Why Grand Cayman is the Perfect Family Diving Destination
Courtesy Red Sail Sports
Stingrays glide by the Red Sail Sports Catamaran on a Stingray City trip.
When it was time to plan our first family dive trip with our toddler in tow, I knew we needed a tropical destination with excellent weather, diving, comforts of home like modern medicine and western grocery stores and endless activities to entertain the diving and non-diving family members. The choice was obvious—we were going to Grand Cayman!
Why Grand Cayman
A quick and seamless one-hour flight from Tampa, FL, had my husband already suggesting we return before we even made it through the end of our first day. Having visited the Caribbean paradise on three separate occasions, I knew it was the perfect place to bring my family. Grand Cayman caters to divers of all levels and has endless activities for non-divers in the group.
After eight years of being an editor at Scuba Diving, most would assume I’m a hardcore diver, which I certainly can be, but I also enjoy relaxing in beautiful places with the people I love most. Meeting new friends from around the world on dive trips is a perk of the dive life, but there’s nothing like sharing these experiences with family.
On this trip, that meant my husband, our nearly two-year-old daughter and our traveling babysitters, a.k.a. grandparents, who also happen to be scuba divers.
Family (Dive) Planning
The plan was simple, whoever wasn’t diving was on babysitting duty—which typically meant supervising our daughter while she played on the beach, on the playground or while she napped. When traveling with a child we have learned to set our expectations low and not overbook ourselves. You don’t always know what each day will bring in a new place with a little one. Will your child wake up an extra hour early because they don’t recognize Daylight Savings time in the Cayman Islands?
The answer in our case was yes, and the good news was nobody was ever late getting to the dive boat! Will your child also want to go to bed an hour earlier, not because of the time difference but because they are drained from so much fun, sun and water time? The answer was also, yes! This meant less dining out for dinner and more time enjoying our beachfront condo situated near the end of Seven Mile Beach and watching the sunset each night.
Related Reading: Kids Sea Camp Creates Unforgettable Family Dive Trips
Jo Mikutowicz gives a dive briefing before enjoying one of Cayman's most famous dive sites, the Kittiwake wreck.
What makes Grand Cayman the choice for a family scuba diving vacation you ask? For starters, accessibility and diversity of dives! Whether it’s wrecks you’re after, like the decommissioned ex-USS Kittiwake, vibrant reefs, or a casual shore dive from iconic sites like Lighthouse Point or the house reef at Sunset House, this island has what you are seeking.
A Must-See Wreck for Adventurers
The decommissioned ex-USS Kittiwake has been a long-time favorite site of mine ever since I dived it for the first time in 2015 with Jo Mikutowicz of Divetech. I was lucky enough to have Mikutowicz as my personal tour guide this time too. She knows this wreck better than most and detailed that since my last dive, the wreck has shifted on its port side due to tropical storm activity over the years, most notably Tropical Storm Nate which passed by the island in 2017.
The decommissioned ex-USS Kittiwake now rests on its Port Side after being moved by Tropical Storm Nate in 2017.
From the moment you descend, you are greeted with the sheer size of the 251-foot retired US Navy support vessel. The ship is visible the moment you dip your head below water—making this an ideal site for snorkelers and freedivers too. As you approach the sand, you can’t miss the field of garden eels—swaying like little ballerinas with the current.
You can't miss Divetech's Jo Mikotowicz, as she is often visible in neon pink!
The barracuda made their presence known weaving in and out of openings in the ship like Pacman. Once inside the wreck, Mikotowicz swam us by the old recompression chambers and bathrooms, with mirrors still intact. Heading back out a port hole and into the blue, we were abruptly halted by a massive loggerhead cruising by. One of the biggest I’ve ever seen.
This artificial reef makes wreck diving accessible for all scuba diving skill levels thanks to the large swim-throughs and open decks that make it easy to explore the ship. Since the Kittiwake sits in relatively shallow water at a max depth of 70 feet, even snorkelers and freedivers can enjoy the wreck. With many of the wreck’s features in water as shallow as 30 feet, Divetech even offers a reduced rate for non-divers looking to get a peek at this shipwreck.
Sticking to the West side of Grand Cayman, you will find hundreds of dive sites within a quick boat ride of shore and many operators who can take you there. Grand Cayman famously advertises diving each day of the year with over 365 named sites.
If you are in search of dramatic wall dives and opportunities to spot pelagics, explore diving on the East End with Ocean Frontiers.
Shore Diving for the Relaxed
My in-laws hadn’t been diving recently and were looking for a way to ease back into the water before joining a boat dive. The house reef at Sunset House presented the ideal set-up for them to explore the calm, shallow waters on their terms. They were able to navigate to the famous mermaid, Amphitrite and I joined for a shore dive, in between boat dives to Spanish Anchor and Pageant Reef. Besides spotting sea turtles on every dive, both Spanish Anchor and Pageant Reef display the quintessential reef diving–relatively shallow sites that feature colorful sponges, lobster and lots of fish life.
Since I was diving solo that day while the rest of the family enjoyed the beach, Sunset House paired me with divers of a similar level of experience. Terri and Todd W. from Seattle, Washington were visiting the island for their fourth time thanks to what they described as “dependably good diving and dive staff and clear, warm waters.”
They chose to stay at Sunset House Hotel this trip after seeing them win a Readers' Choice award in Scuba Diving magazine. They noted how they loved the convenience of the gear lockers near the dive area and carts provided to haul your essentials to and from the shore diving cove.
Once out of the water, My Bar at Sunset House is an idyllic place to relax and enjoy a post-dive meal or cocktail. The open-air bar and restaurant sits right at the top of the ramps that lead to the boats or shore diving cove. It was an entertaining environment to keep a busy toddler distracted while eating lunch and enjoying the iconic Grand Cayman shoreline views.
Related Reading: Ask DAN: How do I shore dive safely?
Courtesy James Craig
The author Becca Hurley with her daughter before she boards the dive boat at Sunset House.
Diving for the Thrill Seeker
If you are in search of more of a thrill, including currents, deeper sites and a greater possibility of spotting larger marine life, check out Grand Cayman’s East End. I met the Mann family visiting from New York City with their toddler aboard a 2-tank trip with Ocean Frontiers. A dive at River of Sands delivered grouper, hogfish, cleaner shrimps and expansive views of the deep after we finned through a large swim through descending from 40 to 100 feet.
On board, fellow mom and diver Claire Mann shared that her husband convinced her to take the trip to Grand Cayman because he wanted to show her the great diving and felt safe traveling there with their young son. There are many things parents consider when traveling with children and safety ranks high among those. I felt at peace being familiar with the island from my previous visits and knowing there is top-notch medical care available.
In between our dives, we prioritized exploring local establishments like Cayman Spirits Co., home to Seven Fathoms Rum which is aged for seven years underwater at 42 meters. This was the perfect rainy-day activity for our group. An entertaining tour guide kept our daughter engaged and there were plenty of unique spirits to taste for those of drinking age.
The National Historic Site of Pedro St. James offers insight into the heritage and culture of the Cayman Islands and is surrounded by seven acres of gardens situated next to the sea. Next door is Thatch and Barrel which offers open-air dining in a unique cliffside setting.
Related Video: Dive Bonnie’s Arch, Grand Cayman
Tiki torches line the cliffside and you feel completely secluded as if you are dining in a seaside jungle. We happened to be enjoying dinner here on a public holiday and were able to watch the fireworks show over Seven Mile Beach. Crickets chirped in between courses of conch fritters, tuna ceviche and jerk chicken flatbread.
When we weren’t diving, eating or exploring local hangouts, our group spent hours soaking up the sand and sun of Seven Mile Beach. Our beachfront condo featured a pool and sand-front playground which provided hours of entertainment for our toddler.
Seaside restaurant Thatch and Barrel offers a unique seaside meets cliffside setting to enjoy a meal after a day of diving.
Although difficult to sway everyone away from this gorgeous beach, since I was traveling with Grand Cayman first-timers, I knew there was one place we had to go. The iconic, Stingray City! Having never taken our toddler on a chartered boat trip, I was nervous if this activity would be appropriate. Before arrival, Nicci Paul of Red Sail Sports assured me their catamarans were spacious and safe for young children. He even convinced us to book on his favorite itinerary, the Stingray and Sunset Trip - which meant keeping our little one up past her bedtime. It proved to be more than worth it! Even though there were three other divers in our group, this became the highlight of everyone's trip.
The author's husband and daughter enjoying the stingrays at Stingray City.
The Red Sail Crew kept our little girl safe and entertained and the entire family waded through the water to get an up-close look at the southern stingrays who call this island home. It’s been three months since our family trip and anytime we mention Grand Cayman, my daughter shouts “Stingrays!” Visiting this must-see off Grand Cayman was the perfect end to our trip. The sunset sail provided a gorgeous backdrop and fewer crowds at Stingray City.
Everyone aboard was in high spirits as we pulled away, smiling from ear to ear at what we all just experienced. The beauty of the stingrays leaves a lasting impression on us all. We picked up the perfect souvenir after our sailing in the Red Sail Sports gift shop. A book titled Georgie and the Stingray City and a matching pink, plush stuffed stingray toy to go with it. It sits on the bookshelf in my daughter’s room and serves as a constant reminder to us of the memories made on our family’s first dive trip.
If you too are looking to make lasting memories with your diving and non-diving family members, Grand Cayman checks all the boxes for an incredible family trip and dive destination.
Where to Stay if Traveling with Family:
We prefer to stay in a condo, house or apartment rental when traveling with children and family. This set-up allows for more space with a larger group and access to a kitchen and a bedroom door that closes. A crucial feature when little ones have an earlier bedtime and you still want to enjoy your evening.
Where to Stay if You Want to Dive, Dive, Dive:
“Grand Cayman’s Hotel for Divers by Divers” The hotel at Sunset House leaves no detail out. Featuring dive gear lockers, complimentary shuttles to Georgetown and the onsite My Bar restaurant and Cathy Church photo center.
Compass Point Dive Resort
Ocean Frontiers partners with Compass Point Dive Resort to offer dive and stay packages in one, two and three-bedroom oceanfront and poolside rooms.
Lighthouse Pointe Residences
Divetech partners with these privately owned condos to offer dive and stay packages. Rooms are more spacious and typically include a one-bedroom and one-bathroom setup.
Must-Do Non-Diving Activities:
Iconic! Red Sail Sports offers some of the best variety and tour options for getting to Stingray City. Whether you are an early riser looking to get out to see the stingrays before the cruise ship guests or want to enjoy a relaxing sunset cruise, there is a trip for you.
Cayman Kayaks offers kayak and electric boat tours at night to witness this natural phenomenon. Tours are scheduled around the moon cycle and not offered every night. Be sure to check in advance of your travel dates.
Tips and Things to Consider when Traveling Internationally with Children:
- Proximity to home and ease of travel, especially with little ones or less frequent travelers
- Access to modern medicine or a hospital in case of emergency
- Renting gear, whether it be baby gear or dive gear. Try to minimize your checked luggage by prioritizing one over the other. Grand Cayman offers several baby gear rental services and each dive shop stocks full lines of dive gear equipment for rent.