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CAYMAN ISLANDS - TravelPulse Canada was in the Cayman Islands recently to watch Prince Charles dedicate their sparkling, new airport and to check out new and recently renovated places to stay in a clean, friendly and beautiful Caribbean destination. Here's an in-depth look at hotels, resorts, villas and private residences on Grand Cayman and Little Cayman that you could book for clients with a variety of budgets and travel styles.
Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa
This was home for my entire stay; a marvellous property that's quite sizable but feels like a boutique hotel in terms of amenities, decor and the personalized service. All 266 rooms and suites have floor-to-ceiling windows and private balconies; almost all of them with superb views of Seven Mile Beach. Families or groups can try an oceanfront bungalow suite, some of which are literally a couple meters from the sand or the massive swimming pool. Like other Kimpton properties, free wine and appetizers are served in the late afternoon. There are tons of beautiful details all around, and rooms are done up in subtle tones with bright batches of colour. Service is quite personalized and super-friendly. Stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, snorkel gear and other non-motorized sports are free, and the hotel has a representative of Red Sail Sports on hand if guests want to book a boat cruise or a visit to see Grand Cayman's famous stringrays. The food is exceptional at Seafire, with tremendous Caribbean/Mexican specialties (try the chicken or fish tacos) at the beachfront Coccoloba. Don't miss the magnificent Sunday brunch at the main restaurant, Ave; with a tray-busting array of fabulous food that ranges from salads and eggs benedict to fresh sushi, carved roast beef and rich, flavourful Indian lamb. The brunch also includes three craft cocktails and unlimited sparkling wine. If you love a good Caribbean beach bar, Calico Jack's is a funky, casual spot on the beach adjacent to the hotel. I didn't get to try it, but there's also a lovely spa. They'll lend you a bike for free (The Cayman Islands being fairly flat, it's a great option), and there's a Kids' club for the little ones.
Grand Cayman Beach Suites
This property re-opened in mid-January this year after a massive makeover. It's a gorgeous, boutique (just 52 rooms) property on Seven Mile Beach with large rooms (605 square feet up to 1,400) that families will definitely appreciate. The yellow and white colour scheme that's dominant on the property makes for a bright and bouncy feel to the rooms, the beach and the beautiful swimming pools, one of which has hammocks suspended over the water. Guests get a beach bag with towels, sun block and other necessities, and there are dispensers spread about the property that deliver both flat and sparkling water. Almost half their staff is Canadian, I was told. There's a rooftop terrace, and they provide morning yoga. They're building a new wellness centre across the street. There's a lovely restaurant and bar bordering the beach.
The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa
This is another resort that's been a massive makeover; a $50 million renovation that finished in 2017 and included pretty much a top-to-bottom change. You can see the ocean as soon as you step into the lobby, which is air and bright and features swirling overhead light fixtures, a great-looking lobby bar and more. The property has 343 rooms, and the ocean shapes and themes are repeated throughout the property; even in the elevators. The pool complex is sensational, with one of the largest pools around and a bar with a swim-up feature. A small thing, but very cool: the rooms I saw had a sofa that included USB charging stations. There's also a solar-powered charging station out by the pool, and that's not something I've seen anywhere else. And they have what's reported to be the only double-decker cabana on the island, with a shaded area below and a sun deck on top. There are three bars and three restaurants, as well as a sparkling spa, where they gave me a salt and eucalyptus rub for my hands that left them smooth as a baby's bottom. I was told they have the only oxygen infusion spa option in the country.
Folks looking for something more affordable can try this sunny, yellow, two-building affair that's a block from Seven Mile Beach. It's affiliated with The Westin, so guests here can take advantage of the beach and other hotel facilities. I loved the white Muskoka chairs on the deep green lawn. Rooms have full kitchens, a great way to save money. There's a small but nice pool with a casual restaurant alongside. You'll find 131 rooms, ranging from studios to one bedroom. Continental breakfast is included in the rate, and they have dive storage and rinse tanks.
Luxury Cayman Villas
The Luxury Cayman Villas folks have 20 villas and residences now available and will be increasing that by another 30 or so next year, I was told. One of the available properties is a penthouse suite at the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa. I had a tour of a property called Tatenda, which featured seven rooms and can sleep 20 people. It's a magnificent home with a beautiful pool and is right on the beach. There's a cool, spiral staircase that takes you to a top-floor retreat that would be great for kids. Villas range from three to seven bedrooms, and all the properties currently in their portfolio are on the beach. They obviously cater to families and multigenerational travellers, but girlfriend getaways or weddings also work very nicely. All homes have kitchens with all the modern features you'd expect, plus pool and beach amenities and other features. They can arrange to have your fridge fully stocked upon your arrival. Villa styles range from beachy to modern, with tons of choice. Luxury Cayman Viillas works with agents and wholesales and also offers commission. "If a guest books with an agent and then books the next year on their own, we'll still give the original agent a commission," a spokeswoman told me. There's a five-night minimum for larger units and a three-night minimum for smaller villas.
Kimpton Seafire Residences
Clients looking for luxury and space will love the units at the Kimpton Residences, which can be rented. Units range from studios to massive, five-bedroom palaces. There are 62 units in all over 10 storeys, so you're not bumping into other folks in the hallway when you take out the trash. Guests have full access to the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa next door, including room service. The rooms were done by top designers, including Toronto's Design Studio. Foldable glass walls allow you to create extra outdoor space in some units. The residences can use the resort pool, but they also have one of their own. The units I saw were comfortable, but quite elegant.
Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort
This is a large resort with all the amenities you'd expect from Marriott, plus tons of nice extras. They've done a great job making a 295-room hotel feel intimate, with a sleek lobby that features seven stingrays (the island's most famous animal, and also a nod to their location on Seven Mile Beach). There's a nice pool and a stand outside selling drinks near the beach. The spa has lovely Naturopathica products and lots of light. Look for the mango lemonade when you come in; it's terrific. The courtyard has nice seating around a small lagoon, and the Veranda restaurant offers great al fresco dining.
This is a terrific family option on a great part of Seven Mile Beach. The verandas are set at angles to maximize the view, and they also are screened in to keep out any bugs. All the units are individually owned. The only one available for viewing when I visited was unit 25, a newly-renovated space owned by a family from Canada. There was a lovely kitchen with stainless steel appliances, a large dining/living area, a big veranda, and three-bedrooms. There's a nice pool close to the beach, plenty of shady beach spots, barbeque grills and beautiful grounds dotted with fiery pink bougainvillea and other tropical plants. There's a three-night minimum in summer and a five-night minimum in winter. Groceries and other stores are right across the street. I was told some families have been coming back for 30 years.
The name has been in existence for some time, but the current building is only 10 years old, I was told. There are just 37 units, so you don't have to get up at 6 a.m. to try to reserve a beach chair. All units are three or four bedrooms, with standard sizes. Some have Jacuzzi tubs. In low season you can sometimes rent part of a unit. It's a popular spot for honeymoons, weddings and multi-generational trips. There's a nice Italian restaurant on site and a pretty swimming pool surrounded by palm trees. It feels like a condo but is run like a hotel, so you get the best of both worlds. I was told they'll shop for groceries for you so can roll right you're your unit and have everything you need. The pink and white umbrellas and towels give it a nice design feel. Every bedroom has either a garden or ocean view.
This is a small island that's an easy, half-hour flight from Grand Cayman. It's a wildly popular spot with divers, with excellent scuba to be in several offshore areas. The island is home to maybe 200 residents, so you won't find much night life. But you will find some delightful places to stay on an island where you truly can get away from it all.
These are casual units on a beach that's perhaps 100 meters from the tiny airport terminal. If you only had carry-on bags and wore your bathing suit on the plane, you could walk off the aircraft and be in the ocean or the hotel's pool in two minutes. There are six buildings strewn along the water and surrounded by beautiful landscaping. Each has two units and a huge porch overlooking the blue-green ocean. The rooms aren't fancy, but they're clean and bright and have everything you need. The owners (one is from Ottawa, the other from France) are constantly updating the rooms, which have a small living area with a sofa bed that would be good for a teenager or two small kids. Rooms have kitchens, and you can walk to the grocery store. Not to mention the airport. When I checked in a half-hour before my flight to Grand Cayman, I ducked over to their on-site restaurant, The Hungry Iguana, and had a beer on the patio.
Little Cayman Beach Club
The units here are painted a glorious shade of creamsicle orange, although they tend to fade to a salmon-like hue in the hot Caribbean sun. The hotel recently opened a new dining room, as the owner felt divers have gone beyond hot dogs and macaroni + cheese and now want a finer dining experience. One of the great features is the casual bar, which is festooned with goofy, handmade signs from visiting Canadians, Americans and Europeans. There's a dock on the property, so divers can literally suit up and be on their way in seconds. There's also a beach. The property is part of Clearly Cayman Resorts and is just a few minutes up the road from the airport. All units (they have 40 now, and more are coming) have a fridge and coffee maker, and some have microwaves and a wet bar. There's also a tennis court, basketball net, a spa and a waterfront dive shop.
Southern Cross Club
The buildings here feel like a street in St. John's, with every colour of the rainbow in units that sit right on one of the island's best beaches. All units have an ocean view, and one cottage has two bedrooms. Seven of the 14 units have private, outdoor showers overlooking the water. There's a good-sized pool, as well as a pier, plenty of hammocks and other features. Lots of guests like to bike, and they'll take you to one end of the island if you want to cycle back. Or you can do the full circle tour. They also can arrange-fishing trips for bonefish or other great fighters. Another great activity is to borrow a kayak and paddle over to Owen Island, a deserted piece of land just offshore where they sometimes do small weddings o a white-sand beach. Bikes, kayaks and snorkel equipment are free. There's an indoor/outdoor restaurant as well as a bar.
This is a wonderful spot with a great, homey feel, thanks to owner Susan Howard. Her mother is from Texas and bought the place in 1986, when there was no power or water. There is now, of course, as well as Wi-Fi. Looked for home-cooked meals and also fresh cookies on the bar every day. Guests can eat breakfast or lunch on their own but dinners are communal. There are no keys for the rooms, there being virtually no crime on an island with this few people, but guests can lock their doors at night if they wish. The units (there are 14 in all) I saw were quite nice; stylish and roomy enough for a couple or perhaps two people and a small child. Howard invites her guests to her place (on the property) for sushi and champagne every Friday evening. "That way I'm sure to make my bed now and then," she told me with a smiile. There's a beach and a nice pool. Another spot that caters to divers, with dive packages that include all your alcohol.
Jim Byers was travel editor for five years at the Toronto Star, which has the largest travel section in North America. He has...
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