Our best–and worst–port.
I have 66 pictures for this one but won’t flood this board with all of them.
We woke at 6 and opened the window to another beautiful morning as we tendered into Grand Cayman. We had a leisurely room service breakfast and then made our way to the tenders. We’re not sure why, but the front elevators to the 0 floor were disabled and the stairway was blocked. We were about to make our way to the aft gangway when a crewmember said “shhh” and let us downstairs. We must have totally missed the daily announcement while eating breakfast, so I’m not sure if the front deck was supposed to be shore excursions only or something.
The tender ride was uneventful. I got some good looks at the Conquest, Magic and Liberty although I wasn’t able to get all 3 in one shot.
We hadn’t booked an excursion with the ship, so I started looking for a tour operator for Stingray City. One inside the terminal area was asking for $40pp so we kept moving on. Once outside we found one offering the same tour for $40pp and “the baby” for free. That was great because Jack doesn’t swim and doesn’t particularly like being in deep water, even wearing the vest you see in the Montego Bay post above. We waited about 15 minutes while the guide tried to sell other tours before she gave up and just called the driver. A taxi picked us up near the terminal and stopped at a hotel before continuing to the dock. The place seemed almost residential, but I saw vans for other popular tour companies and wasn’t worried. The taxi driver passed us off to the real tour guide. We wound up with Carib Select Watersports (carib select dot com with no spaces). There were a total of 19 people on the boat including the captain, our guide and another American expat who was apparently learning the trade.
I won’t spend a ton of time on the ship vs 3rd party tour, but I will say this: every tour operator goes to the exact same sandbar for their Stingray City tours, and that’s ok. This picture should give you an idea of what the crowds and gorgeous water looked like:
Keep in mind some of the tours had people packed in like the tenders. In fact they looked like tenders. We had 16 or so guests on a decent-sized boat where we never felt cramped.
The SC tour is pretty standard among the companies: you get in and stand on the sandbar while stingrays swim all over and everyone tries not to act scared. The tour operator holds a stingray and each family takes turns holding and kissing it while another tour person takes pictures. Then you take another picture with the stingray “massaging” your back.
They also provided us with squid that I’m told the stingrays would suck right out of your hand. Mine never made it that far because a large, aggressive fish snatched my squid before a stingray could come along. The birds were pretty aggressive too:
After 20-30 minutes at the sandbar, the captain was supposed to take us to one of two snorkeling spots–his choice. Instead we did two. The snorkeling was great at both, but the second had a larger number of fish right near the boat. I took lots of pictures and videos with my new Canon Powershot D20 underwater camera. Here are a few examples:
At the first snorkeling stop, we tried to do it with Jack which turned out to be a bad idea. He was trying to hold on hard enough to penetrate flesh, which made it difficult to move around with him. The water was deep enough that I needed to tread water. It was easier with the fins but still work. Eventually I got him comfortable enough that I could hold him on one arm while I snorkled and took pictures with the other. At one point I was watching an eel under the coral, when it decided to come look at me. I wasn’t in a position to wait and see his intentions, so I took off while keeping Jack above water. It’s kind of amusing so I’ve linked a youtube video here: http://youtu.be/T-n1GRh8G_0
Overall we had a great day. The boat provided cold water and juice and was comfortable enough. We decided to buy the guide’s $60 CD with 17 pictures of us. The phone and email are on the envelope so that you can get a replacement if the disc breaks or doesn’t work when you get home.
After we got back to the terminal, the fun began. For some reason the Conquest’s line snaked all through the terminal while Magic guests were walking right on. We waited in line for about 45 minutes, occasionally sending one parent (ok, always Elle) to buy some snacks and cold drinks. The people around us were friendly and chatted with us from time to time. Every once in a while someone would try to enter the line in the middle, but they usually went to the back when we pointed out we weren’t the end of the line.
As we approached the gate, more and more people tried to cut the line. Several people were quite put out that the line applied to them. I don’t know if Carnival is supposed to offer platinum guests priority boarding, but they weren’t. A few crewmembers approached and asked if they could cut so that they could make their shift on the ship. The people in front of us let them go, and I was ok with that. Also a port security officer escorted a family with a young baby right in front of us. Again, no big deal here.
Then, just as the guard was about to allow our group to walk to the next tender, a large group of mostly employees rushed the gate. I saw Ram the magician among others. There were also regular passengers who decided to take advantage of the confusion and rush the line as well. I know they were regular pax because one group of these bags of d–I mean wonderful humans–wound up right in front of me. I saw their blue S&S cards same as mine. What made it more annoying to me was the way they kept loudly justifying it to themselves and all who could hear. They didn’t feel the least bit bad about cutting us off after our long wait in line. They kept looking back for their friends who were stopped to see if they managed to cut as well. They were also able to cut before we made it to the tender.
I don’t remember this being as much of an issue on other cruises, but we saw a fair amount of rudeness on this trip. We had people walk up when we were clearly waiting for an elevator and step between us and the door as soon as it opened, often not allowing those inside to leave. The next morning in Cozumel an old man cut in front of Elle when we were about 30 people back from the gangplank because she paused 10 seconds to get out her S&S card. We even had an older gentleman far in front of his family step right between Max and Elle as we were boarding the elevator in the parking garage on the way out. Elle said, “are you really going to jump in and break up my family?” The guy had no response.
With the day in the sun and water, the long wait and watching Jersey Shore board the tender, we weren’t in the best of moods when we got back to the ship. We took the elevator up to 9 and passed through the pool area on the way to our room. Elle and Max stopped to talk and I stepped to the side–outside of traffic I thought–and nearly smacked a lady with my backpack. Elle said loudly enough for her to hear “Ted, watch out, you almost ran into that lady.” As I was saying oops or something equally stupid, she felt the need to get in my face and say “You almost hit me with your backpack!” My witty reply was, “maybe you shouldn’t walk behind me then!” I sure showed her!!!
The thing is, I’m a pretty decent guy, and I try to be cognizant of my surroundings so I don’t do what I just did. But everyone was hot and sunburned and tired of the tender experience, so we let our tempers go. I am sorry I almost hit her, but ma’am, if you’re here, please realize I don’t have eyes back there and can’t help it if you walk so close a normal turn on my part almost hits you.
That just about finished me for the day, happy thought gone. I sulked for a bit and decided a Guy’s burger might cheer me up. It was pretty good, but I still didn’t feel like playing nice. As I came out of the restroom next to Guy’s, another man pushed past me through the door instead of waiting 1 second for me to get out. I snapped “don’t let me get in your way” and almost started my second fight of the afternoon. I was so tired and mad that my great day in Grand Cayman was now this, but I didn’t want to go to sleep at 4pm because I’m a big boy and don’t need a nap.
In the end I wound up staying in the pool area while Max went down the waterslide over and over. I got a couple of DotDs to relax a bit, but I was really too tired and cranky for that to work well. I brought my second drink in the hot tub right below the slide, and it was HOT! We own a hot tub at home, so I’m familiar with the US-mandated 104 degrees F tub. This was much hotter than that. As I sat down I could tell with great detail exactly where the sun had eaten through the sunblock.
I was there a few minutes before Elle came to get me. Camp Carnival had closed early before dinner because no kids were there, so she still had Jack with her. We went back to the room to shower and get ready for dinner. I was so whipped I couldn’t stomach the idea of putting on my suit again for elegant night #2. We also made the boys skip Camp Carnival that night. We decided on pizza and root beer floats (root beer from the bar, ice cream from Swirls). That was a nice, relaxing dinner, and Jack was sound asleep in the cabin by 8:15, with Max soon after. In closing, here are some more from gorgeous Grand Cayman.