Memories, Misnomers and Minutiae From the Cayman Islands

Caribbean editor Gay Nagle-Myers gleaned more than a tan on a recent trip to the Cayman Islands. Her souvenirs included a mixed bag of fun facts, memorable meals and straight talk from the tourism director.

Reed Travel Features

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands -- The following tidbits and more were picked up on a recent swing through the Cayman Islands:

* Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman is actually five and one-half miles long.

* The "off-season" is a misnomer.

* The stretch of sand featured in the 1993 movie called The Firm, where Tom Cruise and girlfriend did the nasty, is a very popular spot for photographs.

* Wattle and daub is not a line from a kids' nursery rhyme but a 17th-century method of construction in the Cayman Islands in which a building's walls were made from weaving wood strips (wattles) between posts and then covered with a plaster-like substance (daub).

* Cruise passengers are not interested in visiting Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park unless the flowers are in bloom.

* Caymanians prefer sand gardens to a lawn of green grass (and sand does not have to be mowed).

* Carib Charlies's shop on Grand Cayman specializes in hand-carved birdhouses that are copies of actual homes and buildings in the Cayman Islands.

* The restaurant at Rum Point on Grand Cayman serves moonlight dinners right on the sand.

* Divers prefer to visit the Cayman Islands in the summer months because the water is calmer, clearer and the rates are cheaper.

* At Bloody Bay Marine Park, site of the famous Wall off Little Cayman, the depth of the light-green water drops from 18 feet to 5,000 ink-black feet in a matter of seconds.

* The Cracked Conch by the Sea on Grand Cayman specializes in a drink called the Mudslide: chocolate chip ice cream mixed with six different liqueurs.

* Grand Cayman has 530 banks, most of which are in George Town and are merely post office drop boxes.

Angela Martins, director of tourism, added substance of her own during an interview in her George Town office.

"We have to humanize tourism. In the hotels, for example, a concierge has to do more than point the way to a rum and coke for a guest. He is an integral part of the entire hospitality picture," she said.

The government is studying the feasibility of a Web site (a privately-operated site is in effect at http://www.caymans .com).

"The site would be a key component of the Cayman Islands' marketing tools. We need to develop better relationships with travel agents and consumers and directly interface with those groups," Martins said. "The Web site is certainly one way to do this."

To aid in booking accommodations, the new Cayman Islands Reservation Service at (800) 327-8777 handles bookings for the 4,341 guest rooms on the three islands. Of that number, 2,331 rooms are in hotels and the balance in condominiums, villas and apartments.

Incentives will be offered to agents who use the res service.

Martins views the role of travel agents through the 21st century as "ever more important for the leisure market."

The challenge for agents, according to Martins, is to become more technologically driven to speed up delivery time to customers, especially if the traveler is from the "book-me-now-because-I-have four-days-off-and-I-want-to-leave-tomorrow-on-the-cheapest-fare school of travel," she said.

Helping to spur the summer season is the Cayman Islands' Chillin 'n Cayman promotion, developed by the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism in conjunction with industry partners.

The program, which was launched in April, is valid for travel through Dec. 15 and has generated interest and bookings, Martins reported.

The key to the program is a Chillin' 'n Cayman privilege card that offers discounts at numerous restaurants, car rentals, attractions, golf courses and water-sports facilities.

A three-tiered price structure includes moderate to four-star properties and condominiums.

Package prices range from $109 to $199 per night, per couple, for hotel accommodations, and from $195 to $269 per night for two-bedroom condominiums which accommodate up to four people.

I fared well at restaurants on this junket and managed to check out a few I had not visited before.

Suggestions include:

* Cracked Conch by the Sea. In a new location on West Bay Rd. north of the Turtle Farm on Grand Cayman, this is an atmospheric, fun place run by Suzy Soto.

Lots of care was taken to make the place look old and authentic, including a tin roof, wood floor planking, shutters and a door from Miss Lassie who is the Cayman Islands' equivalent of our Grandma Moses.

Lest diners do not know that the restaurant is also owned by Bob Soto, who runs the dive operation under his name in the Cayman Islands, the walls are decorated with original dive helmets and dive artifacts.

A swim-up area for shoredivers runs along the restaurant's sea wall.

The menu items include vegetarian pastas, salads, fish filets, fresh fish, conch dishes and turtle steak. The price range is moderate.

Lunch and dinner are served daily. For reservations, call (345) 947-5217.

* Welly's Cool Spot. This is a new location for this very local place on North Sound Rd., a bit out of George Town.

It is not fancy, but the fish is delicious, the beer is cold and the prices inexpensive.

Lunch only. Call (345) 949-6141.

* Rum Point Restaurant at Rum Point on North Sound.

By day it serves burgers, fries, salads; in the evening, it is one of the hardest reservations on the island to get.

Dinner has two seatings. If the weather permits, the candlight meal is served outside at the water's edge. If there is a full moon, it is even better.

Guests can return to their hotels and condos by ferry across North Sound or by taxi.

The specialty is local food prepared by a team of seven chefs.

For reservations, call (345) 947-9599.

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