My most recent Carnival cruise was part of a blog conference, and Carnival generously picked up the cost of our excursion in Grand Cayman. I had the best time that day with the best Grand Cayman excursion, and all opinions I share are my own. Some links are affiliate links that earn me a commission if you purchase through them.
September marked my second visit to Grand Cayman this year. In my first trip, I wanted to visit the famous Stingray City. The friend I traveled with wasn’t quite ready for that, so we went snorkeling.
We absolutely loved snorkeling the shipwreck that day, and if you’re into snorkeling, this was an inexpensive and fantastic excursion. But Grand Cayman is known for Stingray City.
This time, we experienced not just Stingray City but also visited a turtle farm where we had the chance to hold and snorkel with turtles, too. Check out why this makes for the best Grand Cayman excursion. You need to book this next time you visit!
Heading out on a cruise? Remember to explore all the articles with my tips that I share at the bottom to make the most of your vacation.
What’s Included in the Stingray Encounter and Turtle Swim
This excursion includes round trip transportation from the cruise port to the dock, the same small bus to the turtle farm, and the trip back. The trip to Stingray City takes about a half hour by boat each way.
The boat has both water and fruit punch available to drink. The bus also offers water, but you can’t have or bring any food on board.
While at Stingray City, you have the opportunity to play with and feed the stingrays. You definitely want to bring your waterproof camera! Check out the section on the stingray encounter for more details.
While the description of the excursion mentions a stop at the governor’s house, it literally is a rolling stop sign type stop. You don’t leave the bus, nor do you “see” more than the outside from beyond the gates. I had no issue missing this, and there’s no need to advertise this as part of the tour.
The turtle farm starts with a twenty or so minute guided tour, then you have time to explore on your own. The tour incorporates the breeding pond, the chance to see “smaller” turtles, and hold yearling turtles.
After the guided tour, you have approximately 45 minutes to enjoy on your own before the bus leaves again. You have a multitude of options, including enjoying lunch and drinks in the restaurant with free wifi.
Personally, I chose the chance to snorkel with turtles, and it was magical. Few people made it there, but you don’t want to miss this hidden treasure. Again, check out the section on snorkeling with turtles for more details.
What’s Not Included in the Best Grand Cayman Excursion?
No surprise, the tips for your guides aren’t included. Tip both the boat crew on Stingray City and your bus driver at the end.
In Stingray City, the boat provides a professional photographer who takes pictures of everyone who chooses with the stingrays – getting a kiss from a stingray, a stingray massage, and holding the stingray.
On the boat ride back to the pier, you have the chance to purchase those photos. A single photo costs $20, while you can get all your photos for $30.
The photographer emails the photos to you via email, and you also receive the photographer’s information in case there are any issues with delivery.
At the turtle sanctuary, you can purchase turtle food in bags for $5 per bag. The bags are fairly large – enough for a family to share.
You also have the opportunity to purchase water for $2 per bottle before the tour starts or enjoy a fantastic lunch and drinks in the restaurant after the tour. The service is somewhat slow, but the portions are large. Friends who ate enjoyed the food.
Stingray City: The Best Grand Cayman Excursion
The Boat Ride
You read everywhere about the stingrays, and the stories are true. While I expected more stingrays at the site, you see plenty swimming everywhere.
When you board the boat, you have to remove your shoes. You get them back when you disembark at the end.
Any bag you have gets placed under your seat with your shoes. If you sit on the top deck, place your bags in a pile by the captain. You have access to them, but this keeps them out of the way and ideally dry!
On the way there, you get a briefing on what to expect. You can also watch one of the crew cutting the squid that you’ll later use to feed the stingrays – if you choose.
The Stingray City Experience
When you exit the boat at Stingray City, the water is approximately waist to chest deep. This lets you see the stingrays while standing comfortably.
If you aren’t comfortable in the water, the boat offers life vests you can wear. They are optional, however, and none in our group used them. The water is exceptionally calm with barely any waves.
You have to have bare feet in the water – no water shoes allowed. Make sure to shuffle through the water so as not to scare the stingrays.
Enjoying the Stingrays
The guides bring the stingrays to the surface for you to see and enjoy – and get that kiss. Did you know a stingray kiss brings you seven years of good luck?
After all the photos, the crew shares pieces of squid you use to feed the stingrays. They suck up the squid like a vacuum, so make sure you tuck your thumb inside your fist!
There is enough squid so each person gets one piece. Don’t be that person who takes more than one. In fact, in our group, I and about seven other people didn’t have a chance to feed them at all because people took a second piece.
What It’s Like Feeding Stingrays
While everyone has food, more stingrays approach the area. They know what’s coming, so of course they get excited.
Some flap their wings and the flapping actually gets out of the water. Don’t panic! They aren’t upset or attacking anyone. They simple got excited – think of it like a dog wagging tail.
The best way to feed them is to walk a little away from other people to a quieter more open space. Bring hand under water with your thumb tucked into your fist. Stingrays will come and suck it from your hand like a vacuum from their mouth on the bottom of their bodies.
What Happens After You Feed Stingrays
You have a half hour total in the water, so after feeding, enjoy the extra time. You can take you own photos, and the guides do a great job helping bring stingrays to you for this.
This is also the time when they bring the stingrays up for a brief moment out of the ocean where they spit water. It’s a cool thing to see – so have your camera ready!
Once you get back aboard the boat, the guides hose you off with fresh water. This keeps you from getting too itchy from drying salt. You’ll really appreciate the pseudo shower.
Experiencing the Turtle Farm
The Guided Tour
You start out by the breeding pond with the full size turtles who are much bigger than you expect. You have approximately five minutes before the tour starts to use the restroom, purchase water, or buy turtle food.
The guides share all sorts of information about the turtle sanctuary. For example, they’ve released 35,000 turtles to the wild since starting. They are the only third generation turtle farm that doesn’t rely on turtles from the wild or eggs.
After viewing the breeding pond – with large turtles who love visitors who may feed them – you head to see some younger turtles. So far, you don’t touch any turtles.
Next up, you visit the smaller turtles – yearlings – in the touch pond. You get 10-15 minutes to wade with them and hold them. Ensure you sanitize your hands and wash your feet before and after.
When you hold the turtles, hold them over the water just in case you drop one. To keep them calm, gently stroke them under their neck, sort of like a cat.
After this, you have about 45 minutes to explore the rest of the turtle farm on your own.
Self Guided Options
The turtle farm is huge. Forty-five minutes gives you enough time to really engage in one activity, and possibly two.
You can choose to visit the restaurant to enjoy a meal and drinks. Many in our group did so. Make sure to ask for a table overlooking the turtle lagoon so you can see what’s happening there.
Alternatively, you can go back to one of the earlier areas on the guided tour to spend a little extra time. This is a great way to enjoy the space for those who like the turtles but aren’t quite ready to engage with them.
Of course there’s a gift shop, too. When you first get off the bus, pick up a voucher to get a free gift with a $20 purchase. While there are plenty of turtle gifts, you can find way more than that, too.
Babies are always a fan favorite. The turtle farm – no surprise – has a turtle hatchery, too. From May to October, you can watch hatchlings as they go from their incubation boxes up through the sand to where they’ll hang out until they’re a little older.
My recommendation though? Go to the turtle lagoon.
The Turtle Lagoon
I almost gave up looking for the turtle lagoon. You’ll find it around back and past a sign that says only upgraded tickets can go. With this – the best Grand Cayman excursion – you have access.
Once you arrive, you find a beach with lounge chairs and sun sails to protect you. Even if you don’t want to snorkel, this is a fun place to chill.
If you want to snorkel, you can bring your own gear, or the little hut on the end of the beach offers snorkels, masks, fins, and the required life jacket.
It’s an inflatable life jacket, so you can leave it uninflated if you want to be able to dive while snorkeling. On the flip side, if you aren’t as confident swimming, blow it up and know you have a life jacket available.
There is also a metal bar partway around the lagoon you can hold onto if you need a rest. The early portion of the lagoon is also shallow enough to stand, but most of it requires swimming.
The lagoon is a concrete structure filled with salt water – which makes sense since the turtles are oceangoing creatures. You’ll find algae in the lagoon. It’s meant to be there, so just ignore it.
Swimming with the Turtles
Pro tip: Use breast stroke to swim. This is the quietest way to move semi quickly, and the turtles don’t mind it as much as a more splashy style.
Second pro tip: You’ll find the turtles near the back of the lagoon. At first, I saw none. As I continued to swim around the lagoon, I saw some more. The most hung out furthest from the lagoon entrance.
The turtles just hang out and swim slowly through the lagoon. They are bigger than the turtles in the touch tank, but nowhere near full size. Don’t touch them or try to ride them.
One surprise? You’ll find more than just turtles in the lagoon. In fact, you’ll spot more fish than turtles, which makes for even more fun snorkeling.
Once your snorkel experience ends, there are showers to rinse off. Additionally, you can find changing rooms to completely change from your swimsuit into dry clothes if you choose. You can use this whether you snorkel or not – so even if you want to change after Stingray City, go for it!
Other Hints for the Best Grand Cayman Excursion
The excursion lasts for about 4 1/2 hours. By the time we got back to the port, we had no time to shop before the last tender left. If you want to shop, go with the shipwreck snorkel instead.
On the way back, you start to hit Grand Cayman rush hour. The traffic makes the ride a little slower, so relax and enjoy the ride.
Listen to the guides both on the bus ride and the boat ride. They offer a ton of history about the island and amazing facts about both Stingray City and the Cayman turtle farm.
Last pro tip: If you worry about sun on the boat to and from Stingray City, there is plenty of shade. If you prefer to worship the sun, you have plenty of seats available with full sun, too.
What to Pack for Your Stingray Encounter and Turtle Swim
Don’t forget sunscreen. If you ride on top of the boat, you get a lot of sun. The same holds true while in the water and at the turtle farm. Don’t ruin your vacation with a sunburn. In fact, if you plan to snorkel, you may want to bring a rash guard to protect your shoulders and back.
Grab a towel from your ship. You may want to bring two, in fact. Neither the boat nor the turtle farm provides towels.
Remember cash. If you want to purchase turtle food or a bottle of water, you need cash. The photos at Stingray City and the restaurant at the turtle farm take credit cards. Plus, you need to tip your guides!
Bring a waterproof phone case. I never travel anywhere warm without one. I love these cases – you get two when you buy them – that hold my phone so I can take photos in the water or just not worry about my phone walking off.
Do you have a GoPro? Honestly, I feel better about photos from my GoPro than I do my phone. The new ones take amazing photos and video and are easy to use. If you plan to bring one in the water, make sure you have a floating handle to keep it safe.
Carry everything in a waterproof beach bag. Anytime I go near the ocean, I ensure keep everything in my wet bag. While the boat offers a “dry area” for your bags, inevitably, some water drips. This is another way to keep your phone safe and your towels dry.
Don’t forget your sun hat. Wear a ball cap to protect your face or get my favorite roll up hat. It takes up so little space in my suitcase, and I don’t have to worry about it getting crushed. I’ve had this for four years, and you see me with it all the time!
Pick up a fun cover-up. While you swim with the stingrays and the turtles, you don’t want to wear shorts and a t-shirt that will get wet and dry slowly. I have found the most gorgeous cover-ups and kimonos that are cute (so I can go in the restaurant and not feel under dressed) and comfortable.
Have you booked the best Grand Cayman excursion yet?
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