Today I’m sharing with you my final travel diary from our trip back in November; our last stop on our vacation was the Grand Cayman Islands and it was a perfect way to end our trip!
Years ago we attempted to travel to Grand Cayman; we were in Orlando when we found out a hurricane was brewing and slated to hit the island during our stay. Thankfully we ended up getting a refund for both our flights and accommodations; we were disappointed but obviously did not want to be in the path of an oncoming hurricane (not that we could even if we wanted to – flights were cancelled and hotels were closing).
In the past when we have planned a beach vacation we’ve stuck with Mexico or Hawaii; this year we decided we wanted to give the west side of the Carribean a (second) attempt for something different. What originally drew us to Grand Cayman is the fact that it’s relatively safe, their water is clean and drinkable from the tap and their beautiful beaches and warm weather of course! Just to be clear we’ve never had issue security or health-wise while in Mexico (ironically Mr. PRL has gotten food poisoning in Hawaii) and it’s one of my favourite destinations, particularly for all-inclusive resorts. That said, recent events have steered us away from vacationing there, at least for the time being.
The landscape in Grand Cayman reminded me quite a bit of Mexicos: mostly flat with very little trees and vegetation. The weather was super hot (low-to-mid 30’s Celsius), sunny and humid – perfect beach weather!
We felt very safe during our visit; most nights we walked from our hotel to dinner at restaurants approximately 40 minutes away and never once were concerned for our safety. They do have a “bus” system (they were more like small vans) but it was often difficult to figure out where the stops were – and apparently, they don’t always stop (haha!).
I think if we’re lucky enough to visit Grand Cayman a second time, we’d rent a car. There seems to be a lot to explore around the island but we usually just like to ease ourselves into our locale the first time around. On top of that, they drive on the left here because they’re a British Territory which intimidates both of us.
All-in-all it’s a beautiful island with exceptionally friendly people – I’d love to return someday (hopefully when the Canadian dollar is worth more!).
Where We Stayed
After years of staying almost-always at Starwood hotels and resorts, our loyalty finally paid off. We collected enough points to redeem for free nights and we decided there was no better place to do that than in Grand Cayman. This island and this resort specifically are quite expensive and we couldn’t justify staying here without cashing in some of our points or getting a great deal.
Because we were redeeming our points we only had enough to book the lowest room category available, but that was fine with us. Being platinum members this year we knew there was a possibility of getting an upgrade but we weren’t going to hold our breath. We were pleasantly surprised when we checked in to discover they upgraded us to a suite. It was a ground floor suite with no view but we weren’t going to complain – at least at the time anyway!
After check-in, the beginning of our stay got off to a bit of a rocky start. It took a while to get access to the room because the card keys wouldn’t work, then when we did get in both the connecting doors and the main door to the second side of the suite were locked from the inside. Maintenance had to come by and break off the door guard in order to get access to it; the maintenance guy said he’d come back and replace it but after waiting for close to an hour, we were annoyed and just left (we were able to lock the first half of the room securely). He never did come back to fix the door.
As mentioned our room didn’t have a view but it did face the hotel’s conference centre. When we returned to our room later that night we learned there was a company Christmas party taking place literally right outside our door. At the time it wasn’t too bad and the sounds could be drowned out by the tv; as the night went on both the people and music got louder and louder. We even had people sitting on our patio furniture and having loud conversations; to add insult to industry the cold that had been hanging around decided to rear it’s head that night so you could say I was absolutely miserable. At 2:00 PM I was just about to call the front desk and complain and it wrapped up. I was worried that we were going to have several sleepless nights going forward but thankfully that was the only party during our stay. I definitely have some choice words for whoever decided to put banquet/conference rooms right next to guest rooms!
My last gripe with the room is that it was at the end of a short hallway; there was an external door that never seemed to fully close right next to us which was a bit of a security concern. In addition, anytime we stay in a ground-level room, we always end up with bugs in it. We came back to our room one night and a large flying beetle stopped in for a visit (no thanks!); another night we found a gecko in the bathroom (much prefer him to the beetle!). I think it’s just easier for critters to gain access to your room on a ground floor but it’s also the tropics so it’s not unexpected. As a result, my preference will always be for a higher-level room.
Despite those few snags at the beginning, we ultimately enjoyed our room; it was recently renovated so everything was new and clean. It was two rooms converted into one and separated by a connecting door; on one side there was a standard room on one side with a bed, sitting area, closet and bathroom and on the other a second bathroom with a dining room and living room with a sofa with a tv. Aside from the second bathroom, we didn’t really utilize the extra space and would have been just as comfortable with a standard-sized room.
The amenities of the hotel are really nice; in addition to the rooms, the entire resort has been recently renovated and it’s very well maintained.
There is a medium-sized pool with a small swim-up bar, pool chairs and umbrellas and a pool bar that serves food/drinks as well as an outside restaurant that overlooked the beach. We didn’t spend any time at the pool as it was often filled to the brim with kids and families but that didn’t really matter to us – we’re beach people anyway.
There are 3 restaurants, a coffee/sandwich shop and 2 bars on site; we had the breakfast buffet each morning at the Beach House (more details on that below). It was on par with what we’ve experienced at other Westin resorts with lots of selection (an omelette bar, fresh waffles/pancakes, eggs any style/ various hot items, cereal, breakfast pastries, fruit, etc.,), delicious, and very high-quality. We ate at the Pool Bar and Tortuga Beach (casual outdoor) several times and the food varied from average to above average. We tried to take advantage of their late afternoon happy hours that offered discounts on both food and drinks because when cocktails are averaging $14 USD a piece, you try and save money any way you can! Although not on the happy hour menu, my favourite drink was their Pina Colada with Blackberry Liqueur – sooo good!
A bit of a sore spot with us was in regards to breakfast; as part of our Starwood membership platinum perks, we were to receive complimentary breakfast buffets tickets each morning but the desk agent didn’t have any at the time we checked in. He told us to come back and ask for them the next day and we did but they were still out – so they then told us to just room charge it and it would be taken off our tab at the end of our stay. We did this begrudgingly knowing that we’d probably have a fight on our hands at the end of our stay and we were right. Mr. PRL had to argue with the desk agent when we left and we didn’t get all our money back. Next time we’ll make sure we get it in writing.
The beach area was perfect – there are plenty of chairs with umbrellas and if you couldn’t find a seat the staff always stepped in to help you. The Westin is situated right on Seven Mile Beach and we determined that it’s on one of the best spots, at least in our opinion. The water just seemed calmer and the beach wider and longer compared to other resorts we walked past.
Aside from the few snags during our stay, we really enjoyed ourselves here. It’s a beautiful resort on a fantastic stretch of beach with (mostly) friendly and helpful staff. I think it’s a great resort to consider if you want to have a prime location on Seven Mile Beach and you don’t have budget constraints or can get a great deal.
As with most beach vacations we go on, we didn’t do much and were completely okay with that. We did have one excursion on our list, however – Stingray City: a waist-high sandbar located 30 minutes offshore where stingrays and humans can converge. It’s Grand Cayman’s most popular tourist attraction and touted as a must-do by any and every travel site out there.
We ended up booking the Breakfast with the Rays tour with Red Sail Sports; we sailed out on a catamaran bright and early in the morning (which I had read was preferable) and included a complimentary breakfast, two stops: the Stingray sandbar and a coral reef for snorkelling a short distance away.
I will admit I had some apprehension going into this but I knew we had to do it – it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and ultimately, I’m so glad I did!
Our guides were great at setting everyone’s minds at ease on our way out there; they informed us that stingrays are basically the puppies of the sea: sweet-natured, gentle and playful. To date, they’ve never had an incident out there which definitely set my mind at ease. They also explained how to handle the stingrays so both they and we would be safe and comfortable.
Once we arrived at the sandbar the experience was incredible. Stingrays of all shapes and sizes were floating around and were brushing up against people. With the help of the guides, everyone that wanted to got the opportunity to hold (and kiss) a stingray and get a photo taken with one. My only complaint is that I would have liked to hold one more than once but the boat didn’t seem to have enough guides on hand to allow for that.
As cool as the experience was I was shocked at how many boats arrived 10 minutes after we did. The sandbar was crowded with people – too many (in my opinion) and our guide mentioned that there were talks of making stingray handling training mandatory for tour companies and guides which I think makes a lot of sense. I also think they should be putting restrictions in place for how many boats can be there at one time but what do I know?
After the sandbar, we stopped for approximately 30-45 minutes of snorkelling at a nearby reef and then lazily headed back to shore. We were back at our hotel shortly after noon which was great because we still had half of the day to spend at the beach!
Overall we were really pleased with the excursion and would recommend it to anyone. However I would encourage you to research which tour company you go with – some of the boats that pulled up at the sandbar seemed to be in questionable condition and with upwards of 100 people or more on them. Our guides were (or appeared to be) experienced, knowledgable, and safety-conscious and the catamaran was in tip-top shape.
Note – if you get at all seasick, I’d recommend popping a Dramamine or other motion sickness medication prior to. I definitely would have been sick had I not and there was one poor kid that was so seasick he didn’t move from his bench the entire time. What’s weird is that even though I didn’t sick at all, I was dizzy the day and week after being on the boat. Sadly, I don’t think I’d ever be able to take a cruise given that’s what a 1-hour boat ride did to me!
Where We Ate
If I have one complaint about Grand Cayman it’s that we didn’t come across an abundance of great restaurants while we were there. Maybe we didn’t eat in the right spots but there weren’t many great options nearby; I suspect because it’s not very commercialized (not a bad thing). As mentioned, we ate at our hotel a couple of times and that was fine. We ventured out to a local restaurant across the street that was raved about online and it was average at best. We also discovered a new shopping complex (Camana Bay) closer to the end of our stay but the restaurant we tried there wasn’t very good. The best meal of our trip was from an unexpected spot – Casa 43 Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar. We enjoyed the most amazing salsa, Mexican Street Corn, fajitas and churros here. Oh and their margaritas were amazing too – and I’m not even a margarita fan. 100% recommend this place if you’re in Grand Cayman and close to Seven Mile Beach or anywhere remotely closeby!
Have you ever visited Grand Cayman Island?