Carnival Splendor approached Grand Cayman early one stormy November morning. Normally cruise ships visiting Grand Cayman anchor at Georgetown. With rain pouring down so heavily the area where ships anchor could not be seen from the nearby town and seas too stormy for tendering, the captain had two choices – move to the other side of the island or skip the port stop. He chose a safer anchorage in Spotts Bay.
Once the ship anchored safely, the announcement was made over the ship’s intercom system followed by a list of canceled shore excursions. Anything involving water would not happen that day. We had no official excursion scheduled, but had planned on snorkeling with tarpon in Georgetown.
We took our time over breakfast in the Lido with other guests we had met on our first leg of the back to back cruise. The rain lightened up and eventually slowed to a light sprinkle. We decided we might as well take the tender to shore and if nothing else at least just take some photos and come back. Back at the room while getting ready we threw our snorkels and swimsuits in a backpack almost as an afterthought just in case.
By the time we met up with our friends and got to shore the rain had stopped. Soon the sun came out. Even before leaving the ship we could see a couple other ships on the other side of the island. They arrived later after the weather calmed down. Three ships total is not many ships for Grand Cayman, so either this was a really slow day or the rest of the ships that would have been there opted not to stop.
Spotts Bay had a tender pier in an area behind a chain link fence and not much else. It looked mainly like a residential area, with some pretty nice homes visible from the water. The beach near the dock had sand on the shore, but at the water’s edge the limestone formations most prolific near Hell lined the entire beach. An information booth and a couple large picnic tables with trees growing through them seemed like the only permanent structures there. Just outside the fence several local booths on trailers had set up to sell their wares and a number of vans and small buses waited to taxi passengers to Georgetown for $5 each.
By then the clouds had vanished and the sun had started to shine brightly so we decided to go to Georgetown. A guy with a sign for Diamonds International said he had free rides for customers, or at least people who would look around the store. I’d have gone with that. Looking at jewelry for a free ride to town worked for me. Some of the people I was with did not want to walk too far if he meant the store on the side of town farthest from where we wanted to go so we went with the $5 bus instead. The bus passed a DI right near our goal and let us out in a little parking lot by the sea near the center of town, which was OK because one of our group wanted to visit the Big Black Dick’s rum store near where the bus let us off. We had not heard of that store before, but apparently a lot of people from the ships go there. They have their own brand of rum and hot sauce and quite a following of people wanting their products. Since that trip they have changed their name to Blackbeard’s. They also have free rum cake samples from a booth on the outside of the store.
When anchored at Georgetown, whether you tender to the north or south dock, after reaching the sidewalk take a right and just walk down the street next to the water to get to the tarpon. One of Disney’s ships and Celebrity Reflections loomed large next to shore, the island tenders busily shuttling their passengers back and forth. After a short walk we reached Paradise Restaurant. This waterfront restaurant sits next to a tiny marine park. On shore it consists of a sign and a stairway to the sea. In the water it has a free snorkel area right at the shore. People from the restaurant feed the tarpon several times a day so they hang out right next to the shore there. Lots of smaller more colorful fish swim about just past where the tarpon like to stay.
It’s free to use the marine park if you have your own snorkel gear. If not you can rent some just outside of the Paradise Restaurant. They also have lockers available and beach chairs for rent in an area next to the water as well. There’s restrooms inside the restaurant. Outside next to the snorkel rentals and lockers they have a dressing room/broom closet. They let us change in it for free, but since we neither bought food nor rented anything we gave the girl there a tip.
One of our new friends sat at a table outside near the entrance to the marine park while the other 3 of us went in the water. The waves had calmed enough from the morning’s storm that other people were snorkeling out there. Getting in was a bit tricky as some sizeable waves would come crashing over the stairway. Timing it to enter as they receded worked to get in without getting dashed against the stairway or limestone formations at the water’s edge.
Near shore where the tarpon hang out the water stayed fairly murky as waves constantly dashed over the shore and washed into the sea with a mess of bubbles and floaty bits of sand and things. Out a bit the water was calmer and clearer. I thought the snorkeling there was pretty easy, but the others bailed to shore fairly quickly. I came in soon after so they wouldn’t all have to just sit there waiting for me. Coming back in I worried about my camera getting dashed against the rock or cement stairs when a large wave raced toward shore. Knowing I could not get out quickly enough to avoid the wave with my underwater camera hanging from the wrist of my good arm, I held it up out of the water and wrapped the other arm around the stairway railing while the huge wave crashed overhead. I still had the mask and snorkel on so as long as nothing bashed into the stairway or rocks a wave washing over me was not a concern. It receded and I got out before the next wave came in. On a calmer day getting in and out of the water there would be much easier and the water far more clear.
Snorkeling with Tarpon Video
We were glad that the weather calmed down enough to have a chance to swim with the tarpon, something we had wanted to do ever since our last visit to Grand Cayman when we discovered them while walking around town after taking an island tour.
Nearby the tarpon on the other side of the street the famous fish painting artist Guy Harvey has a shop. My husband loves his work and so does one of our friends so we went in to have a look. You can get his paintings on canvas or tile as well as on belts or t-shirts. I got a small tile painting of a sea turtle and some fish that hangs on my living room wall and reminds me of snorkeling in the Caribbean every time I look at it. We did not have to carry it with us. They shipped it to our home.
Grand Cayman is a popular cruise ship port so it has a lot of options to choose from for things to do. Besides island tours the locals have taxis to Seven Mile beach. When the ship anchors in Georgetown the tenders dock downtown and as soon as you walk to shore you can find people with signs offering tours or rides. There’s also a number of shore excursions to choose from on the ship. On our first visit we went snorkeling over the Kittiwake shortly after a hurricane moved it slightly from the position where it had originally been sunk not long before. Now that several years have passed it would be fun to go there again and see how much sea life has grown on the sunken ship.