Coming face to face with a huge tarpon?  Joining a school of Blue Tang as they weaved in and out of an old shipwreck? Dining on sea bass with macadamian nut crust or wolfing down calamari with vinegar?  Downing 150 proof rum punches, flavored with blackberry liquor with names like Hurricane 5 or Rum Runner? Holding a squirming, flipping out green sea turtle or eyeing a one- of- a- kind half croc-half American alligator? Walking down an uninterrupted white sand seven mile stretch of unadulterated beach?  Are these the things that surprised me about my three and half day journey at Grand Cayman Island?

Any travel article about the Caribbean, worth its sea salt, will extol the cerulean sea, the pristine shore, the oleander and hibiscus vegetation, the sea grasses, the steel drummed nights, the air of romance and buccaneer days of yore, the rum and the jerked pork, and the feeling of being somewhere different from home, a place apart and more exotic and perhaps more primitive than the US.

What surprised me most about the Grand Cayman Island can be summed up in three words: clean, safe, and friendly.  To me the Grand Cayman is not as eclectic as the Bahamas or as historically significant at Puerto Rico and Barbados, or as diverse geographically and culturally as Jamaica. It doesn’t possess the shopping of St Thomas or the laissez- faire attitude of St Croix or the poshness of St John.  All the above destinations I’ve visited and enjoyed for an array of reasons.  Yet, Grand Cayman Island seems the most American of all in the good sense of the word “American” even though the folks working there are international in origin.  Our waiters in various restaurants hailed from China, Philippines, India, South Africa, and Jamaica.  On the snorkel trip the crew was from Ireland, Honduras, and the island itself. The cuisine on the isle is likewise global in appeal.  I especially enjoyed the Cuban fare.  The Caymanians speak with a twinge of a British accent and appear to be mixed race.  Our taxi driver prided herself on being seventh generation Caymanian.

Highlights of our trip were snorkeling off the Red Sail Sports sailboat, renting an Avis car to explore the island and reach Rum Point; driving on the left side to the town of Hell and back; admiring green sea turtles at Boatswain’s Turtle Farm; traipsing around George Town where we shopped at Guy Harvey’s and had him autograph our purchased prints; and munching on calamari at Breezes restaurant downtown while a storm whipped up and then disappeared  suddenly.

At the Westin Hotel, the staff was friendly, the room immaculate, the buffet breakfast bountiful and delicious especially the fried plantains. The Tortugas Rum Cake set on our pillow each night was an added pleasant perk.  Besides Ferdinand’s and Café Havana located at the Westin, I’d recommend the Sunshine Bar and Grill for its inexpensive fish tacos and the largest overhead fan imaginable!  The Legends Bar and adjoining Eats Café served a good cod sandwich and the tony alfresco Reef Grill offered scrumptious sea bass, grouper, and conch fritters.  At Fidel Murphy’s  a soul found an Irish pub with a Cuban flair where a body could imbibe the local Caybrew.

Stingray City, historic sites, botanical gardens, scuba diving, purchasing black corral jewelry, riding horses on the beach, night life, and spa opportunities abound, but I can only relate what I personally experienced during our brief but beauteous holiday.  We enjoyed the ocean which was warm; the breeze which was tepid, and the sun which was hot, and this was all in late January!  Kids were welcome everywhere, but frankly I suggest Grand Cayman be reserved for a couples vacation.  Scalywags can have fun at an amusement park in the US, but parents should treat themselves alone to this to stretch of sand south of Cuban cigars.  This place imprints their currency with a turtle next to Queen Elizabeth’s head—that Cayman dollar epitomizes the duality of the archipelago: a mix of folks, cultures, food, and diversions but like a fine sauce, all ingredients blend well on the palate of an American in a faraway place with a strange sounding name, searching to spot the elusive blue iguana which can call Grand Cayman Island “home.”

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