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Saturday, February 4, 2023

Celebrity Summit Christmas Cruise - [Day 4] Grand Cayman

Good morning, it's Christmaaaaaassss!!!

Unfortunately, Aaron's mom still wasn't feeling so well, so she wasn't able to go to Catholic Mass at 8:00 AM in the theater with Father Gallagher. Aaron's dad said that it was a complete Catholic Mass with communion, and there were about 100 people in attendance.


We ate breakfast that morning at Ocean View Cafe and sat outside where the Sunset Bar is. We had a lovely table in the corner, but while we were eating breakfast, this large family decided to start taking photos on the rail behind me and kept switching out people in the photos... all the women, all the kids, this family, that family... they were right behind my chair, and there's no way I wasn't stuffing my face with eggs in their family photos.


Originally, I booked the "Queen Elizabeth II Royal Botanical Park & Pedro St. James" excursion through Celebrity. We were going to visit the botanical park and gardens, then enjoy an afternoon tea service at the Great House. It sounded like the perfect excursion for our group.

Then one week before the cruise, I received an email from Celebrity that our cruise excursion was canceled "by the local tour operator due to unforseeable operational limitation." When I went to search for a new excursion, it looked like a lot of the tours had been canceled (perhaps due to it being Christmas Day). My search criteria was no snorkeling, no small boats, no dolphins or stingrays, and no Hell (we didn't think that Aaron's parents would enjoy going to Hell on Christmas Day).

Unfortunately, there were no tours that met all of the criteria.... so we were going to Hell.

Aaron and I settled on the "Destination Highlight: West Cayman Panoramic Drive." Our meeting time was at 11:15 AM in the Celebrity Theater, but our tour departure wasn't until 12:00 PM. Which meant we spent a lot of time waiting in the theater. It felt a little unnecessary for them to have us arrive that early, but I see how it could be necessary with the earlier morning tours and navigating the Tender Boats.


Grand Cayman is a Tender port, which means that instead of docking at a pier, the ship drops anchor in the bay, and guests are shuttled to the island via smaller docks. Grand Cayman Port Authority operates a tender service, and they use these double-decker boats (if a port does not operate a tender service, the ship may tender guests in via lifeboats - this happens in more remote, less touristy locations).

They fill these boats FULL, so if you're first on the boat, you'll be bobbing up and down for awhile waiting for other passengers to board. I think waiting for the tender boat to push off from the ship is the worst, most nausea-inducing part.


If you book a shore excursion through the cruise line, you'll depart the ship on a tender boat with your group. If you are disembarking on your own, you'll need to get a tender ticket. We arrived in Grand Cayman at 10 AM, and they started distributing tender tickets at 9:45 AM at the Martini Bar. Tendering to port can add a lot of time to embarking and disembarking the ship, which is something you'll want to keep in mind if you choose to book an excursion with an outside tour group.





The second worst part about tendering is waiting to get off that little boat.


Will Grand Cayman one day build a cruise pier? There was talk back in 2019, but a lot of discussion back and forth about whether or not that was the best decision from an environmental standpoint. The latest information that I could find suggests that Grand Cayman would prefer to continue tendering.



Our tour operator was Kelly's Tours. It was a short walk from the tender boat to where they had parked these buses.


Something was off. There were more people than there were seats on buses (actually, I realized that they could pull all of the aisle jump seats down, and there would be enough room... but I was hoping they didn't resort to that). This entire family had nowhere to go.


I'm not sure if they called another bus or asked smaller families to switch buses so this family could stay together. Whatever the solution, we were off!

Our driver was Paul. He was very laid-back, but also provided a wealth of knowledge about Grand Cayman.


The Grand Cayman economy is primarily banking and tourism. Grand Cayman was one of the last Caribbean ports to reopen to cruise ships after the pandemic, so I wonder how that affected their tourism economy.

The Cayman Islands are a British overseas territory. England took formal control over Jamaica and the Cayman Islands under the Treaty of Madrid in 1670. When Jamaica gained independence in 1962, the Cayman Islands remained under the British Crown, and an administrator appointed from London was sent to Grand Cayman to assume the responsibilities previously held by the Governor of Jamaica. The Governor, Parliament, and Cabinet of Grand Cayman are all appointed by the British Crown.

Our first stop was the Conch Shell House. This was a huge tour, so here's a little "reality" shot before I show you my photos without the crowd -


The Conch Shell House dates back to 1935. It is clad with over 4,000 conch shells and was once used as a bomb depot by the US Navy in World War II. It's survived hurricanes, floods, multiple tenants, and the introduction of surface-run conduit for the many flood lights.


The conch shells are an applied cladding. It looks like they were just stuck into the cement plaster before it dried, creating the brick-like look.


Behind-the-scenes of the previous shot -

BTS Conch House

I'm really not sure what the marvel is here.



The most interesting part is where the conch shells do not wrap the corner, and the tricks are revealed -


The funniest part about this is that it's an office building. Imagine trying to ship something and having to find a spot to park among all of these tour buses.


You can tell that they've added a lot to this over the years, including two skylights and a glass storefront.


The key to getting people-free photos is to hang back and wait. Eventually, everyone will leave, and that's when I get my shots. I was the last back on the bus.


Many cemeteries in Grand Cayman are beachfront. Good soil was scarce and needed to grow crops, and much of the remaining land was made up of hard coral limestone rock which was difficult to excavate with the tools available at the time. The shoreline had deep, infertile sandy soil which was relatively easy to dig. Beaches were only considered an asset in the 20th century, and settlers preferred to live more inland, away from the beaches which presented the threat of flooding.


This man with his Hawaiian shirt, volleyball, flippers, and Santa hat provide amazing juxtaposition to the solemn, flower-filled graveyard -


Paul explained that Grand Cayman is tax-free due to the Wreck of the Ten Sails, a historic shipwreck in 1794 that included ten ships on their way from Jamaica to the United States and Britain. Local residents of Grand Cayman braved the storm and successfully rescued the ships' crews and passengers. Legend has it that a member of the passenger list included a royal prince, son of Britain's King George III, and the king decided to repay their bravery by declaring that the people of the Cayman Islands would be free from war conscription and taxes. (However, there is no documented evidence that a decree was ever issued or that there was a member of the royal family on any of the ships.)

Our next stop was Tortuga Rum Distillery.... which was closed on Christmas Day.


So they took us across the street to Blackbeard's Rumcakes.



We all sampled the rum cake.


It was fine, but I didn't get the hype. My mom makes a pretty banging rum cake, so maybe people who aren't accustomed to great rum cake at home would think this is amazing.





There were so many people in that tiny store, so I decided to wander across the street to the closed distillery.



Captain Morgan lost his hook.


The Cracked Conch Restaurant & Tiki Bar next door looks like a fun time when it's open.




After way too much time was spent at the rum cake shop, we got back on the buses.

We drove on some nice roads, and Paul explained that the new roads and infrastructure projects were thanks to Kenneth Dart, inventor of styrofoam. In 2007, Dart opened a new development called Camana Bay, and after the 2008 financial crisis, his company started planning and building major municipal infrastructure projects in addition to resorts, office buildings, and residential properties.

It's an interesting conundrum... a man whose empire was built on single-use nonrecyclable containers living and investing in the island and its infrastructure, while also creating construction waste which continued to build the 90-ft Mount Trashmore which the government will pay to remediate while Dart funds the construction of a new $205 million waste-to-energy facility. There's an interesting 2018 New York Times article about Dart and the Cayman Islands which may be worth one of your five free articles per month for the read.

Appropriately, next stop: Hell.


The Post Office may be closed, but Hell is always open to visitors. Even on Christmas Day.


And by that, I mean that the rock formations were available to view.


Hell is a rock formation which is said to be millions of years old. It looks volcanic, but these are actually limestone rocks which have been eaten away by algae and the elements. 

Legend has it that in the 1930s, British Commissioner Sir Allen Wolsey Cardinall arrived at the site and exclaimed, "My God, this must be what Hell looks like!" The site then became known as Hell.

According to another story, British Commissioner Cardinall was visiting the area with friends on a bird shooting expedition. He took aim, shoot, and missed, then muttered, "Oh Hell." The site then became known as Hell.

I like the first story better.


Hell is a group of short black stone formations estimated to be between 10 and 15 million years old. The area is roughly the size of a soccer field.

It's made up of a bed of limestone and dolomite rock which underwent extreme bio-erosion by algea, a process called Phyto-karstification. "Phyto" means "plant" and "karst" mans "eroded from consisting of formation holes and pockets."


Dolomite is composed in the same way of limestone and often forms along with it. Dolomite is made of the same constituents of limestone, but also contains magnesium. Over thousands to millions of years, the ocean waters grew shallower, exposing the limestone and dolomite.

As this formation sets in shallow water is covered with algae which eats away at the limestone or dolomite and removes only the calcium, forming dagger-like peaks and ridges.


The algae stains the rock, giving its black color.




Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed largely of the minerals calcite and aragonite. The rocks are razor sharp and can cause serious injury.

A wooden deck has been constructed to provide a better view while keeping people off of the rocks.



I would describe Hell as a roadside attraction. The rock formations are cool to look at, but this is by no means a destination.

There is no entrance fee, and you do not need to be booked on a tour or shore excursion to visit Hell.



There is a Post Office so that you can mail a postcard from Hell, but keep in mind that Post Offices are closed on holidays.


Grand Cayman has a large feral chicken population. They're an alien species (along with feral cats, rats, and green iguanas) which were once pets or domesticated, but at some point released into the wild, and directly threaten Cayman's native species.


One gift shop was open. I stepped in, but there was a horrible smelling (feral??) cat in there, so I popped right back out.


Then I wandered next door to the closed Heaven Straw Market.





Back on the bus, we headed to our last stop - Seven Mile Beach. Despite its name, the beach is only about 5.5 miles in length.


We stopped at the Public Beach, located next to Kimpton Seafire Resort and Spa (a Dart property).


Seven Mile Beach is considered public property up to the water line, so you can technically go to any beach, but there are three points of Public Access. Public Beach is the largest public beach on Seven Mile Beach with restroom facilities, beach cabanas, a children's playground, and a mobi-mat for wheelchair access.


Other public access beaches are Governor's Beach and Cemetery Beach.


That's the Kimpton in the distance -




The new construction is Harbour Heights Condominiums which doesn't appear to be owned by Dart.... yet.


The beach chairs and umbrellas are available to rent (according to posters on Trip Advisor, 2 chairs and an umbrella cost ~$20, but you can price compare different vendors).


These little booths were not open.... maybe they are for different souvenir vendors?


Public Beach is located next to Calico Jacks (the lime green building), a super fun beach bar that was forced to close during the pandemic. However, it looks like our savior Mr. Dart may be reviving our favorite Seven Mile Beach hangout.


Volleyball courts are available at Public Beach.


There's also a pretty large playground.


With a ship play structure!


Leaving the beach was a nightmare. The guy in the black SUV parked at the end of the aisle, not in a parking spot. One of the buses nearly hit the SUV. It took three different guides outside of the bus directing and many slight adjustments to clear the SUV. After the chaos, the owner of the vehicle comes back to his SUV, oblivious that his SUV was almost hit by a bus, gets something out of the trunk, then leaves! Then all of the other buses had to squeeze by it.


Overall, we did not enjoy this excursion. The tour group was very large (which I expected, considering it was one of only a few tours being offered that sailing), and since it was Christmas Day, most things were closed. It was still a fine way to see the island, but it's not something I would book again or recommend to others.

When we returned to the port, I decided to venture toward the water to get a good shot of the ship.



As I was taking this photo, the Grand Cayman Port Authority turned their sirens on at me.


"Get away from the edge!" a guy demanded over the megaphone. (I was at least 15 feet from the edge, but I had planned to get closer.) The other guy in the boat said, "Merry Christmas! Please don't be so close to the edge." I thanked them, but they wouldn't leave so that I could get the shot.


Since they obviously thought I was trying to spend my Christmas falling into the water while fully clothed, I had no choice but to walk away.


This area clearly isn't sloped correctly to drain. The ponded water made for a cool reflection.


Aaron was hungry. "Do you think they're going to have food on the ship?" "What do you mean?" (Obviously, there's food on the ship....) "Well, it's late in the afternoon so they probably won't have the buffet fully open and it could be a weird selection of food." Truth.

We decided to get food in port, and also being hungry, I walked us straight over to the first food spot I saw - Sharkeez!


Also I just love the name.


We were quickly seated at a high-top inside, but it took a long time for anyone to take our order. I got the Sharkeez Buffalo Wings.


The really nice seats are out on the patio. The restaurant was clearly understaffed and behind on orders, so I went outside to take some photos where I wished we were sitting.


Cool car! And look... it's my Port Authority friends, probably coming to tell me not to jump from the balcony.


It looked like the Holland America ship was leaving before us.


The food took so long that they brought us a basket of chips and salsa to eat while we waited. Then, they brought out everyone's food except for mine, so I sat there hungry doing everything in my power not to have a complete hanger-fueled meltdown.

FINALLY!!!! No mistake ordering the Buffalo Wings - very good idea.


While we were eating, Sharkeez started turning people away and not seating them. I imagine they were very understaffed, especially considering it was Christmas Day.


This little shopping area by the port looked mostly closed -


There was now a long line for the tender boats! At least we weren't hungry, though.


We're finally getting up to where we're going to clear security, so I had my SeaPass card out. An employee escorts a man with a walker up to the door. Nothing is said, and the guy isn't moving anywhere. Aaron and his parents were already through the gate in front of me. I waited for this guy to go ahead of me through gate, but he was not moving. So I started walking through, and the port security officer puts his hand out in front of me, "Wait." So I waited. The guy with the walker went through.... and then the guy behind me and his family went through!! I was waiting, as I was told, but the people behind me weren't waiting anymore, and Aaron and his parents were ahead of me, so I stepped back in line and started again through the gate. Then the port security officer put his hand out again, "I need to see your SeaPass." UGHHH I had shown him my SeaPass already and had just put it away while I was waiting. I pulled it out again to show him, and he finally let me pass. Then I wiggled around people to catch up to Aaron.




Tendering in Grand Cayman is such a miserable experience. I'll get off the ship in Grand Cayman again when they build a pier.


Back on the ship, we headed to our rooms where Aaron took a nap, and I started downloading photos from my camera to my laptop.




I tried to sit out on the balcony, but it was still chilly and wet out there. It's a bummer that we had such a large balcony, but not great balcony-using weather.


Tonight's entertainment was The Celebrity Summit Holiday Show, which Celebrity Today described as "a world of winter wonderland." This show may have actually been choreographed by the Production Cast. They sang and danced to Christmas music, as one would expect. It was also a shorter show than the other productions.

At dinner, I started with the Creamy Salmon Rillette with cucumber caper salad and avruga caviar. It tasted exactly how I was hoping it would. The consistency of the flavors worked well together.


Aaron and I both got the Creamy Smoked Tomato Bisque. Aaron said that it had something in it that he wasn't sure he liked, and thought it was because it was "smoked."


Excuse the weird lighting - my flash batteries were dying, so my flash was firing late (I took them out and puffed on them, which seemed to help).

None of tonight's entrees were calling my name, so I decided to order the Grilled New York Sirloin Steak from the "Timeless Classics" menu. My primary reason for ordering it was because Aaron's dad had ordered it a few nights before, and it was thinly sliced (it looked like the beef flank steak that Aaron ordered on Day 2). I thought that was super weird, so I wanted to take a picture.

Well.... my New York Sirloin was not thinly sliced! It looked like a normal sirloin. So I'm not sure what was going on with the New York Sirloin on Night 2 - was it an accident? Aaron and his dad swear that he wasn't accidentally delivered the Beef Flank Steak because it was seasoned differently and had different vegetables. But it also looked nothing like the New York Sirloin that I received. WEIRD.

I made a grave error and ordered this medium, rather than medium rare (what was I thinking?), and because it was a thin cut, that meant that it was very very medium, actually medium well, which meant it was inedible to me. It tasted like the kind of steak you'd get at a diner... like at a Denny's. I nibbled on the veggies and the teeny portion of mashed potatoes. Dipo noticed that I didn't eat the steak, and offered to bring me something else, but I told him that I just wasn't that hungry.


Aaron got the risotto which he described as flavorless and not mushroomy.


For dessert, Aaron got the Creme Brulee, which tasted exactly as a creme brulee should.


I ordered the Lemon Sorbet which was refreshing and just what I needed.


The evening entertainment was a "Not-So-Silent Night" Silent Disco. Uhhh.... is it Silent or is it Not?? "Silent (Night) Disco" would have been a much less-confusing name. I have yet to partake in a silent disco, and at this point, I think I may want to keep it that way. Aaron and I decided to turn in early.


  1. What a lousy Xmas day in GC. I also cannot stand Tendering. On our last X cruise, Xmas was spent in TORTOLA. While pretty much everything was closed, we just spent the day on CANE GARDEN BEACH; Met a wonderful Jewish family[ we are also members of the tribe] from BOSTON and spent a lot of time the rest of the cruise with them[ they had 10 family members with them]. Isn't the silent disco cool? DW and I had never been but DS and DD had so it was a new experience for us too. KEEP THE REVIEWS COMING!!!! Take care

    1. I really thought that by booking the excursion, we wouldn't have to worry about Christmas closures! Ya win some, ya lose some with excursions - I just wanted to win them all to impress Aaron's family - haha!