When Posh Met Caymankind
I got lost while strolling in Camana Bay, a new development on Grand Cayman with high-end stores, offices, luxury apartments, galleries, cafes, and restaurants. Like the Seven Mile Beach area in general, Camana Bay serves the sort of international crowd you see in some Washington, D.C., suburbs. I asked two smartly dressed teenagers if they could point me toward a restaurant called Mizu. “Sure,” said one of them. “We’ll walk you there.”
Caymanians call that courtesy Caymankind, and I saw a lot of it in this prosperous British Crown Colony, even while driving. But I wasn’t there to study etiquette; my aim was to get updates on the travel scene. There’s a lot going on:
The 343-room Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa just completed phase one of a $50 million renovation. The lobby feels airier than when I last stayed there, what with the new glass wall on the beach side, the more contemporary decor, and the way a new wood floor seems to connect with the outdoors by continuing out to the pool, which has also been redone. Phase two (May 1-Sept. 30) will focus on guestrooms; the model rooms I visited had white walls, pickled wood floors that evoke Nantucket, and blue furnishings that echo the colors of the sea. Quite different from the way my previous room had looked—less traditional yet more elegant.
Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, whose opening I attended, serves a market that, until now, didn’t quite have a perfect match on Grand Cayman: youngish sophisticates who want authenticity, modern design, and a scene in which the other guests also understand how Oregon Pinot Noir differs from Burgundy (French Pinot Noir). Thus, the sense of place evident in details large (the blue catboat suspended over the library) and small (the Cayman pattern on a bureau), not to mention the fact that most of the 266 rooms face the water. This is luxury without pretense in a hotel that’s large enough to support several urbane restaurants but still offers quiet nooks and quirks. (Also see recommend.com/get-inspired/beach/the-cayman-islands-newest-resort-kimpton-seafire-resort-spa.)
The Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort isn’t new, but because it’s that rare Caribbean Marriott with a tag line—“The Beach House Experience: The Art of Letting Go”—it feels different. Upon entering you face a towering sculpture of stingrays, a reminder that you’re in the Cayman Islands, not Ohio. The lobby is a beachy great room, one with a restaurant, a bar, and an informal food stand (oh, the crepes!). The resort fee covers bicycles, the floating trampoline, paddleboards, snorkeling gear, children’s beach toys, use of a GoPro(!), WiFi, a weekly beach bonfire party, and more. Fish flock to the man-made reef right off the beach, and guests flock to activities ranging from sunrise yoga classes to theme parties,
while a pool in a garden offers a quiet, peaceful refuge.
Le Soleil d’Or opened on Cayman Brac a year or two ago, but only now has it shifted into high gear. I was amazed that a wellness-oriented retreat so tiny (four suites in a Mediterranean-style villa and four cottages) could offer so much: a large and well-equipped gym, spa treatments, yoga, tennis, tours of a tropical produce farm atop the bluff, bicycles, kayaking, an open kitchen in the main lodge, cooking lessons, island tours, and the best produce on earth, not to mention restful, tasteful contemporary design. In December Le Soleil added a beach club (complimentary shuttles from the villa) with its own restaurant, bar and pool, and, at the villa, a bar, bakery, ice cream shop, and charcuterie. This little resort offers several romance and wellness packages, too.
Margaritaville Beach Resort Grand Cayman will have a soft opening this month (February 2017) and a grand opening in June. Like Kimpton Seafire, it brings something new to Grand Cayman: a Parrot Head vibe where “flip-flops are considered uniform.” (Follow recommend.com for more on Margaritaville.)
Grand Cayman has evolved into one of the Caribbean’s great foodie magnets, so visitors should rent a car, get used to driving on the left, and visit these restaurants, among others:
• Mizu Asian Bistro & Bar, an informal, not very costly restaurant in Camana Bay, offers a survey of Asian cuisines. The pork belly bites appetizer (crispy pork belly on a bed of kimchi topped with hoisin sauce and scallions), for example, is haute Korea: you taste salt and spice and heat, yet it’s restrained enough to be wine-friendly. Ditto, the sushi, maki, coconut curries, etc.
• At Catch Restaurant & Lounge, a mostly al fresco seafood place at the north end of Grand Cayman, I ate grilled
grouper with callaloo and pumpkin puree, and drank a good Sancerre under a full moon. Perfect.
• Chef Vidyadhara Shetty, president of Grand Cayman’s Culinary Society, oversees Blue Cilantro, where “East and West unite in taste.” The $75 four-course prix fixe (with wine pairing, about $120)—wahoo carpaccio, tandoori shrimp with garlic aioli, seared snapper with mushroom risotto and truffle sauce or seared beef tenderloin, and spiced molten chocolate cake—was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. Anywhere.
Your clients might already know about Stingray City, Cayman Turtle Centre, and the diving, but most visitors miss out on these two must-see attractions:
The National Gallery is an only-on-Grand-Cayman phenomenon, a designer museum complex with a sculpture garden-cafe. The Gallery’s Cayman Island art runs the gamut from Miss Lassie’s naive painted window shutters to Al Ebanks’ “Together We Stand,” a sculpture with 8-ft.-tall, Giacometti-like figures.
Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, my new favorite Caribbean garden, is really many gardens: orchid, heritage, flower, and xerophytic (cactus) gardens, plus a historic house, a trail through native woodlands, lakeside benches for blissing out, and birds. To get there you drive an hour to the east end of Grand Cayman Island, a time capsule of olde Cayman’s farms and forests.
Postscript on Cayman Airways: Every time I fly this carrier from JFK to the Caribbean, three things please me—the attendants are cheerful, the seating in economy class is surprisingly generous, and there’s a complimentary free meal and rum punch.
Cayman Islands Department of Tourism: caymanislands.ky
Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa: seafireresortandspa.com
Le Soleil d’Or: lesoleildor.com
Margaritaville Beach Resort Grand Cayman: margaritavilleresortgrandcayman.com
Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort: marriott.com
Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa: westingrandcayman.com