Welcome to the Grand Cayman cruise port guide! (Post updated: October 2023)
The Cayman Islands are the British Overseas Territory lying south of Cuba, in the western Caribbean Sea. They comprise three islands: Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman. Grand Cayman, the major and largest one, is a world-famous, upscale tourist destination and a popular seaport in the Caribbean. In this article, read about:
- Grand Cayman cruise port (Grand Cayman cruise terminal, getting around, helpful info)
- Top 11 things to do in Grand Cayman port and best Grand Cayman shore excursions
Grand Cayman Cruise Port
Grand Cayman cruise port is located in George Town, the capital of Grand Cayman nestled in the southwest corner of the island.
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 the 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 walk from the George Town city center.
The main terminal is the Royal Watler cruise 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 staff who will point you to the exit. Getting around is 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, a Tortuga Rum liquor store, several bars, coffee to take away, and numerous tour operator stands.
Alternatively, your cruise ship may dock 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 tour buses and taxis.
- The tender boat ride takes 10-15 minutes, but the whole process of filling the tender boats and getting on/off takes longer, so always save at least 45 minutes for the tendering operation. The same goes for the way back – you may 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 shore excursion meeting location is normally at the Royal Watler terminal area. You’ll see 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. (Note: This depends on the cruise line, so always double-check the information on your tour ticket). 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.
- Tour buses and taxis are parked outside the terminal area. Most of the taxis are small minivans that require several people to operate.
- George Town and the port area are flat and suitable for wheelchair users/people with walking difficulties.
- The island is safe to move around.
- The cheapest option to get around the island is by local bus. Buses are small, the tickets are cheap, and if you see them on the street, you can also wave and they usually stop to pick you up. The Public Transit Bus Depot is the main bus station and is located at Heroes Square, only a few minutes’ walk from the terminal. From there, you can take a bus to Seven Mile Beach, Pedro St. James, Turtle Farm, and other island attractions.
- The Cayman Islands currency is the Caymanian dollar (KYD). 1 USD equals 0.80 KYD. Credit cards and US dollars are widely accepted, so there is no need to change the money to a local currency. ATMs are available downtown.
- Although Grand Cayman’s climate is tropical, hot and humid all year round, the weather is quite unpredictable. The Cayman Islands are one of the Hurricane most affected areas in the Caribbean and tropical storms and strong winds are frequent. For useful packing tips, read my article What to Pack for a Cruise – Top 60 Cruise Essentials.
- Because of the unpredictable weather, snorkeling, sailing, Turtle Farm, Stingray City, and other shore excursions may be canceled last minute due to safety reasons. The tour operators may not know it until the very last moment, so I would advise you to always have an alternative option.
- Owen Roberts International Airport is the main international Grand Cayman airport and is located 4 km/2.5 miles (less than a 10-minute drive) from the Grand Cayman cruise terminal.
- Explore Grand Cayman tours and activities
- Search the best Caribbean cruise deals
Top 11 Things to Do in Grand Cayman Cruise Port
1. George Town
George Town 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. The city center is within a short walk from the George Town cruise terminals. Below are the top city attractions:
- 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.
- 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, and shopping malls), and several other bars and restaurants, such as Sharkeez and Burger King.
- 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.
- 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, the 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.
- 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. Seven Mile Beach
Seven 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 beach has been recognized multiple times as the most beautiful beach in the Caribbean.
This piece of paradise 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. Seven Mile Beach consists of several beach areas that are all considered public property. The most popular ones are Governor’s Beach, Public Beach, and Cemetery Beach (the northernmost one). They all offer a wide range of facilities and water activities such as snorkeling, deep-sea fishing, sailing, kayaking, jet-skiing, parasailing, segway rides, and more.
Dozens of restaurants and beach bars can be found on the beach, offering excellent service and delicious food, as well as major hotel chains, designer shops, and other venues. Every beach area has parking where the taxis normally wait for the tourists.
3. 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, a 20-minute drive (13 km/8 miles) north of the port. 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, and much more. The complex also houses a restaurant and a gift shop. There is also an open-air museum where you can see the replicas of Cayman-style houses and gardens.
4. Swim with Dolphins
Grand Cayman boasts several locations where you can interact with these adorable mammals. The most famous one is Dolphin Discovery, located right next to the Turtle Center, a 20-minute drive from the George Town cruise terminal. The other one is Dolphin Cove Cayman, situated nearby in the West Bay, a 15-minute drive from the cruise port. They both 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!
5. 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 miles), Stingray City Sandbar is a popular island attraction and a shore excursion offered by both cruise lines and local tour operators.
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!
Some tours may include a snorkeling portion at the barrier reef and a stop at Starfish Point, a laid-back, secluded beach with shallow, crystal-clear water where the colorful starfish can be spotted. Stingray City is usually crowded because it’s one of the major island attractions.
6. USS Kittiwake Shipwreck
Grand Cayman boasts several great locations for snorkeling, including 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 lies in the north portion of Seven Mile Beach, and to get there, you need to take a 15-minute ride up north along Seven Mile Beach, and then board a boat that will get you to the shipwreck.
The USS Kittiwake is the most popular diving location as well. The maximum depth is 65 ft, with the top of the wreck 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. The site has a sandy bottom and is packed with thousands of beautiful colorful fish, conchs, some stingrays, and starfish.
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 a 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.
Smith’s Barcadere is the sandy cove where you can snorkel from the shore. A calm sea, gentle waves, and an intimate atmosphere are what make it perfect for those who want to escape crowded places.
7. White House Colonial Mansion
Located a 25-minute drive (17 km/10.5 miles) east of the George Town port, 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 privileged treatment and exclusive service.
You can enjoy the specialties of Grand Cayman’s amazing 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. The only thing I didn’t quite like was the beach – it can be accessed only from the short ladder at the end of the bar deck and it has a rocky bottom. 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.
8. Crystal Caves
Set in the lush tropical vegetation, Grand Cayman Crystal Caves are located on the North Side, a 35-minute drive (30 km/18.5 miles) from the George Town cruise terminal.
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 abundant flora and fauna. The tour of the caves lasts usually up to 1h 30 minutes, and there is also a gift shop where you can get souvenirs and refreshments.
9. Go to Hell
Located a 20-minute driving distance north (11.5 km/7 miles) 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.
10. Pedro St. James
Located a 20-minute drive (12 km/7.5 miles) 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.
Today, it is a history museum where you can explore 18th-century furniture and authentic artifacts, see the Stamp Room and 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.
11. 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! More details on https://caymanislandshelicopters.com/
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 exotic beaches, shopping, or exploring the island’s natural and historical treasures – an unforgettable time is guaranteed!
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