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5 posts from November 2010

11/28/2010

Snorkel and Stingray City Trip

No matter whom I take to the Cayman Islands, the day trip on the Sea Fire always becomes the highlight of their trip. It never fails to be an exciting snorkel and Stingray City trip to the North Sound with Captain Gleason Ebanks and first-mate Kerry Ebanks. We often use the term “old man at the sea” to describe Gleason, but when you have been taking the same boat out for snorkel trips since 1956, it’s definitely accurate. Both Gleason and Kerry have seen it all and offer great knowledge and expertise pertaining to marine life, weather, and Grand Cayman in general. Although each trip is a little bit different, I want to take you on a typical trip on the Sea Fire. 

 7:32 AM: Alarm goes off. (Deep sigh) You wonder why you had that extra rum punch the night before and drank that rum liquor shot after dinner.

 7:42 AM: Alarm goes off again. You wonder why you scheduled a stupid boat trip while you are on vacation and why it has to be so early in the morning.

 7:45 AM: Throw together a bag for the trip including a hat, sunglasses, lots of sunscreen, and an iPod. Also throw together some food for the trip, including chips, peanuts, and cookies. Most importantly, pack the drinks for the trip, including lots of water, wine, beer, and of course rum.

 8:30 AM: Get picked up in a van by Kirk Ebanks. He helps load up all snorkel gear, towels, food, and drinks in his 15-passenger van. It is a quick 10-minute drive from Treasure Island to Safe Haven where the Sea Fire is docked.

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***Notice the changes in the Sea Fire over the years.

 8:45 AM: Greeted at the Sea Fire by Gleason and Kerry. Start to load everything onto the boat and again wonder why you had that extra drink the night before. This is when I apply lots of sunscreen. You will get a lot of sun, even on cloudy days. Head to the 2nd level of the Sea Fire to enjoy the 45 minute boat ride out to the North Sound where the first stop is Stingray City.

 9:30 AM: As we anchor, the stingrays already begin to flock towards the boat.

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Once we are all settled in, Gleason reminds us that we do not need to wear fins at Stingray City as it is a sand bar that is no more than 4 feet deep. We still take our mask and snorkel so we can see these amazing creatures as they swim all around us. Kerry accompanies us in the water so he can hold the stingrays allowing us to hold, pet, feed and take photos with the stingrays.

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He even has them trained to give back massages and it feels pretty amazing. The texture of stingrays is really indescribable until you do it.

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While, this is the highlight of the day now, it didn’t always used to be that way. As little as 25 years ago, when we were snorkeling off the Sea Fire, Gleason would blow a horn warning us that a Stingray had been spotted and everyone should return to the boat immediately. Over the years, they have been tamed and now actually enjoy the attention and love to play with people, especially when you feed them a little squid. 

10:30: After several good photos with the stingrays, it is time to dive for conch shells. These large shells contain an animal inside them called conch. They are attached to their shell, but can be detached with a screwdriver. They are then marinated in a picka-pepper sauce for a nice pre-lunch appetizer with Saltine crackers. Conch are only permitted from November 1-April 30 as the Cayman Islands Department of Environment attempts to protect them from extinction.

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10:45: Head to the beautiful snorkel reef where we see many colorful fish, nurse sharks, sea turtles, lobsters, and of course gorgeous coral. While we are out snorkeling, Gleason and Kerry are preparing an amazing lunch.

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11:30: Head to the coral garden to eat lunch. Lunch is served here, including fresh mahi-mahi, rice, Cayman-style potato salad, banana plantain, and a nice slice of watermelon for desert. After eating the best meal of the week, it is time to break out a glass of wine.

 12:02: Time for the first jump from the 3rd level of the boat into the Caribbean Sea that waits about 15 feet below. It really is thrilling to jump into the Sea from the boat.

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The coral gardens are another great snorkel opportunity to see several neat fish and even a moray eel.

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1:00: It is time to open up the “O-Bar”, which is a term we have given the floating life ring (see video below). We spend the rest of the afternoon floating in the warm water, soaking in the sun, and sipping on our favorite drink. 

O-Bar Video

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 2:30 (or whenever Gleason wakes up from his nap and tells us it’s time to go): Board the boat again and maybe make a few last jumps from the 3rd level. Then head to the seating area upstairs where we turn on some music and finish off the wine and rum.

 3:15: Arrive back at the dock at Safe Haven where Kirk is awaiting us. Say our good –byes. Take a few last minute photos. Load the van and head back to Treasure Island. Next stop? The Swim-up-bar for a rum punch or mudslide!!! The fun never ends in the Cayman Islands.

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11/21/2010

My Top 5 Cayman Islands Attractions

When someone plans a vacation, undoubtedly the first question is “What is there to do there?” The nice thing about a trip to the Cayman Islands is laying on the beach, soaking up the rays, listening to the waves, and relaxing with an island drink in hand is enough to make any vacation great. However, if you want to get some relief from the sun, here are five must-see attractions on Grand Cayman.

 #5. Head to Georgetown for Duty-Free Shopping: I will admit, I’m not much for shopping, but even I like to visit the shops downtown once per trip. The shops are all duty and tax free, which allows for some great deals not found in the United States. Shop for sunglasses, jewelry, watches, leather, souvenirs, and more. Helpful tip: Visit the shops in Georgetown on a day when there are no cruise ships. You will be able to have several shops to yourself in a small walking radius. You can find out the cruise schedule at: 

Cayman Islands Cruise Schedule

 #4. Swim with the dolphins at Dolphin Cove: While this is kind of pricey, I feel it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. You get to pet, kiss, and hold the dolphins, while learning all about this amazing creature. Plus there is no bigger thrill than floating on your stomach and waiting for two huge dolphins to swim up from behind you at full speed and push you up in the air by your feet (see picture). As a guy asked the trainer when we were there, "What happens if they miss your feet?", the trainer responded, "They won't miss." Let's hope not...

Dolphin Cove

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#3. Dine at Casanova’s By The Sea. I don’t typically consider a good restaurant a tourist attraction, but Casanova’s is always a highlight of my trip. This Italian restaurant, overlooking the Caribbean Sea, offers a wide variety of pasta, seafood, and chicken entrees. Tony Crescente, a true Italian, is the owner and prides himself on authentic food from his homeland with family recipes. The service is impeccable and they definitely make every person feel welcome, as though you are part of their family. Whether on a romantic honeymoon get-away or there with a large group, the atmosphere at Casanova's makes this a must-try attraction. Even if you are making your first ever visit to Casanova's, the staff will make you feel like Norm from "Cheers", where everyone knows your name.

Casanova Restaurant

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#2. Have a mudslide at the Wreck Bar at Rum Point: If you have ever had a mudslide in America or at any other bar in Cayman, you might think it’s pretty good. You haven’t had a mudslide until you try one from the Wreck Bar at Rum Point. The sign at the bar says it best: “How much for a virgin mudslide? Cups of ice are FREE!!” If you can find a captain to take you over via boat, that allows you to enjoy the mudslides without worrying about driving. If you have a rental car, it is about a 45 minute drive across the beautiful scenery of the Cayman Islands along the East End. Whether by boat or by car, Rum Point is a must visit attraction. Spend an afternoon here lounging on the beach and floating in the shallow water, or relaxing in a hammock after a mudslide and a mahi sandwich! Friendly tip from experience: when you are with 7 people---42 mudslides in one afternoon is about 28 too many.

Rum Point

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#1. Take a boat on a snorkel trip to Stingray City. The highlight of any trip to the Cayman Islands is a day on the Sea Fire with Captain Gleason Ebanks. However, there are several different captains that will take you out. The trip starts with a visit to Stingray City for a once in a lifetime opportunity to hold, pet, and play with these fascinating creatures. These create some great photo opportunities as the captains will feed and hold the stingrays allowing them to be held in a calm manner. The next stop is along the coral reef in the North Sound. It is here that you might see lobsters, nurse sharks, and lots of beautiful fish. After the snorkeling, a wonderful meal is served on the boat that consists of Mahi Mahi, islands style potato salad, and banana plantain. Finally a stop by the coral gardens to look at schools of colorful fish, sea turtles, and even a moray eel, ends the wonderful day. 

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While there are many things to do in the Cayman Islands, and everyone has different tastes, these five attractions are “must-see” whenever I visit!!

 

11/14/2010

Treasure Island Beach Restoration Project

When you think of the Cayman Islands, you think of a pristine beach that goes on for miles, hence the name 7 Mile Beach. For owners and guests at the beautiful Treasure Island Condominiums, that hasn’t been the case. Over the years, the great snorkel reef and beautiful coral located in front of Treasure Island have offset a less than desirable beach. However, many guests return from a stay at Treasure Island with rave reviews of their trip, the island, and their condo, but often suggest a nicer beach. Well, the owners have listened and an almost $700,000 beach renovation project was completed last week, with a special ribbon cutting ceremony on Wednesday to introduce the new and improved beach.

 

When the Treasure Island property was built more than 30 years ago, the developers dug out the iron shore in an attempt to make a swimming area. While this seemed like a good idea at the time, over the years the lack of iron shore has eliminated the natural protection against beach erosion. The 2 groynes made out of large rocks contained an opening to the sea in the middle (see picture), which allowed for the large waves to hit the beach and pull the sand out to sea. Year by year, the condo owners have tried to replace the lost sand, but this was becoming too costly.

Cove without overlap

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*It's clear the groynes had deteriorated over the years.

For 30 years I’ve been traveling to Treasure Island and have often wondered why the beach was so much nicer at other properties. Many of our guests have had the same thought. Owners have been throwing around the idea of trying to fix the beach and doing something different with the groynes for almost 20 years. So this decision to make the financial commitment to providing guests with a beach that visitors of the Cayman Islands deserve, makes this 2010 beach restoration project a landmark year for the Treasure Island Complex and Cayman Condos as a whole.

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*Notice the rocky beach to the left. With the completion of the project, this will no longer exist as it will be a sandy beach with a beautiful swimming cove.

 

In the summer of 2009, they began the initial stages of the project when they called on Dr. Sorenson, a renowned beach restoration project consultant in the Caribbean. After his research and guidance, a permit was applied for from the Department of Environment. This project was looked on very favorably by the DOE because of the extensive shoreline erosion. In May of this year, a permit was issued. The plan was to re-create the groynes with rocks that were to be shaped in local quarries. However, this time the groynes would overlap in the middle, preventing large waves from coming into the newly created swimming cove. While they will overlap, they will not actually connect in the middle, which allows access from the swimming cove to the snorkel reef (see picture).

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They began the shaping of the large rocks in May and moved onto the Treasure Island property in August. After the shaping of the rocks and creation of the groynes was complete, the final step was to add 1000 cubic yards of fresh new sand to the beach. By coupling this beautiful new beach with the snorkeling reef directly in front of the property, Treasure Island has now become one of the most desirable beach properties on beautiful Seven Mile Beach.

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With the extensive research that went into this project, it is expected to last for many years. So whenever you return to the Cayman Islands, this new sandy beach will be in tact for you and your family to enjoy. It is something we can all look forward to on our next visit to Cayman. After all, this is the Cayman Islands. No shirt. No Shoes. No Problem. And now, No Rocks on your beach at Treasure Island! 

11/06/2010

The History and Evolution of the Cayman Islands

When I began going to the Cayman Islands 30 years ago, it wasn’t quite what it is today. Sure it had beautiful blue sky, turquoise ocean, and pristine sand.

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None of that has changed. However, the island has changed a lot. 30 years ago, you could walk miles down 7 mile beach before you saw another person. If you wanted meat? You brought your own. If you wanted to make a phone call? You searched high and dry for a pay phone. If you wanted to watch TV? Yeah, right. Needless to say, things have changed. 

Believe it or not, Christopher Columbus founded Grand Cayman back in 1503 during a voyage to the "new world." Due to the abundant amount of sea turtles, he coined the term Las Tortugas for the name of the islands. The turtle remains a face of the island to this day.

Despite Columbus’ findings, the Islands remained uninhabited until the 17th century. The first people to settle on the island were pirates, shipwrecked sailors, and slaves. Finally, in the 1730’s, Great Britain took control of the Cayman Islands. The first census taken in 1802 showed a population of 933 people on Grand Cayman, 545 of which were slaves. 

This British colony is located about 400 miles south of Miami, 180 miles south of Cuba, and 195 miles northwest of Jamaica.


View Larger Map

Due to its close proximity to the islands, Jamaica became a key country to the Cayman Islands’ development. Initially, the Cayman Islands were administered as a dependency of Jamaica. However, they became an independent colony in 1959 and are now a self-governing British territory. Several Jamaicans make the Cayman Islands their home today.

Cayman has become a very wealthy island that continues to advance and become more modernized. It has been amazing to see the transformation in the last 30 years from a very uninhabited island with little development to the island we know today. Now the island is equipped with several supermarkets, cell phones, cable TV, fitness centers and even wi-fi internet connections. As people continue to visit this beautiful island, they will continue to see changes, but perhaps none as drastic as the island has seen in the past 30 years. 

 

Travel Tips for a Grand Cayman Getaway

Have you ever been ready to go on a vacation, but found yourself spending hours browsing the Internet looking for information on your destination? You probably wonder where to look, what is real, and what is accurate. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a place to go to find stories, insight, and pertinent information from someone who has been going to your destination for 30 years? The new Cayman Condos blog will be the perfect source for information to anybody that has any intention of ever making a trip to Grand Cayman.

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I have been going to the Cayman Islands for 30 years, since I was 3 months old. I have seen many changes, eaten at many restaurants, tried several snorkel spots, and walked 7 Mile Beach more times than I can count. Through the Cayman Condos Blog, I hope to give everyone a taste of the island, while providing useful information, and hopefully some good laughs.

One of the best things about the island is you always know what you are going to get when you go to Grand Cayman. You're always going to get warm weather, great food, beautiful sunsets, and friendly service. Despite knowing this, no two trips are the same. Every sunset is different. Every snorkel trip is different. Every meal is different. Grand Cayman is the perfect blend of normalcy and intrigue that any traveler relishes.

This weekly blog will touch on things to do while in Cayman, hot new attractions, tasty new restaurants, some historical insight on key landmarks, and even what to pack for your big trip. It will have exclusive one on one interviews with key Cayman Islands figures, talk about the different types of weather during the different seasons, and provide a variety of can’t miss dive spots.

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The idea is that if you become a regular follower of the blog, you will gain extensive insight that will prepare you for an upcoming trip to the beautiful Cayman Islands. Please don’t hesitate to provide any feedback, questions, comments or even share your own stories. I’m open to suggestions on different topics you’d like to hear about, so without further ado, I introduce the first ever Cayman Condos blog.