My family of four (two adults, children 12 and 9) went to Grand Cayman from August 14-20, 2011. We had a wonderful time at the Grand Cayman Beach Suites. Seven Mile Beach is a world-class beach and is one of the nicest beaches I have seen. We enjoyed most of the restaurants that we patronized and found the local people to be very friendly. That is the headline to this review. I shall now provide details. I caution you that this review will be long. And I don’t pull punches or soften descriptions.
Our airport experience at Grand Cayman was superb. Arrived around 3pm and was in/out of airport in 15 minutes. Got a cab to GCBS - $28 fare for four people plus tip. Ride was 10-15 minutes.
GCBS – FIRST CHECK-IN
We got to the GCBS around 4pm. When I tried to check in, Tanisha at the front desk told me that – regrettably – the hotel was overbooked. (More on the GCBS overbooking policy later.) She said we’d have to spend the first night next door at Lacovia, but she offered a free breakfast, a $150 food/beverage credit and dangled the hope of an upgrade to a 2-bedroom suite for the balance of our stay. While disappointed, I think Tanisha handled the situation well. We did not feel cheated.
We were shuttled over to the Lacovia – Unit 1 – which was a 1500 square foot suite with 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms with a large outside patio directly leading to SMB. It was NICE. It was SO nice that we were tempted to ask Tanisha if we could stay there for the balance of our trip. The beach there was pristine and empty. We had about 150-200 feet of beach to ourselves.
Our Lacovia experience was not without a few hiccups. When we entered, we quickly discovered that the water had been turned off to the unit. It surprised me that GCBS would bump someone over to Lacovia without making sure that the unit was ready for occupancy. If they relied on Lacovia, they should have confirmed before placing. So, we called GCBS to report the situation. They promptly came over to address it. However, after a long day of travel, the overbooking and this glitch weren’t exactly the best way to start our vacation. We just wanted to go to the beach! After the plumbing situation was resolved, the electricity in the two bathrooms went out. We could not find the electrical panel, so we called GCBS again. They came over and could not find the panel, so they planned to bring an extension cord, so we could have some lighting in the bathrooms. Then, they called the Lacovia manager (who was off duty – it was Sunday), located the panel and restored power.
I will not say much more about Lacovia, except to say that the unit they provided was very nice, very spacious and did not ruin the start of our trip. If anything, it was a nice upgrade even if it caused us to have to move on the second day of our trip.
GCBS – SECOND CHECK-IN
The next day, we returned to GCBS for our free breakfast and saw Tanisha. She reported that the 2 bedroom suite was not available. That begs the question – why even mention the possibility of an upgrade unless it was in the bag? Good intentions – but I’d suggest that front desk staff not mention upgrades unless they will materialize. Offer that which you can control – a monetary credit or free meal – and surprise the returning guest with the suite upgrade if it is available. Turns out, another party of two people were given that 2-bedroom suite upgrade after an overbook the very next day.
We were taken to our room – 8303. The GCBS is constructed like an L. One-half of the L directly faces the pool/ocean (and main road on the bedroom side) and the other half faces the pool and construction site next door. We were on the third floor with a direct (albeit palm tree-limited) view of the ocean. The suite was very spacious and modern. We had plenty of space for four people. As you entered, the bedroom was on the right. As you continued, there was a large bathroom (double vanity, soaking tub) on the right and then a main living area with kitchen/dining area with a living room with chairs, couch and table. Patio was also large with small table and two sitting chairs. I believe the suite is nearly 700 sq feet. The full balcony was about 100 square feet. Having stayed at this suite, I recognize that they offer you so much more than a standard hotel room, especially for a family. The suite vs hotel room distinction cannot be understated. The General Manager of the GCBS has chimed in here before about how large the suite is – and he is correct.
At this point, I have to provide some frank information about the resort. None of this ruined our trip, but it should be considered for what it is worth. It might mean very little to you, but it meant something to me as I like my bedrooms and beaches to be relatively quiet!
Little disclosure – I love Anguilla. Why is that relevant? Anguilla offers incredible beaches with very little development. When you go to a beach on Anguilla, you hear the ocean and nature. You do not hear man-made noises. You do not see endless hotels fronting the beach as you do on SMB. At the GCBS, there are noise issues in the bedrooms and on the beach.
In the suite, the bedrooms on the L with a direct view of the ocean are only 40-50 feet away from West Bay Road. Long story short, you will hear the passing cars at all times of the day and night. It can be loud and, if you are a light sleeper, you’ll hear it. It did not bother me, but it bothered my wife. Also, the rooms on the other part of the L are next to a construction site. I cannot comment on whether those patrons were disturbed by the construction noise, but I mention it.
The beach – while beautiful – was busy and had distractions.
First, there is an active and noisy construction project (The Watercolours) between the GCBS and Lacovia. The site is about 100-150 feet from the GCBS waterline. During the work week, there would be audible construction noise from the beach and water. If you don’t mind the din of construction as a backdrop to your time on the beach, then go. If you expect to hear waves and solitude, think again. The project is underway and will likely continue for several months. They are building 90 condos with asking price of $2.7 million CI and up. This is a big deal and will likely be very nice, although will add to the overdevelopment on West Bay Road. There are large cranes and other vehicles that make noise. The noise is not deafening – it is just there.
Second, the GCBS has a Red Sail Sports office. Why is that relevant? Well, it is a hub for boat activity. We saw multiple boats pulling into shore and remaining there throughout our stay. These boats would remain docked for 30-45 minutes while the crew refilled oxygen tanks and the boat motor emitted noise – and gas fumes – into the beach area. They also had motorized vehicles in the water which would rub against plastic barriers, causing an annoying noise when it was windy. So, you have boat noise in addition to the construction noise.
Third, the GCBS lines up many chairs on the beach. I’d say they have 70-80 chairs on a small section of beach. That is great in that you never have to worry about getting a chair, but it also looks very busy. I am not a manager at this resort, so I am sure there is a good business decision behind it. I just point out that it looks busy.
SEVEN MILE BEACH
Having given those disclaimers, I can now comment on the beach. It is nice. Very nice. Sand is light and fine powder. Water is amazing. Truly amazing. Water clarity is incredible. Water temp was about 85-87 degrees – you could just wade into it without a chill. Abundant fish life right off the shore. Nothing fancy – mostly small white fish – but was nice for the little kids. Water level gradually deepened. You could snorkel off the shore and see some small, decent fish. The color of the water was outstanding – from clear to different hues of blue.
Now, I’ll digress again. The water at SMB compares with Anguilla’s finest beaches. The sand is not as white or as fine as Shoal Bay East or Rendezvous Bay on Anguilla. The noise/overdevelopment is what affected my beach experience, although would not prevent me from returning after the construction is over. Going to Anguilla may have spoiled the rest of the Caribbean for me since it is the benchmark for everything else – and nothing else has yet compared for me. I will frankly say that Grand Cayman has MUCH more to offer than Anguilla by way of entertainment and dining for families. For the pure beach experience, Anguilla is better, but principally because of GC’s development.
If you can get past the development and noise, the beach at GCBS is very nice. Once the construction project ends, I’d say the beach situation would be much better. There is nothing the GCBS can do about development next door. I just mention it because it might be a factor to some.
OVERBOOKING – REVISITED
So, during our stay, I spoke with other patrons and learned that others had been bumped to the Westin. I thought about the situation and arrived at some conclusions.
First, it is a testament to the GCBS and its staff that this hotel is overbooked during low season. That speaks volumes as to the quality of its suites, the service of its staff and the incredible value that you get. They could easily justify charging 30-50% more for what they give you. This point cannot be overstated.
Second, I am convinced that the overbooking situation is due to its cancelation policy. GCBS allows patrons to cancel without penalty up to 6pm on the day of arrival. That is smart inasmuch as GC lies in the hurricane belt. People can cancel at the last second if the weather looks bad. However, the upshot is that they have to overbook based on the assumption that a certain percentage of patrons will cancel because they can do so.
Third, while I cannot confirm it, I suspect that they bump those who book through third parties more regularly than those who book directly through the hotel. The 3-4 families with whom I spoke booked through third party web sites (e.g., Orbitz, Travelocity, etc….)
I believe that GCBS has a regular policy of overbooking. So, be aware that if you book here, you may not spend your entire vacation here. I will say that the front desk handles the situation well with nice perks. However, we had to ask 3-4 times for the credit after it was offered. Each time, the person told me that I had to ask Tanisha. The night before leaving, I received a copy of my account statement – no credit listed. I asked the front desk representative if the credit would appear on check out. She said it would. Well, I got an updated statement on check out. No credit. I reminded them of the credit – and it was added promptly and without issue. Tip to management – if you’re going to overbook as a policy – and offer credits – don’t force your patrons to have to ask for it. Make sure it is posted to the account upon check in. The offer was fair to be sure, but I should not have to be made to ask (and re-ask) for it to issue. A hotel gesture is supposed to be just that – and not something for which reminders are needed.
TO RENT – OR NOT RENT
After considering the issue extensively, I decided not to rent a car. I believe I made the right decision for my family. We were not interested in exploring the island. We came for a relaxing beach vacation and found that we had access to a few dozen restaurants within a 10-15 minute walk in either direction. I did not want to spend $400 for the week (btwn rental and insurance). We used a cab twice – to/from the airport. We used the bus once – to get to Sunshine Grill. We walked the rest of the time. Fosters supermarket is a 10 minute walk. I did not want the stress of driving on the left in traffic with lots of foreign turns. I have driven in Anguilla (there we go again) and found driving on the left easy since: (a) not too many roads on Anguilla and (b) the speed limit is really low. Not the case on West Bay Road. This is a personal decision, but I was glad not to have rented. The bus system was plentiful and would have taken me wherever I wanted. GCBS is really central to SMB.
We enjoyed our dining experiences although we knew coming in that food is very expensive in Grand Cayman. For starters, $1 CI equals 80 cents US. All prices are CI, so just add 25% to the listed price to convert to US dollars. Also, since nearly all food is imported, food prices are much more expensive than the US. I will attempt to preview the places we ate at.
We dined at Hemmingways once – for the free breakfast. It was quite good. Coffee was excellent. Eggs and pancakes were well made. Had we actually paid for the meal, it would have been about $50-60 USD. Entrée prices for breakfast are about $7-10 CI each. I love a good breakfast – and the food was quite good – but I’d be hesitant to spend $50 USD each morning. Tip to management – consider raising room rates a bit and including breakfast as a package. The Hyatt used to do that at SMB. Instead of having many of your families eating elsewhere or bringing in pastries from Fosters, you could capture the breakfast crowd better.
We had two lunches at the beach bar. Food quality was fair – prices were very high (as expected). Lunches for four (without any beverages) were $50 USD or so. If you have sodas with lunch, figure on $70 USD for four. If you drink alcohol, double it to $100 USD for lunch. My son fell and dropped his wings trying to get out of a rainstorm – and the waiter came over and immediately replaced the wings. The waiter was more concerned about my son – nice touch. Good people.
We had our first and last meals across the street at Lonestar. This is a BBQ joint with indoor (air conditioned) and outdoor deck seating. We thoroughly enjoyed both meals. For dinner, I had a BBQ combo with smoked sausage and brisket for $17 CI. Excellent. I know good BBQ (own a smoker) and this was good BBQ. My wife had a pulled pork sandwich – loved it. Free refills on sodas. Spent about $70 USD for a nice, filling dinner. They have free Wifi as well. We returned for lunch – had a Big Texas Steak Wrap for $11 CI. Also excellent. Lunch for four was about $60 USD. When you walk by the Lonestar, you see and smell the large smoker. This is an excellent place for families and quite convenient to the GCBS.
Ragazzi is an upscale Italian/pizza place in Buckingham Square directly across from the GCBS. It is a 3-minute walk at best. They have a wood oven for pizza. They serve 12 inch pizzas for between $11 and $17 CI that serve 1-2 people. We ordered three pies, an antipasto and sodas - $85 US for four people including tip. The service was absolutely wonderful. Pizza was very, very good. Would commend place to families with kids who like pizza – which would be all families!
This place lived up to its reviews. We are so glad we went there and only regret not going there again. I had a jerk chicken wrap – which was phenomenal. Really, really spicy with nice, flavorful veggies. Loved it. Well worth the $7 CI. My family also split the feast for 2-4 – which was a whole rotisserie chicken, two large sides and four pieces of cornbread. That was $27 CI. Sodas were $2 CI each – with free refills. Dinner was about $50 USD. Most people took out, but there were 6-7 tables for dine in with air conditioning. Was in West Shore Center – a 12-minute walk from GCBS.
This place also lived up to its #1 rated reputation on TA. We took a bus there – only a 3-minute drive. We walked home – about 15-20 minutes. It is behind Falls Plaza in the Sunshine Suites. Dinner for four was about $90 USD, but that was because my wife and I had Painkillers, which were quite potent! I had the acclaimed fish tacos – which were excellent. My wife had a burger – was also very good. Service was very attentive. Seating is not air conditioned – screened in porch. Consider having bug spray. Nice, family-oriented place. Would have been only $60-70 without the alcohol, which is a good deal for dinner for four. Would definitely return.
We had dinner at the Reef Grill in the Royal Palms – about a 10-minute walk on same side of road as GCBS. Only regret is that we did not arrive earlier for wonderful sunset views from upper level. Nice place with outstanding views. We were treated to a great lightning show from Mother Nature. Service was outstanding. Food was pretty good – not great. I had the snapper, which was the fish of the day. Honestly, it was no better than frozen fish from Costco. My wife had the shrimp pasta, which she said was quite good. Dinner for four (with one alcoholic drink) was $130 including tip. I am not sure I’d return. Setting and service were excellent, but food was not. Can do better at this price point.
We dined across the street from GCBS at Deckers on our final night. You can eat outside (where the car noise is 20 feet away) or inside with air conditioning. Service was quite attentive. Food was slightly above average – nothing to brag about. Had the mahi mahi – was good – not great. Wife had the stuffed chicken – she said it was good. Son had the ribs (appetizer) as an entrée – very fatty. Dinner for four without sodas or alcohol was $120 for four. I was not planning to go there as the reviews did not thrill me. I would likely not return.
We brought in an 18 inch pizza from Gino’s for lunch. It is immediately next to Lonestar – a 3-4 minute walk from GCBS. Good pie! Very tasty. Was $25 USD for the pizza and fed four hungry people. They have a nice selection of pies. Would definitely commend it as a lunch or cheap dinner place. Take out only – only counters to eat on.
Yes, I went to BK to pick up breakfast one morning. Three croissandwiches and two orders of French toast sticks – no sides, no drinks - $21 USD. Same meal would have been $9-10 in the US. It is what it is!
Fosters is a modern supermarket located behind The Strand – a 10-12 minute walk from GCBS. We went there twice to stock up on soft drinks and baked goods/snacks. Well worth the trips. Prices are high, but not as exorbitant as the restaurants. If you stay in a place with a fridge, suggest you go to Fosters to stock up. It is closed on Sundays.
Overall, the food was quite expensive. No way around that fact. Ninety percent of all food is imported, so it costs more. There are ways to save. Fosters supermarket. Pizza or Chicken Chicken for meals. I am sure there are many other ways to save. I did NOT find the $20-30 CI per entrée places to be any better than the $10-15 CI per entrée places. Nicer settings – perhaps – but not better food.
We booked an excursion with Captain Marvin to see Stingray City, the barrier reef and coral gardens. It was $40 pp for adults (12+) and $27 for children. Well worth it. Excellent trip. Well run. Tour guide was very thorough, professional and personal. We stayed at Stingray City for about 30-40 minutes, enough time for everyone to hold/feed the rays. Then, we snorkeled at barrier reef (200-300 feet away from stingray bar) and at coral gardens, which was spectacular. They anchored off coral gardens and dropped some bread into the water and thousands of colorful fish swarmed the area. Best snorkeling since my Hawaii trip in 1995. Really, really good. I’d highly commend Captain Marvin. (I did call Captain Dexter at Fantasea, but he answered his cell phone and politely said that he was closed until September.) Cost was about $160 for four people (they add on a few bucks for use of credit card). Worth every cent.
I hope this review is helpful. It is way too long, but I wanted to provide information . Thanks for reading.