As you know, I was hosted by the Paradise by Marriott Resorts on Grand Cayman along with eight other bloggers in their various locations, for a Blog Paradise event. Which basically means that my hotel, food and attraction expenses were all covered, except where noted.
One of the activities that was covered was a trip to Stingray City.
Now, when one hears the term Stingray City, it conjures up images of an over-touristy Sea World type attraction. And nothing could be further from the truth. Stingray City is just a particular spot in the middle of the clearest blue ocean, off a sandbar, where stingrays are known to congregate.
My trip was 3 1/2 hours in length, taken on a luxury catamaran and included a short boat ride to the stingrays, time in the water experiencing them and another short ride to a nearby reef for some snorkeling. All snorkeling equipment was provided. The cost of this trip is normally a very reasonable $60 USD. And worth every penny in my opinion. There were snacks on board and a cash bar. Jeff, a crew member/bartender, made the best Rum Punch (his secret? a splash of dark rum on top for the finish!).
First, a few words about Red Sail Sports. Our entire crew (Doug, Donovan and Jeff) were wonderful! There was a very intimate 11 of us on the tour, but their boat can hold up to 70 people. They were very informative, patient, knowledgeable and above all, they kept us safe.
We all received very personalized tutorials on the proper way to put on and wear our snorkel gear. I have snorkeled before and need to mention that because of the expert advice we received, I had absolutely no issues with my equipment. No foggy or water-laden mask and very little choking on salt water.
It became apparent toward the end of our stingray experience that Red Sail are the guys you want to go out with. Boats from other tour companies that arrived later in the game, were loaded with drunk, loud and disrespectful cruise-ship passengers. Their guides were in the water yelling and screaming at their folks who were flailing about and just acting very unprofessionally and not treating the rays with as much care and respect as our guides. These boats were overloaded with too many people. Later as a result of my questioning, I found out that Red Sail tries to time their tours to arrive well before these more touristy boats, in order to offer their guests a more positive experience. Thank goodness.
This was the coolest. Basically the entire boat ride out to Stingray City takes place in water only about ten foot deep. When we disembarked, the water was between waist and chest level. Sans flippers, we walked out into the water and the stingrays, sensing it might be feeding time, flocked around us. You can don your snorkel mask and tube if you’d like to go under to get a better look, but it is not necessary.
Our crew got in the water with us and did their best to hold and pick up the stingrays so that everyone could pet them. The rays can be picked up and floated atop the water, but cannot be lifted out of the water. Their skin in not slimy, but sort of spongy. The top of the ray is a bit rough and bumpy in spots and underneath they feel like a wet mushroom.
The stingrays are friendly, but occasionally bump you accidentally and knock you a bit off kilter. Their eyes are located on opposites sides of the top of their body, while their mouths are located on the underside. Not exactly the best set up for seeing humans or for hand-feeding.
The females are much larger than the males and are much more welcoming when it comes being held and petted.
It used to be that anyone could feed them squid, but since the rays were getting a bit chubby, feeding is now restricted in quantity and to just the crew of the tour boats. We did get to witness our guides feeding them. This must have been where the term ‘feeding frenzy’ came from as it was a perfect description of the behavior.
My finger, which to a ray probably does resemble a piece of squid, fell victim to a ray during feeding time. I felt a little pinch and some suction, but quickly just pulled it away to break the seal and all was fine. Apparently little skin hickeys are often the result of a ray getting a little too anxious during feeding time. But really, it was nothing to worry about.
Our crew pointed out the ‘stinger’, which is located toward the back of the ray’s tail. Contrary to what you may have heard, the rays do not have the ability to move this stinger and willfully stab you with it. We were all just cautious to avoid getting too close to their tails and just focused on petting their sides.
I swam with dolphins in the Florida Keys, which will always rank number one on my up-close-and-personal-with-sea-life list, but this one comes in at a very strong second!
After about 45 minutes with the rays, we hoisted the anchor and sailed for the reef. Again, the crew instructed us on avoiding getting cut on the coral, which will make your life miserable due to the bacteria. They also encouraged some of us to don vests, especially helpful for those of us with an underwater camera, who want to stay still long enough to take photos or just want to float and observe a bit longer. I highly recommend a vest!
Here we found the water a bit more choppy, but we saw the most beautiful fish and natural coral. The water is crystal clear, straight down to the ocean floor, which makes Grand Cayman an ideal spot for snorkeling. I saw large angel fish adorned with zebra stripes, big bright royal-blue fish and schools of tiny yellow ones. I was so focused on trying to get some great underwater photos (to follow when I get them developed!) that the time flew by in an instant. I could have spent an entire day out in the middle of the ocean. I just hope the few pictures I was able to snap underwater will do the trip justice.
We’ll just have to wait and see.
Addendum: I realized that I left out the type of Stingrays that were in the Grand Cayman. They are Southern Stingrays.