Imagine the stereotypical cruise port -- one with white-sand beaches, a plethora of duty-free shops selling jewels and liquor, and de rigueur water activities like snorkeling and scuba -- and Grand Cayman will likely come to mind. The cliche might just be based on the destination, with its lovely Seven Mile Beach, George Town's retail center and plenty of sites for diving, snorkeling and other water sports. Grand Cayman also celebrates marine life at Stingray City and the Cayman Turtle Farm, and even offers a twist on island paradise with the town of Hell (THE place from which to send the quintessential kitschy postcard).
Yet the cliche does have a negative side -- the crowds. It's not unusual to find five mega-ships (we're told there's been up to nine) docked in the harbor at the same time, which makes the tendering process slower than usual and the downtown streets jam-packed. (Building a cruise pier at which ships could berth is oft discussed, but it's never gone beyond the "pre-planning" stage.) The constant influx of cruise passengers keeps the waterfront restaurants bustling, so lunch in port is never a cheap affair. A stroll along the beach quickly turns into an obstacle course of sunbathing tourists, sandy children and water sports vendors.
Visitors have two choices -- embrace the crowds and touristy places with a laid-back island mindset, or escape them. Secluded beaches, like Cayman Kai or Rum Point, are a cab ride away, and even Seven Mile Beach has its less crowded spots. A mall at Governors Square offers designer clothes, housewares and even a healthy cafe for a refreshing change from shell necklaces and overpriced seafood. And the seemingly endless stretches of sea never feel too congested when you're swimming peacefully above coral formations.