Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Community editor Amberly McAteer let readers plan her vacation: here she is on Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman (Sandi McAteer for The Globe & Mail)

Community editor Amberly McAteer let readers plan her vacation: here she is on Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman

(Sandi McAteer for The Globe & Mail)

Beautiful beaches, fantastic food: This place has it all Add to ...

As the catamaran slows to the sandbar, a tiny dab of white in an otherwise turquoise expanse, I start counting the dark circles gliding through the shallow water. Stingrays – I lose count after nine – circle, waiting for their visitors. I step off the boat, and before I’m even waist deep, two rays snuggle into my ankles. They feel like cold, giant portobello mushrooms. I didn’t know terror and glee could co-exist.

(Click the bold words to see Amberly's Twitter videos and photos.)

This is Stingray City, the top-rated attraction on TripAdvisor for the Cayman Islands. Input from absolute strangers – or user-generated content, as we call it in the digital-journalism business – has become the new standard for travel: Fodors, Lonely Planet and other expert guidebooks are becoming relics, replaced by strongly worded online opinions and star ratings from regular folks with access to a computer.

So when I started dreaming of a mother-daughter escape from the long Canadian winter, I turned to my pool of experts – Globe readers. I wanted sand and sun, but also secluded, yet bustling, safe but surprising – and please, no all-inclusives. You answered in droves, and the consensus was clear: the Cayman Islands. I decided to “crowdsource” my entire mother-daughter vacation, letting readers advise me on what to see, where to stay and what to eat. The result: I land on Grand Cayman with folders of e-mails with gems such as, “Edoardo’s Bar has life-changing key lime pie,” and “snorkel snorkel snorkel, then snorkel some more.”

So it is that I’m wading in the Caribbean, on a particularly choppy day, surrounded by dozens of rays. “Don’t be afraid, they are beautiful creatures,” wrote Sarah from Ottawa – one of 17 readers who endorsed this excursion from Red Sail Sports. “It’s truly unbelievable,” Amanda from Vancouver told me.

Stingray City sounds like a tacky tourist trap but this is no artificial recreation: The rays are in the wild, just passing through the sandbar (the guides feed them strips of squid, which I’m sure helps ensure their return).

In a matter of seconds, my fear disappears. I transform into a toddler, squealing every time a ray brushes my legs or headbutts my shoulder. I pet them, name them and – wanting to avoid a lifetime of bad luck (so readers warned) – I even kiss one. When it’s time to get back on the boat, 20 minutes later, I feel like I’m leaving a party that’s just getting started.

Jamaica and Cuba may be its closest neighbours, but Grand Cayman is hardly known for its laid-back island culture (“Going to go see your money in person?” many people joked when I told them about my impending trip.) Along Seven Mile Beach, megaresorts and high-rolling guests are everywhere (I hear a man leave this voice mail from his lounger: “Hey, sorry I missed your call earlier – was just getting a massage, at the Ritz Carlton in Grand Cayman.”)

So I was eager to follow the advice of Amanda in Vancouver: “Rent a car and drive the island.” This turned out to be no easy task. My mom and I gasp, sensing imminent death every time oncoming traffic sails by us on the right side. For the first two hours, getting anywhere takes twice as long because I am mentally incapable of making a right-hand turn. But after relearning to how to drive, the trip – mainly one coastal road spanning the croissant-shaped island – is worth the temporary chaos. Neon, tropical landscapes breeze by my open window, dotted with roosters and goats and cows, while endless blue ocean fills my mom’s passenger view.

Single page

Follow on Twitter: @amberlym

In the know

Most popular videos »


More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular