Off-season travel: Cayman Islands
The heat is rising and the beaches are open in NYC, but that doesn't mean you can't travel to a tropical island for a little sun and relaxation.
The best parts about heading to the Caribbean this time of year are the great deals and uninhabited attractions. Also, let's face it, the crystal-clear, slow-moving water in the Cayman Islands is a totally different experience than the cold, rough waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Plus, when have you ever seen a sea turtle frolicking in the Rockaways?
With that, pack a bag of swim gear, your flip flops and a large bottle of sunscreen and take the approximately three-and-a-half hour flight to Grand Cayman Island for your next vacation.
WHAT TO DO
Swim with stingrays: On this island, water-themed adventures rule. One of the best things to do is take a catamaran out to Stingray City, a sandbar in the middle of the sea where friendly stingrays swim about with the snorkelers. Many hotels offer voyages to this beautiful spot, but if not, you can book a boat with Stingray City Trips (stingraycitytrips.com).
Dive in: For those looking to get in the water without getting wet, take a tour of the deep with Atlantis Submarines (caymanislandssubmarines.com), which hosts day- and nighttime dives along the coast, making this excursion a great way to see all sorts of exotic fish, rays and sea turtles. Another way to get your sea turtle fix is by visiting the Cayman Turtle Farm (turtle.ky), the only area where you can actually hold a baby sea turtle.
Shop for souvenirs: For those looking to shop around for a souvenir or new beach wrap, head to George Town, the capital of Grand Cayman, where plenty of stores line the streets selling Cuban cigars, pepper jelly, swimsuits and more.
WHERE TO EAT
Fresh fish fix: The best part about eating on the island is all the fresh fish, and Guy Harvey's Restaurant and Bar (guyharveysgrill.com) in George Town does it right. If it's available, make sure to try the blackened lion fish special; not only is it tasty, but since the fish is an invasive species here, you are actually doing the Caymans some good by eating it.
Low-key fare: For an inexpensive dinner option, the Sunshine Grill in the middle of the Sunshine Suites (sunshinesuites.com) dishes out heaping plates of Cuban-style chicken, mahi-mahi fritters, grilled wahoo and glasses filled with its signature Painkiller cocktail.
Food tour: Another great way to get a sampling of the island fare is by taking one of the Cayman Food Tours' (caymanfoodtours.com) walks around the capital. Led by local gal Marzeta Bodden, this three-hour excursion covers an array of island nibbles, noshes and sips, as well as delves into the island's history.
WHERE TO STAY
Beach resort: The first thing to consider about staying on the 22-mile-long island is how close do you want to be to the famous Seven Mile Beach. For those looking to luxuriate in style with the option to walk out of their hotel and straight onto the sand, the Ritz-Carlton (ritzcarlton.com) is the best choice. Summer packages start at $359 a night, and guests can enjoy a dip in the stunning ocean-side pools, 24-hour room service, towel and beach chair service, a golf course and close proximity to some of the island's best restaurants.
Divers' delight: Plan on doing a lot of diving? Book a room at Cobalt Coast (cobaltcoast.com), which offers a special summer package for $1,930 that includes two-person occupancy for seven nights, unlimited off-shore diving plus excursions, three meals and up to five drinks a day and airport pick-up and drop-off.
Wallet-friendly pick: For those wanting a more economical stay, book a room at Comfort Suites (caymancomfort.com). It's just a short jaunt to the beach and George Town, with rates starting at $136 per night. It might not be as fancy as the Ritz, but there is a pool and comfortable rooms.
Bus: To take the bus, which looks like a minivan, just go to a busy road like Main Street (which goes to George Town) and wait for one to come by. They usually honk as they approach to get more riders. It costs two Cayman dollars per person, or $5 American for two people.
Taxi: Your hotel can easily hail a taxi for you, or you can call a company like Burtons Taxi Service (345-926-8294). Most drivers are honest, but it's best to get a quote from them before getting inside.
Car: You can also easily rent a car. Just remember, they drive like the Brits on the opposite side of the road.