Welcome to Grand Cayman cruise port guide!
The Cayman Islands are the British Overseas Territory lying south of Cuba, in the western Caribbean Sea, comprising the three islands: Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman.
This article is dedicated to the major and the largest one – Grand Cayman, a world-famous, upscale tourist destination and a popular seaport in the Caribbean.
Working as a shore excursion staff onboard cruise ships has allowed me to visit Grand Cayman several times, and in this article, I want to share the practical information and cruise tips that I consider important for the cruise guests. Read about:
- Grand Cayman cruise port info
- 11 best things to do in Grand Cayman on a cruise
- Top Grand Cayman excursions
Grand Cayman Cruise Port
Grand Cayman cruise port is located in George Town, the capital of the island nestled in the southwest corner of the island. The city has the largest population of all British Overseas Territories and is the financial hub of the Cayman Islands. This wealthy port city is a safe and clean place that boasts a wide range of attractions and activities for cruise travelers.
Grand Cayman Cruise Terminal
Grand Cayman is a tender port which means that the cruise terminal doesn’t have docking facilities; instead, the cruise ships drop the anchor in the bay in front of George Town and use the large, fast tender boats to bring their passengers ashore. George Town cruise port consists of three cruise piers/terminals: North, South, and the Royal Watler cruise terminal, all located close to each other, within a 5-minute walking distance from the George Town city center.
The tender ride takes 10-15 minutes, but the whole process of filling the tender boats, getting on/off takes longer, so always save at least 45 minutes for the tendering operation. The same goes for the way back – you might experience long lines and crowds upon getting back to the ship, so make sure you board your tender boat at least 1 hour before cruise ship departure time.
The main cruise terminal is the Royal Watler terminal and this is where the passengers get off/get on the tender boats. Once you get off the tender boat, you’ll see the security gates and the port/cruise ship staff who will point you to the exit. Getting around is really easy, and there is no way you can get lost. Once you pass the security gates, you’ll find yourself in a large area where you can find free restrooms, souvenir shops, Tortuga Rum liquor store, several bars, coffee to take away, and numerous tour operator stands.
This is where you normally meet your tour guides for the shore excursions as well. The area is filled with several differently colored tents (red, green, yellow, orange, blue, white, etc.) and under the tents there are tour operator booths where you check in for your excursion. However, this depends on the cruise line, so always double-check the information on your tour ticket first.
It is very important to respect the meeting time and place indicated on your tour ticket because otherwise, you might miss your tour. Royal Watler cruise terminal is extremely busy when there are several ships in port, and you might have difficulties in finding your meeting place due to the crowds. Therefore, make sure you come on time and follow the instructions on your tickets. The tour guides won’t wait for you in case you are late, and in case you miss your tour, your tickets most likely won’t be refunded.
As for the tour buses and taxis, they are normally parked outside the terminal. Most of the taxis are small minivans that require several people to operate. The Cayman Islands currency is the Cayman Islands dollar (KYD), and the conversion rate is 1 KYD = 1.21 USD. The currency symbol is $. However, the US Dollar is widely accepted, so you don’t need to change your money into the Cayman Islands money. Credit cards are accepted in most places, and also safe to use.
It can also happen that your cruise ship docks at the North or South terminals. These are smaller and consist of smaller terminal buildings with security gates and waiting areas. From there, you can directly access Harbour Drive, the main street in George Town, as well as the tour buses and taxis.
11 Best Things to Do in Grand Cayman on a Cruise
1. Explore George Town attractions
The city center is within a short walking distance from the George Town cruise terminals. There are several attractions I would suggest you explore:
- Harbour Drive – The main street where the majority of duty-free shops, banks, restaurants, bars, and a few historical landmarks are situated. Grand Cayman shopping is a great experience as the island is tax-free, so the shops are duty-free and the selection of stores is amazing!
- Elmslie Memorial United Church – An old, beautiful 19th-century church is located on Harbour Drive street, a 5-minute walk from the cruise terminals. It welcomes everyone and is delightfully preserved both inside and outside.
- Margaritaville – Located on Harbour Drive street, opposite the North terminal and next to the Elmslie Memorial United Church, Margaritaville is the favorite spot for the cruisers! It has a pool and boasts great service, delicious food, and a fun atmosphere. It is surrounded by shops (Cariloha and Del Sol, jewelry stores, shopping malls), and several other bars and restaurants, such as Sharkeez, Burger King, and others.
- Fort George Ruins – The ruins are located on Harbour Drive street, right in front of the Royal Watler cruise terminal. They consist of the two cannons and remains of the old fort that played a major role in the protection of the harbor in the 18th century. You can freely access the place and you’ll easily recognize it by the wooden lookout house and three beautiful murals painted by the local artist John Broad, depicting some important moments in the history of Grand Cayman.
- Heroes Square – The main city square is situated less than a 5-minute walk from Fort George and the cruise terminal. Here, you’ll find several important buildings, such as the Courthouse, the Town Hall with a small, white Clock Tower built to commemorate World War I, Legislative Assembly Building (Government Office), and a George Town Public Library. The square boasts a round fountain, palm trees, statues, and a monument to the National Heroes of Grand Cayman. Here is also the Public Transit Bus Depot, the main bus station where you can take a bus to the Seven Mile Beach, Pedro St. James historic site, the Turtle Farm, and other island attractions.
Although the George Town bus station can be congested, getting around the island by bus is the cheapest option. Buses are small, the tickets are cheap, and whether you see them on the street, you can also wave and they might stop to pick you up.
- Cayman Island National Museum – Located opposite the South terminal, the museum is housed in a lovely 19th-century building and offers exhibits where you can learn about the island’s history and culture. The museum also has a gift shop offering a great selection of books and local products, and a tour of the place takes about an hour.
2. Take a Beach Break at Seven Mile Beach
Did you know that Seven Mile Beach has been recognized multiple times as the best and most beautiful beach in the Caribbean?
Somewhat less than 7 miles of sugar-white, powdery sands and sparkling turquoise waters lined with luxurious hotel and beach resorts have attracted tourists from the entire world for years.
The Seven Mile Beach consists of several beach areas that are all considered public property. The most popular ones are the Governor’s Beach, the Public Beach, and the Cemetery Beach (the northernmost one), offering a wide range of facilities and water activities such as snorkeling, deep-sea fishing, sailing, kayaking, jet-skiing, parasailing, segway ride, and more. Dozens of restaurants and beach bars can be found on the beach, offering excellent service and delicious food, as well as the major hotel chains, designer shops, and other venues. Every beach area has parking where the taxis normally wait for the tourists, and everything is designed to make your stay perfect.
How to Get to Seven Mile Beach from George Town Cruise Port?
This gorgeous stretch of beach is located on the west coast of Grand Cayman, north of George Town, and it takes less than a 10-minute drive to get there. You have two options to get to the beach: book a shore excursion, or take a taxi (recommended).
Cruise lines normally offer shore excursions to Seven Mile Beach and I wouldn’t recommend those. The reason is simple – they are overpriced, and they all go to the same place on the Seven Mile Beach (the tour operators usually take the guests to the beach club they are contracted with). Now, imagine hundreds of people going to the same beach club – not fun!
However, in case you decide to go on a tour, look for small-group tours or private tours.
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It happened to me once that I joined a cruise ship shore excursion to Seven Mile Beach. The tour was nice, we went to Calico Jack’s beach bar on the Public Beach, but the place was so crowded that we needed to wait for the food and drinks for almost half an hour.
I think that the best solution for Seven Mile Beach is to take a taxi (minivans) or a bus. It is very cheap and they run frequently, so you won’t have trouble finding them. Look for a quieter place that is not overcrowded. I went to the Coral Beach Club, an amazing place with a lot of shade, fantastic food, and plenty of facilities, and my friends and I truly enjoyed our stay.
3. Snorkel with Turtles at the Cayman Turtle Farm
One of the major attractions on the island is the Grand Cayman Turtle Farm (Turtle Centre), situated in the West Bay district, in the north of Grand Cayman and north of George Town.
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Home to over 11.000 green sea turtles, it is one of the most popular Caribbean wildlife parks featuring various cultural, educational, and entertaining programs, where you can discover the fascinating animal world of Grand Cayman and interact with its residents.
In the Turtle Center, you can explore the Green Sea Turtles’ breeding pond, the Turtle education center, the lagoon where you can swim with reef fish and young Green Sea Turtles, the Butterfly Garden, the crocodile Smiley’s pond, the Free Flight Aviary, waterslides, the Breakers lagoon – the largest swimming pool on the island, and much more. The complex also houses a restaurant and a gift shop and represents an open-air museum where you can see the replicas of Cayman-style houses and gardens. Explore the Turtle Center map and opening hours/prices.
How to Get to the Cayman Turtle Center from George Town Cruise Port?
The distance between Grand Cayman cruise port and the Cayman Turtle Center is about a 20-minute driving distance (13 km; 8 mi).
Cruise ships normally offer the tours, but I wouldn’t recommend these as you travel in large groups and the time spent on site is too short. Cruise excursions offered by ship normally include several other stops in the tour itinerary, and I suggest you take a look on a map whether those stops are close to each other. If there is a lot of driving involved between the venues, you’ll waste a lot of time and that will ruin your experience.
Instead, I would suggest you take a look at small-group/customized tours if you want to have a pleasant, guided experience. You can organize your time according to your preferences, and you’ll avoid being constantly rushed.
The alternative option is to book a private transfer, take a taxi or a bus. These are better solutions if you want to spend the whole day in the Turtle Center and if you travel with a group of people. Check the Turtle Center official website for more information.
4. Swim with Dolphins at the Dolphin Reserve
Have you ever had the chance to meet and get close to the dolphins? Grand Cayman boasts several locations where you can interact with these adorable mammals! The most famous ones are Dolphin Discovery, located right next to the Turtle Center, a 20-minute drive from the George Town cruise terminal, and Dolphin Cove Cayman, situated nearby in the West Bay, a 15-minute drive from the cruise port. They offer various interaction programs where you get to chance to pet, hug, kiss, and dance with the dolphins, and for more daring ones – you can swim with them, and let them pull and push you out of the water!
Some of the programs are the Dolphin Encounter, Dolphin Swim, Dolphin Royal Swim (you swim with the two dolphins), and each of them normally lasts up to 30 minutes. Each program also includes a teaching session where you get to learn about the nursing, feeding, and reproduction of these amazing creatures.
- Dolphin Encounter – If you are coming with kids and haven’t interacted with the dolphins before, the Dolphin Encounter is the best program for you. It’s for beginners, and includes petting, kissing, hugging, and dancing with the dolphins. This program is ideal for non-swimmers, as you stand on a platform and they come to you.
- Dolphin Swim – As for the Dolphin Swim, you also don’t have to be an experienced swimmer as you’ll get the life jacket. This program includes the same as Dolphin Encounter, plus the dolphin pushes you on a boogie board and pulls you across the water by its pectoral fins. This program is usually more expensive than the Dolphin Encounter, but more entertaining as well.
- Dolphin Royal Swim is by far the most fun and adrenaline-packed dolphin program! Two dolphins push you from your feet soles up through the water surface and you are literally flying! You will also hold on to the dorsal fins of the dolphins as they take you on a speed ride through the water. This program is incredible and I highly recommend it for the ultimate dolphin experience. It is normally the most expensive program.
How to Get to the Dolphin Cove from Grand Cayman Port?
You can take a taxi, or if you want to have everything arranged for you – you can join one of the shore excursions that include the dolphin interaction.
5. Pet the Stingrays at the Stingray City
Situated in the middle of the North Sound of Grand Cayman, a 25-minute ride from the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal (19 km; 11.8 mi), Stingray City Sandbar is a popular island attraction and a shore excursion offered by both cruise lines and local tour operators.
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Nestled within the barrier reefs surrounding the island, the Stingray City consists of a large sandbar where you can swim with various species of fish and its most popular residents – the giant, friendly stingray that you can pet, feed, and play with! The water is shallow, only 2-4 feet, ideal for kids and families who want to spend a fun-filled day interacting with the largest stingrays in the Caribbean!
How to Get to Stingray City from the Port of Grand Cayman?
The best way to get to Stingray City is on a tour, as everything will be arranged for you. Your tour guide waits for you at George Town cruise port, you take a 20-minute bus ride to the North Sound, and then you embark on a boat for an additional 20-minute boat ride. There are numerous tour operators offering Stingray City tours, and you can find a tour booth at the cruise terminal.
Some tours include a snorkeling portion at the barrier reef (Reef Snorkel at the Coral Gardens) and a stop at the Starfish Point – a laid-back, secluded beach with shallow, crystal clear water where the colorful starfish can be spotted.
For the best possible experience, I highly suggest you book a private chartered boat to Stingray City. Stingray City is a busy place, and the boats are often packed and crowded (up to 50 people), and the time spent on site is very short. To avoid that, I suggest you book a private tour to maximize your experience.
6. Snorkel at the USS Kittiwake Shipwreck
Grand Cayman snorkeling is an amazing experience! I’ve done it, and I absolutely loved it! There are several great locations for snorkeling, and I would definitely suggest you snorkel at the USS Kittiwake shipwreck, a salvage and rescue vessel that was operational for over 50 years, sunk in 2011, and transformed into an artificial reef and an underwater attraction.
The USS Kittiwake is the most popular diving location as well. The maximum depth is 65 ft, with the top of the wreck is around 15 ft. The wreck was cleared of all hazardous materials and it is completely safe to explore its chambers and the abundant sea life living there. The site has a sandy bottom and is packed with thousands of beautiful colorful fish, conchs, some stingrays, and starfish.
How to Get to the USS Kittiwake Shipwreck from the George Town Cruise Terminal?
The USS Kittiwake lies in the north portion of the Seven Mile Beach, and to get there, first, you need to take a 15-minute ride up north along the Seven Mile Beach, and then board a boat that will get you to the shipwreck.
The best way to get there is on an excursion (I went on a tour organized by Red Sail Sports company), and in that case, the snorkel gear is provided (mask, snorkeler, a life jacket) by the tour operator. If you choose to go for Grand Cayman scuba diving, one of the dives is the Kittiwake. You need to have a license to go scuba diving, but if you haven’t, the “discover scuba diving” can be an alternative option.
Besides the USS Kittiwake shipwreck and artificial reef, there are two other snorkel sites you should check out: Wreck of the Cali, the closest one to the cruise port, and the Smith’s Barcadere, located a 5-minute driving distance south of George Town.
To get to the Wreck of the Cali, all you have to do is turn left upon exiting the terminal, walk along the main street for less than 5 minutes and you’ll spot the fish market. Opposite the market, there is Rackham’s dock, from where you can swim to the wreck that is located 40 yards off the shore. It lies at the depth of 15-20 ft and is easily spotted as the water is quite calm and clear. The distance being long, this snorkeling site is not recommended for first-time snorkelers, but if you don’t mind swimming, this place is perfect. Make sure you bring suitable snorkeling equipment.
Smith’s Barcadere is the sandy cove where you can snorkel from the shore. Calm sea, gentle waves, and an intimate atmosphere are what make it perfect for those who want to escape crowded places.
7. Beach Break at the White House Colonial Mansion
Located a 25-minute drive (17 km; 10.5 mi) toward the southeast of the island, the White House is an exclusive private mansion offering all-inclusive service to its visitors. The mansion dates from the colonial period and is a perfect beach escape for those who want to enjoy the privileged treatment and exclusive service.
You can enjoy the specialties of Grand Cayman’s delectable cuisine and great cocktails at their bar-restaurant, or relax on the sunbeds and loungers while taking in the views of the pristine sands and emerald water.
I had the chance to visit this Grand Cayman hidden gem and I loved it – I highly recommend it for couples! The only thing I disliked was the beach – it can be accessed only from the short ladder at the end of the bar deck and it has the rocky bottom (the water shoes are highly recommended).
If you want to go kayaking or snorkeling, you can do it as well. Make sure you bring your snorkel gear, but if you don’t have one, you can rent it on-site too. Overall, my stay at the White House was a memorable experience and I would also like to thank the amazing staff working on the property – keep doing a great job!
How to Get to the White Mansion from the George Town Port?
To get to the White House, the best way is to take a taxi, book a private transfer, or book a shore excursion if available. You can also throw events at the White House, for the full information, check their official website.
8. Explore the Crystal Caves
Surrounded by the lush tropical vegetation of the North Side, a 35-minute driving distance (30 km; 18.5 mi) from the Royal Watler cruise terminal, the Cayman Crystal Caves are the newly opened Grand Cayman’s attraction.
In the company of a knowledgeable tour guide, you can explore the three breathtaking caves and their impressive geological formations, along with the surrounding tropical forests, home to the abundant flora and fauna. The tour of the site usually takes up to 1 hour 30 minutes. There is also a gift shop where you can get souvenirs and refreshments. Make sure you have appropriate walking shoes.
How to Get to the Crystal Caves from the Grand Cayman Cruise Port?
Tour operators normally offer the Crystal Caves tours, but you can also take a taxi/book a private transfer (this is a cheaper option than a taxi) and go on your own. Make sure you check the opening hours and tour times on the Crystal Caves website.
9. Go to Hell
Located a 20-minute driving distance north (11.5 km; 7 mi) from the Grand Cayman port, in the West Bay district (close to the Turtle Center and Dolphin Reserve), the Hell is one of the most popular tourist attractions on the island.
This bizarre natural attraction covers the football field-size area featuring jagged, black limestone rock formations that are said to be millions of years old. The legend says that back in the past an early British Commissioner was touring the island and upon arriving at this site, he exclaimed “My God, this must be what Hell looks like!”
Another story says that a British Commissioner named Cardinal was visiting the area and came with friends on a bird shooting expedition. In the vicinity of the rocks, he aimed, shot, and missed. His friends muttered “Oh, Hell”, and the place later became known as “Hell”.
There is an elevated platform from where you can take unique photos and observe this natural marvel. The rocks are razor sharp and it’s forbidden to climb them. There are two gift shops where you can purchase souvenirs, as well as a post office from where you can send your postcards from Hell to your loved ones. There is no charge to enter Hell.
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How to Get to the Hell from the Grand Cayman Cruise Port?
10. Learn about Grand Cayman’s History at Pedro St. James
Located a 20-minute drive (12 km; 7.5 mi) from the George Town port, on the southern coast of the island, Pedro St. James is the restored 18th-century plantation home offering history exhibits and tours.
Constructed on a stunning location overlooking the Caribbean Sea, Pedro St. James is the Cayman Islands National Historic Site that belonged to the wealthy Englishman who, back in 1780, created an astonishing 3-story building using slave labor from Jamaica. The building was massive compared to neighboring single-level dwellings and ever since has been called “Castle” due to its imposing size.
In the 1990s, the Government of the Cayman Islands purchased the Great House and restored it, transforming it into a history museum.
Today, you can explore the 18th century furniture, authentic artifacts, explore the stamp room, pay a visit to the Hurricane Ivan Memorial, or go for the rum tasting. The highlight of the visit is the 20-minute theater show that reveals the fascinating history of Pedro St. James and the Cayman Islands.
This place has a soul and is one of the Grand Cayman highlights that I warmly recommend you include in your bucket list.
How to Get to Pedro St. James from Grand Cayman Cruise Port?
There are many Pedro St. James tours and these are the best and most convenient options. The taxi from the cruise port to the site can be very expensive (50 $ per vehicle, one-way), and buses unreliable, so I would definitely suggest you consider taking a tour.
If you are going on your own, consider booking a private transfer or rent a car, as the prices can cost less than a taxi. Before you go, make sure you check the opening hours and theater showtimes on the Pedro St. James website.
11. Take a Grand Cayman Helicopter Ride
Top off your visit with one of the most thrilling and exciting Cayman Islands tours – the Helicopter ride over Seven Mile Beach and Grand Cayman. The helipad is located close by, only a 5-minute driving distance from the George Town cruise terminal, and the ride itself lasts 15-20 minutes. You’ll enjoy the spectacular panoramic view of the island and the aerial sight of the ships from the birds’ perspective!
This is one of the best experiences you can get, so if you enjoy flying – go ahead and book a Grand Cayman helicopter ride! More details on https://caymanislandshelicopters.com/
NOTE: The Cayman Islands are one of the Hurricane most affected areas in the Caribbean. Tropical storms are frequent, as well as strong winds. I’ve been to Grand Cayman several times while I worked as a shore excursion staff onboard a cruise ship and many times the snorkeling, sailing, Turtle Farm, Stingray City, and other tours, including Helicopter Ride, were canceled for safety reasons.
Don’t be surprised if your tour gets canceled at the last minute, as it is unpredictable and the tour operators don’t know until the very last moment if they will run the tour or not. I would advise you to always have an alternative option of how to spend your day in Grand Cayman, to avoid the inconveniences and unpleasant scenario.
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Grand Cayman is a magnificent place offering a wide range of activities for people of all ages. Whether you choose to spend the day interacting with sea animals, drinking cocktails at the world’s most exotic beaches, shopping, exploring the historical landmarks of Grand Cayman, or its natural treasures – an unforgettable time is guaranteed!
Be careful when planning your vacation, though, because Grand Cayman port of call is very busy, and if you plan on taking a tour, always consider booking small-group/customized excursions for the ultimate island experience.
This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see my disclaimer here.
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