located). And if you kiss it, you get 7 years good luck (good thing to do after you break that bathroom mirror!)… so naturally I kissed a stingray about 18 times and crossed my fingers it would be delivered in concentrate form.
As the sun started going down Tom suggested we leave as that’s when the Hammerhead sharks start coming out…. “GET RIGHT OUT OF TOWN!? HAMMERHEAD SHARKS?! Can we stay until we see one please!?”-Me. Stingrays are the hammerhead’s favourite meal around here and dawn and dusk are when sharks are most active. Being a feeding ground for the rays, there’s a high chance of running into a hammerhead at Stingray City when the sun starts to go down. But no, the answer is no I was not allowed to stay in the water and wait for the hammerheads to come out and play. We had dinner reservations to get to, but not before getting pulled behind the boat and trying to hang on to the paddle board for as long as we possibly could!
We had reservations at a beach barbecue buffet, live music and a beautiful sunset to watch. Gourmet food (as gourmet as you can get for being a beach barbecue!) with chefs making you pasta on the spot, giving you ribs that have been marinating all day right from the grill and the freshest of seafood, salads and more!
Finishing the night off with another boat tour and sending wishing lanterns (some worked and a few… didn’t) up into the night sky- the milky way was so bright and the glimmer of the stars almost shone down on the water itself. We made our way into BioBay to really explore the bioluminescent waters and to tell you the truth, I’ve seen bioluminescent waters before but they were nothing. And I mean nothing compared to the waters in BioBay, Grand Cayman. I couldn’t believe the magic I was seeing that was happening in front of my own eyes.
The waters were filled with brilliant greens and blues, lighting up wherever you happened to touch the water. Looking out into the bay you could see dimly lit shapes moving along the ocean floor, disturbing the bioluminescence as the fish would swim slowly along. It was almost as if I were in the movie Avatar, it was magical and I don’t believe there’s another word for it.
Our last night in the Cayman Islands was a cozy one. Setting up shop on the living room floow, watching Finding Nemo (for the third time that week) and working on finishing up a jigsaw puzzle, drinking some wine and having some last laughs before our flights. Leaving us with some amazing memories until we’re reunited once more.
One last laugh: the customs guard asked me upon returning to the States.. "tell me about your time down there" and my response being: Sir, I would probably get both you and I in a lot of trouble if I really told you what happened.. but this is the short of it: lots of champagne