Posted by: sdallnct | November 9, 2009

Vacation day 7 (11/6), Grand Cayman!

High winds (announced at 30+ MPR) had us into Grand Cayman nearly two hours late. This was troubling as our only excursion we planned the entire trip was to swim with the Stingrays that we booked privately. To the credit of Valor’s crew and I’m sure permission from Carnival, they pushed back our departure time right at an hour and half. I wish they would have pushed it back a full two hours, but with the continued forecast of high winds I suppose it was understandable.

Since we booked a private tour, we were required to wait in the Ivanhoe Theater to get a tender number. Again credit goes to the Valor staff as being late into port most everyone was up and wanting to get off the ship. Yet getting a number, than to the tender and on the island was quick and easy (once we finally did drop anchor).

Being late into port we had no time to walk around or look around. Even with the change in departure getting in a excursion would be tight. We booked our excursion through Sting Ray Sailings (http://www.stingraysailing.com/). I cannot say enough about this husband and wife team. My wife was hesitant to book outside the ship, but I had read such good things about this company I really wanted to. However, this was one of those things we just didn’t get to. So on Sunday, while delayed in Miami port, I had wife call them thinking there would be no answer and we would have to book through Carnival. To my wife’s surprise, “Mrs. Chip” answered, they had room and e-mailed us all information needed (thank you iPhone). This sold my wife!

In addition, for me, part of the excursion is the trip itself.  I didn’t want to be on some double decker “boat bus”. Sting Ray Sailings utilizes a beautiful catamaran that is owner operated (Chip). They have a strict policy on limiting the number of guests. This made for a friendly, fun experience. We met others, we talked to Chip and his partner (who are both native to the island) and enjoyed the ride immensely.

A short bus ride (about 15 minutes) and we boarded the beautiful Far-Tortuga. Then about a 40 minute sale to the sandbar where the stingrays are. There were several other boats there (today only one cruise ship was in port, I can only image how crowded it would be with multiple ships) and Chip was masterful in finding a place to anchor that was safe (was getting very windy) and gave everyone room to move.

The stingrays Cathy Stingray 1 are friendly and only looking for food. Cathy Stingray 2 However they are wild animals and one “sucked” on the hip of one of the young ladies in our group. The result was a rather large hickey. She chose to go back to the boat. I did swim with the rays and handled one a bit. The bodies of the stingrays are slimy and they are very friendly looking for food. But watch out for their tails. They are very rough. The waters were rough, I would say about 4-6 foot swells. Very  noticeable, but manageable. I grew tired of not the rays but of the people who either initially freaked out by the friendly rays  or could not handle the waves and just bounced off each other despite only being in a few feet of water. I retreated to the comfort of the Far-Tortuga and sat on the edge of the boat while taking a few pictured. I did not take a water proof camera or protective bag. I’ll talk more about camera’s and such later perhaps. But I was able to get a few nice pictures from the boat and relaxed.

The rays are very friendly and come right up to you looking for food. If you are freaked a little, just put your hands to your side and hold still. They will move on quickly to someone else to look for food. Also until you get use to them, stay away from the floating buckets that hold the food, again until you get use to them. I did not feed any, but wife did. The rays have no teeth and sort of suck the food out of your hand.

As mentioned, I found the sandbar to be rather crowded. I could only imagine how it would be with multiple ships in port. SandbarBut Chip did explain that normally the excursions are naturally staggered, but with the ship in port later than normal everyone came here here first so it was crowded. But there were plenty of stingrays to go around. This picture gives you and idea of the people, waves and such. Chip is in the lower part of the picture (hope he doesn’t mind me using it).

After about 35 minutes with the rays, we all got back on board and Chip took us less than five minutes away to the edge of a reef for a little snorkeling. If anything the swells were picking up and Chip warned that this was not a good time to learn to snorkel. That if you are moderately experienced snorkeler or very strong swimmer you should be fine. Other wise, staying on the boat would probably be best.  This was just due to the weather today! Normally he says it is a non-issue. This scared most of our group into staying on board. My wife really wanted to snorkel but she was a little concerned with Chips warning. When I saw most staying on board I told my wife to go for it and I’d go with (wife has snorkeled many times, and I felt I was strong enough swimmer to handle the waves and help her if needed.) StingRay Sailings provides everything you need for snorkeling including snorkel vests which we did not use, but do recommend if you have any concerns at all. The current was very, very strong in spots (again due to the weather) but Chip had positioned us so that worse case the current pushed us back towards the boat. The water was clear and it took me quite a bit of effort against the current to get over the first, initial reef. And the minute I stopped kicking the current would push me back. Wife did not venture that far and I stayed fairly close to her most of the time. Only a few of us were in the water. Chip was in as well and helped keep an eye on everyone including one of the kids that gave it a go with their dad. I think only four or five of the 16-18 people gave this a go which made for a wide open experience. No other boats were anchored nearby for this snorkeling.

The snorkeling was very good. As you got closer to the reef you could see a great variety of fish. Many were hiding or staying close to reef and sort riding the currents. This was an enjoyable experience. After snorkeling we sailed back. With sails and motor Chip was really flying. We got back in, in about half the time it took us to get out there.  He also opened the “bar” which amounted to grabbing a beer out of a cooler which was just awesome. I had a local, Caybrew beer that was good.

Despite all the cheap t-shirts available everywhere, the only t-shirt I bought for myself the entire trip was from this excursion. Not only a cool shirt, but a reminder of a great time.

There is a restroom on board. So if you want you can bring a change of clothing. Though I just let my swimsuit air dry on me. I did bring an extra shirt so that after I got out of the water I could put one on, and let that dry me off, and then I changed into the dry one.

I feel I need to say a few words about kids on this excursion. There was one extended family on board and a couple of kids were very small though all could walk. There were about six kids in this group and one or two that were clearly not having a good time. Unfortunately on a boat like this, there is really is no where to go or nothing for them to be distracted. And for safety concerns they shouldn’t be moving about. As I mentioned earlier, to me much of the fun of the excursion is in feeling the wind of an open vessel. I could see this being fun for them for the first 10 minutes, but then getting board. On the way back to shore one of the small one’s just was having a hissy fit from hell. Nothing the parents or grandparents could do would appease him. This went on for a good 10 minutes, when it appeared to me that the kid was hungry, but the parents had no food or had ran out. Luckily I had brought some snacks as I thought wife or I may need something. My wife’s dear friend had sent a fruit basket and wine for our anniversary, so before leaving the Valor I had loaded up a large zip lock back with a banana, apple, couple of pears, crackers and some dried fruit mix and put in my backpack.  I offered the entire bag to the parents who I’m sure were apprehensive of taking food from a stranger. But I think they put two and two together and realized we were all on Valor and took the bag, letting the small boy who was still screaming and pitching a fit take a look. He took an apple and this immediately put him at ease. Some of the other kids took the banana, crackers and one of the mothers a pear. I’m sure the late arrival into Grand Cayman and thus later time of the excursion threw everyone off. I’m just glad I had something that helped. However, I’m not sure this is an excursion for the small kids. There is really no where to go, and nothing to entertain the small one’s. Or if you do bring small kids you might want to make sure and have their portable games or games on your iPhone or whatever so they can be entertained. And of course have plenty of healthy snacks. Chip did offer up some fresh fruit, but again this is not the type of vessel that would have a galley. I would consider anything that Chip was to off in the way of food or drink as a very nice bonus.

Last tender back was at 4:45 and I think we were on one about 4:30. NOTE: THIS IS LATER THAN NORMAL AS IT WAS ADJUSTED TO OUR LATE ARRIVAL. Be sure and listen for tender times and watch the Capers for normal times. Wife wanted a nap before dinner so I hit the gym. I think the added food and deserts was catching up as I had a rougher time than normal to finish my 5k. I managed to finish and headed back to shower for dinner.

They had a past guest reception with free drinks from 5:00-5:45, but because we got back from the island so late, and wife really wanted a nap, we did not make it.

The show tonight was again a 7:00pm show for the late dinner seating. Another comedian (Hank McGauley) who I only thought was mildly funny at best. It was the worse show we saw so far. I’d give it a D. He had to look at his notes the entire time. At first I thought it was part of the routine, but soon realized, it was not.  Also, while some of the comedians were better than others, I wish they would compare notes. Every one of them had in their routine about raising kids now verse when they were kids. I’m not overly PC but I got a little tired of how beating kids “back in the day” was good and maybe we need more of that now. We had a drink at the casino bar and then off to dinner. While we were getting ready for dinner I had opened a bottle of wine in our cabin and just carried it to the table to finish off. Our waiter was happy to keep it cool and pour for us. I ended up having the SPA salmon which was actually very good. I had the tiramisu for desert which was yummy.

We walked around a little, but with the swimming and rushed day, we called it an evening. Even with the high winds we left the balcony door open.

Tip of the day: You can carry any type of food food off the ship and into port. “We” took food and snacks off the ship. It is my understand you cannot bring the fresh stuff back aboard. I had even considered making sandwiches and bringing them (they have ham, cheese and bread at breakfast), but figured the fruits and crackers would be enough. And it was. Obviously since you can’t bring back don’t take so much as to waste, but a few things can be nice if you need a little something till you get back to the ship.

UPDATE: Note about my tip of the day: I have received two comments/emails that it is against the law/ship policy/the bible to remove food from the ship and take into port. Someone mentioned that “they” use dogs and you could be fined “or worse” for taking food off the ship. While I hardly think they would do anything other than make you throw it away or take it back to your cabin, I want to be fair in my reporting and certainly don’t want to report inaccurate information.

I have been on about 10 cruises and regularly have taken things off the ship. We have never been searched, had dogs sniff  us or had food police check us out while getting off the ship and going into port. I honestly do not recall ever reading warnings in the CAPERS or hearing about such things on shopping or excursion talks on board. However, I do recommend and always suggest you check for yourself and make an informed decision.

We have been searched and there have been trash cans near by when returning to the ship. And I have had to toss a few small things when getting back on the ship. But again, I’ve never had or observed an issue on taking things off the ship.

I didn’t think I needed to put a disclaimer in my blog, however I guess I will. I’m reporting what we did and our experiences. I’m not trying to cite policy, laws or tell you what we did is always the best for everyone every time. Everyone should have the responsibility and accountability to do what is right for them and of course per local laws and ship policy.

Blogging is new to me. I can see how my wording may have made it sound like I was stating policy. I’ll try to be more careful with that and clean up as I note it.

I’d also like to thank those that gave honest feedback and noted some different experiences than I have/did. I’ve tried to incorporate some of them so that it can be a reference of sort. Not the end all be all of course, but just a point of reference.

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Responses

  1. Hi ,
    your vacation day in Grand Cayman is very informative & interesting……
    I had some questions to ask you… we are going on the Carnival’s Valor next week with stops at george town, grand cayman, Roatan bay Islands, Belize city & Cozumel, mexico.
    I was wanting to try the… Stingray sand bar with Island marketing & in Roatan for the Island Tour & beach break with Island Marketing . Have you tried them ? any recomendations & information for any of these places. We are a family of 4 adults & don’t swim. Is tenderinga problem in George town , cayman islands & Belize City. Any.. ‘must try’ tours at these places & with whom ?

    Ragini.

    • We really enjoyed the Sting Rays. On our tour you also snorkel, but is not required. You can stay on the boat. Haven’t done the other excursions you mention. Tendering in general is not a problem. You need a tender ticket. If you book an excursion through Carnival your excursion ticket is your tender ticket. If you don’t have an excursion booked or booked outside of Carnival, than you will need to get a tender ticket at a designated area. Listen and watch the Capers.


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