A SNORKLERS AND STINGRAY-LOVERS PARADISE

Max and Miles snorkeling off Grand Caymand Island

DAY FOUR (June 14, 2009) — Ready to kiss a Stingray?

Eight year old Timmy and 13 year old Miles Singer are game but 12 year old Max Weinberg takes a pass despite a lot of good natured ribbing — and an outright bribe from his buddy Miles.

We’re at the Cayman Islands top attraction — Stingray City, a quarter mile sandbar about four miles northeast from Grand Cayman where the giant rays are so tame they are ready to kiss you — literally and give you a back massage.
Back in 1951, we learn, Marvin Ebanks and a couple of friends started taking tourists out to the area to fish and for a BBQ on a deserted Cay. They started cleaning the fish on the sandbar and before long the huge Rays, who gobbled the chum, were their best buddies.

Marvin is still alive — 93 now — and some of his 15 children now run Captain Marvin’s (www.captainmarvins.com), which took us and a boatload of other tourists to Stingray City as well as to two other choice snorkeling spots — the Barrier Reef and Coral Gardens.

Most tourists who come here make a pilgrimage to Stingray City. Olympian and champion snowboarder and skateboarder Shaun White, here for Skate Cayman at the world’s second largest skate park (www.skatecayman.com), came with his family the other day and pronounced the experience “unreal” and couldn’t stop talking about it.

The kids and the adults in our group petted and kissed the Rays (kind of slimy!) More than a dozen of the huge Rays swam circles around us, enticed by the cut up fish we were feeding them. Everybody was laughing. The sun was shining. I was really glad I had my new Olympus waterproof camera with me — we got some great shots, including the one with this posting!

I was also glad we came on a Sunday morning when we had the place virtually to our selves — no crowds of cruise ship passengers, no locals out for an afternoon congratulating themselves on living in paradise where they can swim any time they choose with these glorious creatures. (And no, they don’t sting because they have become tame and so used to humans, I’m told.) I just wish we’d brought more snacks for the kids who of course weren’t hungry when we left the Westin where we were staying but now were starving.

Luckily, the snorkeling distracted them from their hunger. We snorkeled amid schools of Sargent Majors, on top of all kinds of coral. The kids saw an eel, white grunts, green and yellow Parrot Fish, Polka Dot Fish, Snapper, and more. There were so many and the water was so clear — some of the best snorkeling I’ve done in years. The kids were reluctant to get back in the boat. So were some of the grownups. I want to come back here to dive. I hear they’ve got more than 350 dive sites — one for every day of the year, locals promise.

The water was so pleasant that even 10-month old James Slade got in the water with his parents and grandparents, on vacation from Texas.

“This place is super easy with a baby,” says his mom Kimberly, who lives in Dallas. “And great for grandmas too,” adds Jennifer Slade.

Our boys are understandably sad that our weekend in paradise is nearly over. What was the most fun?

The Black Pearl Skate and Surf Park, of course, where they both got to cruise the second largest skate park in the world and test their mettle on a wave machine. Kayaking last night on a luminescent bay wasn’t too shabby either, they agreed — glad they made the call to come with us kayaking rather than stay at the skate park for even more hours.

And then there was Stingray City. “Really cool!” they said. “Thanks!”

It doesn’t get better than that. Especially an unsolicited thank you.

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