Grand Cayman | Anniversary and Dive Trip, Sept 2018

A couple of things happened to make this possible.  Our wonderful daughter Maggie gave us a week of babysitting so that we could take a vacation without any kids, thank you Maggie. When the opportunity presented itself for us to rent the same condo in Seven Mile Beach Resort in Grand Cayman that we did in May of 2017 so we jumped on it.  The earliest we could book a vacation for me, at the time, was in September.

We also decided that if we’re going to spend the bucks to get there and dive, might as well maximize the opportunity and decided to extend  it a couple days, three to be exact.

We originally asked the condo folks for a special rate to extend because, well, honestly, we like to be frugal like that, and we also have a boat load of Marriott points so we could technically stay at the Marriott resort for free. Initially the resort said “No” and quoted us standard rates which were ridiculous.  Anyone in Cayman in the offseason (August-September-October) an paying list price is not doing their homework.

So we looked around.  The problem with the Marriott for us, was simply that it’s basically a standard hotel room, an when you’re diving, you have a lot of wet, sometimes stinky gear to deal with.  There’s no good place to store it at the Marriott and they don’t have their own dive company to take it off your hands.  We also like to have the opportunity to cook a bit and save some money when we can and you can’t do that when all you have is a Microwave. Well, I suppose you can, but we can’t.

Additionally we wanted to experience other parts of the island, not just Seven Mile, which can be busy like Gatlinburg only with a beach.  If you don’t know how busy that is, just know that it’s crazy busy.  It turns out, in the offseason, that’s not a problem.

After some research, we selected a condo on the north side in Old Man Bay.  Originally we rented On The Bay Unit #104 via Grand Cayman Villas & Condos.

As we did our pre-travel research we were a little bummed about the number of things that were down/closed for the off season.  Island population is certainly lower, it is hurricane season after all. A few of the dive companies we planned to dive with told us they would be down for maintenance and when I tried to get reservations at one of the all you can eat lobster nights and they were like, “Yeah, uh, no, we’re closed in September.”  But we soldiered on.

We eventually booked diving with EPIC divers for the 7 days we’d be staying on 7 Mile because of their stellar reputation on Trip Advisor. We figured we’d just snorkel, shore dive, or find someone on the North side when we got here.  We also planned to check out the Morritt’s resort and Ocean Frontiers as potential places to stay next time.

Unit #310 On The Bay @ Old Man Bay on the North Side –We had originally booked On The Bay Unit#104, upon arrival we were told there was a problem with that unit. It had recently been sold and some of the utilities weren’t turned back on.  Cayman Villas moved us to Unit #310 and we were very pleasantly surprised when we got there. On The Bay Unit #310 (Third floor ocean view) was an upgrade for us from unit 104, (ground floor, no view).  Kudos to Grand Cayman Villas for upgrading us.  The On The Bay condos are nice and spacious. The unit we stayed is was an owner occupied rental so it was extremely well appointed versus a condo that’s 100% rental and filled with the bare minimum. We essentially had the entire 12 unit complex to ourselves.  It really couldn’t have been any better.

Starfish Point –Did someone say starfish? What a great little corner of the earth. Named Starfish Point for a reason. We stopped out there on our first night to check out the sunset, then followed up with a poor attempt to snorkel there the next day.  Worth going for the starfish but it’s not a great place to snorkel despite what you may read. Super shallow to a 10 -15 foot deep sea grass area to a deep drop off.  Not a ton of life outside of some basic fish and the starfish of course.  We’re told you sometimes see turtles grazing there and the current was strong when we visited.

Over The Edge Restaurant – Great place on the north side for a relatively inexpensive meal. Inexpensive as far as Cayman goes. Good food, locally sourced fish, etc, with a bit of a french flair.  We stopped here for dinner the first night on the porch over the water.  Wonderful view.

Friday morning after snorkeling at Starfish point and stopping off to see Rum Point (not real sure what the attraction is there) we headed around the east end of the island to see what Ocean Frontiers had to offer and to inquire about diving with them on Saturday.

Ocean Frontiers –This dive resort is now on our list of places to stay in the future. Something about rolling out of bed and onto the dive boats really appeals to us. The facilities were super well organized and the room that they showed us was very clean with a good view.  Sad that the pool is located across the street in the other part of the complex but we’d manage.  We booked our first dive with them for Saturday morning, with a penciled in spot for Sunday if we could coordinate the move out of the north side and into 7 mile in a way that would work out.

The Brasserie –What can I say?  This is our go-to night out in Grand Cayman.  Their food is amazing as well as the atmosphere.  This is our second trip.  I made reservations for The Brasserie as soon as I knew we were coming.  We opted for the Chef’s selection.  A five course tasting menu that was out of this world.

We started with their Tuna Ceviche with plantain chips, followed by the Prince Edward Island Mussels, Swordfish, Steak, a sample of some magical cheese, and our desert sampler.  All of it was amazing@

Saturday morning we dove with Ocean Frontiers, and loved every minute of it. It’s a larger boat for sure, but there was PLENTY of space.  I liked having the room, and the service and attention to detail spoiled us.  Everyone had their own dunk tank next to their two tanks of gas. 3 Dive masters on the boat, two in the water with every dive.  We were fortunate, there weren’t any newbies, or anyone that required any attention.  Two stellar dives, enough to get us to book again for Sunday.

Dive logs were captured using my new dive watch/computer. The Garmin Decent MK1 (in addition to our normal computers/gauges). This little gem logs not only the dive particulars but my heart rate as well.  Additionally it logs the GPS location of your entry and exit.  SWEET.  (Click any of the links below for the details)

Dive 1: Eeny Meeny Miny Mo | Single-Gas Dive
Dive 2: Iron Shores Garden | Single-Gas Dive

Rum Point  –I don’t see the attraction to Rum Point, sure it might be quieter, there’s a Rum Point beach area with a bar or two, bar food, and a restaurant (which was closed except for dinner).  The beach there was small, and full of seaweed.  Clearly party central though if that’s what you’re looking for.  That’s to say to buy overpriced buckets of beer and play sand volleyball. No kidding, I paid $28 Cayman for two Mango Coladas and I don’t think there was any alcohol in them to speak of. Worst investment of the trip. We did however enjoy the hammocks for a bit, but that was only possible because it was essentially empty. I see no need to go back there. In all fairness, we didn’t get out to the western part of the beach, and if provided with the right opportunity to stay in one of the condos at Kai Bo, or that part of the island for a reasonable price we would consider it.

Sunday
Two more dives with Ocean Frontiers

Dive 3: Lost Valley | Single-Gas Dive
Dive 4: FantaSea Land | Single-Gas Dive

Again, exceptional service, and great overall dives. Same boat, completely different and equally great crew.

On the bay was kind enough to allow us a later than 11am check out so that we could dive on Sunday.  We were told by 7 mile we could check in after 4pm, maybe early but 4pm for sure.  After our dives we took a little pool time to wind down before packing up and moving to 7 Mile Beach Club and Resort.

Upon arrival (at 4:10) we noticed that the office closed at 4pm.  Fortunatly the manager lived in unit 1 and was able to accommodate our check in. That certainly didn’t jive with the “You can check in after 4pm for sure story we got the day before.  But no harm, no foul.

Seven Mile Beach Club – We really like 7 Mile beach club for it’s short, less than a block walk to the southern end of 7 mile beach just below the Marriotts portion of the beach. We also like the ability to walk to a number of restaurants including Coconut Joe’s across the street.  Our request for a ground floor unit was honored.  Similar to up north, the place was almost empty.  If you can get a ground floor unit, do it.  There’s no real view to speak of, and the ability to walk out your back door to the pool (vs a screened in balcony) is an added bonus.  However, this is our second visit and we’re 0-2 in the ability to use the pool.  It was broken the first time and being worked on.  It was up and running on Sunday when we got there, but closed on Monday to have a drain installed, so it was down the whole time. They did work out an arrangement for patrons to be able to use the pool at the facility next door (@ Comfort Suites), but it’s just not the same as right out your back door.  It’s this kind of thing that really turns me of to ever wanting to own a timeshare.

Epic Divers –After checking in and getting settled I sent an email to Epic Divers, whom we booked with, confirming our arrangements. I had stumbled upon a post/article about the owner having a party with Guy Harvey and read that they were winding down which had us a little concerned. They confirmed our pick up time and that all things were a go. Long story short, there are rules about how long an expatriate can live and work on the island (9 years to be exact in 2018). When that happens you have to be off island for 1 year before you can come back.  Both owners of EPIC aged out or rolled over within the same year. Had things been managed differently they could have kept it going but they never found a 3rd partner/wheel they trusted enough to do that.  I wish I had met them a year ago. EPIC is (or was) certainly the type of company and class of people I’d consider investing in.

EPIC more than lived up to their name and reputation.  For the most part Claudine and I had the boat to ourselves with Pete (one of the owners) and his parents (Shirley and Collin).  What a distinct pleasure it was to meet them and dive with them. We did pick up another couple divers Thursday, Friday and a full boat for their final run on Saturday.

I wish Pete and his family success in whatever it is they decide to do and plan to keep in touch.  Pete’s family lives in a part of the UK that I’ve never visited and I look forward to having them show us around one day.

The first two dives with EPIC were on the western 7 mile side. I enquired about diving the north wall as we were unable to get to the north side during our last visit. Turns out it’s a bit choppy in the summer as the weather comes from the north. 

EPIC boat on the West Bay Dock:

Monday’s dives:
Dive 5: Knife | Single-Gas Dive
Dive 6: Ono Verde | Single-Gas Dive

Tuesday’s dives:
Dive 7: Big Tunnels | Single-Gas Dive – Drift
-= Followed by a move to the North Sound
Dive 8: Lemon Reef | Single-Gas Dive

Wednesday’s dives:
Dive 9: Leslie’s Curl | Single-Gas Dive
– Surface Interval at Stingray City Sandbar.

Dive 10: Ray’s Bedroom | Single-Gas Dive

We got to spend some time with “Hook” about a 5 foot reef shark, that once had a huge hook in his nose (note the scar) which was removed a while back.

We had originally planned to take Wednesday and Saturday off to shore dive, but because the service was so good, and the weather on the north wall was cooperating we elected to dive both Wednesday and Saturday as well in the end.

We also took our Sunset Snorkel trip off Cemetary beach this evening.  Good stuff.

Thursday’s dives:Dive 11: Main Street | Single-Gas Dive
Dive 12: Blue Pita | Single-Gas Dive

Shore Dive @ Macabuca
Dive 13: Macabuca | West Bay Single-Gas Dive

Friday’s dives:
Dive 14: 7 Fathoms | Single-Gas Dive
Dive 15: Sturgeons Domain | Single-Gas Dive

Shore Dive @ Sunset HouseDive 16: Sunset House | George Town Single-Gas Dive

Yes, we found the mermaid. This was the first time I needed to navigate to something. 320 degrees from our drop in point, then 310 from there to a wreck (which we didn’t swim too). 

The way the mermaid is situated with her back to a larger coral formation, it’s easy to swim past on the way out and we did exactly that.  After consuming about 30% of our air we turned back, and found her on the swim back (heading 140 degrees). After the shore dive we cleaned up and had dinner on a patio all to ourselves.

Saturday’s dives:
Dive 17: Hammerhead Hill | Single-Gas Dive
Surface Interval at Stingray City Sandbar again
Dive 18: Monet’s Garden | Single-Gas Dive

At the end of the trip, these are all the dive sites we hit in 10 days, 8 of them diving.

There are supposed to be 365 dive sites between the 3 Cayman islands.  We have only scratched the surface, with 18 this trip and 11 the last trip, with the only duplicate so far being the shore dives at Macabuca. Daryll told us that the island decided on a marketing campaign “Cayman, dive a new site every day, 365 days a year”.  The put it all together and published it only to realize they didn’t have 365 sites.  They only had 359 or something, so a few of the dive sites are somewhat suspect, (or complete ass as he called them).  But there are 365 moorings today.

Some Stats from this trip:
10 Days on Island
18 Dives, 16 by boat, 2 by shore, plus some snorkeling
13 and a half hours under water during the dives
We put 410 miles on the rental car (that means we spent at a minimum of 11.5 hours in said rental car at an average of 35 MPH)

Video –Disclaimer: This is a quick chop down of over 40 hours of video captured during the trip.  I am not a professional videographer or video editor.  You may be about to spend time on the internet that you’ll never get back.

Video 1:  Photos, Sharks and Eels

Video 2: Fish and Stingrays

Coffee, this aint no game.

Yes, we love our coffee we’ve loved our Krups coffee maker.  Actually we’ve had quite a few of them and I wrote about that here.

Since the last couple of repairs making one good Krups out of two, we’ve been looking for the next replacement.  We located what we wanted and just waited for the right deal.  We got that deal this weekend (Black Friday) on a refurbished unit from Seattle Coffee Gear with a 2 year warranty.

The Saeco Moltio Carafe HD8869/47 Superautomatic Espresso Machine

Removable Bean Hopper – Removable bean hoppers make it easy to clean and swap out beans. (Comes with two hoppers so we can now have decaf)
Double Thermoblock – Dedicated steam and brew thermoblocks offer unbeatable on-demand heat.
Removable Milk Carafe – A refrigerator-ready milk carafe makes it easy to store milk when not in use.
Ceramic Burrs – Heat-resistant ceramic helps preserve the delicate aromatics of espresso beans.
Pre-aroma – Programmable pre-infusion helps to reduce channeling and improves shot-to-shot consistency. < This sounds like marketing nonsense.
Programmable – Set and save your ideal drink temperature, coffee dosing and water to milk ratio.

All the things we wished about in the Krups, with a removable, washable brew unit and a few other upgrades.

It’s very early in, we ordered this as a co-Christmas gift.  It arrived today and of course we needed to set it up and make sure it worked.  It does. No point in putting it away until Christmas.

Coffee, we love our coffee, and our KRUPS Bean to Cup.

A few years ago when visiting the company office in Munich Germany I was introduced to this “Bean to Cup” concept that wasn’t a vending machine.  They literally had the same coffee maker.  While I thought the maintenance, and extra work seemed like a little too much to have to deal with every time you wanted a cup of coffee.  I quickly got over it.

Krups bean to cup

When I returned home I started looking at them.

Krups Espresseria  (< $600 now)

$900, $700, are you kidding me? So I turned to ebay, and bought a ‘barely used’ like new model for about $300.  When I told Claudine I had purchased a $300 coffee maker she gave me that look.

The look I had seen once before, when we were first married, over 27 years ago, when I had to explain to her that I spent the rent money on a new camera body. It was not a good look.

Needless to say it didn’t take long to convert her.  This thing makes excellent coffee.  Is it worth over $600? (These are now under that new, because they are a little long in the tooth).  I’d say yes.  Hard to believe but yes.

The red one in the photos is the original used unit that I purchased about 3 years ago.  It has been back to the factory for repairs, twice.  Once for the grinder, and then when we got it back it wasn’t right so we sent it back and the put new brains in it.  It has over 4400 coffee cycles today and had over 3600 when that event happened.

We drink a lot of coffee.  There are at least 4 of us that have multiple cups per day.  Word on the street is that they really only last about 3,000 cycles.  But we’re going strong at over 4400 after the last rebuild.

It is not perfect though, and there are things I’d change and be willing to pay money for.  So if you know of a similar sized unit that has some of these features for less than $2000 let me know.

  • This is a single bean unit.  Which means you can have any flavor coffee you want as long as it’s the kind that’s in the hopper.
    • I’d love a unit that would let me side-load decaf now and then (for guests of course).
    • Or some other flavor, or even pre-ground coffee.
  • The ability to brew more than 10 ounces (a double) in a single button push (actually two button pushes but who’s counting?).
  • Ideally a larger used coffee hopper, since most of the folks in my family are doing double or long coffee’s and you have to empty the thing about every 4 or 5 cups.  (both the drip tray and the grind hopper).
  • Would be nice to have a larger cup area so you could put a tall travel cup.  Today we have to make 2 or 3 coffee’s and dump them in.  Not a deal breaker but would be a nice to have.

This thing get’s two thumbs up from the disher household.

 

Cruise 2016 (Oasis of the seas)

This year Claudine and I decided we needed our own vacation.  So just like 5 years ago we booked a cruise.  This time on the Oasis of the seas, Royal Caribbean’s largest ship to date.  (At the time I’m writing this the Oasis class is still the largest ship, there is dispute over which one of the ships is actually the largest, it might be the Allure).

This blog post will be about the highlights of our cruise, it’s not going to be a review of the cruise or the ship.  That will come later.  The short review is simply this:

We love cruising, we love the all inclusive nature, with the opportunity to see multiple ports of call, good food, good atmosphere, add in the rocking of the boat and it’s the best sleep you’ll ever get.

This cruise was not without its challenges.  In short, it is unlikely we’ll ever cruise on the Oasis again.  We might try the Allure, but not the Oasis.  This has nothing to do with cruising itself, but Royal dropped the ball more than a few times on this trip.   We heard from plenty of other passengers including a few that had previously sailed the Oasis and other Oasis class ships that this was below their normal expectations for service and quality.  It is unclear to me if this is a company wide issue or if it’s an issue with this ship.  In the past we found our trip on the Freedom of the seas to be a 10 out of 10, the same ship (Indy) was more like an 8 out of 10 with respect to service/entertainment.   Using the same scale, the Oasis probably only scores a 6.5-7, and that’s not ‘awesome’.   Still at the end of the day, you’re on a cruise ship!, and it was still hella fun, and still an outstanding value.    Details on this will come later.

We booked our 7 night, Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Oasis of the seas through Costco.  Including flights from Cincy to Fort Lauderdale we were all in for a little less than $3000 USD ($2400 for the cruise/$600 air fare).  This was an upper ‘superior view balcony stateroom’.  I’m sure this isn’t the ‘ultimate deal’ but it was in our minds a pretty good deal.

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Tuft and Needle–Mattress Review

First, I’m not a mattress expert or a traditionally trained sleep specialist.  Although if sleeping were an Olympic sport, I could probably pretty easily make it into the regionals.

I know how to sleep.

We recently ordered a Tuft and Needle Foam Mattress after reading a review on Bestmattress-brand.org and when I posted that via Facebook folks said they wanted to know what if we liked it.

So here goes.

A good mattress should last between 8 and 10 years.  According to the Internet.  Just google it and that’s the answer you’ll find so I’m using that.

We’ve had multiple mattresses during what’s so far is a 26 year marriage.   Admittedly in the beginning we had cheap ones.  We had a water bed when we first got married (Don’t judge me, it was the 80’s).  Then a cheap King mattress set, and at one point we got a new foam mattress from the in-laws who didn’t like it or found it to soft or something.  I can’t remember the details.

But what I do know and can easily recall is our last mattress.     We decided it was time we had a ‘good mattress’ and we bought that in 2008 from the Original Mattress Factory.    They are, or were highly recommended in our area.  At the time we purchased a Orthopedic Luxury Firm Mattress.

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