Avoiding crowds of cruise ship passengers took on new meaning on Grand Cayman, where 4 ships per day was typical on most weekdays; 5 on Tuesday.
This is not an attempt to bash people who cruise; just evade them.
One of the 5 ships that arrived in Georgetown, Grand Cayman on January 29th – Independence of the Seas – holds 4,370 passengers and 1,360 crew. Even if half the cabins were unsold, there were easily 10,000 cruise ship passengers and crew on Grand Cayman that day. For a snorkeler who prefers not to have others’ fins in her face – it was necessary to be strategic. Plus, craft vendors tend to jack up the prices on the days cruise ships are in town. This isn’t specific to Grand Cayman; in fact Grand Cayman tends to have higher end stores with clearly marked, fixed prices.
To find out how many ships will be in port so you can plan around them check CruiseTT. A quick check of CruiseTT for January 29th showed 4 ships on a day I know there were 5, so if the difference between 4 or 5 ships makes a difference to you, you can also check the site for the port on the island you’re visiting.
Usually, ports are busiest with cruise ships during the week. On the weekend most ships are heading toward or in their home ports, unloading departing passengers and getting ready for the following week’s group.
Therefore, weekends are the best time to visit the more popular or touristy attractions where the cruise passengers are most likely to opt for when picking land excursions. These attractions are usually pretty obvious. On Grand Cayman, think Stingray City. In the Maya Riviera, it would be Tulum, Xel Ha or Xcaret. In Belize, the zoo, cave tubing or maybe the Mayan ruin at Altun Ha. Knowing the typical excursions sold to passengers makes it easy to miss the bulk of them. Cruisecritic is a great source of information about the offerings at every port.
Not every port involves excursions. For example, there are several great snorkeling spots right off the coast of Georgetown, the capitol of Grand Cayman, a few yards from the cruise piers. Eden Rock is a dive center about a 5 minute walk out of town that I repeatedly read on Tripadvisor was well worth visiting, but best avoided on cruise ship days. No problem, I went on Sunday afternoon and had it almost to myself. The following Sunday, I snorkeled the Wreck of the Gamma in town alone with 3 divers (I only saw bubbles). I also made sure to visit the popular Cemetery Beach on Sunday due to it’s proximity to Tiki Beach, where based on the stacks of beach chairs on non-cruise days I guessed huge numbers of cruise people would be brought on buses.
On the Tuesday of 5 Ships, I took the mini bus to Bodden Town, which I knew was way off the cruise passenger radar. Bodden Town was originally the capital of the Cayman Islands, and supposedly has great, shallow snorkeling from several noted spots along the coast. After visiting the Bodden Town Art Gallery, I wandered around looking at the historical buildings like the Mission House and the uniquely styled churches. The water was too rough for snorkeling, but I enjoyed a peaceful day alone on the public beach reading a book on one of many available, free chaise lounges, under shade! Shade is a hard to come by commodity in Grand Cayman, unless you want to pay $10 CI dollars ($12.50 US) for an umbrella to go with your $10 CI beach chair at Royal Palms.
By the time I returned to town, 3 of the ships were gone, so I stopped in at the popular Rackham’s for a very late lunch. While I ate my excellent conch fritters with tropical side salad, the last of the cruise passengers scurried off to make their tenders and the last boat of the day blasted its farewell.
The next day, I went to Cheeseburger Reef near my hotel. Named for its location off the coast of Burger King, it is also very close to Georgetown. Luckily I got there early because about an hour and a half into the snorkel, I heard a buzzing noise. The fish began to scram – and there were 4 people with underwater fans pulling them along.
Thursday, I had the brilliant idea to walk to another renowned snorkeling site, Smith’s Cove. Just outside of town, I heard. The people who raved about it told me to walk so I could stop at Pure Art and Cathy Church’s underwater photography gallery. It was a little further than expected, but eventually I arrived at Sunset House Hotel. The photography was so amazing, I was in awe.
In retrospect I should have spent more time checking out this hotel, and the water there before walking any further. After what seemed like another mile, I arrived to very rough water. Definitely no snorkeling, but I put on the gear and went out, just in case. As suspected, there was too much churn and I couldn’t see a thing. But, once again, I found a peaceful beach scene with mostly locals and long-time/term visitors. No cruisers with boxed lunches or matching towels.
By the time I walked back to town, there was only 1 ship in port, and only a couple of men about to dive at Eden Rock, so I jumped in the water there.
Friday I had planned to go to Stingray City with Soto Cruises because rumor had it there was no ship that day. In fact, there was, but it had to moor off another part of the island because the water in Georgetown was too rough. Had I known that about the water, I would have abandoned the plan, but instead I went snorkeling in rough seas! Luckily, I took 2 Bonine before the boat ride.
Friday afternoon, the seas in front of my hotel, Harbourview, had calmed enough that I could snorkel there but the vibration from the cruise ships still moored offshore was so disturbing I had to stop. I kept thinking the Atlantis submarine was going to appear and mow me down.
By Saturday, the ships were gone and the island was peaceful again.
Please contact me via the form here, or by emailing eva @ suitcaseready.com if you would like me to book your dream Cayman vacation – or a cruise that stops in Grand Cayman!
GRAND CAYMAN RESOURCES:
Where to stay? Harbourview – great location, affordable. Very friendly staff and wonderful, hands-on owners.
Where to eat? Rackham’s, Da Fish Shack. The Captain Bakery
Testudo’s Snorkel Guide – Cayman Off the Beaten Path – great guide to snorkel sites with entry info and photos for locating the entry and parking.
Cayman Good Taste – guide to restaurants
Fodor’s In Focus Cayman Islands 2013
Diving and Snorkeling Cayman Islands – these Lonely Planet guides are outdated but the reefs haven’t moved.
Cayman Island Fish and Creature Guide (Reef Card)
My indispensable tool for every snorkeling trip:
This article was originally posted February 4, 2013.