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EASYING THE STING IN GRAND CAYMAN

Nestled in a cozy spot just south of Cuba, northwest of Jamaica and east of the Yucatan Peninsula (Mexico) is Grand Cayman, the largest of the three Cayman Islands. People vacation here because of its world-class beaches, amazing scuba diving, snorkeling, sport fishing and a city run by stingrays.

Stingray City is Grand Cayman’s most popular attraction located in the North Sound (northwest corner of the island). Visitors can get out of the tour boat in waist-high water to interact with friendly Southern Stingrays. Dozens of stingrays of every size swarm visitors looking for food. The boat captain usually brings food and draws the stingrays. They are not shy and don’t mind being touched. This is one of the best Stingray City in the world…and don’t worry, they won’t sting.

The touristy area is called Seven Mile Beach. It is the most developed area on the island where the majority of the resorts, hotels, restaurants, bars, shops and boutiques are located. The name is misleading because the beach area only stretches 5.5 miles (8.9 Km). Beaches on the island are public and are touted as being some of the best in the Caribbean. The water is pristine and inviting, the sand is a crisp white. Long walks along this stretch are a must!

George Town is the capital of The Cayman Islands and a major financial district known worldwide. With almost 600 bank and trust companies in the Cayman Islands (most of them in George Town), you’ll never have to search for a bank to withdraw money. It is also the centre for all duty free shopping with countless opportunities to purchase your souvenirs, drop a bundle on designer merchandise or have a meal.

On the North side of the island is Rum Point, a popular hangout for locals. Legend has it that Rum Point earned its name from the barrels of rum that would wash up on the shore when rum smuggling schooners ran into trouble at sea. The area prides itself on its natural beauty, but the beach is quite small.

Signs at Rum Point alert people that it is prohibited to consume your own food. Not too fret; there is a restaurant for “eat in or eat at your beachside table” service and shops that provide a range of souvenirs and essentials.

There is one downfall to this island paradise; Grand Cayman is probably the most expensive and overpriced vacation getaway in the Caribbean. The Cayman dollar (CI) is currently valued at more than 20% of the Canadian Loonie and the island has not embraced the all-inclusive resort concept. So how can one have a rich vacation in Grand Cayman without taking out a mortgage?

1) Be flexible. Hotel rates more than double in peak season. Quite simply, when it gets cold in North America, the Caribbean thrives and kicks into high price mode (affordable hotels in Grand Cayman are rare in peak season). Going in Off-peak times can save you a lot but the one draw back with off-peak is that the weather may not always be perfect.

2) Research: Look for an air and hotel package combination from various package tour sellers. Getting the air and hotel combination saves money in peak season.

3) Treat yourself to one luxury: I recommend getting a hotel on the beach and spend your money on a decent, memorable place with a great room, excellent security, entertainment and most important, has an in-room refrigerator and safe.

4) Get the coupon book when you land: The Grand Cayman airport is one of the few in the world that has a tourist office at arrivals. They have brochures, magazines and coupons for tours, restaurants and souvenirs. Pick these up-they will save you money!

5) Stay away from the hotel room mini-bar: We all know how inflated these prices are (3 to 5 times the normal cost). There is always room in the hotel’s Mini-Bar refrigerator for items you pick-up at a local convenience store because these items are much cheaper.

6) Check out the local grocery store: Pick-up your favourite treats, beverages, sandwich meats, etc and store them in the in-room refrigerator. This is much cheaper than eating out every day plus you can take the food with you on an excursion. You will shave hundreds of dollars off of your food bill by vacation’s end and have money to dine at some of the finer restaurants without worrying about the expense.

7) Try restaurants outside of your hotel: Grand Cayman has many restaurants along Seven Mile Beach. Some offer meal discounts or additional menu items with coupons. Rarely do they have any sizable discounts like a 2 for 1. Breakfasts are the most discounted meals.

8) Rent-A-Car for a day or two: Grand Cayman is a small island, but the public transportation only run regularly in the main tourist area and taxis will cost more than the rental for an island tour. Remember, driving is on the left side of the road.

Frank Greco is a world traveler; television producer and host of a television travel show called The Travel Guy currently broadcast through Discovery World HD in Canada. Contact Frank at: frank@thetravelguy.tv.