Highlighting Southwest’s International Destinations, Part 3: The Cayman Islands

Get a $10 welcome gift and major cash back rebates on your purchases at ebates!In Part 1 of this series I shared an overview of Southwest’s international destinations.  Then in Part 2, I covered The Bahamas and Cuba.

The waters of the Cayman Islands are renowned for their clarity, making them excellent for diving and snorkeling.
The waters of the Cayman Islands are renowned for their clarity, making them excellent for diving and snorkeling. Photo ©The Honeymoon Guy

Welcome to Part 3 of the series, in which I highlight one of Southwest’s newest international destinations: The Cayman Islands.  Let’s dive in!

The Cayman Islands, aka Las Tortugas

The Cayman Islands were spotted by Christopher Columbus in the year 1503.  Given the ubiquity of sea turtles in the surrounding waters, he tabbed the islands Las Tortugas.

It turned out that Columbus had spotted two of the three islands that now make up the Cayman Islands: Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.

The islands are well-known as a financial mecca and the residents are generally affluent, having the 14th highest GDP per capita in the world.  That stands in stark contrast to many other Caribbean nations beset by poverty.

Of course the average tourist isn’t drawn to the Cayman Islands because of their financial reputation.  The affluence of the island cuts two ways: It means there are myriad upscale offerings and fewer hassles than at other Caribbean islands, but it also means a vacation to the island isn’t usually cheap.

Getting To and From the Island

Though Columbus didn’t actually reach the “Grandest” of the three Cayman islands, in 2017 Southwest did, starting service to/from Grand Cayman.  The airline flies into the one major airport of the island trio – the Owen Roberts International Airport (GCM).

Southwest now flies to Grand Cayman! As is the case with many Caribbean airports, you’ll board and deplane from/to the tarmac at Owen Roberts International Airport. Photo ©The Honeymoon Guy

If you want to get there/back on a nonstop flight, you have only two options: flying to/from Houston Hobby (HOU) or Fort Lauderdale (FLL).  Of course Southwest offers many connecting flights to/from HOU and FLL, making it relatively easy for Americans to fly the airline to Grand Cayman.

During our visit of December 2017, Southwest was operating out of a temporary gate (1A) at GCM.  The gate was tucked away in the leftmost corner of the terminal after clearing security.

Airports serviced by Southwest in country: Owen Roberts International (GCM) on Grand Cayman

Mainland servicing airport(s): Fort Lauderdale (FLL); Houston Hobby (HOU)

Taxes and fees: $89.79 per person for a FLL-NAS roundtrip award ticket

As of writing, roundtrip flights between FLL and GCM could be had for as few as 5,040 Rapid Rewards points!

The Appeal and Attractions

The Cayman Islands offer quite a few appealing honeymoon and vacation elements: Crystal-clear waters, silky sand beaches, and high-end resorts and dining.

Seven Mile Beach is the most famous sandy coast of the islands, lining the western edge of Grand Cayman.  The beach is home to some of Grand Cayman’s major hotel resorts, including a Westin, a Marriott and a Ritz-Carlton.

Seven Mile Beach offers powdery sand, calm clear waters and stunning sunsets almost every day of the year.
Seven Mile Beach offers powder-soft sand, calm clear waters and stunning sunsets almost every day of the year. Photo ©The Honeymoon Guy

With its glass-clear emerald waters, the islands draw many a diver and snorkeler.  The numerous sea turtles in the area are joined by an abundance of other marine life, including hundreds of fish species, crabs, stingrays and iguanas.

Iguanas are plentiful on Grand Cayman. I snapped this photo on the grounds of the Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman on the first day of our visit.
Iguanas are plentiful on Grand Cayman. I snapped this photo on the grounds of the Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman on the first day of our visit. Photo ©The Honeymoon Guy

Speaking of stingrays… One of the most popular activities for visitors to Grand Cayman is a stop at “Stingray City.”

The “city” is actually a series of sandbars off the coast of the island and the city’s “inhabitants” are hundreds of wild, but friendly, stingrays.  The rays have become accustomed to humans as they’ve been fed for many years by fishermen and now tourists.

Legend has it that kissing a stingray brings you seven years of good luck, so get ready to pucker up if you add a visit to your itinerary.  You can pick from many boat operators (e.g. George’s Watersports) or if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even rent a jetski/waverunner and head out on your own.

On the northwest corner of the island sits one of the world’s great turtle centers.  The Cayman Turtle Centre features thousands of sea turtles, from babies to mature adults, a breeding ground and a touch-tank area.  During our visit, an $18USD entry fee got us access to those areas of the centre.  If you pony up about $45USD you’ll also gain access to a lagoon in which you can snorkel with the sea turtles, as well as an aviary center and a predator reef.

This baby sea turtle at the Cayman Turtle Centre was showing off its beautiful dark colors! A visit to the turtle centre includes the option of holding the baby turtles! Photo ©The Honeymoon Guy

Using Points to Stay on Grand Cayman

Once you’ve landed at GCM, you’re within a 15-minute drive of the Seven Mile Beach area.  There you’ll find a selection of major hotels at which you can stay using points.

Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriott Rewards points-holders should consider The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa, the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort or the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman.  With Starwood and Marriott still in the process of merging you can freely transfer points between the two programs, offering great redemption flexibility.

The Ritz-Carlton lived up to its reputation during a recent points stay Patty and I had at the property.  It’s a beautiful resort offering classy accommodations, impeccable service, tasty dining options and a variety of fun activities.

The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman boasts beautiful grounds and amenities, with a plum location on Seven Mile Beach.
The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman boasts beautiful grounds and amenities, with a plum location on Seven Mile Beach. Photo ©The Honeymoon Guy

The Comfort Suites Seven Mile Beach is another option, if you have Choice Privileges points.

Here is a collection of links to some of the major hotels on the island for which you can redeem points for free stays:

Seven Mile Beach

Reminder: Points can be transferred between SPG, Marriott Rewards and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards programs.

Elsewhere on the Island

The Summary

Grand Cayman is a beautiful, affluent island with lots to offer honeymooners and vacationers.  It boasts the idyllic Seven Mile Beach, luxurious hotel accomodations, crystal clear waters perfect for diving and snorkeling, and mesmerizing marine life from stingrays to sea turtles and more.  It’s a boon to those with Southwest Rapid Rewards that this destination was added to Southwest’s route map.  If you get the chance to visit, by all means go for it!


Have you visited Grand Cayman?  Share your thoughts on the island in the comments below!


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