Swimming with What?

Before I started cruising, if someone tried to tell me I would someday get in a boat, go out to sea, and voluntarily jump into the water with hundreds of stingrays (many as large as six feet across), I'd have taken away their car keys and told them they had enough to drink.

But that was before our first cruise stop in Grand Cayman, when we heard about Stingray City. Of course, Stingray City is not really a city. There are no office buildings, hotels, or shops to haggle in, and no tour buses to take you for a drive-by. Rather, Stingray City is an interactive experience for daring cruise passengers at a sand bar off the coast of Grand Cayman. The magnificent stingrays here have reportedly been fed in this spot for so long that they've become tame. It seems even this species has learned "you don't bite the hand that feeds you."

During our recent trip on the Carnival Sensation, I was cruising for the first time with my twin sister, my nieces and my nephew. None of them had been to Grand Cayman before, so I knew we'd have to take them out to swim with the stingrays.


As soon as I got onboard, I booked the ship's early-morning excursion to Stingray City. I wanted to be in the first boat to arrive. The stingrays have learned what time breakfast is served, and they start to gather in massive numbers behind the boat as it makes its way into their midst. The assembling rays reminded me of cruisers at the ship's buffet table just before the chafing dishes are uncovered.

The guide dropped a couple of pieces of squid into the water along the way so the rays would get the scent. By the time we were anchored and ready to enter the water, hundreds of these creatures were waiting for us.

The water is only three to six feet deep, and it's quite amazing to stand there with the rays swimming between, over and around you. Watching my family experience this for the first time was very funny. Indeed, it took some coercing to get my sister out of the boat once she saw the massive collection of rays. But a few minutes of watching the rest of the family frolicking with, holding, petting, and feeding them convinced her she was missing out on the fun.

The guides are excellent. They give the passengers pieces of squid to feed the rays, and they'll even hold the big creatures steady so the more squeamish cruise passengers can pet them. They also accepted a bribe to chase my sister around with a massive ray until she relented and touched one.

As far as I know, there is no other place in the world where humans can play so freely with these awesome creatures. There were about 40 people on our tour, and after a few minutes in the water, I couldn't see anyone, adults and kids alike, who didn't have a broad smile across his face. That's what makes this excursion so special.

At Grand Cayman, all cruise ships must anchor and use tender service to get passengers ashore. There are many tour operators selling Stingray City tours at the pier for considerably less (about $10 per person) than the cruise line price. However, we chose to spend the extra money to ensure we were on the first tender going, and thus in the first boat to Stingray City.

In my opinion, it's one of the best tours in the Western Caribbean, and certainly one of the "don't miss" things to do during a visit to Grand Cayman.

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