Cayman Vacation

krn2673This year’s vacation to Grand Cayman Island was voted by our family as the best one yet.  Having just left the island and now on the plane heading home, we are reminiscing about all the exciting adventures we had and the amazing people we met.  We all agree that we would do the exact same trip again, staying in the same place, and scuba diving with the same crew.  We’re hoping to return again next summer, Lord willing.

Day 1 – We arrived on Thursday, July 11th and, after picking up our rental car from Alamo, we drove straight to Tamarind Bay Condos where we stayed during our eight-day vacation.  Condo #7 was just steps from the beach, and the accommodations were  perfect for us.  It had two bedrooms, two baths, a living room, family room, full-sized kitchen, and a screened-in porch overlooking the ocean.  We had a pool just outside our condo as well, and were nestled amidst lush grounds with tropical vegetation and coconut-filled palm trees.  We especially liked the little lizards that sat on rocks lining the pathways, as well as the sand and hermit crabs that meandered about both day and night.  Lauren was particularly enthralled by all the creatures and also by a cat that wandered through the premises.  She took several cat hunts during the course of our stay.

After excitedly checking out all the rooms in the condo, we went straight to the beach to go snorkeling in the crystal clear waters.  The visibility was incredible, and the white sand beaches were fine and soft.  Katie and Lauren flung sand at one another and splashed around in the 84 degree water saying, “This is the best vacation yet”, and it had literally just begun.

The first evening we went out to dinner at Duke’s Steak and Seafood.  Kory had fresh Mahi Mahi, I had Seafood Jambalaya, Katie had chicken strips, and Lauren had what she called “the best steak sandwich ever”.  It was all delicious, but we should have searched around for a more reasonably-priced restaurant before just stopping at the first one that looked good because the bill shocked us when it came.  After dinner, we went back to our condo and attempted to get an early night’s sleep because the following morning the girls were to start the first of their two-day open water certification dives.  However, we stayed up playing many games of Banana Grams.

krn2688Day 2 – At 7:30am, the girls had to be at Ambassador Diver just a few minutes’ walk from our condo. They met Maria, their dive instructor, and immediately took a liking to her.  They began their morning by practicing dive skills in the Comfort Suites pool in preparation for their first ocean dives that afternoon.  Kory and I went grocery shopping at Foster’s Food Fair while the girls were in class so we would be stocked with food for the remainder of our vacation. On our way back, we picked up the girls, had a quick sandwich lunch at the condo, and headed back to the dive shop for an afternoon of diving.  We had to plan afternoon dives rather than morning dives because Lauren isn’t permitted to go below 40 feet at age 10, and the morning dives were all deeper dive sites. So, each of our five days of afternoon diving began at 12:45pm at the dive shop, followed by a bus ride to the boat that was beached nearby. We climbed up some steps right from the shore, received a warm welcome and an introduction to the crew and boat, and then we started preparing our equipment.  I could see the excitement in Katie and Lauren’s eyes from all these “firsts”.  Then it was off to our first dive site called Spanish Bay Reef.  After tying up to the mooring line, Maria began the first open water dive with the girls while Kory and I took a dive on our own. We stayed nearby the girls, however, so we could watch them and so that Kory could take pictures of this momentous occasion. We saw a giant green moray eel here, a lion fish, parrot fish, and many other varieties.

The first dive was a success for the girls and they were both in awe of the underwater world.  Captain Jeff unhooked us from the mooring line and proceeded to our next dive site, Sponge Point. Here we pretty much replicated our first dive, but the girls got to swim with two large turtles and hold an arrow crab.

The first day ended with dinner at Sunshine Grill, a walk along the beach with singing, and an early night to bed. Lauren felt like she was rocking in bed, but the waves didn’t affect the rest of us until after the second or third day of being out on the water.

krn2710Day 3 – This was a big day for the girls because the two dives this day were the ones that would complete their open water dive certifications.  The third and fourth dive sites were called Hepp’s Pipeline and Mitch Miller’s Reef.  Here the girls practiced more underwater skills such as buddy breathing, clearing masks, buoyancy, and ascension and descension.  They did great!  On the boat after the last dive of the day, Maria announced:  “Congratulations!  You’re official scuba divers now”.  We all cheered, took photos, and celebrated with Welch’s Fruit Snacks, Nature Valley Granola Bars, and water.  On these two dives we saw tube sponges, coral, a trumpet fish, yellow tail, schools of angelfish, fairy basslet, tiger fish, and a barracuda.

The evening ended at Yoshi’s Japanese restaurant where we enjoyed fresh sushi. The girls’ dive instructor, Maria, and our really nice and well-trained boat captain and dive master, Jeff, joined us for dinner. It was the celebratory meal that was a perfect ending to a perfect day.

Day 4 – We got up early and took a drive along the coastline and went around the entire island in about 1-1/2 hours. You can drive about three-fourths of the way around the island, but that’s as far as the road goes.  We stopped at Rum Point and had jerk fish burgers and hot dogs on the beach. We walked the boardwalk and peered at the fish through the glassy water. On our drive, we could see the ravages left by Hurricane Ivan several years back. Homes had been abandoned to rot, with holes in roofs and walls caved in.  There were “for sale” signs everywhere along the island’s south coast. We also watched crab trying to cross the streets, but evidence on the road showed us that many don’t make it.

krn6111We got back to the condo just in time to get our bathing suits and cover-ups on and head to the dive shop again to take a bus to the boat. This day marked the first official dive days for Katie and Lauren without instructors.  Our first dive site was called Chain Reef. Katie did a great job with Kory. Lauren and I buddied-up, but this dive wasn’t successful for Lauren. She descended to eight feet but couldn’t clear her ears. I tried having her ascend and go down really slowly, but I think she was a little scared and wanted to surface. We went back to the boat and she rested that dive out. The next dive site was called Bolero. Here Lauren decided to brave it out and dive again. This time, however, we all went down the rope with her slowly so she could equalize her ears better. I had to hold back for a few minutes though because, at the last minute while I was putting on my BC, I noticed that the tube connected to my dive computer was leaking air. Dive master Mike was able to give me a loaner computer for this dive so I was able to meet Kory, Katie and Lauren at the bottom of the deep blue sea.  We took some family photos under water, and Kory also got some great shots of the girls as they played around.  We all agree that Dad should send some of his underwater photos to a dive magazine or National Geographic. He’s been gifted in this area, that’s for sure.

After a long day of diving, we came right back to the condo, showered, and were ready to wind down for the night.  The girls went to the beach and walked the “Path of Peace” that Lauren and Katie found.  Kory updated our dive logs and uploaded photos, and I made a spaghetti dinner. We played a few more games of Banana Grams and Farkle after dinner and then turned in for the night.

krn6186Day 5 – The girls slept in this morning while Kory and I went to Divers Supply to get a new hose to attach to my dive computer. We made it a low-key morning while we prepared for another afternoon of diving. After waking around 9am, the girls played on the beach while Kory uploaded his latest dive photos, and I began writing our vacation journal so as not to forget the details.

Our first and second dive sites this afternoon were Royal Palms Ledge and Hammerhead Hole.  We saw a sting ray buried in the sand at the first site and tried to find nurse shark since we heard they often hung out under the ledges in this area.  We didn’t see any, but we saw a puffer fish and we each hovered over our favorite species to observe them more closely.  Kory loves the sponges, I love the bluefish and little goby and benny fish that swim near the sandy bottom and dwell inside of sponges.  Katie and Lauren love swimming with (and touching) the turtles the most.

This evening we were all exhausted from four straight days of diving, so we decided to stay in for dinner.  Kory went to pick up Pizza Hut and after that we went to bed early.

krn6238Day 6 – This morning we left the condo early for a time of shopping.  We started out in the cruise ship/port area.  Lauren bought a t-shirt and bracelet here but most of the shops had touristy souvenirs, so we left here and went to The Westin Hotel to shop at Red Sail Sports.  Here Kory bought a couple of hats for his friends, and Lauren got a beautiful little globe with shells and jewels in it. She’s been treasuring it ever since.  We then stopped at Lauren’s Cafe to see if Lauren could get a t-shirt with her name on it to take home.  Instead, the owner, named Lauren, gave our Lauren a mug with her name on it. We were so appreciate that we decided it was only right to stay for lunch and patron their business. The food was good. We had crab cakes, fish tacos, BBQ chicken and a great berry crepe with cream for dessert.  We were pressed for time and went right back to the condo, got our swimsuits on, and headed out for our last day of diving.  This day’s dive sites were Lonestar Ledge and Killer Puffer Fish. One of the older guys on the boat, Dan, buddied up with us on these dives. He was fairly new to diving, so he stayed close to us all.  It worked out well, but there weren’t a whole lot of new fish to see this day.  Kory, Katie, and Lauren did back flips off the side of the 55-foot dive boat, then we cleaned all our dive equipment back at the dive shop as this was sadly our last dive day.  This evening I made burritos and chili cheese dip back at the condo and we played games until bedtime.

krn2787Day 7 – Dad and Katie went shopping first thing in the morning. She even brought back a book for me called “Reef Fish Identification” as she had overheard me saying that I wanted to learn the names of the underwater life so I can identify all the species. This was such a thoughtful gesture.  While they were shopping, Lauren and I made reservations for the girls to go parasailing that afternoon.  While we waited, we went swimming in the pool and Lauren made up a pool performance with Squeakers the Dolphin.  While we were swimming, rain clouds swarmed over head and it started to pour while we were in the pool.  Although it was fun, we gathered our towels and headed inside until it was time for parasailing.  At noon we gathered at a designated spot on the beach and took a small boat ride to meet up with a larger boat for parasailing.  The weather was nice by then, but the winds were stronger than normal, so the driver of the boat asked if I would be willing to parasail with Katie and Lauren to add more weight and to balance out the end. I didn’t mind, especially since they weren’t going to charge us any more.  The girls loved it and determined that it wasn’t at all scary.  Their favorite part was getting dragged in the ocean right before being hoisted back on the boat.  Lauren’s dream is to fly like Tinker Bell, so this gave here a taste of what it might be like.

Our afternoon started with a boat ride out in the ocean to some popular snorkeling spots.  The rain started to pour just as we were leaving the dock and we were all dripping with rain water.  We had a great time with it though.  Jeff was our boat captain, and was kind enough to allow Lauren to drive the boat. She did a great job, but we bounced around a lot. Hitting the waves at the right angle is a skill she’ll have to practice.  Katie bundled up in a beach towel until we stopped at our first snorkeling site.  The most fun here was having fish swim right past our faces.  If we were fast enough, we could have caught them.

krn6361The second snorkeling site was stunning.  There we saw a moray eel in its  den/cave, a lobster, huge squirrel fish, Queen Angel Fish, yellowtail snapper, and small reefs with a plethora of fish. We picked up anchor after snorkeling there for about 40 minutes and headed to the Sand Bar near Sting Ray City to feed and play with sting rays.  Jeff taught us how to hold pieces of squid just right so the sting rays would pass by our hands and suck up the food with their underbelly mouths. Katie said she ended up dropping the food every time a ray came near her hand because she was afraid that they’d vacuum up her hand.  We also got to hold the sting rays in our arm and kiss their noses if we desired.  I may have been the only one to do this.  The rays were so friendly and i kind of bonded with a large female who kept swimming into my arms.  Lauren enjoyed them, but she had a hard time moving around because they were swimming all around her feet. It definitely takes some getting used to.  Kory was the resident photographer again but the choppy waves made it difficult for him to get steady shots. He desired to get under/over shots but the wind and waves didn’t cooperate.  One the boat ride back to the marina, we saw giant iguana lounging in trees and also sitting on walls in the marshy areas near the docks.

In the van driving back to the dive shop from the boat, Jeff asked us if we wanted to go on a shore night dive.  Although it would have been exciting to do a night dive, we were all so exhausted from five days of diving that we just wanted to shower, get dinner, and head to bed.  We went to Camana Bay and ate dinner at Mizu Asian Bistro.  Katie had chicken fried rice, Kory and I had sushi and fried calamari, and Lauren had an excellent Mongolian Beef and Broccoli dish.

Lauren’s Baptism
This evening, Lauren prepared her heart for her baptism that she chose to take part in on the last day of our vacation. The Holy Spirit had been working in her for several weeks prior, and she announced to Kory earlier that week that she was ready to be baptized.  We rejoiced in her decision!  Here are a few of our pictures…

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