Monday, May 25, 2015

Grand Cayman with Kids: Snorkeling & The Waterfront

Day Three

With an adventurous day behind us, we wanted to relax a bit and begin our day at our resort, just spending the morning/afternoon swimming and snorkeling. Mike got up early again to go for a run on the beach and this time put the towels on the chairs before he ran. Great thinking! He got the last five chairs available in the front. It made all the difference to not have our view blocked by the row of chairs in front of us. Nothing but white sand and beautiful turquoise water as our view today!

I had also been wanting to try snorkeling after hearing from my family how awesome it was. I admittedly never have once opened my eyes under water, even with goggles on. I know it sounds silly but I was always afraid water would still get in. Mike insisted I try it and I figured now was as good of a time as ever. I put on the snorkel goggles and gently placed my face in the water. I wanted to gasp but obviously that wouldn't have ended well under water! The sun reflected so peacefully off the bottom of the sand while the fish swam in a carefree yet purposeful manner--it was a beautiful sight to witness for the first time. After marveling over my new view I decided to give the actual snorkel a try. I took a few practices before trying with my face in the water--it was so easy! It's amazing how you get used to just seeing life on earth...when you explore new depths {pun intended} you are greatly rewarded. My kids were excited I was finally snorkeling and my son really wanted to take me out to the reef. I went out with him but when I saw sea urchins I turned around! I was afraid I'd accidentally land on one. Of course he thought that was silly but I was new to this and needed time to warm up to all these creatures!

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Some of the fish we saw

Beach B with fish guide
Braden studying the fish guide, post-snorkel

After we spent the better part of the day here, we headed out to get some beach photos of the kids. I really loved the look of Spott's Beach, where we had visited a few days before, so we kept that in mind in case we weren't lucky with a closer location. We came across several beach access signs while driving along Seven Mile Beach but could not see the beach from the narrow pathway that we drove by. We played it safe and stayed with what we knew so we headed back to Spott's Beach. When we arrived, all spots were taken in the tiny parking area but people were beginning to pack up and head out for the day. The beautiful palm trees were free from people lounging beneath their shady branches, which gave the impression that our beach was deserted. It was a beautiful backdrop for sure!

Beach photo Florabella
Spott's Beach was a great backdrop for Beach Photos!

After the beach photos we were really hungry so I consulted my Fodor's guide book to find a restaurant for dinner. Ava also had a school project she needed to complete while we were in Grand Cayman. The purpose of the project was to visit an ethnic restaurant so the kids could experience a new type of food and restaurant. I brought the worksheet along to complete in Grand Cayman as I figured we'd find a Caribbean restaurant to try out.

We decided to try The Waterfront restaurant which is located in Camana Bay. Camana Bay is a newly-built planned community, consisting of shops, restaurants, businesses, and apartments all steps from the waterfront. We thought it would be a fun place to live when you are young as you can work there, eat there, shop there, and live there. Oh the carefree days of youth!

We were really pleased with the Waterfront restaurant! It's at a beautiful location, right on the water, just a bit down from the yacht club where we had gotten on our stingray tour. There was ample seating outside, with palm trees overhead and pretty lights strung among the branches. The atmosphere was perfect! Our waitress was wonderful, her name just so happened to be Ava as well. When we told her our youngest member of the family shared her name she gave her a hug and said she had never met another Ava! Ava felt special, that's for sure! The staff was also very good about trying to accommodate our children's allergies which is always appreciated. Ava ended up with a frankfurter that was covered in bacon pieces and french fries on the side. The others had bunless hamburgers and fries, their usual go-to. I had a salad with grilled chicken as I needed to eat something lite and healthy after days of indulging. Mike had a delicious burger. Ava was pleased to have finished her restaurant worksheet in such a fun, beautiful setting with a full belly! I realize the food she tried was not exactly Caribbean but we have to go with what works when eating out with allergies. She was still able to explore the full menu and understand the different types of Caribbean fare offered such as coconut shrimp and a Caribbean jerk pork. School project mission accomplished!

We headed back to the resort and got to bed as we were tired from another full day. We had just one more full day left!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Grand Cayman with kids: Stingray City!

Day Two

One of the most popular attractions in Grand Cayman is Stingray City. It is a unique opportunity to swim with these seemingly mythical creatures that freely swim about in the north sound of Grand Cayman Island. The water in the sound is anywhere between 3-12 ft deep, so really fairly shallow. It is an absolutely gorgeous turquoise blue color, a beautiful home for these creatures.

We booked our tour ahead of time with Acquarius Sea Tours. I had read a lot of reviews online before booking and they seemed to fit the bill for us. We did not have to pay to secure our spot ahead of time although they did send a reminder email stating if you wish to cancel please let them know. It is a smaller company so not only is that courteous but it would end up claiming spots someone else could have filled.

The day we were going to Stingray City was a very hot, sunny day. We wore our swimsuits with a light cover up and packed sun hats, sunglasses, and plenty of sunblock. I only wish I had packed our own water bottles. The tour provides water and fruit punch but it is just much handier to have your own bottles on hand. The tour also provides a very delicious margarita pizza but with the allergies we had to have our own food on hand as well, so I had some snacks in a cooler for the kids.

We drove out to the yacht club which was our departure point and located the slip where the boat was, "Big John". Other folks on the dock who were working on their own boats mentioned Mario, our captain, had not arrived yet. We decided to re-sunblock as it was a hot day! The sun coupled with being on the water for hours could be a recipe for a disastrous sunburn so we were playing it safe. Soon we saw the "First Mate", Duane, and he allowed us on the boat while he got things ready.

The boat was a nice size for a small group, I think we ended up with 25 guests in our party. We ended up sitting up at the top with the captain which was a great view and a safe place to sit with kids. The majority of the other guests sat on the bow of the boat which probably provided them with a great view and wonderful sea breeze as we headed out!

Boat tour A and B
Boat tour A in captains chari
Boat tour S and B
On our boat, ready to go

The captain Mario and the first mate explained the process of driving out into the north sound and what our stops would be. Mario decided that our first stop would be Starfish Point, where sea stars reside in clear, shallow waters. When approaching that beach Mario mentioned that the owner of the land around it was the lady who owned Maybelline! No wonder, it is such a gorgeous, calm, peaceful beach, reminding me of a deserted island.

Boat tour Starfish Point landscape2
Boat tour Starfish Point landscape
Boat tour starfish point beach
Arriving at the gorgeous Starfish Point

Now I had researched ahead and learned that removing sea stars from the water can be detrimental to their health. People often forget that these creatures are actually living things and are calmly residing in their watery home. Yet people carelessly put them on their shoulders and other places that I don't care to mention for what they think is the perfect photo-op. Before our trip I talked with the kids a lot about not touching them unless it was deemed okay. I explained to them that it's not good for their health to be handled excessively by humans as it stresses them out. They understood and decided if everyone else was doing it and asked them about it they would simply say that they prefer not to touch.

So the captain surprised me and actually explained to all guests on the boat, as we approached Starfish Point, that removing the sea stars from the water can be detrimental to their health. I was glad to hear it as it showed that the captain was being responsible in the environment that provides his career, not just pleasing guests with their desired photo-ops. The kids happily looked at me as they felt reassured by what I had told them. He said you can gently lift them up but to keep them under water at all times. As we approached the shore he pointed out a boat with people who were doing what I described above - placing the poor sea stars on their shoulders and various other places. Captain Mario said he has personally talked with the boat captain in the past but the other boat captain didn't care to change his ways. Very sad!

With all that said, it was now our time to disembark and enter the crystal clear waters the sea stars call home. What a neat experience! The kids happily searched for them, discovering that they were quite easy to spot as the sea stars are red and the water clear. The kids carefully touched the top of them and also gently lifted them all while consciously keeping them under the water and then carefully placing them back down.

Boat tour kids starfish point
boat tour starfish point
Boat tour B with starfish
Boat tour A with starfish
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Starfish Point

The water was surprisingly cool here, but I suppose the sound opens right up to the Atlantic so it should be expected. We spent a good half hour here and Captain Mario brought out the pizza, fruit punch, and water. It was a great experience to eat and drink while wading knee deep in the water with sea stars!

From here, Captain Mario decided our next stop would be the deeper Stingray City. The water is about 10 ft deep and you can snorkel and dive with all the various creatures including, of course, the stingrays. The water was a bit choppy, at least it felt that way in a boat our size. I am admittedly a bit nervous of water, always have been, although the swaying of the boat was oddly relaxing! A few folks mentioned they were getting motion sick so they were given some Dramamine and water that the crew keeps on hand. They were told if you stay in the inside of the boat you'll feel the motion less. Thankfully the medicine seemed to work as no one got really sick!

Due to the waves it took some time to anchor the boat. The captain and first mate also fitted everyone for the snorkel gear and fins, which took a while as well. Finally, when everyone jump in, I decided I'd stay on the boat with Skylar as the deeper water just did not appeal to us. Braden & Ava happily jumped in with Mike, though! After the crew jumped in they announced that there was also a barracuda swimming down below! That freaked Ava out a bit and she decided she'd just sit on the edge of the back of the boat with me and watch. At the very end, I decided I'd at least jump in. I hadn't tried snorkeling yet so I didn't participate in that but was proud of myself for jumping in to the ocean!

underwater15 snorkeling stingraycity
underwater28 stingray snorkel
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Sights from our Stingray City snorkel adventure

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Yup, that's me, safe as can be with life vest AND a noodle!

From here we headed over to the Stingray Sandbar, where you can stand in waist-deep water and swim with the stingrays who are gliding about. Due to some rain that we had had the day before, however, the water was choppier than usual. The captain explained the water is usually like glass so you can easily walk about slowly and enjoy these creatures swimming past your legs. We had to jump over waves, which was fun in and of itself, but didn't get a good view of the stingrays until they were right next to us...a bit freaky!

Ava was nervous at first so she decided to stay on the boat. Our kind captain had a talk with her, reassuring her that they were safe to swim with and it was not an experience to be missed. Thankfully she came around and even kissed a stingray! So she is sure to have seven years of good luck, as the old saying goes!

Boat tour Stingray Sandbar
Stingray Sandbar, you can see the waves rolling!

Boat tour stingray sandbar b with stingray
Braden getting to hold a stingray...look at it's cute eyes!

Stingray City Grand Cayman
Stingray City Grand Cayman
Stingray City Grand Cayman
Stingray City Grand Cayman
Kissing the stingrays for seven years of good luck! {photos courtesy of Acquarius Sea Tours}

I never quite got used to these things nuzzling my legs as they swam on so after our family photo I decided to watch from the boat, which was just as fun. There were quite a few other boat tours there as well and several people kept coming over, seemingly wanting to join our tour! Our first mate is known as the "stingray whisperer" and knows which stingray is which based on various markings. I was pleased to know we had booked a great tour!

Once we were done we headed back for the 30 minute ride across the North Sound back to the yacht club. The captain and first mate helped to make this a great day!

Back at the resort we were hungry from our day out on the sea and decided we would just eat dinner at the resort's restaurant right on the beach--easy and delicious! The resort was also holding a movie night in the pool. They were playing Annie and provided free popcorn. Mike took Braden and Ava down while Skylar and I got a workout in in the gym. I joined them afterwards-what a cozy way to watch a movie, under the stars with a gentle Caribbean sea breeze.