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It’s All In A Day’s Fun: Georgetown, Grand Cayman
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
After being onboard Carnival Cruise Line’s newest vessel, Carnival Vista for the past four days, I’ve identified only one problem with the ship: there’s so much to do onboard that you’ll be tempted to just not go ashore at all.
That’s the situation I found myself in today, as Carnival Vista dropped anchor in the pristine waters off Georgetown, Grand Cayman.
A self-governing overseas British Territory, Grand Cayman is the largest and most populous of the Cayman Islands. Located south of Cuba and to the west of Jamaica, the capital of Georgetown has been a staple of Western Caribbean cruise itineraries for decades. Visitors are attracted by the country’s natural beauty and azure seas, while cruise lines find Georgetown to be convenient due to its proximity to other ports of call (Cozumel, Mexico is less than half a day’s sailing distance away).
While there have been calls for a deepwater pier to be constructed in Georgetown in recent years, passengers going ashore from Carnival Vista are doing so in the way that has always been done: by tender boat. And, on a busy day, cruise ships can easily outnumber the city’s population of 20,000.
Today, it’s just us and an old friend here: Pullmantur’s Monarch. You might know her better as Royal Caribbean’s former Monarch of the Seas. She’s looking good in her new blue-and-turquoise livery, but this once-famous megaliner is also looking quite small in 2017 compared with the massive Carnival Vista. How times have changed.
Mindful of the fact that ships are getting bigger, Carnival has designed a convenient system for tendering ashore aboard Carnival Vista – and it’s not so dissimilar from the one you may be familiar with.
If you’re on one of Carnival’s Shore Excursions, you’ll get to proceed ashore first. Most guests on excursions gathered themselves according to their tickets in the Reflections Restaurant on Deck 3, and were among the first folks to head ashore.
If you don’t have a Carnival excursion booked, you head to the Liquid Lounge on Deck 4 forward when you (and everyone with you) is ready to proceed ashore. Guests are then given a Tender Sticker, and guests are led down to Deck 0 to embark the local tenders as a group. You can start getting tender stickers as early as 8:00 am.
If you have no excursion booked (and no burning desire to head ashore), you can wait for the General Clearance announcement to be given. This usually happens around 10:00 am or thereabouts. Once the announcement is made, you no longer need to collect a Tender Sticker from the Liquid Lounge; you just proceed down to the embarkation platforms on Deck 0 and you’re good to go!
I did the latter, waltzing onto a tender mid-morning without a care in the world. This, after having breakfast in the most serene, quiet, and I’d even say ‘secret’ location on the ship: the Taste Bar on Deck 5. It’s proximity to the JavaBlue Café, which serves up coffee and pastries, doesn’t hurt, either.
Now, to be honest, I should have booked an excursion here. Georgetown doesn’t really offer much for the unprepared visitor, save for some shopping and a handful of cultural landmarks located near the pier. There is a small public beach near the pier (go out of the cruise terminal shopping area, turn left, and walk about 500 feet and you’ll see the signs), but it’s pretty modest in scale and has some very rocky surfaces you have to navigate. Beach-seekers are better off bartering for transportation to the famous Seven Mile Beach nearby, which is known for its soft coral sands.
After walking to the left – and then back to the right – of the cruise terminal, I figured the only thing to do was to fully assimilate. That’s right: I went to Margaritaville.
To be honest, I thought Margaritaville would be packed with my fellow guests. It wasn’t. That alone should probably qualify it for entry into Ripley’s, but I actually had an enjoyable time. It was hot out and I was overheating, so the idea of having a nice local beer – which Margaritaville did have – proved to be irresistible. I try to taste the local beer wherever I go, and can now say I’ve officially had authentic Cayman Islands beer. The iguana sighting wasn’t bad, either.
In all, Georgetown felt very safe and comfortable to stroll around on-foot. No one hassled me, and in fact, once I left the chaos of the cruise terminal area (it was total chaos), my visit improved immensely. On my next time here, however, I’ll be budgeting for a shore excursion to see more of the island.
I arrived back at the ship before the bulk of my fellow guests, who were all still ashore. A quick burrito at the BlueIguana Cantina on Deck 10 was just what the Doctor ordered, and I got to thinking about what to take advantage of. And I decided on the SkyRide.
Located high atop the ship on Deck 14, the SkyRide is a brand-new attraction on the Carnival Vista, and the first such ride of its kind at sea. Essentially, you pedal one of two “cars” along a track that wraps around the after-end of Carnival Vista, completely encircling her funnel in the process. You’re supposed to “race”, but really, this is just about being suspended 145 feet above the sea!
You can’t bring cameras with you (for obvious reasons), so I had to photograph total strangers as we sailed away from Grand Cayman. It’s a thrilling ride, but I was honestly a bit freaked out: when you swing over the stern of the ship, you realize you are seriously high up in the air. Not recommended for those with a fear of heights, but great fun for everyone else. And best of all: it’s free.
It’s hard to tell from the ground, but the SkyRide also has some pretty nerve-wracking dips. These are at a 22 percent grade – steeper than San Francisco’s famously-steep Lombard Street. Once you get going, you can actually reach speeds of up to 10 miles per hour, or 16 kilometres per hour. And when you’re hanging 145 feet above the ocean, that’s fast enough!
On the way out, I noticed a sign affixed to the plexiglass windows: you can measure your speed as you go along the track by counting how quickly you pass the support poles. If you pass the support columns in one second, you’re making 20 miles per hour. If you pass one pole every five seconds, you’re pedalling 4.2 miles per hour. I was somewhere in the middle, I’d guess: somewhere between three and four seconds per pole, for an average speed of about six miles per hour.
Tonight was our second “Cruise Elegant” night. It’s Carnival’s way of saying “Formal Night”, but the dress code is much more relaxed than on other lines. Still, it pays to dress nicely: most men wore suits and ties, but an equal number just donned collared shirts. And, being Carnival, some just chose to eat at The Marketplace buffet on Deck 10 and stay in shorts and tank-tops – and that’s okay, too.
After a visit to the Alchemy Bar for a craft cocktail to warm me up for dinner, I had the best dining experience I’ve had on Carnival: Ji Ji’s Asian Kitchen.
Located on Deck 11, you can dine at Ji Ji’s for a small per-person surcharge. It’s a drop in the bucket considering what you get, from the exemplary service to the wonderful, authentic Asian cuisine.
All dishes here except the dessert are served “family style”, so that the whole table can share. The restaurant recommends choosing four appetizers, four main dishes, and six side dishes. There’s also a bit of dinner theatre involved to see who will keep track of all this food: your waitress hands the table a dice. Whoever rolls a “two” is considered lucky; that lucky person will fill out the menu form for the whole table.
A veritable feast was trotted out. Slow-braised pork belly. Nanjing-style duck. Kung Pao chicken. Sweet and Sour Fragrant Shrimp. Jiaozi (Chinese pot stickers). The verdict: easily the best meal I’ve had onboard. The food was also suitably spicy, which is important to me – I hate “dumbed down” spice on dishes that, like the Kung Pao chicken, really should have a kick to them. The latter was so good that my table asked for a second dish – and we cleaned it up.
Stuffed, I wandered back to my stateroom to turn in for an early night. Who’d ever think having so much fun could be so tiring?
Our Voyage Report onboard Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Vista continues tomorrow, as we visit Cozumel, Mexico and are treated to a Carnival LIVE performance with Jay Leno! Follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.
Carnival Vista - 6 Night Western Caribbean
|Sunday, April 30, 2017||Miami||Embarkation||4:30 PM|
|Monday, May 1||At Sea|
|Tuesday, May 2||Ocho Rios, Jamaica||8:00 AM||4:00 PM|
|Wednesday, May 3||Georgetown, Grand Cayman||8:00 AM||4:00 PM|
|Thursday, May 4||Cozumel, Mexico / Carnival LIVE performance with Jay Leno||10:00 AM||11:00 PM|
|Friday, May 5||At Sea|
|Saturday, May 7, 2017||Miami||7:00 AM||Disembark|
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