Marvel at the coral-wall diving, learn about booby birds and relax with locals during your beach vacation on quiet Little Cayman.
“What do you like best about Pirates Point Resort?” I ask a fellow diver on Little Cayman, who’s been coming to the resort for more than a decade. “Everything,” replies Dave Reubush, a former NASA engineer. His view seems to be the general consensus about this resort, and of the island on which it is located, Little Cayman.
Just 10 miles long and one mile wide, Little Cayman, is the smallest and least inhabited of the Cayman Islands. It’s home to about 150 residents. It may be small, but it’s got a big draw—some of the most spectacular wall diving in existence. The walls here are coral reefs that begin at 25 feet and plunge straight down for 3,000 feet to the ocean floor. Floating over such a precipice is like being in outer space. How apropos that a NASA alumnus finds the waters so enticing, but just about anyone that dives Little Cayman becomes enthralled, myself included.
My visit to Little Cayman is like a step back in time. The airport terminal consists of a small building that holds the airline office, the fire department and the island’s post office. The airline arrival and departure “gate” is situated outside, rain or shine. Upon arriving via Cayman Airways, which has daily flights from Grand Cayman, a van escorts you down a small road to Pirates Point, which is the first resort that opened to the public on the island in the early 1980s.
I’ve stayed at the Little Cayman Beach Resort on other occasions. It’s upscale and a little pricy. Southern Cross, a diving and fishing lodge, gets mixed food reviews and sometimes hosts a hard-drinking fishing crowd.
I’ll take Pirates Point any day for its casual, natural beauty, gastronomical delights and its wonderful guest experience. Holding no more than 20 guests at a time, it seems that within days, everyone knows each other and better yet, likes each other. And most guests are repeat visitors many times over. If that’s not a review, I don’t know what is.
Texas-born Gladys Howard, an avid diver, Cordon Bleu-trained chef and entrepreneur, purchased the property in 1986 and has been running the intimate beachside resort ever since. She especially praises the day that electricity came to the island in 1992, though the resort must still purify its own water. Nonetheless, what Gladys likes about the island is “the serenity of it, the uniqueness. And it still has some of the best diving.”
Brigitte Kassa, a former Monte Carlo nightclub manager who moved to Little Cayman when the population was about a dozen, adds, “We would like to keep Little Cayman pristine. There’s talk of a bigger airport and development, but locals prefer not. The [tourism proponents] have Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac. Leave us alone.”
Both Howard and Kassa work diligently to preserve the island’s habitat to keep it pristine. The National Trust has acquired more than 300 acres on Little Cayman. The Booby Pond Nature Reserve is now dedicated as a wetlands sanctuary that hosts the largest colony of red-footed booby birds in the western hemisphere among other species. Iguanas are also abundant on the island, with road signs warning that they have the right of way. After all, they far outnumber humans on this quiet tropical island.
But the real test is with my 16-year-old niece, Claire, who has joined my family on this trip. I’m worried that this hip teen will be bored to death on the island and at the resort. But, after a day of fabulous diving, she is biking down a dirt road to show some hermit crab haven to my young daughter before heading to the National Trust for homemade ice cream. Last seen at night, she is at the domino table with Gladys and other guests, laughing and learning how to be a good loser, wearing the tacky losing necklace at breakfast the next morning to prove it. She tells me she’d definitely come back.
Just before we end our visit, I unveil a butterfly mobile that my daughter and I constructed out of sea fans and sponges. Pirates Point guests are invited to comb the beach for materials to create an art project that will be showcased in the main hut. Some results are amazing. Each year, guests vote on the best, and the winner receives a free week at the resort. I doubt I’ll beat out Andrea and Sal, fellow guests who have won twice before. At least for some time, my butterflies will be immortalized on the ceiling of Pirates Point Resort, and I’ll dream of returning again to the coral reef walls of Little Cayman. Everyone can dream.
Pirates Point Resort’s seven-day high season package, offered from mid-December to mid-April including diving, meals and open bar, is $1,795 per person, based on double occupancy, or $1,650 for a non-diver. Summer diver rates are slightly discounted. The resort is for ages 5 and older.