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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 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
- The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa – Starwood Preferred Guest
- Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort – Marriott Rewards
- Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman – The Ritz-Carlton Rewards
- Comfort Suites Seven Mile Beach – Choice Privileges
Reminder: Points can be transferred between SPG, Marriott Rewards and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards programs.
Elsewhere on the Island
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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