January 3, 2019 – George Town, Cayman Islands
George Town was an early day for us because the ship would only be there until the early afternoon. We got up and around around 8 a.m. Alicia and I had gone to bed late, and I felt like I hadn’t really slept. My morning coffee helped a bit, but not much. Perhaps the morning sun would wake me up.
The port at George Town does not have a pier for large cruise ships, so we had to take a tender to shore. We had booked a snorkeling excursion through MSC, but they had canceled it for unknown reason. We decided we would do what we often do in ports where we had no excursion; we would hire a taxi to show us around.
We met up with a taxi driver at the port and arranged for a tour of the island. George Town is the capital city of the Cayman Islands, and is home to much of the country’s financial industry (The Cayman Islands are home to more than 600 banks).
We drove north through town past numerous resorts that lined the coast. Our taxi driver was kind enough to point each one out as we passed.
Our driver stopped in front of a nondescript home. In front was a sign calling it “Old Homestead.” The driver explained the home was built in 1912 and has been owned by the Bothwell family since its construction. It is claimed the Old Homestead is the oldest house on the island. Pink and white, with a sandy yard and a corrugated metal roof, you would not think this house was anything special. The house’s frame is built from ironwood. The home has withstood countless tropical storms and hurricanes over the years. Driver man said the home’s resistance to the elements is because of its ironwood construction. Ironwood is very dense and resistance to water rot and insects.
Our next stop was the area of Grand Cayman Island known as Hell. Hell is home to an outcropping of black limestone formations roughly the size of a football field. There are various stories about how Hell got its name. Settlers reportedly, upon first seeing the limestone outcrop, said, “This is what Hell must look like.” Other stories say that if one was to throw a rock into the outcrop, the rock makes a sound that echoes through the formation and sounds like the rock is falling “all the way to Hell.” The outcropping looked like a hellish moonscape, and the limestone formations looked razor-sharp. Certainly one would have a hell of a time if they tried to hike through. The outcropping was guarded by a small wooden statue of a devil.
Hell is home to a post office where you can send your friends a postcard from Hell, and a kitschy little gift shop called The Devil’s Hangout. We walked in and the shop’s owner, Ivan, greeted us with a hearty, “How the Hell are you?” You could buy any number of Hell-themed items in the shop from t-shirts, to shot glasses, to postcards from hell.
I learned from Ivan’s daughter, who was working the counter with him, that Ivan had been a merchant mariner and was very supportive of veterans and law enforcement. The back wall of the shop was filled with patches from various law enforcement agencies that had been left behind by officers on vacation. Since I always carry patches with me when I travel, I pinned one of my own Humboldt Sheriff patches to the wall.
I tried to get the driver to stop at the Hell post office, but my request fell on deaf ears. The driver was in a bit of a hurry to get us to the Tortuga rum shop, as if he was on a schedule. I was starting to get the feeling that he was not much interested in driving us around.
We stopped at the rum shop, which was right on the beach. There was not much to it other than shelves with bottles of rum, and more Cayman Islands souvenirs. Outside was a woman weaving straw baskets. We must have picked a bad time to stop because they did not have any rum or rum cake samples for us to try.
I grabbed a “meat patty” from the snack counter. Meat patties are fairly popular in the Caribbean. Think of a patty as a beef-filled hot pocket. The beef had a nice kick to it, and the crust had a hint of butter flavor. I thought it was quite good.
The driver then started to take us to the Dolphin Discovery Center. Alicia asked if we could go to the Cayman Turtle Center instead. The driver told us he doesn’t go to the turtle center, despite the placard on his window specifying the turtle center as a stop. We had mentioned at the start of the tour that we wanted to go to the turtle center, but the driver told us he “forgot.”
We went to the turtle center and got to see their adult turtle swimming about in a man-made lagoon. The center had recently had a group of baby turtles hatch, so they weren’t quite ready for display. We walked around checking out the turtle exhibits and even got to hold some of their beautiful juvenile turtles.
After our time at the turtle center the driver insisted we visit the Dolphin Discovery Center across the street. He seemed very insistent we at least walk in the door of the place. We walked in, saw the pools, but barely saw any dolphins, then left. The driver’s insistence on a visit to the dolphin center was very suspect. Perhaps he, like other tour guides at other stops, was receiving kickbacks from the places we visited.
We headed back into town and the driver pointed out several other obvious points of interest along the way: a golf course, a bank, a resort. I’m not quite sure why he felt he needed to point out the obvious. Then he let it slip … The driver had a pre-scheduled pickup at the airport in less than an hour. I had thought the tour felt a little rushed. We made a quick lap through the central part of the city where we saw the parliament building, main courthouse, government administration building, and police headquarters.
Though the tour was good overall, I think the driver should have kept his mind on his current customers instead of the future ones.
We killed a bit of time checking out some of the souvenir shops on the waterfront. Some of the shops were built over old buildings from the early colonial period on the island. One shop even had a plexiglass floor where you could see the old limestone steps leading down to a basement well.
We headed back to the ship for lunch and a nap. While I rested, Alicia and the boys hit the pool to cool off.
Later on, Ryan learned a valuable lesson about the ship’s arcade. We had let him go back to his cabin on his own so he could read instead of going to the kid’s club. I went to the cabin to get him for dinner and discovered he was not there. I had not gotten any messages from him about leaving the room. I went to the arcade and found Ryan there playing the skill crane game. Ryan happily showed me the stuffed Snoopy he had won. All I could ask was, “What did you do?” I didn’t know how many times he had played the game, and neither did he.
It turns out Snoopy was a very expensive toy. Ryan had spent nearly $200 playing the claw machine, not knowing that each time he swiped his room key it billed our account. Ryan was devastated because he knew he had made a big mistake.
We complained to guest services about them allowing children to charge expenses on their cards, despite telling them we did not want to allow it. In the end, they didn’t refund everything, but did refund part of Ryan’s charges (and turned off his ability to charge in the future).