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Insider tips for Americans visiting Grand Cayman

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Grand Cayman in the Western Caribbean is a convenient vacation destination for Americans. It’s only 70 minutes from Miami by plane, English is the main language and hotels and restaurants are first class. Here are a few tips you should know before your visit.

First of all, it's Cay-man, with the accent on man; not Caymun. Caymanians are friendly, courteous people. The motto "Cayman Kind" defines their culture.

Driving on the “wrong side” of the road

The most obvious difference from the U.S. you will notice immediately upon arriving is that cars drive on the left side of the road, and drivers sit on the right side of the car (a throwback to the islands being a territory of Great Britain). This can be unnerving at first, especially in the numerous roundabouts you will encounter. So if you plan to rent a car, know that you will need a crash (no pun intended) course on changing your driving habits.

Expensive!

You may get a bit of sticker shock with your first purchase. Because the country imports nearly all food and goods, prices are high. That’s the bad news; the good news is that there is no sales tax. A $50 item is $50. More bad news: a $50 item in Cayman money (CI) will cost $62.50 in U.S. dollars. But since the rate is fixed, you can count on a CI dollar being worth US$1.25 all the time. Tourists pay a 13 percent tourist tax on hotel bills plus a 10 percent service fee. In most restaurants, a 15 percent gratuity is included on the bill, so be sure to watch for it.

Easy money

Most stores and restaurants will accept U.S. cash and give you change in Cayman dollars. There’s really no need or advantage to getting money converted at a bank. They also accept most credit cards. The receipt for U.S. cards will show the conversion so you know exactly how much in U.S. dollars the item costs. International fees will be applied to each credit card purchase, unless your card waives them (like the United Explorer Visa).

Getting around

Besides rental cars, there are taxis (fares are set by the government, but it's best to ask what the rate will be in advance) and a public bus system connecting all the districts of Grand Cayman. Buses are actually neat little vans that run set routes, but you can flag them down for pickup any time along the road or tell the driver you want to get off at a certain place. Fares are CI$2 or CI$3.50 for a cross-island trip. More information and maps are found at the bus depot next to the library in George Town.

Around town

Besides being a vacation destination, Cayman Islands is home to more than 56,000 people hailing from about 100 different countries, the majority living and working on Grand Cayman. The natives and the international community ask that you respect their home and wear beach attire only on the beach (listen up, cruise ship tourists). Coverups and casual clothes are acceptable everywhere else.

Walkability

Walking around George Town and other commercial districts is not as easy for disabled and elderly people as it is in the U.S. that abides by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In fact, with narrow streets and sidewalks, and curbs with inconsistent ramping, walking around the downtown area is not pleasant for people in wheelchairs or parents pushing strollers. And then there are those cars coming at you from the "wrong" side! With cruise ships docking in the harbor of George Town, downtown is filled with wandering tourists. Get away from there and go to other parts of the island. The ideal place for strolling to shops and restaurants is Camana Bay, an upscale ADA-compliant pedestrian community near Seven Mile Beach.

No soliciting

Seven Mile Beach is one of the most beautiful in the Caribbean. Unlike other tropical destinations, soliciting on any beach in the Cayman Islands is against the law. You can be assured that you won’t be bothered by locals selling their wares as you chill out on your beach vacation.

Best time to visit

The end of hurricane season (Nov. 30) coincides with the beginning of the holiday season, which is celebrated in a big way in this mostly Christian country. From December through March, the winter temps hover in the 70s and low 80s, with soft breezes like natural air conditioning. This is high season and the ideal time to visit. According to Caymanian tradition, on Sunday nearly all retail businesses are closed, including grocery stores. Bus service is pared down, and the one movie theatre in Camana Bay has limited showings, no late-night or R-rated movies. Finally, Cayman is on East Coast time and does not observe daylight savings time in summer.

Visit www.caymanislands.ky for much more information.

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