POST AUTHOR: RACHEL
It's a Santschi family tradition.
We are spread out across the country, have crazy work schedules and often don't get to be together for the holidays. But we treasure spending time together and exploring a new city is one of our favorite things to do, so a few years ago our parents decided that in lieu of giving us gifts for Christmas, they would give us a one week family trip. Mom and Dad get to pick the location, somewhere we've never been and then on Christmas morning we each get an envelope with a post card revealing our next adventure location.
It's a win/win for everybody - we get a great trip and a whole week of dedicated family time! The challenge is finding a week that works for everyone, but somehow it always works out.
This year it was Grand Cayman!
We rented a beautifully furnished 3 bedroom condo on the northern end of Seven Mile Beach. We found this condo through VRBO.com, which is a great way to save on lodging costs. It was just a quick walk across the street to the beach and it came with kayaks and snorkel gear available for us to use.
Unfortunately, we arrived at the tail end of a tropical storm that was passing thru so we had a rainy start, but the good news was that we had plenty of food, drinks and family games on hand. We made the best of it and enjoyed sitting on the covered balcony listening to the sounds of the island and a summer country playlist.
Once the storm finally passed, we were excited to hit the beach to enjoy the sun, sand and beautiful ocean.
Here's some tips and recommendations if you are planning a trip to Grand Cayman!
Dad's daily breakfast spread can't be beat, so having a fully stocked kitchen is essential! We usually plan to have lunch or dinner out at least a couple of times during our trips - experiencing the local cuisine is always fun - but half of us like to cook and the other half don't mind cleaning up, so we prepare most of our meals at the house.
Also, we had heard that meat can be particularly pricey in the Caymans, so before the trip, Mom and Dad stocked the freezer at home with some of our favorites, vacuum sealed everything and loaded up a couple of soft sided coolers to bring with them. They had direct flights, so everything was still frozen solid upon arrival and we just thawed it as needed throughout the week.
We hit up the local grocery store and liquor store right after we arrived and filled the fridge with all the essentials for the week. Mom and Dad already had a meal plan prepped (and even brought our favorite spices, in case we couldn't find them on the island!) so we were just filling in with fresh fruit, veggies and dairy items. It really made that initial trip to the grocery store quick and easy. Of course, we went back to pick up a few extra items throughout the week, but the store was just a couple of blocks away.
We also had a great time exploring the island! Here's a few tips for excursions and some delicious food recommendations.
BIOLUMINESCENCE KAYAK TOUR
There are lots of excursion options available and plenty of places to explore! My dad does a fantastic job of researching and finding the best opportunities. We did two excursions during this trip.
The first was a two-hour bioluminescent kayaking trip through The Sweet Spot. Basically, it was a night kayaking trip through the ocean as it lights up like a glow stick. We met our group at sunset at Rum Point, got our instructions, our life jackets and started out on our tandem kayaks under a clear, star filled sky. Our guide did a great job explaining what we were seeing and stopped along the way to show us starfish and camouflage jelly fish. It was incredible!
We ended up in a cove where the water glowed brightly. A few brave souls in the group threw on their snorkel gear and jumped into the dark water to see the glowing light below the surface. Always up for a new experience, my dad was not going to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity and in the water he went. He was thrilled to report that it was stunning!
The tour is about 3 miles of paddling and takes about two hours and requires moderate paddling. You will get wet though, so bring a change of clothes or towels for the ride home.
SNORKEL, starfish & stingrays
The second tour was out of this world! It was through Acquarius Sea Tours and it was a full-day three stop trip. We were able to bring food and drinks, so we loaded up our cooler for the day's adventure.
The tour company provided transportation to and from our condo to the dock; which was very convenient. Once everyone was checked in and onboard the boat, we made our way out to a secluded area of the ocean. There were a few sprinkles during the boat ride out, but there was plenty of covered seating for everyone as well as a bathroom onboard.
The water was shallow, blue and crystal clear. Our first stop was snorkeling near the coral reef. They provided the snorkel equipment and even took complimentary underwater photos of everyone so we could just enjoy viewing the colorful underwater life. It was amazingly beautiful!
After snorkeling, we headed off to our second stop - Starfish Point. You guessed it, it's a beach area where many starfish can be found. Our tour guides picked up a few of the starfish to bring them closer to the group and explained how to hold them. You can't bring them above water, but you can pick them up and rest them on your hand under the water. They start out stiff, but once they begin to relax on your palm they become flimsy and their tube feet crawl around on your skin. It was a very unique experience. At this stop, again, they take free photos that everyone can have access to online after the tour.
From Starfish Point, we had one last stop, saving the best for last - Stingray City. We ventured quite a way out into the ocean and had the chance to swim with stingrays! Our guide was basically a stingray whisperer. Without offering the animals any food to lure them over, it was as if they knew him and came straight over to visit. He flipped a stingray up on our backs and said it was "the best massage you'll ever get." It was so interesting. We were able to touch and feed the stingrays and even KISS one!
We had a fantastic time on this tour! It was such a fun day and a wonderful memory to make as a family!
I would highly recommend Acquarius Sea Tours if you are in the Caymans. The whole crew was wonderful, shared anecdotes and loads of information about the island. It was one of the best tours our family has ever been on!
the sunshine grill
Everyone recommended we stop by this incredible restaurant known for their fish tacos and WOW! It's no wonder it is Trip Advisor's #1 rated restaurant in the Cayman's. The Sunshine Grill is a must! It's located inside the Sunshine Suites Resort along Seven Mile Beach. We stopped here for lunch and sat at a poolside table shaded by an umbrella.
A few of us ordered their "World Famous" Island Fish Tacos with grilled mahi and a side of Sunshine Scramble, which is a mix of deep fried fries, mushrooms, onion and jalapeno. Yum!
While we waited, we enjoyed a competitive game of Ring on a String and Hook game. The guys were thoroughly entertained!
The food was absolutely phenomenal and flavorful, and the portion sizes were more than plenty. Plus, after lunch, they brought us mini ice cream cones. Delicious!
kaibo beach restaurant
Another restaurant we visited was KAIBO Beach Restaurant near Rum Point. It is right on the beach with spectacular views of the ocean. We grabbed a booth facing the beach and ordered a number of items including some wood fired Cayman sausage pizza, buffalo wings, conch fritters and some other local cuisine. All of it, of course, paired well with a few fancy drinks in hand.
For dessert, they have some delicious ice cream and sorbet, which was the perfect way to cap off our meal while watching the sun set over the water.
Overall, an absolutely wonderful trip was had by all!
Even though the first few days were filled with rain clouds, the last few days were full of sun and so much fun.
We don't typically revisit a destination, but we've decided we might need to give the Cayman Island another chance. The tropical storm had the waters churned up a bit and the winds were pretty steep, but over and over again we heard how unusual it was for them to have a storm like that. We are already looking forward to a second trip to this beautiful island!
Regardless, it was a blast and, once again, we had an extraordinary Santschi family vacation!