Long one of the Caribbean's most popular ports of call for cruise ships, Grand Cayman is famous for world-class diving on plunging undersea walls, a stellar beach, a flock of stingrays that cavort with visitors and high-end duty-free shopping. A tax-free haven and one of the world's largest banking centers, this British crown colony is among the more expensive destinations in the Caribbean, with a bevy of hotels and restaurants that cater to a decidedly well-heeled clientele. However, travelers with more modest budgets can still enjoy the island by visiting during low season - mid-April through mid-December - when room rates and airfares drop and the beaches are less crowded. Regardless of when you go, you can economize by seeking lodging off the justifiably famous Seven Mile Beach - where the spectacular sunset view comes at a premium - and venture away from the strand for reasonably priced restaurants. (Hotel and dive shop employees are happy to offer insider tips on good inexpensive eats.) Public buses along the island's main roads charge just $1.50 a trip, and if you're planning ahead for next year's summertime family vacation, check out the annual Cayman Summer Splash promotion (caymanislands.ky/summersplash) for deep discounts on flights, hotels and attractions.
Comfort Suites is 100 feet from the shore on the south end of Seven Mile Beach. Each room is slightly larger than a traditional hotel room, and with a kitchenette and sofa bed, deluxe studio suites are the least expensive of the 108 accommodations. The hotel offers free Wi-Fi, a casual restaurant that's open for lunch and dinner, a dive shop and a pool. The beach is just a few minutes' walk away. From $149 in low season ($210 high), including continental breakfast; 10 percent discount for online bookings. 345-945-7300; caymancomfort.com
Half a mile north at the Sunshine Suites Resort, 40 studio suites with small kitchens also offer good value. Shared facilities at the 131-room hotel, across the road from Seven Mile Beach, include a pool, a restaurant and a coin-operated laundry. From $176 in low season ($224 high), including continental breakfast; 10 percent discount for online bookings. 877-786-1110; sunshinesuites.com
Ten minutes' walk from the center of George Town, at the north end of the capital, Harbour View Apartments is arguably the island's best deal. Twelve units, ranging from studios with kitchenettes to apartments with full kitchens, are clean and simply furnished, and all have at least a partial sea view. (Cramped studio five, however, should be avoided.) The shore directly in front is rocky, but there's water access from the pier. From $89 in low season ($115 high). 345-949-5681; harbourviewapartments.com
A mile inland from northern Seven Mile Beach, bed-and-breakfast Shangri-La, in West Bay, has seven units, comprising individual rooms (all with en suite bathrooms, a TV and DVD player, minifridge, and private or shared balcony) and a two-bedroom apartment with a full kitchen and private rooftop terrace. There's also a communal living room, a dining terrace where full breakfast is served daily and a pool overlooking a small pond. From $119 in low season ($139 high), including breakfast; no service charge. 941-876-6868; shangrilabb.com
Two-year-old Retreat at Lookout Farm is a charming B&B adjoining a lush 20-acre organic farm just outside the island's original capital of Bodden Town. All but one of its eight air-conditioned, garden-view rooms are on the ground floor and have queen beds, plus a minifridge, iron and coffee maker. The Retreat is about 10 miles from George Town, so you'll need to hire a rental car to get around; the hotel offers handy room/car packages. $110 in low season ($180 high), including breakfast; no service charge. 345-947-2386; retreatatlookout.com
WORTH A SPLURGE
Accommodations on Seven Mile Beach don't come cheap, but there's a relative bargain to be had at Discovery Point Club, where 45 two-bedroom apartments overlook a quiet section of the white-sand strand. The spacious apartments with full kitchens and daily maid service are expensive (from $345 for a two-bedroom in low season), but between March and December, visitors can book an apartment with a single bedroom for $300, or the rear bedroom on its own for $210, and enjoy hotel-style accommodations just steps from the beach. There are also tennis courts, free Wi-Fi, a pool and a heated whirlpool spa. A fifth-night-free promotion runs through December 19. From $210 in low season ($235 high). 345-945-4724; discoverypointclub.com
OUT + ABOUT
One of the most popular visitor attractions in the Caribbean, Stingray City is a sandbar in the shallow waters of Grand Cayman's North Sound that is frequented daily by hundreds of Southern Atlantic stingrays. The rays first showed up when fishermen started cleaning their catch here, and today the docile creatures flock to feed on squid from the hands of giddy, squealing snorkelers and waders in the waist-deep seas. This captivating open-water petting zoo has become so popular that the government now limits visitors to a maximum of 1,500 at a time. Go during the least crowded hours on Sunday afternoons (when cruise ships aren't in port) or after lunch on Friday or Saturday. There are plenty of tour operators to choose from, but Soto's Cruises limits its twice-daily excursions to 25 passengers and also makes a stop for reef snorkeling.
Grand Cayman on $141 a day*
Average $129 in low season ($174 high)
Stingray City$35 for a two-hour tour, including snorkel gear and ride from most hotels; 345-945-4576; sotoscruises.com
Carriers that fly into Grand Cayman's Owen Roberts International Airport include American Airlines, Cayman Airways, Continental, Delta, Northwest and USAirways.
From airport to: Harbour View Apartments, $20; Sunshine Suites or Comfort Suites, $25; Discovery Point Club or Retreat at Lookout Farm, $30: Shangri-La, $35
Cico Avis Rent-a-Car from $44 per day; book online. 345-949-2468; aviscayman.com. Drive on the left. A local drivers license is $7.50, and renters must pay a "vehicle environmental recovery fee" of $3 per day.
Room tax is 10 percent; departure tax is $25 (usually included with airline ticket).
*per person in low season ($164 high), based on double occupancy and excluding airfare, car rental, airport transfers, tax and service charges (US$1 = 1.25 KYD)