Now you can relax on the beautiful beaches and snorkel in the crystal clear waters of the Cayman Islands – without being rich! (Photo by Stephen Frink/Corbis. Design by Lauren DeLuca for Yahoo Travel.)
Grand Cayman is considered one of the Caribbean’s more elite vacation spots – and for good reason. The small tropical island, bordered by its fellow islands Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, has long been considered a low-key but high-end destination, especially for the wealthy bankers who migrate to its off-shore banking industry. But as you settle into the island, exploring beyond its most notable hotels, like The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman and The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa, you realize that Grand Cayman can – and should – be a destination for anyone with the desire to see it.
This is the philosophy behind Comfort Suites Seven Mile Beach, a value-based property that underwent a $2.8 million renovation of its rooms, gym, and business center two years ago and will undergo a second $1 million renovation of its lobby and breakfast area this September. The hotel rooms, which range in size from studios to two-bedroom suites, have an average rate of $192 per night, which includes Wi-Fi and buffet breakfast. It feels like a typical Comfort Suites, with the brand’s signature décor creating a clean aesthetic consistency, but the hotel is steps away from Seven Mile Beach’s expansive shore and near many of Grand Cayman’s most acclaimed attractions.
Related: How to Do Grand Cayman Like a Local
The Comfort Suites has a pool, but also great access to Seven Mile Beach. (Courtesy: Choice Hotels)
The hotel’s democratic affordability is somewhat at odds with the current priorities of Moses Kirkconnell, Grand Cayman’s Ministers for District Administration, Tourism & Transport. The Minister believes that in order to visit Cayman an American tourist needs to be in the top 5 percent of the income bracket. “In our summer season we need our visitors to make over $200,000 a year and in winter they need to make over $300,000,” Kirkconnell told Yahoo Travel. “We have an extremely targeted marketing plan and we basically look at pockets of wealth. Our core business is the United States and North America – parts of Canada – and we look at the pockets of wealth around and attack that by zip code.”
A sample room at Comfort Suites Seven Mile Beach. (Courtesy: Choice Hotels)
The Minister also claimed that it will cost the average family of four from the U.S. $6,000 per person per week to visit Grand Cayman. This is not, however, the case.
Many of Grand Cayman’s best activities are inexpensive or free. The National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, an art museum with weekly activities targeted to children, has free admission, as do parts of the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. The Cayman Turtle Farm, one of the island’s top attractions, where children can learn about the lifespan of a turtle and interact with the animals, costs $18 for adult admission and $9 for children.
Pedro St. James Castle, a historic site, is $10 for a guided tour and free for children under 12. Rum Point, a laidback beachside area that has drawn celebrities like Taylor Swift, is free (until, of course, you start ordering its iconic mudslides). Even a visit by boat to the famed Stingray City, a sandbar four miles out in the ocean where you can snorkel with giant stingrays, will only set you back $40-45, depending on the tour company you hire. The island’s restaurants, too, are average in price, especially compared with similar beach resort areas in Mexico or the Bahamas.
When you add Comfort Suites Grand Cayman to that equation it becomes possible to create a family vacation to the Cayman Islands that doesn’t come close to costing $6,000 per person per week, even when considering flight costs. The Comfort Suites, which is a Choice Hotels franchise and is considered a 3.5 star hotel, has found its success in not being The Ritz-Carlton or the 286-room Kimpton hotel that is set to open on the island in November.
One of the residents at Stingray City. (Photo: Ambassador Divers)
“We offer fantastic value to the consumer who comes to Cayman and this might be our niche,” said Thomas Mason, general manager of Comfort Suites Grand Cayman, who noted that the hotel has one of the island’s highest yearly occupancy rates. “Although the Ministry of Tourism is targeting an affluent market of people, at Comfort Suites Grand Cayman we’re targeting a lower income bracket and we’ve also been quite successful… We give all the components the full-service hotels have, but we don’t charge that high.”
The National Gallery of the Cayman Islands is both fun and free. (Photo: Emily Zemler)
Of course, your travel style will dictate whether this is the right hotel for you and your family. There are a few downsides to the property, although they are slight. Comfort Suites is beach-adjacent, rather than that beachfront, and the rooms overlook the swimming pool rather than the ocean (which is blocked by a condo building). There is no spa or high-end dining option, and the property is more comfortable than it is glamorous. There is, however, a notable level of service, which likely comes from Mason’s previous experience working for Fairmont Hotels. On paper, the hotel competes with the nearby Sunset Suites Resort and the Holiday Inn Resort Grand Cayman, but Mason says Comfort Suites “does compete against the four- and five-star hotels.”
So would you stay at a Comfort Suites in the Cayman Islands? The answer should be yes, especially you want to prove to Kirkconnell that you don’t have to be in the top 5 percent of American earners to visit the island and experience its culture and beauty. Travel should be for everyone, not just those a tourism board thinks should be able to afford it, and that is where a hotel like Comfort Suites finds its power.
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