We have all heard of swimming with the dolphins and many people have seen marine park shows featuring dolphins, seals and even whales, but I had never heard of swimming with the Stingrays! I came across this particular activity while pouring over the many excursions offered by our Royal Caribbean Cruise itinerary for our Western Caribbean cruise out of Miami in Florida, USA, and was immediately intrigued about the Stingray City at Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. It was quite soon after renowned Steve Irwin, Australia’s famed ‘crocodile hunter’ had been accidentally killed by a stingray on the Great Barrier Reef, so I was a little apprehensive when booking the excursion, but decided to go along and perhaps stay on the boat if I was too scared to test the waters!
What a good decision! It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and memorable experiences I have ever had and definitely the highlight of our trip; in fact, when I hear the word Caribbean mentioned now, all I think of is the stingray experience! It is offered on all western Caribbean cruises that call on the Cayman Islands and Stingray City is definitely one of the best cruise excursions I have ever been on, and worth every cent.
Reef Snorkeling with a life-jacket!
We all jumped aboard the boat that would take us to the stingray sandbar and were equipped with everything we would need to snorkel on the reef; in our case, we first went out to the reef to snorkel and then visited the stingrays – sometimes the order is reversed so that there are never too many boats around the sandbar at the same time. The reef snorkel was good, but I have to admit I find it very frustrating having to snorkel wearing a life-jacket (that was the rule!!); I am a strong swimmer and like to dive down a few feet when I see something interesting, and you cannot do that wearing a life-jacket! Still, there was plenty of marine life around the reef to admire.
Snorkel in Stingray City
Then, we went off to the sandbar! Now I just want to explain that the Stingray City experience does not take place in a man-made lake or lagoon; you are out in the middle of the ocean on a natural sandbar, in water no deeper than about a metre. The various boats all park around the perimeter of the sandbank and you can see dozens of stingrays swimming around. The local fishermen have been feeding the stingrays here for years and the creatures are quite at home with people sharing their sandbank! They are just incredible! They swim right up to you, brush against your legs with their wonderful velvety “wings” and I swear they make eye-contact! You can feed them with squid if you like, but they don’t seem to mind at all if you just want to stroke them. Finally, we each had our photo’s taken “kissing” one of them.
No-one wanted to leave! After about 40 minutes of close encounter, we all reluctantly returned to the boat to go back to dry land, leaving the Stingray City. Our sadness at leaving our new friends was slightly eased by the best Margarita’s I have ever tasted, which we enjoyed on the ride back to shore! If you ever get the opportunity to swim with these incredibly endearing marine creatures, I urge you not to miss the experience.