Trip Review: Grand Cayman Island

During the second week of July, my wife, 9-month-old son, and I took a trip to Grand Cayman Island. Rather than do a separate hotel review, I’m going to combine everything into one post since there are a few relevant details which many of you may benefit from. We chose Grand Cayman Island for a few reasons. First of all, it’s about a 3.5-hour flight from Chicago and that’s approximately the maximum time for my son to be confined to an airline cabin before he really starts getting restless. When he was 5 months old and we took him on an 8-hour flight to Hawaii and he was perfectly fine. Once he hit the 7-month mark, even a 2-hour flight wasn’t easy. So with those considerations in mind, Europe, Asia, and Hawaii were out of the question. The second reason we chose Grand Cayman is that their beaches have been spared from the seaweed problem (sargassum) that has plagued destinations such as Cancun, Dominican Republic, Barbados, and even Florida. Most of these destinations are doing their best to remove it every morning but despite their efforts, it’s still noticeable. The third reason we chose Grand Cayman is that it is infant/toddler/kid-friendly.

Booking

For this trip, I was able to find saver level award tickets (tickets which require the least number of miles for a given route) on American Airlines for 30k miles per person round trip. Since my son is a lap infant, his ticket was free. The cash price for a round-trip flight from Chicago to Grand Cayman was $455 per person. Redeeming 60k miles for $910 worth of airfare was a decent redemption.

Owen Roberts International Airport does not have jet bridges so you have to walk down the stairs and onto the tarmac before getting into the airport terminal. The minute you land, you’re greeted by a musical band playing local music. It’s a perfect way to get the vacation vibes going.

   Sunshine Suites Resort

We stayed in a boutique hotel called Sunshine Suites Resort. It’s a 3.5-star hotel that is clean, comfortable, and very reasonably priced (usually between $140-$180/night). I saw its 4.5-star rating on Trip Advisor with over 2,000 reviews and that was good enough for me. Now, if you need luxury accommodations with an ocean view, this hotel is not for you. The main reason why I booked this hotel is we got to use all the amenities of the 5 star Westin Hotel which is a 5-minute walk down the street. Their pool, beach, beach towels, lounge chairs, gym, and access to its restaurants and bars are all included as part of the mandatory $35/day resort fee. The nightly price of the Westin was 3x the price of the Sunshine Suites. Since we were going to be out at the beach for a majority of the day anyway, all we needed was a comfortable place to sleep, shower, and get dressed and Sunshine Suites provided all that and more including complimentary breakfast. You can click on the video below to get an idea of the rooms and the property. FYI, if you don’t want to make the walk to the Westin, you can go to the front desk at Sunshine Suites and request a driver to drop you off in their golf cart. It works the same way if you want to come back from the Westin. Just let the front desk at the Westin know in that case.

 

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Sunshine Suites at night

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The pool at Sunshine Suites at night

The breakfast offerings were decent. A nice variety of pastries, pancakes, cereal, parfait, boiled eggs, toast, oatmeal, bananas, muffins, coffee, tea, orange juice, and apple juice. Sunshine Suites also had a restaurant on premises called Sunshine Grill which served lunch and dinner. This is not complimentary and does not come as part of an “all-inclusive” package. The fish tacos they served were delicious. If I can go back and have one meal in Grand Cayman, the fish tacos would be it.

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The Westin Hotel

Since we had access to all the amenities of the Westin, we would have breakfast and make our way there for the majority of the day.

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If you don’t want to walk here from Sunshine Suites, go to the front desk of Sunshine Suites and request to be dropped off via golf cart. This was a very convenient way to move around with our son.

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The pool and swim-up bar at the Westin

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The Westin Lobby

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View of The Westin from the beach area

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The pool has a pedestrian bridge that crosses over to the beach. You can swim underneath to get to either side.

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First pool experience for Zayn 

Seven Mile Beach

Once you cross over the pool to the beach area, you will be greeted by Westin employees who will direct you to lounge chairs and open up the umbrellas if you choose to have them open. Towels are available to the right of the pool and they must be checked out with your last name and room number of the property you’re staying at. Seven Mile Beach is simply amazing. Among all the beaches I have visited in my life,  I would rank it right behind the Maldives for water clarity.  There is no seaweed, no litter, it’s perfectly maintained, and waves are calm for water activities.

 

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The lounge chairs get occupied pretty quickly. The earlier you claim one in the morning the better.

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The water clarity makes it perfect for snorkeling at Seven Mile Beach so be sure to bring an underwater camera and snorkeling gear. You can also rent the gear from the hotel. Seven Mile Beach faces west and if the horizon is clear, you will be treated to some spectacular sunsets.  Even if the horizon isn’t 100% clear, the sun reflecting off the clouds will make a for a beautiful and colorful sky. SunsetGrandCayman

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A point of interest which might be worth visiting if you’re reading this is Stingray City. It wasn’t age-appropriate for a 9-month-old but if you have kids a bit older or you yourself want to experience swimming with stingrays, it’s only a 10-minute drive away.  Keep in mind that when driving in the Cayman Islands, you drive on the left side of the road as it is a British territory.

Some of you have asked if the food, water, and snacks are expensive and for the most part, they certainly are expensive. If you purchase from the hotel or even convenience stores right next to the hotel, it will cost you 3 to 4 times would you are used to paying for bottled water. I asked a local where I can just buy a case of water and he directed me to a large wholesale club called ‘Cost U Less’ which was just a 7-minute walk away. If you’re familiar with BJ’s Wholesale Club on the East Coast, this was basically their sister store. It even had the Wellsley Farms brand which is the store label for BJ’s. You don’t need a membership and while the prices aren’t U.S. wholesale club cheap, it’s far cheaper than any other place you will find on the island. If you’re staying at an Airbnb and decide to cook rather than eat out, this is a perfect place to shop for your ingredients since they also carry fresh produce, seafood, and meat.

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Concluding Thoughts

We had a great time at Grand Cayman Island and the service and hospitality at both the Sunshine Suites and Westin were top notch. I’ve never seen two hotels so well coordinated when it came to transporting passengers between the two properties and accommodating each other’s guests at their respective restaurants. If there is one other important tip you take from this, BRING MOSQUITO REPELLANT and bathe yourself in it. They are relentless and if there any parts of your body that doesn’t have the repellant touching it, they will find it, guaranteed.  As always, thanks for reading.

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Rum Point, Grand Cayman Island as seen from the ascent on American Airlines.

 

 

 

 

Itinerary: 3 Days in Washington D.C.

If you’re looking for a place to travel with kids and want to choose a place where multiple attractions are close in proximity, D.C. is that place. The best part about D.C. is most of those sites are free, something that large families will truly appreciate. My wife and I traveled here with our 7-month-old and we found places that suited all of us. If you’re staying in the downtown area or anywhere near the U.S. Capitol, you will be able to walk to the various tourist sites.  If you’re staying outside the city and are driving in, I recommend using an app such as Park Whiz or Spot Hero and parking at a nearby garage for the duration of the day. There is also metered parking available but they have two or three-hour limits.

                   Day 1- National Mall Area

Our first stop was the Washington Monument. It’s the tallest building in D.C. and it’s a great starting point or meetup point because you can’t miss it.  The immediate area surrounding the monument was fenced off since it was getting some type of facelift. Nonetheless, it’s an iconic structure and the field surrounding the monument is perfect for a picnic or flying kites.

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Washington Monument

Continuing on our path, the second stop was the World War II Memorial which was a short walk to the west. The Memorial itself was awesome but the highlight of our time here was the presence of WWII veterans.

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World War II Memorial Fountain with The Washington Monument in the background

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World War II Veterans

Prior to coming here, I had only seen 2 or 3 WWII vets in my life. It was really cool to see an entire group of men and women who served our country decades ago. Thank you again for your service! After spending about 25 minutes here, we continued on to the Lincoln Memorial.

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Front of the Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial is the most popular among all the memorials and you will find people here even past midnight when the Lincoln statue is illuminated. As you enter, the first floor will have information on the Civil War and its impact on the country. The second floor is where the statue of Lincoln is situated. They do have elevators if you are unable to climb the stairs or have a stroller.LincolnStatue

When you climb the stairs and look towards the east (the path we came from), you get an amazing view of the National Mall and the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.

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After spending a solid 40-45 minutes here, we walked over to the Korean War Veterans Memorial and then the Martin Luther King Memorial.

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The MLK Memorial. The side of the statue reads “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

The MLK memorial is right next to the Tidal Basin and you have to walk south off of Independence Ave. The next stops were the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

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Front entrance to the Jefferson Memorial

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The Jefferson Memorial is a beautiful building that was influenced by the Pantheon of Rome. If you’re in D.C. during early April when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, this is the place to be.  If you want to get a visual of our walk from Washington Monument to Jefferson Memorial, the map below shows our path as we went from place to place.  I’d budget around 3 hours if you really want to experience all the monuments and take pictures.

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By the time we were done seeing all the memorials, it was time to get my restless 7-month-old son to the hotel so he could take his usual nap. After dinner, we walked to the South Lawn of the White House at night to take a few pictures.

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No matter who is in office, the White House is just a beautiful building. I prefer the night view as there is a certain elegance in the dark backdrop. Once we were finished taking pictures here, our first day was in the books.

Day 2 – Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and Lincoln Memorial at Night

Mother nature did not want to cooperate with us on our second day in D.C. and we had to deal with rain and thunderstorms so that took most of the outdoor attractions out of the picture. Fortunately, D.C. has a lot of excellent indoor attractions as well so we took advantage of this and visited the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. There are some fascinating exhibits at this museum and it’s also an interactive museum with hands-on activities that kids will enjoy.

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The aquarium at the coral reef exhibit was a favorite among many infants and kids, my son included.

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The famous Hope Diamond

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You should budget at least 1.5 hours for the Smithsonian if you want to comfortably see everything. After dinner, the rain had mostly stopped and many people had recommended walking up to the Lincoln Memorial at night. The Washington Monument reflects off the pool and it makes for an amazing picture.

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The statue at night looks really cool

Day 3: Capitol Hill and Smithsonian Zoo

During the early afternoon, we walked to the Capitol Building

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View of the National Mall from the Capitol

Unlike all the other sites we had visited in D.C., the Smithsonian Zoo was a 12-15 minute drive from our hotel in downtown. Like all the sites we had visited thus far, this one was also free of charge. And for a free zoo, it really had a lot to offer.

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We saw lions, tigers, cheetahs, gorillas, giraffes, elephants, and various other animals. This is another place that is perfect for kids and offers something for people of all ages.

Other Places of Interests to Consider

Since we were here for 3 days with a 7-month-old, it was going to be impossible to see everything we wanted in that short window. If you are going to D.C., also consider visiting the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, and the Sackler Gallery. The National Museum of Archives is home to the Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights, and The Emancipation Proclamation.  All these attractions are free and if you are so inclined, you can leave a small donation when you enter or exit.  D.C. is a wonderful city with no shortage of things to do and places to see. It’s a very walkable city and a great place for budget travelers who get to experience world-class attractions at no cost.