Firstly, Yes…EVERYONE (including newborn babies) must present a valid passport for entry to the Cayman Islands. Grand Cayman didn’t legislate this requirement, the USA did for returning to the USA.
1. I want a private luxury villa but I also want my teenagers and twenty-something kids to be near “the action”.
We all want the best of both worlds on vacation. No compromises if we don’t have to make them. The problem is that in order to have a private villa (by definition) it has to be private; so there are no night clubs, bars, restaurants, dance clubs, etc. right next door. The reason that all (but 1-2) of the rental villas are on the north, south and east coasts of the island is because that is where the privacy is. The island is only 22 miles wide and we can drive to anywhere if we really need to. You really must stay in a condo on 7 Mile Beach in order to be close to any “action” (read traffic & crowds; and what action we have is limited on this conservative island). Clubs close at midnight and there are only 2-3 of them anyway. The resorts in East End offer distractions enough.
That brings me to a second point. What “action” do you really want your teenagers or twenty-somethings involved with on an unfamiliar Caribbean island nation? I have 4 of those kind of kids myself; and I would rather them be more involved with the rest of the family after dinner– BUT if they want to slide out for some “kid time”; we have plenty of spots in the northern & eastern districts to have a beer, see some entertainment, watersports, etc. The best vacation memories our family has had in Cayman involved spending time together watching OR playing board games (which we never do here), watching shooting stars, having a BBQ, swimming in the pool at night or maybe a late dinner after cocktail hour. After the horrible black-eye that Aruba received in the Natalie Holloway debacle; Cayman is keenly aware that it wants you to be safe and return with your family for years to come.
2. Can I have a perfect soft, white sand (barefoot) beach AND have great snorkeling?
The short answer is unfortunately NO (anywhere in the world); as the only way to have the flat white sand and nothing to harm your bare feet (sharp shells, urchin spines, critters) is NOT to have a marine environment (reef, corals, grasses, rocks, etc.). The fish and other marine life we are so famous for need to have places to live!–and they don’t live in pure white sand (nor do most of their prey). 7 Mile Beach is a perfect white sand beach (no reef)– but unfortunately the fish-watching directly in front of the condos and hotels is awful compared to that found further south near the rocks at Smith Cove and even the cruise ship harbor!. The best snorkeling is found on the north, east and south coasts of the island where there is a protective reef with a teeming marine environment. We advise you wear stretchy (hard bottomed) pool shoes or snorkel fins to protect your feet. These areas also have great natural beaches with plenty of sand as well. You just can’t have 100% of both– the oceanfront villas on these coasts offer that great combination of sand and snorkeling…
Also– all beaches on Grand Cayman are technically public–the Queen owns up to the high water mark; so you can visit any snorkeling (or barefoot) beach you care to while here on island! Choose your accommodations first based on location, amenities and value– not whether it has the perfect snorkeling or barefoot beach directly in front. Ask us for suggestions; we can help you as we have been in the water behind all the villas ourselves.
3. Can/Should I ship down (UPS/FEDEX) snorkel/scuba gear, wine, specialty foods, luggage?
Shipping charges to Grand Cayman are very expensive, especially for heavy items.
Cayman Customs will expect you to pay 22.5% duty on any items imported. Whether you are consuming them or not. If you ship them back to the USA you can submit a claim for a partial rebate–but then the USA may hit you for customs if you ship items from Cayman. Most of the homes don’t have resident managers to even receive your package—so you would have to have it held at the UPS or FEDEX office in Georgetown and then go collect it in person (on Monday when they are open). Theft/pilferage of wine or expensive items may also be a problem. We have great grocery stores and wine stores here in Grand Cayman. We also have Dive shops that are allowed to be open on Sunday to sell items to tourists.
I suggest for wine to click http://www.jacquesscott.com who is our largest and best stocked wine distributor for all the restaurants and grocery stores. They can also pre-order wine for you. Located near the airport and in Savannah (on the way to the villas in Northside); they are convenient and very nicely outfitted.
You can also bring in meats like tenderloin, ribs, steaks, etc. The meat can be packed in a cooler and checked as luggage (no dry ice allowed on airplanes). Customs will require the meat to be wrapped in the original USDA packaging, so no home-made venison steaks.
4. Can we have the villa/condo pre-stocked with groceries & beverages?
Absolutely. We recommend www.caymanshoppers.com; they do a great job, know all the properties and managers and can make it a great first impression.
5. Does our villa have snorkeling gear?
None of the villas can stock serviceable snorkel gear (masks, fins, snorkels) for enough combinations of guest sizes and ensure the equipment would be nicely cleaned & organized for you. They would need a manager just for equipment as well as a huge storage locker. Red Sail Sports at Rum Point or any of the 7MB resorts rent this equipment. Also– my Buddies Alan and Dave at the Reef Resort in east end (behind the resort on the beach they run www.whitesandwatersports.com) – they will offer the best weekly rate on snorkel gear. If you want to buy cheaper gear–the Waves gift shop in east end ( next to Fosters grocery) and the gift shop at Rum Point also sell that.
6. Can I bring my really small dog or cat or “Service Animal”?
Almost all villas prohibit animals. Fear not–it really wouldn’t matter if they didn’t– as the Cayman Islands have a very strict importation (veterinary) protocol for live animals to be imported. It has to start at least 6 months ahead of time and you can see the requirements at IMPORTING PETS
7. Do we need a VISA to Enter Grand Cayman?
Good Question…While citizens of the United States, Canada, Great Britain and most western European countries do not have to apply for a visitor VISA; VISA’s are required for citizens (passport holders) from many countries, including China, Philippines, India, Korea, most African nations, most Middle Eastern countries and many smaller countries. Best to check the Gov’t Immigration website VISA REQUIREMENTS