When I turned 18, a friend threw me a house party in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and we discovered what body shots were for the first time (gross). For my 21st birthday, I rented out a bar in Athens, Georgia, and at one moment during that blurry evening it felt like the entire UGA school was in attendance. Girls were dancing on speakers, of which “Who Let the Dawgs Out” undoubtedly played. My 26th birthday was celebrated over copious bottles of Malbec in Buenos Aires, most of which I don’t recall. My 27th birthday was spent in a hospital room since my mom’s reconstructive surgery was scheduled on that very day. Twenty-nine was spent grieving a four year relationship’s end, and here we are at the big 3-0. I’ve had my ups and downs, but this year involved a massive upgrade thanks to the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman.
How to Arrive
The Cayman Islands (Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, Cayman Brac) are situated south of Cuba and between Jamaica and the Yucatan Peninsula. Visitors fly into Grand Cayman (GCM) which is the hub for Cayman Airways while serving American, Delta and Jetblue Airways. Major east coast airports like Miami, Charlotte, Atlanta and NYC have daily flights to and from GCM.
Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman
I travel to discover different destinations…most of the time. There are certain trips, however, when a hotel totally consumes me, so much so that I’m left in this constant state of guilt. If I don’t leave the hotel, I’ll never discover the true essence of a place. If I’m always out unleashing my Dora the Explorer vibes, I won’t have the time to relish in all the hotel glory. I need more hours in a day.
The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman stole the Cayman show. The Seven Mile beachfront is paradisiacal, the food is excessively delicious if that’s even a thing and the staff is topnotch. I can typically say all I need to say about a hotel in a couple of paragraphs, but I’d really like to take my time and break this one down. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a birthday party (highly recommend!), a family vacay, a romantic getaway, a bachelorette destination or a post-breast cancer treatment celebration. This place has it ALL.
Upon check-in, I was presented with a tray of cookies, champagne, balloons and flowers. It’s as if the Ritz and I had been friends for years and were on a first name basis. HOLD UP. Actually, we were because the staff calls everyone by name. Sure, there are hundreds of rooms on property, but this group of people sets the bar by taking first class service to new heights.
Apart from the birthday pleasantries, my fearless travel buddy (mom) and I were upgraded to an ocean front estate. The room was very large complete with full kitchen, spacious living dining areas, a separate ensuite bedroom and massive balcony overlooking the Caribbean Sea. What else do you ask for when you turn 30? Botox? Fillers? Ugh, don’t answer that. I’m not there yet. Luckily my skin still looks not a day over 24, or that’s what the people at the spa told me. I was even asked 3 weeks ago while in Aruba if I was over 18. I’ll hold on to that forever. Nobody can take that away from me, nobody!
I’m going to try and keep this as short as possible, but the foodie experience at this property was on another level. Let’s start with Taikun – sushi, miso soup, ramen, sake, fresh wasabi root grated tableside on sharkskin. I loved every morsel of food here I could cry. It allowed me to really relive my Japan trip from last year because everything was so fresh and authentically prepared. I could go on, but there are more highlights. Seven had a mean breakfast – and I’m talking really mean because I ate SO much on my first morning (including birthday cake!) that I didn’t eat again until dinner. Breakfast buffets get me every.single.time. Andiamo and its prosciutto and melon ARE YOU KIDDING ME?? The little puff pastries that comes with it are icing on the cake.
I saved the best for last and gave Blue by Eric Ripert its own paragraph because 1) it’s the only AAA Five-Diamond restaurant in the Caribbean and 2) it probably made my ‘Top 5 Best Meals in My Life’ category and 3) I indulged heavily in Beluga caviar, the ultimate birthday treat. Guests of Blue can opt for the 6 or 7 course tasting menu, but mom and I wisely chose the 4 course dinner, which ultimately became an 8 course dinner with compliment courses from the chef in between. The tune foie gras, caviar, octopus, dover sole and surprise courses were so good, we had to forgo the best – dessert. Maybe I’ll be back for seconds and with a bigger stomach next time. My tolerance and I could not hang and off to bed we went.
La Prairie Spa
I feel like this whole post has been a ‘best’ ‘amazing’ ‘top 5 experience’ yadda yadda ya. Well, that’s because it was that good…in part due to La Prairie Spa. First of all, I fully appreciated its Swiss inspiration. The moment I opened the door, I was transported into a Swiss ice castle – it’s really the best way to describe it. Never have I ever seen such offerings at a refreshment table either. I chose which sparking water suited me best and left the cookies, fruit, nuts and baked goods for later.
To Audrey, who said my skin would become as soft as a baby’s after my scrub treatment – you were correct! To Julia who made my skin so smooth and shiny, you could see your own reflection – you are beyond talented. To Gabrielle who makes the La Prairie world go round, I thoroughly enjoyed our conversations about travel and beyond. Thanks also to Hem and everyone else who made such an impact on that fine spa day.
The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman doubles as an adult’s playground in my book. Water sports are on fleek here including flyboarding, jet skiing, SUP, sailing, etc. The hotel even has a few bike-meets-paddleboat contraptions as well as few trampoline-meets-flotation device situations.
My mom and I decided on parasailing since neither one of us could remember the last time we partook in the activity. T’was time for a new session, and thanks to Red Sail Sports, our wishes were granted.
If you went to Grand Cayman and didn’t visit Stingray City, did you really go to Grand Cayman? Didn’t think so. Red Sail Sports offers a package where visitors can board a catamaran, visit Stingray City for about 4o minutes (which is enough) and then head to Rum Point for about 2 hour before heading back towards the Ritz. Highly recommend!
Kayaking the Mangrove Forest
I loved learning about starfish inside the mangrove forest with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment! I was SO lucky to snorkel with Mr. Cousteau while visiting the Ritz-Carlton Dorado Beach last year and was happy to experience his hands-on educational program again in Grand Cayman. Special thanks to Rob and Carol for teaching me all about mangroves and how they protect the island and act as a natural sea wall buffer to wind.
One of my favorite things to do while on property was to talk to the many staff about where they were from. Everyone wears a name tag with their respective country’s flag – a great conversation starter 🙂 Italy, Nepal, Peru, India, Grand Cayman, Argentina, Jamaica, Bermuda, Germany, Ireland and the U.S. were all represented among many other destinations. Special thanks to Maria, Hermes, Elizabeth, Eduardo, Angelo, Danny, Mohammed, Julia, Audrey, Hem, Gabrielle, Niza, Vijay and finally Lovejoy, our driver from the resort to the airport who said,
You can’t try everything on your first trip. Come back for the rum cake.
I most certainly will. Maybe we can stick 31 candles in it, too 😉