Saturday, May 10, 2014

Sights Above and Below Grand Cayman

Reading reviews and forums can save you a bunch of money if you are willing to take the time and do a little research before going on vacation. I cannot stress this enough! Write this tip down if you don’t think you will remember it. I am confident you will thank me. At the very least, your bank account sure will thank you.
For the Grand Cayman Islands, I knew I wanted to find a recommended taxi tour for $20/pp which is similar to the one Carnival offers for around $50/pp and I wanted to snorkel at a nearby diving place which can also be explored on the surface by snorkel. 
Luckily, we were able to do both activities before ending the day with a teeny tiny bit of drama. Let me start at the beginning of the day before I tell you the ending. (How's that for a cliff hanger? Sure sounds like a nail biter to me!)
This particular morning, I woke up in a wonderful mood and feeling great! My calves were feeling MUCH better! The resting must have finally paid off. I imagine eating two bananas a day must have helped out some as well. I was able to walk longer distances without having to take a break. I was thankful they were feeling better because I would have been very disappointed if we hadn’t been able to explore this island. Just to be safe, I did go easy on my calves in case they decided to start cramping on me again. We didn’t actually arrive at the port until 10AM which allowed plenty of time for my calves to get a little more resting time while we lounged around all morning.
On our way to breakfast, before docking, we went through the pool area on deck 9 just like every morning. Only on this morning, we were in for a wonderful surprise....
The staff had placed towel animals EVERYWHERE!
On every lounge chair, all around the pool and on the stage in front of the pool.
It was marvelous to see! I felt like a kid on Christmas morning!
Of course, as luck would have it, I didn’t have my camera on me. Go figure the one time I don’t bring it with me! I immediately turned around to go back to the room to get it before more people woke (it was 7:30AM) and possibly ruin the towel animals. No other ship we have been on has done this display of towel animals. My friend who has been on at least 12 cruises and introduced me to cruising says she has never seen this either. Guess the Carnival legend is special.
In hindsight, I wish I had taken a picture of all the towel animals from deck 10 looking down.
Grand Cayman is another port where you have to take a tendered boat from the ship to the island. This boat ride is less than 5 minutes compared to the 20 minutes in Belize. Not bad at all.
Let me stop for a moment and show you how beautiful and crystal clear this water is -
You can see all the way to the bottom of the ocean!
I think this is the prettiest water I have ever seen!
Once we arrived at the terminal, sure enough, found the $20/pp van tours.
The van tour took us to a town called Hell, Tortuga Rum Cake Factory, and then we had an option of going to a dolphin encounter or to see sea turtles.
On our way to the town called Hell, we drove by the governor's house and the Homestead house which is the oldest house on the main island. Maybe all three of the islands that make the Grand Cayman Islands - I'm not sure now. Neither were too exciting, but I did take pictures of both places. At Hell, we were told we had 15 minutes to look around and shop.
Matt and I went straight to the rock formations at the back of the place.
We took a few pictures then headed to the shopping area. We avoided everyone by doing these tasks in this order. Seemed like everyone wanted to shop first then see the rock formations. This is definitely a tourist trap and I can't imagine anyone wanting to spend more than 15 minutes here. Our tour guy stated the #1 reason why you should come here at least once if you are ever in the area - 'If someone tells you to go to Hell, you can now tell them you have already been there and back'. Ha ha ha!!! For some reason, I thought that was hilarious!!!
(No, the actual eternal place of Hell is NOT somewhere I EVER want to go!!!)
Our next 15 minute stop was to the Tortuga Rum Cake Factory. Calling this place a factory is a joke. We didn’t see any factory. I'm not sure they even produce the run cake there; I didn’t see any evidence of a factory. They offered free samples of rum cake and the rest of the place consisted of items for purchase - rum cake, alcohol, soda and souvenirs. The only redeeming aspect of this place was its location on the ocean. While here we also saw some giant lizards and neat looking birds. Not worth the stop in my opinion.
Next up, our choice of seeing dolphins or sea turtles. These 2 places were located right across the street from each other and we were told we had 25 minutes to explore. If we chose to see the sea turtles, we had to pay $10/pp admission. Matt and I decided to skip the sea turtles this visit since we had swam in the ocean with them in Barbados last cruise and didn’t feel like spending the money to see them for only 25 minutes. When we come to this port again, I want to see them at my leisure with no time limit. I hear you can swim with them AND hold them! Sounds awesome!
The dolphin encounter was great! It's free to enter and you can stay as long as you want. The only annoying part was a man who kept walking by trying to sell pictures of us with a dolphin. For about 10 or 15 minutes, I watched the dolphins in amazement and snapped about 100 pictures. I knew the majority of them would be deleted, but I wanted to make sure some were worth cropping and keeping.
Matt kept asking me if I wanted my picture with a dolphin and I kept refusing. I didn’t want to spend the money (they have several different packages available). Somehow, Matt convinced me to do it. For $30, we bought a 8x10 picture of a dolphin kissing me while Matt was behind me.
I asked a couple on our tour if they would snap a few pictures with my camera of us doing this and they agreed. The lady actually captured a few good ones of us walking to the dolphin and then back from the dolphin.
As for the experience, after we paid, we followed the photographer to put on life jackets and were given a long verbal list of what we were going to do and what the rules were. We then went to the dolphin of his choice - one far away from the lady with my camera taking pictures. The handler came out and placed a mat down for me to kneel on and I leaned in, got kissed and the picture was taken. You get one chance according to the photographer. One snap of the camera. Meaning, you better not be blinking when he takes the photo or else you are stuck with it. (You pay before the picture is taken.) I think this rule is dumb - he used a digital camera that wirelessly sent the photo to a computer to be printed. It's not like it would have cost them anything extra to take a second photo if needed. Mostly because of this, we decided to keep our sunglasses on for this picture.
Matt doesn’t like his picture on my blog so sadly, you don’t get to see it.
This was the end of the tour. On the way back to the ship terminal, we stopped at a beach to let off the people who wanted to stay there. Before boarding the ship, we walked around looking for Wi-Fi. Found a spot where people were on free Wi-Fi but Matt was never able to connect and we were hungry.
As we are standing here, a lady was going around offering the tour we had just been on.... well I guess since it was later in the day, prices for the tour dropped to $10/pp. Dang! Could have saved $20! LOL!
After lunch on the ship, we went back out to snorkel at a within walking distance place called Eden Rock Diving Center. When we left the gates of the terminal we turned left to walk the 15 minutes to the location. We stopped and got a shirt for my step-dad (he babysat Wyatt) and stopped at another store for my favorite candy bar (that I haven't had since my last cruise) and a bottle of water.
Here we rented a locker for $5 plus a $10 deposit that we received back when we turned in our key. I felt much more relaxed having our stuff locked up while we weren't near it. Especially once the guy showed us how far out into the ocean we had to swim in order to get to the area where the good snorkeling was. At this spot, the water is about 55 feet deep.
I won't lie to you, I was a little nervous. In the end, I had nothing to be worried about. Everything was perfect the entire time. And can you believe we could see all the way down the 55 feet to the bottom of the ocean? Does that tell you how clear the water is?
It should!
It is absolutely amazing!
Both Matt and I feel the best snorkeling we have done is in St. Lucia, but this place was nice in its own way. I was just surprised we didn’t encounter more fish and other water creatures then we did. I was a little disappointed in this aspect. You would think deeper water would house more fish.
Because we don’t have a waterproof watch (we will be buying one before next cruise), we had no idea what time it was until we got out of the ocean and retrieved our stuff from the locker. Matt's phone claimed it was 4PM ship time since it had remained on airplane mode.
We changed and then started the walk back to the ship. We noticed we barely saw anyone around us which seemed odd since we had passed so many people on the way here. We picked up our pace and made it back to the terminal in record time - good thing my calves were no longer in pain! Hardly anyone was in the terminal and all the stores were closed. Yikes! I asked a Carnival crew member the time and he said 5:20PM. Ahhhh!!!!
The last tendered ship was suppose to leave at 5PM and the ship was leaving at 6PM!!!
I couldn’t believe how late we were! Matt's phone must have switched from ship time (Eastern) to local time (Central) while we were on our tour or maybe even before then.
Thankfully, they had one last tendered boat for people like us -about 12 people - and we made it back to the ship. I can only assume this happens often. don’t know what we would have done if we had been left. Actually, I do know one of the things I would have done. I would have cried and cried.
I am very thankfully this didn’t happen to us!

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