As part of our new “Caribbean - Open for Business” series, in which we profile the hottest selling points for Caribbean islands that were not majorly impacted by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, Travel Agent takes a look at the Cayman Islands' hottest luxury hotels and well as the latest news from the destination.
The Hottest Grand Cayman Hotels
Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
When it opened in November, the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa became the first new hotel on the Caribbean’s popular Seven Mile Beach in nearly a decade. Its three freestanding beachside bungalows offer loft-like one- and two-bedroom layouts, enhanced amenities and exclusive views of the beach and ocean.
All of Seafire’s restaurants, including the Mediterranean-inspired Ave, are helmed by James Beard-honored Executive Chef Massimo De Francesca. The Coccoloba bar, only a few feet from the ocean, provides great views of the sunset. Millennials should note that this is where they will get the best Instagram-worthy picture of their stay.
Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman
The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman offers 375 guest rooms on 144 acres of beachfront, set along Seven Mile Beach. Travel Agent was recently lucky enough to take a tour of what representatives of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman are calling “the largest and most elaborate luxury hotel suite ever to open in the Caribbean.”
Located on the Cayman Islands’ famous Seven Mile Beach, the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman recently made a big splash by unveiling a new, uber swanky Penthouse Suite that we were told ranges from $18,000 and $25,000 a night.
With more than 19,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor living space, Travel Agent recommends pitching this room to multigenerational families and couples traveling with other couples.
The Penthouse welcomes clients via a private elevator. The Penthouse offers a full kitchen and regal dining room area, a private library, as well as an expansive, wrap-around outdoor terrace with some beautiful views of the beach. One of Travel Agent’s favorite features of the room, however, was the room’s own private cinema.
Dart Real Estate (DRE), a local developer in the Cayman Islands, recently announced that it has purchased The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, adding to its expansive portfolio in the Cayman Islands.
This news comes on the heels of the announcement that DRE will open its first residential property, The Residences at Seafire, next month.
This is in addition to The Residences’ exclusive rooftop lounge, which offers views of the Caribbean Sea and the North Sound, and LEED Silver-certified sustainable features like electric car charging and a solar-powered energy supply.
DRE’s current portfolio also includes its flagship property, Camana Bay, a 675-acre mixed-use, master-planned town with shopping, dining and entertainment offerings. A new pedestrian overpass now connects Camana Bay to Seven Mile Beach.
DRE has acquired The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman resort interests from Five Mile Capital Partners. While there is a change in ownership, a long-term management agreement with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company remains in place.
“The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman has been the standard bearer for excellence in the region for more than a decade,” said Jackie Doak, Dart Real Estate president, in a written release. “We look forward to working with management on the preservation of the resort’s legacy, enabling the Cayman Islands to retain its position as a preferred luxury Caribbean destination for visitors and investors alike.”
Margaritaville Beach Resort Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Inspired by the lyrics and lifestyle of singer, songwriter, and author, Jimmy Buffett, Margaritaville Beach Resort Grand Cayman is already gaining favor with both girls’ and guys’ getaways.
It occupies a stretch of Seven Mile Beach, with accommodations that incorporate casual-luxe furnishings, including crisp white bedding, accented glass and teak finishings.
In addition, sleek, tropical-inspired designs are accompanied by subtle maritime accents, natural rock and wood materials, and colorful accessories. Dining options include Yara: The Global Steakhouse and Banana Wid Café, named after Buffett’s 20th studio album. The License to Chill Bar serves handcrafted cocktails including, of course, the resort’s signature margarita.
The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort Resort & Spa
Millennials heading to Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands this winter and beyond should also check out the recently-upgraded pool at The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort Resort & Spa.
One of Travel Agent's favorite hotels in Grand Cayman, The Westin Grand Cayman recently poured $6 million into it's pool and new pool deck as part of an overall two-phase, $50 million renovation.
In fact, Travel Agent was among the first travel media to tour the pool as the first phase of the renovation was completed. We loved how sexy this pool looked at night lit up as guests mingled along the chic patio area nearby, sipping cocktails from the pool area's main bar, which includes a swim-up component.
Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort
Travel Agent recently had the opportunity to check out the recently refurbished Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort on Seven Mile Beach. The extensive renovation cost more than $16 million. In phase two of the makeover, all public areas, including the lobby, restaurants, ballroom, meeting rooms and fitness center, have undergone a major transformation.
The inspiration for the new design embraces a “Ship-to-Shore” concept that embodies the themes of the spirit of openness, sense of adventure, craftsmanship and the island’s strong connection with the sea. The aim has been to capture the relaxing and casual seaside ambiance of island living by using neutral textures and nautical elements. The resort’s guestrooms were also completely overhauled last year with phase one of the renovation.
The reimagining of the lobby, restaurant and bar into Anchor & Den gives visitors a whole new experience from the moment they set foot at the resort. This space has been transformed so guests can gather, connect, relax and dine. Stylish al-fresco dining can be enjoyed at the newly revamped oceanfront restaurant. Renamed the Veranda and Vista Bar, the space sports vintage-inspired decor and has an air of bohemian chic that diners can enjoy while admiring views of the Caribbean Sea.
The hotel’s new Beach House Experience aims to unite guests with the happy nostalgia of summertime. It provides a fun and relaxed atmosphere, where family and friends can spend quality time together.
As part of the resort’s services, the inclusion of amenities such as free Linus bike rentals invite guests to enjoy the island like a local. Also included is complimentary snorkeling gear so guests can explore the Artificial Reef Project, a short swim from the hotel’s beachfront and entry to weekly beach bonfires. For those who enjoy sea and water activities, free rentals of paddleboards and kayaks are available on a first come, first serve basis.
Meet Cayman Brac
Le Soleil d’Or
For clients seeking more of a get-away-from-it-all experience than the usual Caribbean resort vacation offers, especially those who have been to Grand Cayman and enjoyed it, suggest Cayman Brac. Only 12 miles long, it has a population of roughly 2,000 people.
Although this is primarily a dive destination, it also has 35 heritage sites, which include forests, beach walks, bird-watching spots, caves, cliff trails and wetlands. Hikes and visits to the sites can be undertaken with nature guides at the Heritage House and Interpretive Centre at Northeast Bay.
Another attractive quality of Cayman Brac is that there is no crime here. In fact, locals who showed us around said it’s actually very common for them to leave their houses unlocked and even leave their car keys in the ignition.
Whereas Grand Cayman works well as headquarters for multigenerational groups, large destination weddings and couples traveling with other couples, Travel Agent thinks Cayman Brac is an attractive option for lovebirds looking to spend some alone time enjoying the island’s beaches. For clients honey-mooning in the Cayman Islands, we suggest two nights on Cayman Brac and four nights on Grand Cayman.
There are two places to stay on the island. Cayman Brac Beach Resort is best for scuba diving enthusiasts, who are being offered five-night dive packages starting at $957 per person, as well as for snorkelers, for whom the resort provides the necessary equipment and imparts safe snorkel techniques training to beginners.
The resort re-opened toward the end of 2015 following a renovation project that included a new freeform pool, a bar and upgraded accommodations — 40 rooms, all with ocean views, patio or balcony, and most with two double beds or one king bed. Of note for your family clients is that two of the rooms have three double beds. Also, three rooms are handicap-accessible, with queen beds and roll-in showers.
If luxury takes priority over soft adventure, we recommend the rather posh Le Soleil d’Or (French for golden sun). The hotel consists of eight keys spread over about five miles of the island. This is not only a place to enjoy high-end accommodations and full ocean views, but is also a foodie’s dream, as it affords one of the best farm-to-table experiences we’ve come across in the Caribbean.
Le Soleil d’Or is divided into four categories: the Farm Lodge, the Boutique Hotel, the Beach House, and the Beach Cottage. The property also has a Beach Studio, which is an apartment located at the property’s Beach Club. The Boutique Hotel is the only one to have rooms that can be booked individually.
The Farm Lodge, as the name indicates, is the closest category to the hotel’s 20-acre farm and is home to three bedrooms, all of which come with cell phones to make locals calls. The farm was basically built from scratch, as most of Le Soleil d’Or’s grounds were occupied by sinkholes and endless amounts of bush that needed to be removed.
The farm produces everything from eggplants, zucchini and cucumbers to papayas, watermelons and passion fruit. Cashews are also grown here and the farm has an olive tree, but it still needs about three to four more years to fully grow. Tip: Tell your clients not to be put off by the green oranges that grow here. They look and taste just like any other orange, but cannot attain that bright orange color without some cold weather, something Cayman Brac, fortunately, has zero of. The farm also has its own chicken coop, where roughly 200 eggs are produced every day.
The Boutique Hotel, which opened earlier this year, is home to four bedrooms. Each of the rooms has its own veranda and patio. We were also told Le Soleil d’Or has plans to launch a full-service spa, a Pilates studio, a bakery and a cigar shop by October or November. The Beach Club, as we mentioned, is already open to guests.
The three-bedroom Beach House is a two-story, 4,000-square-foot home occupying a secluded spot on its own stretch of beach. A good fit for multigenerational families, it sleeps six to 10 people and includes a private pool with a pool house for al fresco dinners and late-night gatherings.
Among the accommodations, Travel Agent’s favorite was the Beach Cottage, which you can recommend to your honeymooning clients. It is a studio apartment with a king bed, its own private swimming pool, hammocks, kitchen, full ocean views, a private, man-made beach and an incredible amount of privacy. The full-size refrigerator comes stocked with snacks and non-alcoholic beverages.
Cayman Islands Pursuing First All-Inclusive Resort
The Cayman Islands may be home to several outstanding beach resorts that offer all-inclusive packages, but the destination still lacks a true, fully all-inclusive resort.
Rosa Harris, director of tourism for the Cayman Islands, tells Travel Agent that could soon change.
We sat down with Harris recently and learned that the destination is actively looking for an all-inclusive resort company to open up shop in the destination.
“As a destination, Cayman would like to see our first fully-dedicated, all-inclusive resort that would hopefully round out the offerings that Cayman has,” Harris told Travel Agent.
Although Harris told us the ultimate plan would be to have an all-inclusive resort on the destination’s lesser-know Cayman Brac, she also said she would like to see one on the more mainstream island of Grand Cayman.
30Under30 Winners Share Their Top Grand Cayman Selling Points
From left: Travel agents Blake Brown, Rebecca Norrbom, Myste Wright and Alyssa Scott; Cayman Islands Department of Tourism’s U.S. General Manager Tom Ludington and Director of Tourism Rosa Harris; Travel Agent magazine’s Joe Pike; and agents Ryan Doncsecz, Marisa Costa, Hannah Schremp, Lindsey Epperly and Dane Steele Green. (Not pictured: agent Paul Stroncek.)
As part of a 30Under30 roundtable discussion we hosted at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman earlier this year, Travel Agent asked our Millennial advisors what they thought Grand Cayman’s strongest selling points for Millennials were. Here’s what they had to say:
Dane Steele Green of Steele Luxury Travel: “Before I came to the Cayman Islands, it was not on my radar. All I knew about [it] was money ... no taxes. But now with Travel Agent magazine and all these other media outlets, I’ve been hearing about it a lot, I’ve been seeing it a lot, so I figured this was the perfect opportunity for me to come and see the products. The products of hotels here and accommodations are really vast. I think there is something for everyone here, from the [Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort] to the [Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman]. For a Millennial? Well, I’m a Millennial, and I think that the [Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa] property is fantastic. I mean, I did an abs class last-minute yesterday and those are the things that Millennials like to do. And I think it’s a destination that is under-explored and we need to let everyone know about it, Millennial or not.”
Lindsey Epperly of Epperly Travel: “I think [a common misperception about] the Cayman Islands is that this is just a cruise port destination. On this trip, the tourist board opened my eyes to the fact that there is this whole local culture beyond that. And that is what really connects with the Millennial audience. We want a sense of place — and that is here. I’m excited that I now have a new way to sell this destination.”
Myste Wylde of Protravel International: “I will say for the Millennial demographic specifically, there should be a little bit more focus on those local authentic experiences — more music, more street food-type things. We did Heritage Kitchen [a new, rustic farm-to-table restaurant on Grand Cayman] and that was incredible, but perhaps just some more hands-on offerings, where you feel like you are part of the local culture.”
Paul Stroncek of WMPH Vacations/iCruise.com: “I agree 100 percent. Pulling up to Heritage [Kitchen] and seeing a guy playing solitaire with a bunch of roosters running around and another guy cracking almonds and stuff like that — that’s what Millennials want, something away from their phone that immerses them in the culture.”
Rebecca Norrbom of Holiday Cruises & Tours: “I’ve never been to the Caribbean before this . . . so I came here kind of not knowing what to expect, and I love it. I think that maybe there is a perception issue though, because what I knew about Grand Cayman is that it was very upscale and that was it. I didn’t really know anything about the local culture, that it is such a friendly, walkable place where you can get on a bike and go across the street to the store, and that’s what I want. And also coming from Las Vegas, I was very surprised with the connections. It’s such a simple flight. I connected through Miami. I really didn’t realize how close and how easy it was, especially compared to all the other warm-weathered destinations.”
Hannah Schremp of Frosch Travel: “My first impression was a cruise port, but I was blown away by 200 restaurants — I had no idea. I think we get a bad rap as Millennials, but we do like to hang out with the locals and get that experience, see it, smell it — and this destination does that. That is something that needs to be brought more to the forefront.”
Marisa Costa of Amiko: “I agree with everything that has been said about the culture the Cayman Islands has, but I think within that culture, what needs to be promoted more is that Cayman is a foodie destination. So I would say to put this destination out there as not just a beach destination, but [also] a Caribbean culinary capital. I think getting the food aspect out there would be something that sets it apart from other islands.”
Alyssa Scott of Protravel International: “As a foodie, I knew about the ‘Cayman Cookout,’ but not necessarily about all of the restaurants and all the different types of cuisines you can find here. I pictured this more as a pop-up restaurant-type destination. Also, the ability to feel safe as a woman traveling alone is something that I tend to take for granted in a lot of places. It’s a safe destination. You feel like you are my neighbor, you are my friend.”
Blake Brown of World Travel Service: “I had come here once about 10 years ago on a cruise and it didn’t really have a big impression on me, so coming here and seeing everything the island has to offer [is] amazing to me. And then to reiterate from a Millennial standpoint, we want to become a part of the local culture when we are here. We don’t want to just do your cookie-cutter tourist activities. We want local foods, local festivals. That’s what we want to be a part of. When I travel, my motto is ‘live local.’”
Ryan Doncsecz of VIP Vacations, Inc.: “For me, what I’m going to take away from it is that I don’t necessarily feel like I’m traveling, which I love. It’s very homey. I feel like I’m still in the States. I don’t know if that is a testament to the people [or] to the luxury levels. I feel like I’m in the Caribbean obviously, with the food, the people, the beaches, but I feel very much at home.”
How the Cayman Islands Got Off the CDC’s Zika Advisory List
In late July, we reported that the U.S-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that the Cayman Islands had been removed from it Zika-related advisory list.
And now Travel Agent tells you exactly how the Cayman Islands was able to pull it off.
We recently chatted with Dr. Alan Wheeler, assistant director for the Cayman Islands Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU), and learned that the destination was able to dramatically reduce the presence of Zika by using genetically modified mosquitoes, or “GM mosquitoes.”
“We are currently releasing a genetically modified mosquito in an area of the island known as West Bay,” Wheeler tells Travel Agent. “The work is ongoing and mosquitoes are only being released in a very small area so that we can assess its potential as a method of reducing the presence of Aedes aegypti on the island. Only male mosquitoes are released and the principle for the technique is that these males will mate with the local female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes resulting in offspring that die before reaching adulthood.”
Wheeler, however, noted that the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is the primary vector of Zika, is still present on Grand Cayman, as it is on the other Caribbean islands. In an exclusive statement issued to Travel Agent, Moses Kirkconnell, the Cayman Islands’ minister of tourism, however, added that while Grand Cayman had a minimal amount of locally transmitted cases, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman were unaffected by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
“MRCUs main control efforts, unrelated to GM mosquitoes, primarily focus on targeting the immature stages of this mosquito by searching and destroying any larval breeding sites we can find,” says Wheeler. “Typical larval breeding sites for this mosquito are human-made containers such as buckets, drums and other containers capable of holding rainwater for eight or more days. The work is labour-intensive and work-crews are continually surveying and treating properties for this mosquito.”
Although using GM mosquitoes is often considered controversial by some environmentalists, MRCU first conducted risk assessments and concluded the procedure was safe before executing it, says Wheeler.
“The males being released in Grand Cayman do not bite and are incapable of reproduction. Risk assessments carried out in Grand Cayman and the U.S. have not identified any specific risks associated with these mosquitoes. There will always be opposition by some people to all forms of genetic modification.”
According to the MCRU, evaluation of the “Friendly Aedes aegypti” technique is recommended by the World Health Organization and has been approved for use by the authorities in the Cayman Islands, including the National Conservation Council.
Wheeler says MRCU has been employing a vast array of methods to suppress mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands since the 1960’s. The release of the GM mosquito in West Bay, Grand Cayman was started in July 2016 and is ongoing with results being monitored using a number of different trapping techniques and other survey methods, says Wheeler.
“The Cayman Islands government believe in the rigorous methodology employed by the Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) and their operational deployment of the ‘Friendly Aedes aegypti Project’ at the end of July 2016 is the main reason the islands are Zika free today,” said Kirkconnell. “The MRCU recognized the Aedes aegypti mosquito as transmitting Zika and conducted a vigorous campaign to remove potential breeding sites of the mosquito, including house-to-house inspections and treatments.”
Caribbean Islands that remain on the travel advisory list, according to the CDC's website, are Anguilla; Antigua and Barbuda; Aruba; the Bahamas; Barbados; Bonaire; the British Virgin Islands; Cuba; Curacao; Dominica; the Dominican Republic; Grenada; Jamaica; Montserrat; Puerto Rico; Saba; St. Kitts and Nevis; St. Lucia; St. Martin; St. Vincent and the Grenadines; St. Eustatius; St. Maarten; Trinidad and Tobago; Turks and Caicos and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Under its “Other Areas with Zika Risk” section, the CDC also lists Haiti.
“The U.S-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) produced the list,” said Kirkconnell, “and after showing that there have been no locally transmitted cases of Zika this year and just one imported case in early February, the Cayman Islands were summarily taken off the list.”