It’s 6 am, and I’m trying to figure out the straps on my deep v black suit. It’s our first full day in Grand Cayman, and it promises to be beautiful.
The night before marked our celebratory arrival on the island with a progressive tasting and site inspection of the new Kimpton Seafire… We began with champagne in the lobby and a walk-through of the spa. Artisanal tacos and specialty cocktails awaited us on the sands of Coccoloba followed by the grand finale in the 10th floor Presidential Suite with our hosts: the Head of the Department of Tourism, the US General Manager of Tourism, Senior Editor for Travel Agent Central, the Kimpton’s Executive Director and Director of Sales.
Smiling waiters passed hors d’oeuvres on silver platters while heavily laden tables of seafood and sushi were stationed at center stage. A good-looking Aussie manned the open bar. I found there is no shortage of them there on the island.
We depart for Safehaven Dock at 7 am for “Breakfast with the Rays” courtesy of Red Sail Sports Excursions. Waivers are signed, and we’re off. There are maybe 30 people on the boat, and I’m surprised to find the breakfast is hot. We sip our coffee carefully as the boat heads into open sea.
As the boat slows we all eagerly crowd the edges to scan the clear waters for signs of the flat, gliding fish. Stingrays are actually related to sharks, cartilaginous and known for the barbed tails most of their species have for self-defense.
An excited child spots the first one, then there’s another and another. Dozens of beautiful rays float in as if on cue. The captain tells us they’re ready for their breakfast too and with a note to shuffle our feet in the sand, we climb down the ladder into the warm, waist-deep water.
Stingray City is one of Grand Cayman’s most popular attractions. I must admit it was incredible to be miles out from shore, but able to stand on the shallow sand bars. Watching the rays fly through the water around us was mesmerizing, and when one was carefully lifted by a crew member for the photo opp it appeared to be smiling. I’m always wary of human’s entanglement with wildlife, but the rays come of their own accord to feast and seem to genuinely enjoy engaging with their two legged, land-dwelling friends.
After an hour or two, we climb back onto the boat to head to a reef for snorkeling. The aquatic life is robust and the coral dances in the crystalline current. I find myself entranced by the underwater scene and quite lose track of time. I'm coaxed back on board with a rum punch for the final cruise back to the dock then we're off to lunch at Heritage Kitchen.
A friendly, toothless man greets us upon arrival offering almonds he cracked open with a machete. The Mom and Pop of the shop take our orders with their lilting accents hinting at coconuts and tropical sun. Chickens peck around our feet as we stare out, hypnotized by the endless blue of the ocean . We're seated at wooden tables outside and our fresh fare featured local specialties like Cayman style grouper and conch soup.
After site inspections of the Marriott and Cayman Club it was time to eat again- this time at George Town’s waterfront Cayman Cabana. While Heritage Kitchen provides picture perfect island life ambiance, Cayman Cabana’s food is truly exquisite. They pair from-the-farm produce with just-off-the-boat seafood, add a dash of deliciously spicy Scotch Bonnet pepper sauce, and the dishes explode with flavor. Cayman Cabana is also owned by a local Caymanian, Luigi Moxam, who is one of the island’s most inspiring young entrepreneurs.
We had the restaurant to ourselves. The night was warm and the rum was flowing. Luigi entertained us himself and at his encouragement I jumped behind the bar to create my own signature cocktail. A friendly hermit crab made an appearance towards the end of the evening, and when he tottered off to retire we all decided to do the same.
The next day brought more food and adventure. First, breakfast at the organic, vegan restaurant, Vivo, then a tour of the Crystal Caves in Northside. The caves are situated, quite dramatically, in the middle of a verdant tropical forest. Our guide pointed out native flora and fauna while interjecting bits of history and pirate lore.
The caves are truly magnificent. Fantastic stalactites and stalagmites form incredible sculptures while crystal pools of water beckon visitors to explore further. Bats crowd the main cavern’s roof, huddled tight to dream in an upside down world. Hundreds of years ago, pirates used the cave system as a hideout and as shelter from nature’s elements. Legend has it pirate treasure still remains buried deep within its bowels…
Emerging into the daylight brought us back to reality and our responsibilities. Lunch was to be served at the Ritz-Carlton followed by the advisory board meeting that brought us here. After an impressive chef-driven luncheon we found ourselves seated in a very official boardroom complete with name cards and coffee.
Joe Pike, Senior Editor for Travel Agent Magazine moderated the round table discussion. My ten Under30 colleagues and I were joined by representatives from the tourism board, tour operators, and most of the major hotels. The conversation was lively, and I was so proud to be a part of this group as I listened with growing respect to everyone’s insight. Grand Cayman and its sister islands do make an attractive destination particularly for those who value a safe, clean experience. The infrastructure is incredibly sound and with their desire to develop more local and authentic experiences the appeal continues to broaden.
Our final dinner was served at the Westin. I must admit that the hotel was quite the surprise. It's public grounds are immaculate and the dinner was truly gourmet. A massive renovation contributed to the Wow-factor with an impressive new pool complex and bar. Considering it was our last evening we decided to follow dinner with dancing and recruited the help of Luigi for the go-to-spot. The name eludes me now, but it's one of those strip mall clubs guarded by a beastly man with a clipboard…somewhere only the locals would know to go. It was perfect.
Shoes were quickly discarded as we made up our own dance to the island beat. I don’t think I stopped smiling as we twirled across the dance floor only coming up occasionally for air and a cold beer. Thinking back now it's a perfect moment.
Damp curls sticking to flushed cheeks, bare feet sticky from the rum we'd spilled... Cheeks hurting from laughing and out of breath from spinning. The remembrance brings a lightness to my heart and my lips curve of their own accord. I’m glad to carry a piece of that with me, Caymankind in memory.