Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor


Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Edition 107
September 1, 2000

Last Update 31 Aug 2000

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CANCUN: EL DORADO ROYALE BY ROBERT MYERS

This  was  our  first  trip to the Mexican Caribbean. It was a charter 
flight  out  of  Dallas/Ft.  Worth , and as such we were not surprised 
when  we  got  a phone call telling us our flight had been delayed due 
to  a  lightning strike on our plane up north somewhere. Since we lost 
the  first day,( we were supposed to arrive in Cancun around 11:30am), 
they  gave us a travel voucher on a future trip we might plan with Sun 
Country.  They  did  extend our stay by about ˝ a day on the last day, 
we  were to depart Cancun at 1:00pm and we were postponed until a 5:30 
flight that evening.

We  arrived  in  Cancun  about  4:30pm,  and arrived at the resort (El 
Dorado  Royale)  around 6:00. Our bags caught up with us about an hour 
later.  All  was  not  lost,  though,  when  we boarded the bus at the 
airport,  we  were  greeted  with cold towels, and were offered a cold 
beer  or  soft drink for purchase . I opted for the cold beer, Corona, 
I  believe,  promptly downed it, and we were on our way. We arrived at 
the  resort  and  were shuttled to the end of the reception area where 
we  waited  for  a  golf  cart  transportation  to our rooms. While we 
waited,  we were given a rum punch to sip on. The ride to the room was 
uneventful,  we  were  checked  in,  found  the Champaign in our small 
fridge  and  sat  on  the  deck and toasted the sunset and the fact we 
were finally, at last, on vacation!

This  also  was our first experience with "all inclusive", and we were 
rather  "all  apprehensive".  However,  after  a trip over to the main 
open  air  restaurant,  La Isla, and an order for something to eat and 
drink,  our  fears  were  laid  to rest. The service was friendly, not 
very  prompt  (we were after all, in Mexico) but the food was good and 
the  drinks  were  cold.  There  is  something  to  be  said about all 
inclusive,  for  short  (3  to  4 days) trips, they are preferred. Not 
having  to  worry about how much money to carry, or how much money you 
are  spending  is  pretty  relaxing itself. However, if the literature 
says,  no  tipping......ignore  it.  We  tipped, and were treated very 
well  indeed.  The  areas  we  did  not  tip,  we  were treated rather 
indifferently.  We  were  sort of talked into exchanging our money for 
pesos  at  the  airport. Do not do this. It is not necessary. Anywhere 
you  go,  you  pay  for  what you want in U.S. dollars, and get change 
back  in  pesos,  at  a higher rate than they give you at the airport! 
That  is  what  we  were  using  for  tipping, the pesos we got at the 
airport exchange. A 50 peso bill speaks loudly, my friends.

There  are three eating establishments on the property. La Isla is the 
one  open  all  day  and  night  (25 hours according to our guide) and 
serves  drinks,  snacks,  and  meals  at  any hour. There are two more 
formal  restaurants,  a  Mexican  and  an  Italian.  You  have to make 
reservations  for  the  6:30  or  8:30  seating.  We  ate twice at the 
Mexican  restaurant,  not  because  we  especially  wanted to, but the 
second  night  we were there, we made reservations, and the last night 
we  were there, the radio station that was making the trip possible at 
a  reduced  rate  gave  us a "last night" evening meal there. I cannot 
comment  on  the  food  at  the  Italian  restaurant,  but the Mexican 
restaurant food was very good.

Our  second  day  found us vegging out on the beach, sitting under the 
thatched  roof permanent umbrellas, ordering drinks from the bar maids 
who  made  the  rounds  every 20 minutes or so. They spent pretty much 
all  of  their  day walking the beach and pool areas taking drink (and 
snack)  orders. That is a nice touch. The only time you have to get up 
is  when  nature  calls, and you have to find you way to your room, or 
to  natures'  vast emerald colored bathroom with waves. I must say, El 
Dorado  Royale is the ideal place for vegging out and doing absolutely 
nothing!  We  wondered  from  beach  to pool to beach again. There are 
three  pools, each with a swim up bar, and a "relaxing" one and a half 
foot  deep section. The bars at the two remote pools are not manned 24 
hours  as  is the main pool at La Isla. It was at the last remote pool 
by  the  Cassitas  rooms,  that  Julio introduced me to "THE SOMBRERO" 
drink.  A  rather  fine  concoction made of tequila, cream, sugar, ice 
and Kaluha. I highly recommend it.

Since  El  Dorado  is  a  Spa  Resort,  they  offer a full line of spa 
amenities.  Everything  from full body messages to seaweed wrap (I can 
only  imagine  what that is like) to aerobics in the pool. At the main 
pool,  where  most  of the activities take place, a tent was set up by 
the  water's edge, and 10 minute gratis messages were given on a first 
come,  first  served  basis.  This, of course, was just enough to make 
you want the full 50 minute ($70.00) message given in the spa area.

There  were  several  optional  trips (not included in the price) that 
were  offered,  so  on the third day, we opted for the all day snorkel 
trip  to  Puerto  Morelas,  a  20 minute bus ride from the resort. For 
$58.00  (US)  dollars,  we were to get a boat ride out to the reef for 
two  snorkeling  opportunities,  lunch,  open  bar  (only beer and rum 
punch  was  offered) and the chance to do some shopping in the town of 
Puerto  Morelas.  The  snorkeling  gear was provided (and you can even 
keep  the  snorkel),  but we have our own equipment so we used ours. I 
highly  recommend  you get your own snorkel gear, if you need glasses, 
you  can  have  corrective  lenses  inserted  into  your mask, and the 
goggles  will  be a better fit, and if you have your own snorkel vest, 
USE  IT.  We  had to wear life vests (some sort of liability law), and 
the  only ones they had were designed to keep you afloat on your back. 
Not  good  for  snorkeling face down. I was very uncomfortable wearing 
that  life  vest,  and  the  it  almost  choked me to death on several 
occasions.  I  don't  know  if  that had anything to do with it, but I 
became  very  nauseated  at the most inopportune time, and had to swim 
back  to  the boat early to recover. I never fully recovered that day. 
We  got  back to the town at noon, had a buffet style lunch of chicken 
and/or  fish,  noodles,  refried  beans,  guacamole, the usual Mexican 
fare.  I  only ate a few bites, as I was still not feeling well. Maybe 
it  was  a  good thing, because, that is the only time we had a chance 
to  contract  Montezuma's  Revenge.  After  lunch, we were told we had 
time  to  explore  the  town and do some shopping. Problem was, it was 
Sunday  and  there  were only 2 stores open in the entire town. So, in 
effect,  our  $58.00  all  day snorkeling trip turned out to be half a 
day  of  snorkeling,  a buffet lunch, and a couple of hours sitting on 
the   beach  drinking  cervesa,  or  playing  beach  volley  ball,  or 
sleeping. I didn't think this was a very good value.

Then  it  was  back  to the resort for a shower, another Sombrero, and 
time  to  get  cleaned  up  for our farewell dinner provided us by the 
radio  station  (KVIL)  and the Sharon Carr travel agency. It was very 
nice,  cocktails  at  the  bar outside the restaurant, and then dinner 
complete  with  a  three  man  Mariachi  band  traveling from table to 
table,  taking requests. I requested a song, and was promptly asked to 
get  up  and  join  them.  What  could I do? Refuse...no, I got up and 
joined them. It was a hoot!

The  next day was our last, so we were determined to make it count. Do 
some  serious vegging on the beach, drink some more Sombreros and Pina 
Coladas,  swim,  just  do  some  serious  nothing! We weren't quite so 
lucky.  Remember  back  at  the  start  of this report, I said we were 
delayed  getting  there,  so  we had a later check out time. Check out 
time  is 1:00pm normally, and we were assured we would be given a late 
check  out.  Due  to  some communication problem, the resort staff did 
not  get  the  word  of our late departure, and we were asked to check 
out  by  1:00pm.  We  did  so  reluctantly,  and,  as  it  turned out, 
needlessly.  They  finally  got  the  word for our late check out, but 
only  informed  about half of us. The rest of us checked out early and 
sat  around  the pool, or the bar and waited for the 3 hours to go by, 
so  we  could leave. This was really the only black mark on the resort 
while  we  were  there.  I  know, there is a language difference but I 
still  feel  things  like  that  could  be worked out with very little 
trouble. 

In  summary,  we  had  a very nice time, and will probably do it again 
when we are in need of some serious vegging out time on a beach! 

GRAND CAYMAN BY JIM HINSCH

Trip 7/2000

(See this report with pictures at www.geocities.com/jimhinsch)

The Cayman Islands.
  We  chose  the  Cayman  Islands  for several reasons. The movie "The 
Firm"  of  course, made the island famous, but it was also the thought 
of  visiting an island known for fabulous dive sites, calm waters, and 
a  high  per-capita  income. We knew it was going to be expensive, but 
little  could  have  prepared  us  for  the  sticker-shock  we were to 
receive.  In  summary,  we found Grand Cayman to be a quiet island. It 
was  very  clean,  safe,  and  expensive. You aren't bothered by beach 
vendors  like  on  so many other Caribbean islands, the water is clean 
and  clear,  the service is excellent everywhere, and there is lots of 
fine dining available.

Arrival.

The  airport  at  Grand  Cayman  is  small but nice. We passed through 
immigration  quickly.  There was only a single baggage carousel and we 
exited  customs  without a search. Outside, taxi service is controlled 
by  a  dispatcher,  who wrote down our destination and the cost of the 
ride  on  a  ticket.  The  price  was  written  in  both Cayman and US 
Dollars, as both were equally accepted. Taxis.

Our  taxi  ride  was  short,  perhaps  3  miles. The price as US$15 or 
CI$12.  Our  taxi  driver was very unfriendly and we were to find that 
this  was  more  the  norm  on this island. Taxis are mostly driven by 
local  Cayman  residents  and with a few exceptions, they consistently 
were  nasty,  cheated  us (no meters in the taxis), and were generally 
anti-tourism. Ongoing Scam.

The  minimum  rate for a taxi is CI$4.50, or US$6, although many taxis 
told  us  it  was CI$5 or US$7. That means to go 1 mile, the charge is 
US$7.  Whenever  we took a taxi out in the evening, we first asked our 
hotel  how  much  we  should expect the taxi to charge us. Most of the 
time,  the  taxi  driver cheated us by over charging. Since there were 
no  meters,  we  didn't  have  any  information  with  which  we could 
protest.  It  was easier to avoid being cheated on our return, because 
at  least  we  knew  what we had paid to arrive. Even on the return to 
the  airport, the taxi told us it would be CI$15 or US$20. Since all I 
had  was  US$15 in small bills, I told the driver that this is what we 
had paid when we arrived and it was all I had left. He accepted.

Westin Hotel - 7 mile beach.

Check-in  was  speedy.  The  lobby  has  a  small  front desk that can 
accommodate  perhaps  3  agents.  We arrived just after noon and there 
wasn't any line.

Price.

We  had  reserved  the  lowest price room in the hotel, a garden-view. 
After  they  added  a  13%  hotel tax and 10% service charge, the room 
price  was US$335 per night. They had wanted over US$400 per night for 
an ocean view room.

Coupon.

I  was  using  a  50% off coupon for our stay that I had received when 
cashing  in some frequent flyer miles about a year earlier. Having run 
into  problems  using this type of discount before, I made sure it was 
in  the  record  when  I  made the reservation. To do this, I had been 
forced  to  call the hotel directly instead of using Westin's web site 
or  800  central  reservations  number. I don't know what that cost me 
yet,  but  I'm  sure  the  phone call will be several dollars. When we 
arrived,  they  immediately  asked  for the discount coupon, which was 
accepted  without  a  problem  The coupon was good for only 6 of our 7 
night  stay,  so  we  were  informed we'd be paying full price for the 
last  night,  but  they  made  a  mistake  in  the end and gave us the 
discount for the entire stay.

Upgrade.

Additionally,  I  had just joined the Starwood Preferred Guest program 
(www.preferredguest.com),   which   costs  nothing  to  join,  and  it 
entitled  us  to  a  space-available  upgrade.  We  were upgraded to a 
partial-ocean-view room on the ground level facing the pool.

Overall.

Considering  the  high cost of the room, I was very unimpressed by the 
hotel.  Overall,  I rate it about 3 1/2 stars out of 5. I had expected 
5  stars.  After  all,  this was the reputed best hotel on the island. 
The  hotel  was  decent,  but it wasn't fancy at all. But, we did tour 
the  3  other  main  hotels  on the 7-mile beach (Marriott, Hyatt, and 
Treasure  Island), and the Westin was indeed the best on the beach and 
they also had the best piece of beach frontage.

The  hotel  itself had a few gift shops, an exercise room with about 5 
treadmills,   2   bikes,  and  free-weights  up  to  30  lbs.,  and  2 
restaurants.  It was really less than I would expect out of a suburban 
Marriott  in  the USA. We were treated to a fireworks display right in 
front of the hotel (street side) on July 3rd.

Lobby Bar.

The  only  bar  in  the  hotel  besides  the pool bar was in the hotel 
lobby.  It  consisted of about 10 bar stools and a few low tables with 
lounge  chairs  and  sofas.  Drinks  were about US$10 each. As was the 
norm  around the island, a 15% gratuity was included. The bar, as with 
every  bar  and  restaurant we visited on the island, was stocked with 
top  shelf  liquors.  Cigars  were  also  available for purchase and a 
snack mix was complimentary.

Concierge.

The  concierge  was  helpful  for  planning  our evening dining but we 
found  that  at least one of the maps they supplied had several of the 
restaurants  marked  in  the  complete  wrong location. A local at the 
lobby  bar  was  going over our options with us and he began to remark 
how  they  had  several  of the restaurant locations on the map, mixed 
up.  The  concierge  also arranged golf for us one day. We told her we 
wanted  to golf right now, so she called up, got us a tee time, and we 
walked  right  out  the  door and taxied to the course. Unfortunately, 
she  didn't  tell  us  about  the dress code. We needed to have longer 
shorts  and  collars  on  our shirts so we had to call another taxi to 
get  back  to  the hotel to change. When I complained to the concierge 
that  she  saw how we were dressed and should have warned us, she told 
us  it was our fault, that we should have known, that all golf courses 
have  dress  codes.  I  informed her that ALL golf courses do not have 
dress  codes.  It  cost  us  US$15 to taxi back the 1 mile each way to 
change our clothes.

Room.

Our  room  was  very  unimpressive.  It  was  decent  but still it was 
nothing  more  than  a  standard  hotel room. It wasn't big and wasn't 
small.  It  had  a  king  sized bed and a small table with a couple of 
chairs.  That  was  about  it.  The  back door opened out onto a small 
ground  floor  patio that had 2 wrought iron chairs and a small glass-
top  table. The patio was perhaps 4 ft. by 8 ft. We couldn't pass from 
the  patio  into  the pool area because there was a garden in the way, 
but  by  the  end  of the trip, we found ourselves just making our way 
through the garden anyway.

There  was  a  mini-bar, but it did not include any liquor, just beer, 
wine,  soda,  candy,  and  other  assorted  munchies.  The  room  also 
included  a coffee maker, but it didn't come with coffee. Coffee could 
be  purchased  from  our room mini-bar for US$5 a pot. The room had an 
electronic  safe  in  the closet. Even as outrageously as the room was 
priced,  we  were  charged an additional US$4/day for the privilege of 
using it. 

The  room  also  included a clock radio and a TV with cable. Breakfast 
could  be  ordered  the night before, to be delivered to the room at a 
preset  time  between  7:30  and  9:30am,  by  filling  out a card and 
hanging  it  on  the  outside  of  the door at night. Two eggs, toast, 
bacon, potatoes, and coffee cost US$18.

The  room  air  conditioner worked very well and it also had a ceiling 
fan.  The  bed had great feather pillows. We're somewhat pillow snobs, 
and  we  bring  our  own  from home when we travel for more than a few 
days.  Their pillows were as good as ours and the bed had 5 of them in 
addition to ours from home.

Internet  access  was  available  for  those  who  travel  with  their 
computers.  Instructions  for  configuring  a Windows computer to make 
the  connection  were  included.  The  cost was US$2.50 to connect and 
US$22.50/hr billed in 1 minute increments.

One  complaint  we  had was there wasn't much room to put our clothes. 
The  room  had  3  small  drawers,  2  half-drawers, and 2 night-stand 
drawers.

Bathroom.

The  bathroom  had a single sink and a separate room for the toilet to 
the  side.  It  was  nice,  with  two French doors, but unspectacular. 
Amenities included a wall-mounted blow dryer.

Pool.

The  pool  was on the small side as far as big resort pools go, and it 
varied  from  3  to  4 1/2 ft. deep with a swim-up bar at one end. The 
only  problem  I  had  was  that  it  was usually filled with too many 
children. It seems this is a popular family destination.

Hot Tub (Westin).

There  was a hot tub at one end of the pool. I usually don't use hotel 
hot  tubs  for  hygienic  reasons  but towards the end of the week one 
morning,  I  noticed them changing the water, so I gave it a try. Mid-
day  it  was great but by evening, it had reached its peak temperature 
and  it  was  too  hot. Keep in mind that we are hot tub owners and we 
keep  ours  at  109F.  Theirs  must  have been a degree or two hotter. 
Getting  in  was  difficult  and we weren't able to stay in very long. 
Others  were  complaining  it  was  too  hot.  It was however deep and 
spacious.

Pool Deck (Westin).

The  deck surrounding the pool area was spacious with ample shade from 
palm  trees. The deck chairs were the metal kind with rubber strips as 
the  support.  Although  were  up  by 7am every morning and picked our 
chair  positions,  there  was  never  a  shortage  of chairs or spots. 
Towels  were  available  free of charge, with no limit, and no signing 
required.  A  few  times they asked for our room number. Waitresses in 
one-piece  swim  suits  and  sarongs took food and drink orders around 
the  pool  and  along  the  beach  in  front of the hotel. Service was 
prompt.  The  lunch menu was very limited. There were about 5 types of 
sandwiches   with   chips  or  fruit  available  and  not  much  else. 
Sandwiches varied US$10-18 and drinks were about US$10.

Beach.

The  beach  in  front  of  the  hotel was fine white powdery sand that 
sloped  down  to  the water. All of the sand, from the hotel pool deck 
edge  and  including  in the water all the way to the back side of the 
roped  off  swim  area  was  nothing  but smooth clean sand. No debris 
except  for the area underneath the large pine trees, where there were 
lots  of  long  soft  pine needles mixed in. The water was calm with 6 
inch  to 1 foot waves breaking on the shore. The water got deep fairly 
quick,  becoming  more  than  6  ft. deep after about 15 feet into the 
water.  The beach in front of the hotel was good and deep, perhaps 200 
ft from pool deck to sea.

We  walked the entire 7-mile beach, end-to-end, over the course of two 
days  and  about 4 hours. The 7-mile beach only has about 2 miles that 
is  very  nice.  The  rest  of the beach leaves much to be desired. We 
found  that  as  one  approached  either end, the beach narrowed to as 
little  as  no  beach  at  all, and much of it was covered with rocks, 
gravel,  and  broken  shells.  The  water  in front was loaded up with 
enough  small  boulders  and  jagged rocks to make the area unsuitable 
for  swimming. The beach was extremely poor for walking on. Aside from 
the  fact  that  it was sloped enough to make any long walk difficult, 
the  sand  was so mushy that it was like walking a sand dune. The only 
hard  sand  we could find was right where the waves were breaking, but 
occasionally,  even  this  area was a thick muck that was difficult to 
walk  on.  I  actually  sprained  my foot at the arch after the second 
day's 2-hour walk.

One  thing  I  found  peculiar  about the famous 7-mile beach was that 
there  were very few hotels. There were many condominiums, houses, and 
lots  of  undeveloped  lots as well. Most were located on parts of the 
beach  where  I  would  not  want  to  hang  out because of the rocks, 
gravel,  debris,  etc. A Ritz Carlton hotel and condominium complex is 
being  built  with  a  planned opening of mid-2001 on the best part of 
the beach next to the Westin.

Mosquitoes and Sand Fleas.

I  didn't  get bit or bothered the entire trip until I went out to the 
beach  in  my  swim  shorts  to  take a picture of the sunset. I spent 
about  5  minutes  on my knees setting up my camera on a small plastic 
table  and taking pictures. I never felt anything bite me. That night, 
I  had  bites,  some of which were welts in many places. I had 3 under 
each  armpit,  several  behind my knees, and a whole bunch on my back, 
chest,  arms,  and  legs.  They itched like mad. By they way the marks 
turned real red, I don't think they were mosquito bites.

Water Skiing.

As  an avid water skier, I had taken specific notice that everywhere I 
read  about the Cayman Islands, water skiing was advertised. I brought 
my  own  ski,  jacket, rope, handle, and gloves and was ready for some 
great  skiing.  I had read that the water was glass calm and that they 
had good boats to pull skiers. How wrong I was.

The  first  problem  was  that the water is not all that calm. Perhaps 
you  might  get  lucky  and find an occasional calm morning, but there 
are  still swells. Swells are a no-no for water skiing. I supposed for 
the  occasional  skier  that  uses  a set of 2 combo skis, it would be 
fine,  but  for  an accomplished slalom skier, it was terrible. I went 
anyway.  The  next  problem  was  the  boat.  There  wasn't  a  lot of 
selection  available.  In  fact,  I  scoured  the  beach  looking  for 
somebody  that  would charge me less than the US$180/hr. that Red Sail 
Sports  was  charging and even saw a nice privately owned ski boat and 
begged  that they hire out to give me a pull. No go, so I signed up at 
Red  Sail  Sports,  who  by  the  way has a near monopoly on the dive, 
snorkel, boating, and water sports all around the island.

The  boat  that  pulled  me was a Boston Whaler with a 200hp outboard. 
Unfortunately,  its  top  speed  was  only  about  30mph, whereas, the 
slalom  skier  that  I  am, I require 34 mph. I signaled to the driver 
for  more  speed, but he was already at full throttle. Anyway, even at 
that  slower  speed,  I  began to do my slalom cuts from side to side. 
The  boat  wake  was  annoyingly  large  and after an unexpected swell 
threw  me and I got the wind knocked out of me, I skied in and gave it 
up  for  the  rest  of  the trip. Just as luck has it, when I returned 
back  home,  a  book I had ordered called "Ski in Paradise" arrived. I 
looked  up  to  see  what they had to say about skiing in Grand Cayman 
and  they  talked about a great ski lake over on the other side of the 
island  by  Rum  Point, complete with a professional slalom course for 
practicing. Maybe next time.

Snorkeling.

During  the  course  of  the  trip,  we went to several snorkel sites. 
Equipment  rental at Red Sail Sports was US$15/day. The first place we 
went  was just a hundred yards off shore in front of the property next 
to  the  Westin,  which  happened to be the Governor's house. The reef 
was  about  10-15 feet below us and fish were everywhere. In fact, the 
fish  were  bothersome.  Apparently, they get fed by a lot of tourists 
and  they  swarmed  around  us and one even nipped at my empty hand. I 
kept  trying  to  swat them away but they continued to swarm around us 
and  followed  us  around  the whole time. There were probably 200-300 
fish  in the 8-15 inch range. Snorkeling here was almost as good as we 
would  find  during  the  course  of our trip. The largest fish we saw 
were in the 2-3 ft. range.

Another  site  we  went to was called Eden Rock. It was also a popular 
dive  site.  Again, the reef was about 10 feet down and we had arrived 
by  Jet  Ski  on what they called the Jet Ski Safari. We snorkeled for 
about  20  minutes  and then spent another 20 minutes free cruising on 
the  jet  skis.  We  moved  around  the anchored cruise ships and also 
spent  a  few  minutes,  about a mile out from shore, where the swells 
were  over  10  ft.  Individuals could ride their own jet ski, or they 
could  share them two on a ski, but the price was still the same so we 
opted to ride separately.

The  best  snorkeling of the trip, only marginally better than that we 
found  right  in front of the hotel, was at Sting Ray City. I'll cover 
that as a separate subject.

Scuba Diving.

I'm  not a certified diver but I took a resort course and went on a 30 
ft  dive  once in Jamaica. I signed up for the same and after a couple 
hours  in the pool, we were off to a 40 ft. dive. We were diving right 
along  side the certified divers, the only difference was that we were 
broken  into  groups of 4 and had to dive with an instructor. The reef 
was  called Governor's Reef, and was about 1/2 mile off shore from the 
same reef we had swam to from the beach.

After  completing  the  course,  I  was free to join the divers on any 
subsequent  dives  in  the  afternoon,  also with an instructor. On my 
second  day,  we  did  a  50  ft. dive at a reef called Killer Puffer. 
There  weren't  many  fish but there was lots of coral and passages to 
navigate.

Our  dives  lasted  about  40  minutes  and to be honest, I didn't see 
anything  better or worse than I experienced while snorkeling with the 
exception  of  a  lobster that was deep inside a hole in a rock at the 
bottom.

Sting Ray City Catamaran Tour.

This  excursion  was  the highlight of our trip. The trip we signed up 
for  was the longer of two versions available. Ours started out in the 
morning.  We  got on a bus in front of the hotel at 8:30am, went about 
1  mile  to the lagoon on the other side of the island, loaded up onto 
a  giant  catamaran that held perhaps 100 people, and took a 30 minute 
cruise  to  Sting  Ray City. On board, refreshments were available for 
purchase  and  for  the  return, alcoholic beverages were added to the 
available drinks.

Location.

Sting  Ray City is the name they give to an area out in the open water 
along  side a barrier reef. A barrier reef is a long wall of rock that 
extends  from the shore out into the water, forming a sort of barrier. 
Sometimes  it breaks the surface, but more often than not it is hidden 
just  below  the surface. On one side of the reef, the side facing the 
open  sea,  we were told the water us 5000-6000 ft. deep, while on the 
inside of the reef, the depth varies from a few feet to a few inches.

First Stop -Swim with the Sting Rays.

The  water  where  we  stopped  was about 8-10 ft. deep and there were 
about  6-  8 sting rays swimming there, a few with wing spans of about 
4  ft.  After  anchoring,  we all went in the water. Snorkel equipment 
was  provided  as part of the tour. A lone scuba diver feeds the sting 
rays  squid and they continually circle around. Apparently these sting 
rays  have  been  doing  this  for  a  long  time and are very used to 
tourists  and  quite  tame.  We were able to touch the sting rays, pet 
them,  and  even  carry  them to the surface and hold them. There were 
staff  members  on  hand  to float them to the surface and gently hand 
them  to  us.  I  dove down, hovered over one of the big ones, grabbed 
on,  and was having myself a little ride. Of course, I could only hold 
my  breath  down  there  for  about  10  seconds,  what  with  all the 
excitement  and  swimming.  The  scuba  diver surfaced immediately and 
yelled  at me not to ride the sting rays. The only complaint I have is 
that  there  were  way  too many people in the water at once trying to 
get near and touch the sting rays.

Second Stop - Snorkel.

We  loaded back onto the catamaran and sailed to another spot about 10 
minutes  away.  There,  we  were free to snorkel for about 45 minutes. 
Here  is  where  I  found  the  best  coral.  It was a diving place to 
snorkel  because  the  ground sloped gradually. You could snorkel over 
the  reef  at whatever distance was comfortable to you. The closer you 
went  to  the barrier reef, the shallower the water and the closer you 
would  be to the coral and such. The area here was a literal carpet of 
coral  and  sea  life. I spent most of my time floating in 2-6 feet of 
water.

Lunch.

After  the snorkel, we were served a lunch of cold fried chicken, bow-
tie  pasta,  rolls,  and  tuna salad. Guest sat wherever and we at our 
spot  out  on  towels  laid  over  the  straps  that formed a huge net 
between the center of the boat and each pontoon.

Liquor Store.

In  order to save some money and to have some supplies in the room, we 
walked  across  the street from the hotel to a liquor store. There, we 
bought  a  pint  of  baileys, a few assorted mini-bottles and sodas, a 
couple  bags  of  chips,  a  can of peanuts, and a large and small rum 
cake. The bill came to US$120!

Hell.

This  was  described to us an interesting formation of black rocks and 
a  post office. Well that's about all it is and I wouldn't really call 
the  rock  formation too interesting. We hired a taxi and asked if she 
would  wait  for us about 10 minutes, and then bring us back. Our stay 
lasted  perhaps  2 minutes. The formation area is about 50 ft x 75 ft. 
You  walk  around  the  back of a tiny souvenir shop, out onto a small 
deck  and  you look at the rocks. There is trash all over the area and 
it  demands about 20 seconds of your attention. We spent about another 
60  seconds inside the souvenir shop. If they had had a small piece of 
black  rock  for  sale, I would have bought it. We took a few pictures 
and  left.  The cost came to about US$30 for the round trip taxi ride. 
If  you  decide  to go so that you can mail postcards from Hell, don't 
forget  to  bring  your address book so you don't have to make another 
trip to mail them.

Golf.

Across  from  the  Westin  and  about  a mile up a service road is the 
Links  at  Safehaven,  the  best  golf course on the island. The other 
available  course  is  a  short Jack Nicklaus designed course which is 
part of the Hyatt, about 1 mile down the road.

The Play.

Golf  at  the  Links cost US$57 for 9 holes, US$20 cart fee, and US$25 
club  rental,  with  a wide array of high-end clubs available for rent 
at  higher  prices.  Shirts must have a collar and shorts must come to 
the  knees.  The  course  was in fair condition and I found it to be a 
rather  easy  course,  with few sand, tree, or water hazards. Each tee 
had 5 positions to play from.

Getting Home.

On  our  taxi ride home, there was a noise coming from the front so we 
stopped  to look at the tires. Everything looked good so we continued. 
The  noise got louder and we stopped again. I told the driver that for 
sure,  something  was  wrong.  Again,  we  couldn't see anything so we 
continued  along  at about 2 mph. Since we had less than a mile to go, 
I  wasn't  too  annoyed but just then, the wheel fell off. The missing 
lug nuts had been hidden behind the wheel cover.

A  passing local in a van stopped to see what had happened and gave us 
a  free  lift  to the end of the road where our hotel was. At least we 
saved our return taxi fare.

Cell Phones.

I  brought  my  new  digital  Motorola  Startac  but it couldn't get a 
signal.  But,  I  had  my phone programmed special with a bogus second 
number  that  allowed  be  to  select  analog A or analog B for use in 
foreign  countries  that  sell  calling  cards  for  use with cellular 
phones  that support analog A/B such as the Dominican Republic. Analog 
A  and  analog B is the system that was originally most popular in the 
USA  before  all the digital options came out. On analog B, I was able 
to  get a signal and I could make a call if I was willing to use a USA 
based  credit card. Other told me that AT&T and Sprint PCS phones were 
able  to  actually  roam on Grand Cayman. The telephone company of the 
island is Cable and Wireless.

Night Life.

Night  life  is  one  thing this island doesn't have much of. What few 
bars  there are, close at 1am, 12 midnight on Sundays. We did find one 
bar   that   was   kind  of  hopping  called  Sharkey's,  and  it  was 
conveniently  located  across  the street from our hotel. We paid US$7 
cover  charge. It was Saturday night and the bar had a mix of tourists 
and  locals. Most of the locals looked like shady punks from Brooklyn, 
complete  with  baggy pants. The bar had a good dance floor, great air 
conditioning,  and  beers  were US$4. Next door at Legends, we found a 
pub with a lighter atmosphere and no cover charge.

We  also  went  to  the Royal Palms, which has live music outside on a 
deck  at  the  beach  on  W-Sat.  We went on a Thursday at about 10pm. 
There  were  only  a  handful  of guests. We didn't care for the band, 
their music, or the setting so we left after just a couple drinks.

We  asked  around, but overall, there was very little night life to be 
found  anywhere  on  the island. As we were told, most of the tourists 
come to dive, and that means early to bed and early to rise.

Dining.

Overall,  dining in Grand Cayman is excellent but expensive. One point 
is   that  amongst  the  hotels,  restaurants,  and  bars,  there  are 
virtually  no  local  Cayman  people.  We  inquired  several times and 
always  got  the  same story. Apparently, the Cayman people don't like 
to  serve,  and most have good jobs in the banking industry. It seemed 
to  us  that  most of the waiters and bar staff were young people from 
Canada.  This was how it was all across the island. For the most part, 
the  only  local  Cayman  people  we  saw were either driving taxis or 
working at the airport.

We  lucked  out  and with the help from other guests, the hotel staff, 
cab  drivers,  bar tenders, and the waiters from other restaurants, we 
picked  some  great  places to eat. Unfortunately, our cheapest dinner 
came to US$75 per person including drinks so it wasn't cheap.

Breakfast - Crocodile Rock's Eats Café.

One  morning  we  got  up  about 10:30am. There wasn't anyplace in the 
hotel  to  eat,  so  we walked across the street. There was a line out 
the  door and a 45 minute wait. We put our name in but didn't wait. We 
returned  to the hotel, where the buffet line was supposed to open for 
Sunday  Brunch  at  11am.  After about 1/2 hour, the long line for the 
brunch  had  hardly moved so we walked back to Eats café. Our name was 
called shortly after.

Our  breakfast  was  terrible.  Everything  was cold and the eggs were 
runny.  We  reported this when we paid but didn't feel like waiting to 
talk  to the manager since we didn't want compensation and didn't ever 
plan on coming back. Cost was about US$30 for two.

Breakfast - Hotel Buffet.

The  buffet  was decent, but nothing like I'd expect. Juice was from a 
mix  and  selections  were  limited.  Aside  from  being small, it was 
pretty  much  your standard breakfast buffet with cooked-to-order eggs 
available. Cost was US$60 for two.

Lunch - Poolside.

Poolside  sandwiches were US$12 each and very tasty. They weren't very 
big  though  are  rarely satisfied my appetite. Drinks were about US$7 
each.

Lunch - Crocodile Rock's Eats Café.

Even  though  we  had such a bad experience here for breakfast, we had 
spoken  to  several  other  guests that had eaten lunch or dinner here 
and  they  all  spoke  highly  of the place. So, we decided to give it 
another  try.  I just had a simple cheeseburger and fries and Veronica 
ordered  a  Greek  pizza.  I  must  say,  the  food was excellent, the 
service  was  great, and the price was OK. The bill came to US$35 with 
tip and drinks for two.

Room Service.

One  night  Veronica wasn't feeling well, so we stayed in. I ordered a 
certified  angus  beef strip steak for dinner, along with a quesadilla 
appetizer,  a  slice of key lime cheese cake, and coffee. The meal was 
excellent. It took 35 minutes to arrive and cost US$100 for one.

Casa Havana.

http://www.inx.net/punchin/travel/CAY-HTML.HTM  This is supposed to be 
the  only  AAA  top rated restaurant on the island. Located inside the 
Westin  Hotel,  food  and  service were excellent. Portions were over-
sized.  This  was  white-tablecloth  dining  at it's finest. Music was 
provided  by  a live harpist. We chose to eat inside because it was so 
hot  out.  The  air  conditioning inside was weak. Cost was US$250 for 
two.

Smuggler's Cove.

http://www.scubadiving.com/wwwboard/messages/15479.html 
http://www.majestic-tours.com/restaurant.htm   Located  right  on  the 
water,  this  was  a  rustic  wooden  place  with really good food. Of 
course,  service  was  excellent.  Taxi from the Westin was US$11 each 
way. The meal cost us US$130 for two.

The Brasserie.

http://www.groupweb.com/travel/destinations/cayman_sept041999.htm 
This   out  of  the  way  restaurant  located  in  Cricket  Square  in 
Georgetown  was a real find. We loved the food, the service, the décor 
(Indian/Cuban/Thai/Antique),  and  we  especially loved the bar lounge 
area.  Portions  were  over-sized  and  the bill, including drinks and 
specialty  coffees,  came  to  US$150  for two. We paid US$15 for taxi 
each way.

Pappagallo.

http://www.pappagallo.ky  http://www.majestic-tours.com/restaurant.htm 
If  one meal stuck out in our minds, this would be the one. Located on 
the  northern  tip  of  the island's west end, this Italian restaurant 
was  fabulous. Set inside a bamboo hut, everything about the place was 
top  shelf.  The  bartender  and  waiter  were  charming, the food was 
incredible,  and  service  was  great.  I generally don't like Italian 
food,  but  the  menu  had an impressive selection of creations that I 
would  not call Italian. I had the pork roast and it was the best. The 
cost was US$176 for two and taxi was US$20 each way.

Reef Grill.

http://www.fisheye.com/reefgrill.htm   Located   at  the  Royal  Palms 
hotel,  the  place  had a casual atmosphere, slightly load, with heavy 
wooden  tables  and a fisherman's setting. Food was very good, but not 
fabulous.  Considering  how  much  this place was talked up, we didn't 
think  it  was  that  great,  but  we  would still come back and would 
recommend   it   to  our  friends.  Indoor  our  outdoor  seating  was 
available.  We  chose  indoor.  One  of  the reasons we chose this was 
because  we  planned  on  enjoying  the live outdoor music on the deck 
next  to  the  restaurant.  It  turned  out to be a handful of drunken 
barefoot  and T-shirt crowd and since we didn't care much for the band 
or  the  music,  we  didn't stay long. The bill came to US$160 for two 
and taxi was US$7 for the 1 mile ride each way.

Bamboo.

A  sushi bar located inside the Hyatt Hotel. We decided to eat hear on 
a  Friday  night and we arrived without reservations. At about 8pm, we 
were  told it would be 1 1/2 hour wait. The bar inside was very lively 
so  we  decided  to  wait. Apparently, this was the real popular night 
for  this  bar  and it got very crowded. It was wall-to-wall standing-
room-only  and  there was also a bachelorette party. The place was 90% 
young  women,  purportedly  because  of  these  blue martinis that are 
served  in  thick  martini  glasses that have become very popular with 
the  local  females.  We didn't mind the crowd because we had our seat 
up  at  the  bar.  After an hour, a table became available. The entire 
restaurant  only had about 5 small and 1 large table. We dined on miso 
soup  and more sushi than we could finish. Our bill for two, including 
drinks  over  the  hour  wait came to about US$150. Taxi was US$7 each 
way, less than 1 mile.

Summary.

Overall,  we  found  Grand Cayman to be clean with a pretty good beach 
and  plenty  of  clear  calm water. It is a great place for diving and 
snorkel,  fine  dining,  and quiet evenings. The island lacks a lot of 
activities,  night  life, and everything is very expensive. The hotels 
are  not as grand as on some of the other Caribbean islands or Mexico. 
Quality  and  service  everywhere  we  went  were  as good as it gets. 
English  is  the  language  for this British island and getting around 
was  easy  but  expensive. I thought it was very nice but a poor value 
and a bit boring. 

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