How to Do Grand Cayman Like a Local
This article was written by Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon and originally appeared on Yahoo Travel.
You’ve soaked up the sun on Seven Mile Beach; swum with the rays at Stingray City; and dived the island’s famous North Wall. So now you think know Grand Cayman. Think again. Beyond George Town’s duty-free shops and the swanky resorts of the Seven Mile strip, there’s a side of this 75-square-mile territory that islanders have been keeping to themselves. Until now. Here are eight fun and unexpected ways to experience Grand Cayman like a local, no snorkel gear required.
Related: Hurricane-Proof Caribbean Vacations
Flip out with the flip flop tree
A flip-flop tree grows in Grand Cayman. And it has more than 2,600 followers on Facebook. Really. So peel yourself off that chaise and hop in a cab to see the (dead) casuarina tree along the South Sound coast road that’s embellished with hundreds of sandals, shoes, sneakers, and thongs nailed to its trunk. The ever-evolving installation was started back in 2008 by two residents who wanted to draw attention to the garbage discarded on the island’s shores by displaying stray sandals they found on the sand. Now islanders are memorializing their own flip-flops on the tree, and the footwear fiesta has reached heights of more than 15 feet and has begun migrating to a neighboring trunk. Bring your worn-out skimmers and add a shoe to the collection. Just remember to dispose of the other foot responsibly.
See the stars—starfish that is
Let the cruise-ship hordes head for Stingray City; Caymanians cruise instead to Starfish Point, on the northeast tip of the island, where, depending on the season and tide, scores of red cushion starfish sit in gin-clear, knee-deep water. They gather here to feed on micro-organisms found on the white-sand seabed, presenting the perfect opportunity for you to snap a photo with the sea stars. Just don’t lift them out of the water; they can’t breathe properly unless submerged. And don’t even think about taking one home as a souvenir—that’ll get you a $500,000 fine or 10 years in the slammer.
Take the best foodie tour
You’ll never go hungry on an island with more than 200 restaurants. But you might just go broke. Grand Cayman is one of the Caribbean’s priciest destinations (its currency is worth even more than the U.S. dollar) and dining out is no exception. But if you’re in town on a Wednesday night you can save as you savor by joining local foodies on the Flavour Tour at Camana Bay. For just $89 a person you’ll enjoy a tasty four-course progressive dinner (each course served at a different restaurant in the retail village) as well as pre- and post-dinner drinks at West Indies Wine Company. Four not-so-small plates plus six cocktails for less than 100 bucks? Sold.
Relax on a gem of a beach
Stroll the Seven Mile Beach strip on any given day and you’ll see conventioneers escaping air-conditioned conference rooms and well-oiled tourists basking in curtained cabanas. What you won’t see is hotel employees hanging out on their day off. That’s because they’re all soaking up the rays at Smith Cove, a petite beach that’s just 10 minutes’ drive away yet feels a world apart. This South Sound gem has absolutely no “scene,” so you can really relax. Restrooms and a few picnic tables are the only amenities, so bring your own beach chair, umbrella, and refreshments. Visit on a weekday and apart from a few locals, your only company will be a flock of vocal chickens pecking their way across the sugary sands.
Shop like a local
Sure, you can pick up a shot glass, T-shirt, or baseball cap as souvenir but wouldn’t you rather buy something lovingly handcrafted and unique to the islands? The only answer to that question is yes, and the only choice for one-stop local shopping is Pure Art Gallery & Gifts, a South Sound souvenir store that features Caymanian and Caribbean art and craft items. Must-buys include: straw hats and baskets woven from the dried fronds of the national tree, the Silver Thatch palm, and jewelry made from Caymanite, a semi-precious stone only found here.
Explore underwater—at night
Recreational diving got its start in the Cayman Islands, but you don’t have to be a diver or snorkeler to explore its fish- and coral-filled depths. Atlantis Submarines takes adventurers 100 feet below the surface, no breathing apparatus required, and Grand Cayman is the only Caribbean island where you can take a nighttime tour. During 45-minute dives you’ll witness all the ocean’s after-dark attractions, including silvery tarpon, which hunt for prey using the sub’s high-wattage lights. And with excursions timed for pre- and post-dinner hours, you won’t even have to miss a meal.
Take a cooking class
Maybe it’s raining. Maybe you’re sunburned. Or maybe you just love air-conditioning. Either way, here’s an indoor idea: Take a cooking class at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman’s culinary studio (launching this month), where resort chefs lead one- to two-hour classes that range from traditional island cuisine to macaron-making and tutorials on carving a cake in the shape of your favorite designer handbag. Kids from four to 12-years-old can get in on the foodie fun at Bon Vivant, a cookware showroom at Camana Bay, where little ones join hour-long cooking demos and leave with a recipe and their own culinary creations.
Have a Funday Sunday
On Sundays Caymanian boaters (and their friends) navigate north to Rum Point, the island’s quintessential Funday spot. There, the day is well spent anchored off the famous Wreck Bar & Grill. Take a dip in the warm waters; swim ashore for a Mudslide (the vodka-, Kahlua- and Bailey’s-laced Mudslide invented here back in the ‘70s); and get to know the locals as you stand in the shallows and chat over a frosty Caybrew beer (or three). See your hotel’s tour desk for boat rental info or hop one of Cayman Luxury Charters’ yachts.
Act Now To Save Big On Your Next Ski Trip
Skiing and snowboarding have always been sports that reward those who plan ahead. The best deals on ski gear can always be found before the season starts, away from the mountains, and not at the base lodge during snow day. Not only that, fresh tracks are always found by those who wake up early enough to catch the first lift. When it comes to planning your next ski vacation, now is the best time to make your plans, before the first snow falls and the prices spike. By booking early and following a few tips, you can save hundreds of dollars on your next family trip to the mountains. Here's how to book an affordable family ski and snowboarding trip this season. Pick your destination well There are lots of big-named ski areas that you can visit when your goal is to impress your friends, but they don't necessarily offer the most affordable experience. I spoke with Steve Hurlbert from Winter Park Resort, who points out that visitors will find both food and lodging to be less expensive in Grand County Colorado, where the ski area is located, than they will in more expensive parts of the state such as Vail or Aspen. Winter Park Resort is also a shorter drive from Denver, and I've found it to be generally less crowded than most major Colorado resorts. Purchase ski tickets in advance Skiing is not an inexpensive sport and many of the larger resorts now charge more than $100 per day for lift tickets. Thankfully, many ski areas now sell discounted tickets, but only in the fall. These tickets range from season passes to 4-packs that lock you into discounted prices, but also restrict you to visiting a particular resort. For example, Winter Park sells a 4-pack for $199 and an adult season pass online for just $409 (it's even less for children and seniors), offering substantial savings for anyone skiing four days or more. Use the right credit card for award flights If you are thinking about redeeming frequent flier miles to fly your family to a small mountain airport for the holidays, you probably won't have much luck, as most airlines severely restrict award availability during peak travel times. On the other hand, other frequent flier programs don't impose such restrictions on award tickets. The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards card from Chase, for example, offers points that can be redeemed for any flight. So you could even apply for a card now and still earn enough points by the end of the year to book an award trip this ski season. Southwest doesn't fly to small airports, but serves cities in the mountain west that are convenient for skiing such as Denver, Salt Lake City, and Reno/Tahoe. In addition, cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards and Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard offer miles that can be used as statement credits towards any travel expense. Use your credit card benefits to save on baggage fees Packing light is a great way to save money when you are visiting the beach, but it doesn't work too well when you are going skiing for a week in the winter. Instead, you can avoid paying a $50 fee per bag each way by having the right credit card. For example, the United MileagePlus Explorer card from Chase offers a free checked bag for the cardholder and a single companion, while the American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard from Citi offers this benefit to the cardholder and up to four companions. And if you are skiing with a big family or group, the Delta Gold SkyMiles card from American Express offers cardholders a free checked bag for themselves as well as up to eight others traveling on the same reservation. This article was written by Jason Steele, Credit Card Expert at CompareCards.com.
6 Tips For Sticking to your Budget in Switzerland
Switzerland is one of those once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list-worthy types of trips so of course you want to make the most of it. That said, it’s not the most affordable destination out there. While the country may have a reputation for breaking the bank [Editor's Note: Switzerland uses Swiss Francs for their main currency, not euros], you'd be surprised by how many budget alternatives are available. Here are six of my best tips for sticking to your budget and still having the best trip ever. Visit during the off-season Like any destination, traveling off-season will likely save you money. Not only are flights less expensive but hotel rates are lower, too. In Switzerland, high season is from July through mid-September and since Switzerland is also a top ski destination, December and January are popular months, too. If you’re not a fan of cold weather, shoot for either late spring or early summer. You’ll still be able to experience nice weather without the crazy crowds. For skiers, book your trip after New Years. Buy a Swiss Pass If you’re planning a multi-city trip (and even if you’re not), the Swiss Pass will likely save you a good chunk of change. In a nutshell, the pass offers unlimited travel on trains, busses, and boats. There are a few options depending on how long you plan to be in Switzerland including 3, 4, 8, or 15 consecutive day passes. Another major perk of investing in the Swiss Pass is that it grants you free access to 480 museums plus discounts to other touristic attractions. All in all, it’s a major money saver. Shop at local markets There’s no way around it; Swiss dining is pricey. Instead of splurging on three decadent meals a day, take advantage of local markets. There are open-air markets in just about every major city, each selling local produce like fruits, vegetables, cheese, meats, and bread among other treats. In some cases, you can even sample wine or buy a glass for about $6. Grocery stores in Switzerland are top-tier and affordable, especially Coop and Migros. When you do eat out, opt for bars and cafés. Find free activities Depending on when you visit, there are plenty of outdoor activities that don’t cost a thing. In Bern, for example, it’s free to swim in the River Aare. The water is chilly and the current strong, but on a hot summer day, it’s instantly refreshing. Picnics are another great way to enjoy the Swiss landscapes. Look for gardens with a city view, like the Rosengarten (rose garden) in Bern. For something a little more adventures, take a hike, literally! There is no shortage of trails in Switzerland. Know your options While spur-of-the-moment trips are certainly thrilling, they might result in unexpected costs. Researching ahead of time ensures that you know all of your options and can make the smartest decisions. When searching for hostels, hotels, or homestays, find out if breakfast and Wi-Fi are included. These perks can help cut daily costs. Similarly, it never hurts to ask your hotel for a ride. Some hotels offer complimentary shuttles to and from the airport or the train station. Pack smart Packing can be a pain but don’t just throw random items into your suitcase and hope for the best. Shopping in Switzerland isn’t cheap and you’ll want to avoid that at all costs (pun intended)! For winter trips, bring along your own sports gear. That way, when you hit the slopes, you’ll only need ski rentals. For summer stays, pack sunscreen and any medications you might need while on the road. Pharmacies are everywhere but prices are higher than what you are probably used to back home. This article was written by Megan Eileen McDonough, Founder of Bohemian Trails.
Awesome Winter Deals to Book NOW
As the shadows grow longer, the leaves fall and our thoughts turn to... winter vacation! Before the snow piles up and the Polar Vortex returns, there are some amazing deals to get you on the best ski slopes, the world's most beautiful islands, and a Caribbean cruise. But you've got to press the button on these deals soon. Budget Travel's President Elaine Alimonti spoke about these amazing vacation deals on The Weather Channel's AMHQ with Sam Champion—click here to see the clip! SKI THE ROCKIES! The outstanding Vail family of resorts (including Breckenridge, Vail, Keystone, and more) is offering 30 percent off ski packages if you book BEFORE opening day (Breckenridge opening day is November 14, 2015). With the 30 percent early-booking discount, package rates (lodging and skiing) start as low as $150/night. These Colorado resorts offer not just world-class skiing, but also sleigh ride dinners, tubing, ice skating, charming ski villages with a fun après ski party scene, and the incredible beauty of the Rocky Mountains as your backdrop. SAVE BIG ON A CARIBBEAN CRUISE! Escape the winter cold by booking one of Royal Caribbean's mega-ship cruises to the Bahamas by October 11 and you'll get half-price on the second guest. Royal Caribbean's prices are reasonable, with three- and four-night cruises in the $500-per-person range, so the "buy one get one" deal really brings your total travel expense down. Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas ship is mind-blowing: first Starbucks at sea, a full production of Mamma Mia, a carousel, boardwalk, ziplining, and 25 restaurants onboard. The Bahamas are one of Budget Travel’s favorite getaways: swim with dolphins and tropical fish, parasail over the islands, and shop Nassau’s legendary boutiques and shops. SEE THE SOUTH PACIFIC! $1,148 for a package deal from Air Tahiti Nui (a French airline) that includes round-trip airfare to Auckland, New Zealand with an INCREDIBLE three-night stopover and hotel stay in Tahiti. Must book by September 30. Your stopover in Tahiti is at one of the island’s premiere resorts, where you’ll have access to a perfect white-sand beach, swimming pools, amazing food and cocktails. Then… New Zealand! Budget Travel loves New Zealand for its diverse geography – you can explore mountains, beaches, cities, and visit the island’s traditional farmstays, legendary for their hospitality and delicious meals, including lamb, fresh cheese, and great local wines.
5 Blissful Spa Week Escapes You Can Actually Afford
At BT, we love indulging in affordable spas when we travel. If you do too, now is a great time to take that relaxing spa vacation you've been dreaming about: October 12–18 is Spa Week, a magical time when mega-expensive treatments—think fancy pumpkin facials and soothing Swedish massages—are offered at deep discounts at luxe spas across the country. Most services are just $50. Where to go? Here are some of our favorite on-sale, decadent, ahhh-inducing treatments in cool vacation destinations across the country to inspire your Spa Week escape—either as a girlfriend getaway or an excuse to take a little solo travel "me time." Prefer a staycation instead? Search for your town at spaweek.com. Sign up with your email address to see the deals. 1. Palm Beach Gardens, Florida Spa: Juno Dermatology (3801 PGA Boulevard, Suite 107, junodermatology.com) Try this deal: 60-Minute Pumpkin Enzyme Facial With Extractions ($50; regularly $125). Because what's more festive in October than a pumpkin facial? Budget Traveler tip: To further boost your circulation, go for a walk, run, bike ride, hike, or canoe trip in Loxahatchee Slough Natural Area, only 10 minutes or so away. Trails and wetland overlooks are open from sunrise to gorgeous sunset. 2. Scottsdale, Arizona Spa: Amethyst Spa at Wekopa Resort & Conference Center (10438 North Fort McDowell Road, wekoparesortandconferencecenter.com) Try this treatment: 30-minute Signature Amethyst Facial and 30-minute Yavapai Swedish massage ($50, regularly $190). The hydrating acai berry facial refines and resurfaces skin with vitamins A, C, and D, and you decide whether the full-body theraputic massage should consist of slow, gentle relaxing glides or vigorous and bracing strokes to relieve stress. Budget Traveler tip: Amethyst's Spa Week services come with a complimentary glass of champagne and h'ors d'oeurves, plus access to the spa's outdoor desert-oasis pool area, which has a heated swimming pool and two whirlpools with views of the Sonoran Desert. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, a somewhat mysterious preserve highlighting the ruins of an ancient desert people's community, is about an hour away by car ($5). 3. Chicago, Illinois Spa: Oxygen Spa Studio (400 South Green Street, oxygenspastudio.com) Try this treatment: Gold Coast mask facial with LED light therapy treatment ($50; regularly $135). The facial lifts, tightens, and boost circulation; the LED treatment plumps skin and treats acne. Budget Traveler tip: The Art Institute of Chicago is less than two miles away from this spa. Admission is free for Illinois residents on Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. If you're visiting from out of state and plan on doing a lot of sightseeing, a Chicago CityPass gets you into the institute as well as four other attractions at a discount, plus you get to skip the lines (from $79). 4. Fountain Valley, California Spa: Origins Massage and Bodyworks (18303 Brookhurst St., originsmassage.com) Try this treatment: Specialty deep-tissue, Swedish, prenatal, sports, or trigger-point massage tailored to your pressure preference, with an enhancement of your choice, including aromatherapy, a blackberry vanilla foot scrub, or peppermint scalp massage ($50; regularly $130) Budget Traveler tip: Huntington Beach—dubbed Surf City USA—is a 15-minute drive from Fountain Valley. Hang out on the beach or bike along the pier, then grab a treat at a place we can vouch for: On her recent coast-to-coast #BTRoadTrip, Budget Travel Photo Editor Whitney Tressel discovered Sandy's, a restaurant with an ocean view where the Signature S'more is legendary ($7). 5. New York, New York Spa: Ling Skin Care (12 E. 16th Street, lingskincare.com) Try this treatment: 50-minute charcoal facial ($50; regularly $260) (Bargain alert! That's less than a fifth of the original price.) The treatment begins with a papaya enzyme peel, followed by an herbal clay clarifying mask, a ginseng moisturizing mask, and, finally, the charcoal mask to absorb oil and leave skin smooth. Budget Traveler tip: With more than 50 spas in New York City offering $50 treatments, you can spa-hop all week between legendary names like the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa on Fifth Avenue and hidden gems like Skin Spa, aloft on the fourth floor of a Flatiron District building. When you're sufficiently relaxed, take a leisurely stroll among the fall foliage on the High Line, one of the best free activities in New York City.