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Grand Cayman is one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean. It’s surrounded by crystal clear water and has some of the best beaches in the world. If you’re lucky enough to have this port of call on your cruise itinerary, consider booking an excursion to the Cayman Turtle Centre.
We booked the “Stingray Encounter & Turtle Swim” through Carnival. But since we’ve already reviewed Stingray City, this review focuses solely on the Cayman Turtle Centre, which is a stop on a variety of excursion options offered in Grand Cayman.
Tendering Into Grand Cayman
Because Grand Cayman is a tender port, we received tickets in our stateroom at the start of our cruise that directed us to meet in the ship’s theater at 7 am. We ordered an early room service breakfast and met in the theater at 6:45. Luckily we went early, because our group left promptly at 7 to board the very first tender from the ship.
Once we got onto the island, we followed the sign for our excursion and were given wristbands. Then, we were led onto a bus which would take us to the first stop on our tour: Cayman Turtle Centre.
Cayman Turtle Centre
On the way to the Turtle Centre, the bus driver spoke of the island’s history, local inhabitants, and the Cayman Islands’ relationship with turtles. The 20-minute ride took us along the world-famous 7-Mile Beach, which was lined with condos and resorts.
Upon entering the Turtle Center, there is a large pond at the front and center that is home to the largest and oldest turtles there. We were encouraged to take pictures while a staff member greeted us and explained to our group the Centre’s purpose: sea turtle research and conservation. There’s also a kiosk selling turtle food nearby if you’d like to feed the turtles. (The sea turtles definitely like this venture!)
After the short introduction, you are free to roam the facility’s grounds on your own, as long as you make it back to your meeting spot at the front gate at the time designated by your bus driver. Regardless, in the beginning we were ushered to the right-hand side of the facility, where there were mini-pools with younger, smaller turtles. We formed a line and waited our turn to hold a turtle and take pictures with it. It was definitely the highlight of our Turtle Centre visit.
Continuing through the grounds of the Turtle Centre, we passed the lagoon where you can snorkel with turtles. We chose not to swim and snorkel that day because, as mentioned, this stop was part of a two-part excursion where we’d be going on to Stingray City later, and we didn’t want to get wet when we still had several hours left on our tour.
This was a disappointing decision for us, though, because the facility’s amenities are gorgeous. The lagoon where you swim with the turtles weaves throughout the grounds, and there is a man-made beach complete with beach chairs at one end. In another corner, there’s also a swimming pool with a water slide that looked perfect for younger children.
If you don’t want to snorkel, there is a path that dips below the lagoon’s surface and opens to a large glass window where you can view the turtles, fish, and any snorkelers swimming from below the waterline.
We continued on the path to a birdhouse. This is a large structure enclosed in nets so that the birds can fly freely inside. There are double doors so you can enter without letting the birds out. It was a nice surprise to see so many species of exotic birds up close – I hadn’t expected to see that at the Turtle Centre.
After wandering through the birdhouse, we made our way into a small building which gave us a welcome reprieve from the heat. Inside on the left is an educational video about the Centre, its research, and its conservation work. To the right is part of the hatchery for the turtles. Through a window, visitors can view little turtle hatchlings that are just days old. There are even eggs still in incubators.
There was also a bar and restaurant overlooking the turtle lagoon. Unfortunately, we arrived so early that day (before 9 am) that it wasn’t even open yet. It was beginning to open towards the end of our visit, but by that time we had already made our way into the gift shop to purchase some souvenirs.
Overall, Cayman Turtle Centre was a fun and memorable stop. While our swim with the stingrays at Stingray Bay was the true highlight of the day, that doesn’t take away from our experience at Cayman Turtle Centre.
In fact, for anyone looking for an animal encounter but not quite willing to swim in the open ocean with wild stingrays, this is the perfect low-key option. Plus, it’s an especially attractive option for families with kids given the multitude of amenities inside the facility such as the water park, turtle lagoon, and restaurant.