Tag Archives: animal encounter

Destination: Grand Cayman

Grand Cayman Beaches

I had been daydreaming about taking a trip to Grand Cayman ever since I saw an episode of 190 North that showed the host horseback riding on the beach and sipping rum drinks.  This was years ago.  I was in high school and at the time this had been my dream trip.  Stingrays and horseback riding in crystal clear waters and topping the day off watching the sunset.  What more could a girl want?

When Ken and I started thinking about our first trip, he suggested the Florida Keys.  (We still haven’t been by the way!)  There was a beach, and I had only spent a day there prior, so I was on board.  Then came the time to book our trip.  The Keys were way out of our budget for a short[er] trip.  Time to brainstorm.  Just for fun, I started looking into how much for a 4 night stay in Grand Cayman.  And to my wonderment, it was much cheaper.  Before you start laughing at us, we were aware of the outrageous prices for everything once on the island.  I start explaining to Ken:  sting rays, turquoise water, and freakin’ horseback riding on the beach…in a swimsuit!  I was hanging on the edge of my seat as he pondered the thought of the entire trip changing in a matter of two minutes.  He agreed.  Smart man!

Two months later, we found ourselves on a plane.  I was beyond excited.  This had been my dream trip.  As always, I had basically planned out our entire stay.  Admittedly we ended up being a little overwhelmed with our schedule but we still found that we had more than enough time to lounge around at the beach in front of our hotel and spend obscene amounts on rum drinks.

Marriott Seven Mile Beach

Bonus: The tethered floats at the Marriott beachfront. Perfect for tanning!

The Hotel
We stayed at the Marriott Grand Cayman Beach Resort on Seven Mile Beach.  The hotel was just a short drive from the airport.  We were immediately greeted by friendly staff with juice drinks.  As we arrived quite early in the morning, our room was not ready and we were pleased to find that the hotel had a special spot for guests to keep their luggage in the lobby, under constant guard by hotel staff.

Our room was clean and decently sized.  The balcony was perfect to enjoy coffee or room-service breakfast in the morning before hitting the beach.  The pool is large with a perfect view of the beach.  The hotel’s section of the beach is wide and clean with plenty of lounge chairs.  Tip:  wake up early and save a spot with some towels and personal items.  The food was really great.  Confession?  We still find ourselves drooling over the blueberry pancakes and hash browns.  Room service is a nice alternative to the high prices for the continental breakfast.

Next time around, we would most likely spring for an ocean view room, but we were just as well with a courtyard view from our balcony.  We don’t typically spend much time in the room anyways.  That’s not really what vacations are for, right?  Either way, next time we visit Grand Cayman we will most definitely be staying at the Marriott.

Transportation
Ay!  I was told by others that driving around the island could be difficult and confusing.  We opted to use a taxi or the local “bus” transportation to restaurants.  Taxis were just fine, accepted USD and KYD giving change in KYD, and the drivers were always friendly.  The “bus” on the other hand, was a unique experience.  Like the taxis, they accept USD and KYD.  Change is made in KYD only.  The fare is 2 KYD  for the route that particular bus runs.  There are several routes – be sure you are getting on the right one!  The buses are not like big city buses, think Dodge Sprinter.  The buses are not the cleanest but you don’t feel like you need to bathe in Purell afterwards either.

It’s very nice to have a cheap mode of transportation, but be warned that travelling along your route can be lengthy when your driver stops for every person waving on the side of the road.  At first, we found it comical when the driver honked at every person on the streets – “need a lift?”  But after stopping 12 times in what should have been a 6 minute ride, we were questioning whether or not a taxi would have been a better choice.  After a while, we figured we could no longer fit more people.  Wrong!  We were shocked at all the seats that were unfolded in the tiny bus.  I was wondering if at some point, we all ended up sitting on one another’s laps.  I was beginning to feel claustrophobic by the time we arrived at our destinations.  Just kidding…but only kind of.

West Palm Beach Resort

The Food
One of the greatest things about Grand Cayman is the fresh seafood, conch fritters, and rum cake all in casual settings situated on the beach.  Make sure to take a drive to The Sunset House for some bacon-wrapped shrimp and rum cake (and of course rum drinks!) as you watch the sun set over the ocean.  The Cracked Conch is a nice romantic spot to enjoy dinner in West Bay.  We had lunch at their Oceanside tiki bar, Macabuca, where the conch fritters and coconut shrimp are phenomenal!  Staying on Seven Mile close to the Royal Palms Beach Club, the breezy outdoor restaurant is a great spot to grab Caribbean seafood while listening to the waves roll into shore.

Seven Mile Beach

The Island
Grand Cayman is gorgeous, clean, and safe.  Georgetown is home to many colorful shops and stores perfect to pick up some souvenirs.  Cemetery Beach is always voted a top snorkel spot in the Caribbean and Seven Mile Beach is always voted one of the world’s greatest beaches.  The locals are proud of their island and their mixed culture.  The Cayman Islands really are a remarkable mishmash of Caymanians and people from all over the globe who came for sun and diving – and never left.  The wild iguanas are a fun sight to see mid-afternoon basking in the sun.

Stingray City

Things To Do
Stingray City is the #1 attraction on Grand Cayman, and for good reason.  We took a trip out with Red Sails.  The cost was surprisingly affordable – about 80 USD per person.  We were picked up at our hotel making only a few stops at other hotels before arriving at the dock.  The 45 minute sail on the enormous boat was wonderful on a warm, sunny day making Stingray City feel like a bonus.  That is, until you get into the waist deep water with the rays.  The staff wrangled up the rays and allowed any of us that wanted to hold them and even kiss them.  Photos were taken and can be purchased for an additional charge.  After some time with the friendly and curious rays, hop back on the boat and enjoy some snorkeling in deeper water near a large reef.

Seahorses

Horseback riding on the beach and in the crystal clear waters is a truly incredible experience.  We used Spirit of the West and we were glad we did.  This excursion will cost about $150 USD per person.  They had a taxi pick us up in front of our hotel, taking us to a secluded beach where we spent nearly 2 hours on our horses.  They have several options including private rides, moonlit rides, and the Caribbean sea swim.  I would highly recommend the sea swim – there is nothing more amazing than riding bareback in the Caribbean, listening to the horse chuffing as they swim along.  The guides were friendly and knowledgeable and they even take photos of you and your group.  Don’t forget your waterproof camera!

Turtle Farm

Cayman Turtle Farm is an excellent place to have a hands-on experience with the adorable sea turtles.  The Island Wildlife Encounter has wading pools with small turtles and touch tanks where you can try and nab a quick baby sea turtle for a photo op.  If you are a sea turtle lover, this is a wonderful place.  They even have a saltwater lagoon for snorkeling with the little guys, for an extra fee of course.  The farm has a release program, but be warned that the locals also use these turtles to “supply local needs” ie they eat them.

Water activities are obviously a main attraction as well as the many dive sites.  Snorkel along Seven Mile Beach to see curious Yellowhead Wrasse, sea turtles, and sting rays.  You can even take a trip to Star Fish Point and marvel over the amount of sea creatures in the shallows.

Next time around we plan on snorkeling off of cemetery beach, grabbing some souvenirs in the colorful shops of Georgetown, and scuba diving.   We would most definitely make room to horseback ride on the beach again as well as visit Stingray City.

The super cool water spout we saw on our last day!

The super cool water spout we saw on our last day!

 

Grand Cayman ended up being our first trip together. Maybe this is why it holds a special place in our hearts.  Or maybe its because the Caymans are truly a magical place to vacation.  We found April to have amazing weather, sunny and only moderately humid with a gentle breeze.  We still can’t wait to go back one day.

Native Wild Iguana

Bahamas: The Brittle Star

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I am all about luxury hotels and being comfortable.  But I am also all about going on excursions and getting my hair wet, wearing no make-up and taking ugly photos the whole time.  Great Exuma was the perfect combination.  The minute I saw swimming pigs, I was following Ken around the house reading from our Fodor’s Caribbean book, “Ooooh and then they have iguanas and nurse sharks and a starfish reserve and turtle cay…and we can stay at Sandals.”  I’m sure he was rolling his eyes the whole time.  I don’t blame him, my daydreaming about travels can be intense at times.  Okay, probably all the time.  Luckily for me, he quickly agreed Great Exuma needed to be our next trip.

On our last full day in Great Exuma, we headed out on a “ocean safari” tour with Island Routes.  Unfortunately, it was a little too windy to do the full day tour we had signed up for.  We were bummed but we would take what we could get.  We got a nice second swim with the famous swimming pigs and got to feed some very hungry iguanas as well as check out multiple cays.

Once the iguanas returned to basking in the sun upon realization that the grapes were all gone, we began to wander around the small cay.  It was beautiful with lush green brush and the bluest water I have ever seen.  We walked down the narrow strip of beach towards the rock pool.

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The co-captain exclaims, “Awesome!  I was hoping to find one of these!”  I recoil as he shows us what looks [to me] like a freaky spider he found under a rock in the low tide.  After further inspection, I realize he is holding a brittle star.  I’m no expert (and apparently he wasn’t either) but I am fairly sure it is a spiny brittle star.  Me being me, I want to touch.

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The captain sets the star down on Ken’s arm and jokes that it looks like he has acquired a new tattoo on his other arm.  It just wraps its long flexible arms around Ken’s forearm and doesn’t even attempt to crawl away.  Then one of its arms falls off.  No joke.  Its arm. just. falls. off!  I begin to panic.  We have just killed it.  Oh geez, it is going to die.  Where is the blood?  Why do I always have to go and touch things!  Wait a minute, Ken touched it.  Not me.  Not my fault.  No bad karma here.

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Then the captain calms everyone down, “They fall off as a defense tactic. It will grow back right away.”  Oh, thank goodness!  Hand it over, then, Kenneth!  MY TURN!

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Yeah, it still creeped me out to hold it.  It looks like a gigantic spider.  I hate spiders.  But it was harmless and actually felt incredibly neat.  The central disc that makes up their body actually felt nearly silky and incredibly fragile.  Apparently, others didn’t like the looks of this guy because no one else wanted to hold him.  More for me, I got to place him gently back under his rock to go back to munching on planktonic organisms or whatever he was up to.

Upon our return home, I made a point to read up on these brittle stars.  And I gotta admit they are pretty neat little sea creatures.  These invertebrates make up a portion of the sea star family, having over 2000 different varieties.  They bury themselves, like our friend under the rock, for protection and leave a few arms free to catch their food.  They mostly eat at night, passing food down through their mouth located in the central disc.  But the coolest thing about these guys is that they can regenerate their arms at a rapid rate.  It was nice to have confirmation on that!

How can you help these guys thrive?  Recycle.  Recycle.  Recycle!  Also make sure that when you get an oil change or do one yourself, the oil is recycled – it can be re-refined and re-used.  Many of our oceans special creatures are harmed or killed by trash and the nearly 220 million gallons of oil illegally disposed of from the United States alone.

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On to the next cay!

 

Lowry Park Zoo: Sweet Sea Lions

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I am an animal lover.  I have loved animals since I was a baby.  Ever since my first pet, Bacon the Beta fish, I have been acquiring pets and doing my best to help wildlife whenever possible.  I even used to ride around in a nifty plastic Playskool tractor with a neighborhood friend “saving” worms from untimely deaths in the summer sun after a rainstorm.  I was 7 okay, so cut me some slack.

Ken has become all too used to my daydreams of encountering wildlife and seeking experiences with amazing animals.  Often times, I even choose vacation destinations based upon some unique (or crazy)  wildlife adventure.  I worked with animals for years and after having many uncommon involvements with wildlife (trimming a wallabies toenails, drawing blood from iguanas, tagging Fox snakes, and restraining an alligator to name a few) I have learned that the most special are those that are not planned.  Those special moments when you are lucky enough to have a truly wild animal become as interested in you as you are in them.

That being said, I still fall for the allure of any encounter with an animal I have yet to come in contact with.  I find myself having a moral dilemma.  I love going to zoos and wildlife parks, yet I have such a hard time looking at a majestic tiger in a tiny enclosure, so far from its natural habitat.  I understand the need for knowledge in order to help save these animals, but I find myself going back and forth about how I feel about zoos.

Yet, I found myself coaxing Ken to take me to the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa after we finished up our wedding planning at the Florida Aquarium.  We needed a little bit of fun out in the sun.  Without a beach nearby, the zoo was a good choice.  And I ended up being so glad that we went.

The zoo was much larger than I had expected, and even though it was filled with many screaming children, it didn’t feel too crowded at the exhibits.  The highlights were definitely the manatee hospital and watching the bears swim to cool off.  But after walking around the zoo for a couple hours (and sweating profusely) I learned yet another lesson in spontaneity.

We saw signs all over the park for the sea lions.  And gosh, they are cute.  $2 to watch the show, blahblahblah, take photos with the sea lions.  Hit the brakes.  I can do what?  I want.  I really want.  I think I must have asked Ken about 12 times “so where are these sea lions again?”  By the way, his response was always I don’t know – the map is confusing.  Men and maps.  I know, I know, they don’t need them!

Finally, we end up walking past the sea lion area.  I can hear the show going on.  I walked up to the girl at the front and asked how one takes a photo with the sea lions.  She said there is an opportunity after the show and it’s already half way through.  Oh well, sign me up!  So $4 later, and as we are walking through the doors the show is over.  Apparently time moves slowly while sitting in the heat and the ability to tell time diminishes.  But this worked out, we were fourth in line to get our photo taken with the adorable sea lions.  The one resting his head on my shoulder kept leaving between photos and diving nose first into the water only to be called right back to take another photo.  He was a clown – sliding across the platform and skidding to a halt next to the trainer.

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It’s funny to think if we would have walked past only a couple minutes later, we would have missed out of that memorable opportunity.  And I would have missed out on crossing another item of the ever-growing Great Big Animal Bucket List.

More photos can be found on our facebook page.

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