Chartering a Boat in Grand Cayman to Visit Stingray City
When we planned our trip to Grand Cayman we knew with 100% certainty that we wanted to make a trip out to the sandbars to Stingray City to see and pet the infamous Grand Cayman stingrays. Rumor has it that these stingrays started hanging out on the sandbars in the North Sound of Grand Cayman because fishermen would anchor there and clean their fish instead of heading to shore where the mosquitos were more of a problem. The stingrays began to hang out where there was easy dinner was to be found, and eventually, the fishermen started to hand feed the stingrays.
Trouble choosing a Grand Cayman stingray tour
Fast forward to today, and the stingrays now get their squid dinners, not from fishermen, but thanks to all of the many companies and tourists that flock to visit these beautiful creatures. When we started to look at options to see the stingrays in Grand Cayman, we quickly became overwhelmed by the choices. Not only are there lots of different tour operators, but the length and number of stops included on most of the tours seemed daunting for our young family. We would be taking the tour with not only our eight-year-old, but also with our 2.5-year-old who has a track record of some motion sickness on land and in the air, though she doesn't really have substantial boating experience for us to draw from.
I did not want to be out on a long boat tour with a toddler who ended up over-tired or motion sick surrounded by lots of other people. When I could not find a short itinerary that worked for the weekend we had available, I started poking around the internet for an affordable-ish option to charter a boat. That way we could pick our own timeframe, destinations, and simply abandon the plan and return to shore if necessary without impacting anyone else if our youngest really didn't do well.
Chartering a boat to see the stingrays in Grand Cayman
Most of the places I found required at least a half-day charter with close to four-figure prices that I could in no way justify. However, as I was checking out the Crazy Crab site, a chat box popped up with a real, live person who understood toddler nap scheduling problems we were having and helped me navigate through their private boat charter options. Unlike most companies in Grand Cayman, they offer boat charters as short as just two hours long, which is enough time to see the Stingrays, and maybe even Starfish Point. Their two-hour charter has a listed price of $475, though be sure to ask about discounts as we got a 'last minute' discount and I know they offer 'advance booking' discounts, too.
If we saved the swimming horse activity we had penciled in for next time, and instead made this our one big activity in Grand Cayman, we felt okay about the financial investment given how much easier it made logistical planning with our two-year-old. In the end, we did a three-hour boat charter through Crazy Crab so that we would be able to visit Stingray City, Starfish Point, snorkel, and to give Josh time to do some fishing. Ultimately, the weather on that day made the water less than ideal for snorkeling, so we instead spent some time eating and playing at Kaibo instead of snorkeling.
We paid online for the charter with a credit card and met the two-person crew and the 24-foot Sea Ray 240 Sundeck at the dock in Camana Bay on a lovely Sunday afternoon. Their website said the boat could hold 8 - 10 people, and I would say that seems accurate, but include the crew in that count.
The crew was on time, the boat was clean, and they had juice, water, fishing gear, and towels available for us onboard. All we had to do was show up and prepare for a fun afternoon on the water.
After about a 30-minute boat ride from Camana Bay, we first reached Starfish Point. We had asked to see the stingrays first in case things went downhill with the toddler, but they encouraged us to save that for last just before sunset so there would not be as many other boats in the area. We played it by ear to see how the little one did on the boat ride out, but as it became apparent that she was great on the water, we agreed to save the stingrays for the end.
We anchored at Starfish Point and the girls and I walked around looking for starfish while Josh did some fishing off to the side. Our guides and all the signs at Starfish Point tell you it is fine to touch the starfish, but just don't take them out of the water.
As I quickly learned after sharing a photo of the girls holding a starfish underwater on Instagram, there are also those who state you should not touch the starfish at all, so who knows. Either way, Starfish Point was a fun place to walk in shallow water and to look for beautiful creatures that I had never before seen 'in the wild'. My girls found three or four starfish in the half hour or so we stayed in this calm and shallow area.
After our time at Starfish Point, the boat guides told us they could take us to a spot that has great milkshakes right next to the water. My girls couldn't say yes fast enough, so we headed to Kaibo. Kaibo is just a few minutes away from Starfish Point and supposedly similar to what Rum Point was a decade ago before it became a pure tourist area. I didn't go to Rum Point, so I can't say if that is true, but I do know that Rum Point is extremely popular on some of the tours.
I have mixed feelings about this part of the charter experience. First, know that that milkshakes are not actually all that special. They aren't bad, but at best they are just average milkshakes.
The somewhat over-hyped milkshakes weren't really a big deal as the ceviche and ahi were certainly better than we normally have in Texas.
However, the real issue I had with this stop is how long it started to drag on. We had several snacks, milkshakes, played in the sand, explored the area, and were ready to head out when the crew said we should probably spend another 40 minutes or so there while the stingray area cleared out. My face must have contorted into what my brain was thinking because they quickly backed off that suggestion. To their credit, they did follow our lead when we made it clear we were done with our time on Kaibo, but just keep that in mind and be ready to be clear about your expectations and requests for how you spend your time on (or in this case, off) the boat.
That being said, our girls really did love just playing in the sand while we had above average seafood and average milkshakes.
Once we were back on the boat, we headed straight to Stingray City, which was indeed mostly empty by this point on a late Sunday afternoon. I've seen photos of the stingrays with boats and people everywhere, so I think we really lucked out with our stingray experience. If you want to minimize the number of people at the stingrays or Starfish Point, check the cruise schedules and select a day or time when there are not many cruise ships in Grand Cayman as a huge number of cruisers head to these spots while in port.
The stingrays were happy to see us (or rather, their dinner) and gathered around like excited puppies. If I'm being honest, I was really nervous about this part of the experience. The Steve Irwin stingray story was very much in my mind, and while I took comfort in knowing we weren't actually swimming with the stingrays, but rather just standing in the shallows with them, the water was a little deeper than I anticipated. I expected waist-deep water, but for my taller than average eight-year-old, at times the water went just about up to her neck.
She was scared, I was anxious, and while it was absolutely beautiful seeing the stingrays all around, being in the water with them was not at all relaxing for me. I'm sure most people do not experience that sort of anxiety with the stingrays, so don't let me worry you, but I personally enjoyed the stingrays at least as much from the boat as I did in the water.
In the end, we all kissed a stingray, so the story goes that we will now have seven years of good luck!
After the stingrays, it was time to cruise the 20 to 25 minutes back to the dock. My toddler thankfully loved the whole experience and was so comfortable on the cruise back that she took a little nap in my arms. Having a boat to ourselves out on the clear blue Cayman water was one of the highlights of our trip.
All four of us gave the boat chartering experience a thumbs up, and while I think in the end our toddler would have been okay on a busier boat, there was no way to know that ahead of time. We all enjoyed the heck out of having our own boat and captain for a few hours in Grand Cayman and found the experience to be worth the investment.
Shorter Grand Cayman stingray tours
Had we not gone with the boat charter, the public stingray tours that caught my eye the most were the shorter ones. If you have younger kids like we do, you might want to consider the two-stop tour with Captain Marvins that includes just snorkeling and stingrays. This tour is held only on weekdays and runs 2.5 - 2.75 hours, costing $40 for those 12+, $30 for kids 4 - 11, and free for children under four. You are asked to bring your own flotation device for kids under four. If you want to include more stops on your tour, they also have plenty of other longer tours you can select.
The other stingray tour that we were strongly considering before deciding to charter a boat was the early morning tour offered by Red Sail. This tour leaves at 7:30AM, but that means it gets you to Stingray City before most of the other boats. You also get to eat an included continental breakfast onboard the 65' catamaran. In addition to time with the stingrays, a snorkeling stop is included in this early morning tour that costs $90 for adults and $45 for children 3 - 11 years old. This tour is blocked at four hours long, so I'm not 100% sure what all they do that takes up four hours, but for little kids that still need afternoon naps, I liked that it got up and out first thing in the morning from a dock near the Westin Seven Mile Beach.
I'm really glad we used hotel points to cover our lodging in Grand Cayman so that we could instead spend our vacation dollars on experiences unique to the area. Chartering a boat to visit Stingray City was an experience our family will keep with us for years to come.
Have you ever done a stingray tour in Grand Cayman with your family? If you have a tour or company you loved (or didn't love) please feel free to share your story in the comments!