It is no secret that I consider myself blessed to have had an opportunity this fall to board the Carnival Paradise with 40 other like-minded women entrepreneurs. No kids, no hubbies ~ just the girls. The journey lasted five days and was packed with presentations, seminars and networking. Smack dab in the middle of all that growth, however, we took the time to create some memories together and on our own. While at the two different ports along our journey, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico, we all embarked upon various island explorations. These adventures became core memories that made this trip uniquely unforgettable for each of us.
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Leaving Footprints on Grand Cayman
As a part of the Permission to Hustle-At-Sea adventure, which was being run aboard the Carnival Paradise by two social influencing powerhouses, Audrey McClelland and Vera Sweeney, our itinerary included spending two full days at sea and stopping in two different ports in between. While it would have been easier for this introvert to find herself staying on the ship during port days, I actually took advantage of a Carnival sponsored opportunity and went on an excursion that had me feeding stingrays and holding baby sea turtles.
Arriving in Grand Cayman
Our first day at sea was actually riddled with some rain and swaying, so we were so glad to see the sun make an appearance on excursion day. When we arrived in Grand Cayman, it was early morning with the sun shining, the sky blue and the water amazing!
Those leaving the ship for the day had to tender from the ship to land. Groups leaving for certain excursions, like ours, were given specific times and locations to meet and tender out. Our group met around 8:15 AM.
Once we found ourselves on land, each of us began the quest to find our particular excursion groups. There were signs everywhere. However, I still somehow found myself looking and feeling lost. While I really tried hard not to look like such a newbie, it was apparently pretty obvious to my fellow retreat sisters. I can still hear them calling out my name and pointing me in the right direction.
So glad they had my back, though (insert eye wink and a smile)!
Once our excursion group was gathered and accounted for, our guide hustled us over to our shuttle for the day. To be honest, it was nice to just sit back and relax in the van. I was able to take in the sights around me instead of focusing on street lights and directions. Of course, on Grand Cayman, they follow British traffic patterns and drive on the opposite side of the road. So, I don’t think I would have done very well driving anyway. It was all backwards to me!
A Little Sightseeing
During the 15 minute drive to our first destination, we saw things that were both familiar to us and unique to the island. As part of the tour, we also made a two second stop in front of the Governor’s House, which sat back near the water behind some trees. They must have a spectacular view of the ocean! So jealous!
Our First Stop ~ Stingray City
Our first destination that day was the marina where we would board the Beauty III and head out to Stingray City. Before boarding, the guides taking us out to the sandbar instructed us to take off our shoes and then store them and our bags either under the seats on the lower level or in a specific location near the front of the boat if sitting up top.
Our group that day, as a whole, was decently sized, filling every inch of seat available on that two level craft. I found myself a place up on the top level, which gave me a gorgeous view of the water and island’s edge.
The Boat Ride Out to Stingray City
During the approximately 45 minute boat ride out to the sandbar, we enjoyed the captivating view, warm sun and beautiful breeze that was blowing. The couple next to me casually ignited a conversation, which led to the realization that their son was a current dean at the university I attended freshman year. Boy, did THAT lead to some stories!
Our guides, at one point during the boat ride, took a moment to instruct us on how to make the most of our stingray excursion and how to stay safe while in the water among these wild creatures.
We were instructed on how to climb up and down ladders when getting on and off the boat, as well as advised not to jump while in the water. Instead, we were shuffle our feet around. It was made very clear that we should avoid approaching a stingray from behind and to never touch the tail. These creatures were wild, so they had barbs on their tail, which could potentially be very dangerous, if not fatal. We were also told not to pick up the stingrays on our own, but to leave all the handling to the guides.
One of the perks of this excursion was that, while in the water, we would be given the opportunity to pet, kiss and feed the stingrays. That all sounded pretty awesome to me! This was likely a once in a lifetime experience, to be honest, and I was all about making it count. At the same time, I will admit that the idea of kissing marine life left me with some hesitation.
Reaching our Destination
Once we arrived at the sandbar, I could not believe how perfect the water was. I mean, we could see clear to the floor. Stingrays were swimming everywhere and we saw all sizes of them ~ from baby rays to huge creatures! The sky was a perfect blue and the view was spectacular. We honestly could not have asked for a more amazing day to experience this.
As we each made our way off the boat and into the waist to chest high water (depending upon size), I had a little slip up. I lost my footing just a bit climbing down and banged my shin against the side of the boat. There was a little bruising, but no cuts, no blood and certainly nothing that required any attention. It held me back for a few extra minutes, but it did NOT stop me from getting out there to make the most of this adventure. I just warn you to be very careful climbing down! Take your time.
Capturing the moments
Many of us took on the risk of bringing our smartphones into the clear blue water with us. I was, of course, one of them. I was actually more afraid of missing an opportunity to snag some footage of this experience than I was losing my phone. Of course, I wish I had a GoPro at that moment (so you know what is going on my Christmas wish list this year ~ wink, wink). Nonetheless, my iPhone X did well enough and captured some cute shots.
Hanging with the Stingrays
So, let’s talk about being out there with these stingrays. It was so surreal! Of course, it was so hard to NOT jump when one of these smooth-surfaced creatures rubbed up against your leg like a cat. Oh, my gosh! It was amazing and frightening all at the same time. They were everywhere and they acted like they were very happy to see us.
Sure enough, as promised, we were all granted the opportunity to touch, kiss, be hugged and feed these beautiful creatures. They were swimming all around us and rather quickly, but the guides would carefully stop one from time to time and embrace it just long enough for us to accomplish one or two of the above tasks. At one point, we were able to pose for pictures with them. A kiss with and a hug from a stingray ~ such an unforgettable moment!
So – to the animal lovers who may be wondering:
- Doesn’t that bother the stingrays?
- Isn’t this some form of abuse?
- Don’t they just want to be left alone?
My honest opinion? I wholeheartedly believe that if the rays felt so bothered by what the guides and tourists were doing, they wouldn’t frequent the vicinity. If they felt at all threatened, they would not hesitate to use the barbs on their tails to let people know how they really felt. The guides we had with us were so gentle, loving and kind with these creatures and we didn’t see any mishandling at all. Besides, they knew these creatures very well and trusted their own lives around them. This is not something new they just started doing in the recent past.
When it came time to feed them, I have to confess that there was a moment or two that got a little scary for a few of us. We were told by one person to hold the food in the palm of our hands. That way, the rays could suck the food up quickly from a somewhat flat surface. In fact, my husband remembers being told that way back when he and our oldest were invited to feed stingrays at an aquarium we had visited.
However, here, we were instructed to hold it in the water like we were holding an ice cream cone.
By doing what we thought we had been told, some of us, when we placed our hands under the water for the rays to take the food, felt as if they had bitten us just a bit. I saw no blood, but it was just a little jarring at first. Apparently these rays were hungry. In any case, it was still a fantastic experience and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
I just wonder if we had misunderstood the instructions at all. So, let this be a warning. Just be sure to clarify with the guides what to do BEFORE you take the food into your hand to feed the stingrays.
Time to Move On
From there, we headed back to the marina to board the shuttle once again. Our next destination was the Cayman Turtle Centre, where we would come face to face with a multitude of green sea turtles. Before we left the marina, however, the guides on the boat were quick to make sure that the shuttle driver knew that I had been injured just a bit during the excursion.
Honestly ~ it was no big deal! I was fine. I had a little bruise and I was walking with no issues. Nonetheless, they just wanted to make sure that I was okay. It was nobody’s fault, nobody’s wrong. It was just something that happened and I was totally fine.
I will say, though ~ it was nice to know that they were concerned.
On our way to the Cayman Turtle Centre, our driver / tour guide shared more information about the islands. We learned more details about the design of their flag, how their currency worked and how their government ran run as a British colony. It was fascinating to learn at what point in history outside visitors started coming to the islands, how women were the ones in charge and how hospitality has always been a part of their culture. We also learned why, for the love of God, there were chickens running everywhere.
Cayman Turtle Centre
Once we reached our next destination, we had a brief moment to use the restroom, shoot some photos or video and purchase some food to feed the sea turtles if we so desired. Not too long after that, however, we gathered around a tour guide who began by giving us a rundown of what we were going to see and the story behind the Cayman Turtle Centre.
He shared the history of the centre, information about the turtles there at the facility, commented on breeding pools and how the facility had a tremendous impact on increasing what had been a decreasing population of green sea turtles in the area.
From there, he took us around the center and to numerous pools with sea turtles of varying sizes and ages. One of the highlights of this particular part of the excursion was that we each had the chance to hold a baby sea turtle in our own hands if we desired!
(The sea turtle, not me…but you already knew that)
A Little Time to Ourselves
At that point, the tour portion of our visit had come to an end and we were allowed to split off for a short period of time. We were given a rendezvous time when we got off the shuttle. I do know that at least one member of our group remembered that there was an option to actually swim with the turtles. The rest of us simply slipped off to find a place to sit, eat and utilize the free WiFi.
Before joining my friends for lunch and a social media blast, I took a quick tour around the lake and through the aviary myself. I thought it would be fun to see how many unique birds I could find and what else the center had to offer.
I even stepped inside the hatchery and saw some of the tiniest baby sea turtles ever! Oh, my goodness – they were so cute!
In time, I decided a quick break from the heat might be beneficial and found myself with my friends inside the restaurant. When and where I found them made for such a great photo.
Every single one of them was as quiet as a mouse and working diligently to share what they could with their viewers on social media.
Of course, this break made for the perfect opportunity to grab something to eat, as well. The restaurant had a good looking menu that included items such as conch fritters, coconut shrimp and calamari.
Heading Back to the Ship
The journey back to the ship was filled with more insightful information, cultural views and a drive-by of the award-winning Seven Mile Beach, an expansive piece of waterfront open to the public with a multitude of recreational and dining opportunities to enjoy.
Personal note: One of my aunts had the chance to spend a few years teaching on Grand Cayman a short while back. I vividly remember being jealous of the pictures of paradise she would share on social media. To be there at that moment and wonder if I was staring down places or walking on ground she may have spent any or all of her time was a fun adventure in itself for me.
Calling it a Day
As I returned to the ship and looked back on the events of the day, I could not help, but smile as wide as the horizon. I had laughed, walked away with a great tan and absorbed an atrocious amount of Vitamin D. Not to mention, I made so many memories that it will take me the rest of the year to go through the pictures documenting them all!!
I cannot believe I touched and kissed a sting ray and held a baby sea turtle in my hands! It was such an amazing day in the Cayman Islands and something I will never EVER forget!
Did I enjoy the adventure without my family? Yes – and I find no shame in saying that. Of course, my hope and prayer would be to bring my family back one day to enjoy the Cayman Islands together. To think of the memories we would make!
Don’t miss out!
If you have the luxury to take a cruise somewhere, take a moment to get off the ship! Go enjoy something adventurous or fun in a new destination. Don’t miss a chance to experience something you may never get to do once you return home and back to the hustle and bustle of your busy life. Sometimes, it is just a matter of getting off the ship to say you stepped foot on land and experienced a little of the culture. Sometimes, taking an excursion is what your soul needs to make the trip more memorable. Simply take at least a few hours to make something new happen. Take the time to make some unique and fascinating memories ~ by yourself, with some friends or as a family.
I will NEVER forget the moment I kissed a sting ray!
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