NATIVEWAY-STINGRAY SAND BAR & SNORKELING REEF
I did a lot of research on this beautiful island and was originally going to go to Smiths Cove for a quiet snorkeling/beach day. After reading a fellow cc’s post and the pictures, I knew I just had to take this excursion. My 3 year old has a love for animals and I knew that the stingrays would delight her. So, I booked with Nativeway and received my confirmation for the 5 of us. Every cruise there is that one port that I just know is going to be the highlight of the cruise. I just knew this was going to be that port this time around.
I have to start by saying, anyone who knows me on here and has read any of my reviews know that I’m not a negative person in any way. I try to make the best of everything and not many things upset me nor do I normally let things spoil my fun. I’ve broken my hand in port in 2010, I’ve been zip lining and been slammed into a tree knocking my breath out of me by an employee, my daughter has been bitten by a monkey at Boddens house…I’m not a complainer. However, this tour was just unacceptable in every way to me. With that being said:
On port day, we ate breakfast and headed for the port. We were told to arrive at the meeting site at 9:15am and the tour would leave at 9:30am. We arrived at the stand at exactly 9:15am. We did not see anyone standing around for Nativeway, but seen the sign that stated that is where they meet. After about 10 minutes of still not seeing anyone, I approached another tour guide for another company next to it and they stated that Sharon had just left prior to us showing up with some people and she should return shortly so we should just wait there.
Around 9:45 or so she showed up only to tell us that we were late. She said she had taken the group and already put them on the bus to head out. I told her our instructions said to be there at 9:15 and that is exactly when we showed up and had been waiting. She told us that we were an hour late and we must still be on ship time and needed to be on Cayman time. Well, her email to me stated the following: “The tour departs the pier at 9:30 AM Eastern Daylight Saving Time (this is ship’s time). The tour completes at around 2:45 PM Eastern Time. We ask that you check in no later than 9:15 AM Eastern Daylight Saving Time. When you come ashore, look for the person carrying the sign that says Native Way Watersports. You may also ask for us at the information booth at the cruise ship terminal.” Then she proceeded to tell me that she could take us to the Sand Bar and do the snorkeling but we would miss going to Rum Point, which really upset me. That was the ONLY reason that I booked with THEM to begin with. I could not find another tour that went to Rum Point. Finally we decided to go ahead and do the stingrays (I couldn’t let my little one down on that part since that was all she had been talking about for the last month after finding out that she was going to get to hold a stingray).
Sharon told us to follow her and we met up with another group where they told us they would be taking all the passengers in 2 of their buses. When they split everyone up, they also split our party of 5 up. Um WHAT???? We are all together and I kept telling them this. They said well 2 will have to go in one van and 3 in the other. Now I’m sure that everyone in the 2 vans were not all together and they could have kept from splitting us all up. Once again, not too happy about this. While we were talking to the guide telling him we were together, everyone had already split up and piled in the vans in this huge parking lot where there were tons of buses and vans. We had no idea where everyone had gone to and then the guide just walked off. We were left standing there wondering where they had all went. Finally my husband noticed one of the people sitting in a van that had been standing there and we headed over that way. Then the driver tried to tell my 3 year old to get in the back and we were to sit in the front. NOPE DON’T THINK SO!!! She was petrified. There were 2 kids (older) already in the back and 1 parent with them. When I told the driver I wasn’t putting my 3 year old back there by herself, the parent back there decided to move up a row so that I could squeeze in back there with her.
On the ride there I had to put up with the 2 older children horsing around and the one sitting next to us kept sitting on his foot/leg , which happen to be pinching my daughters leg over and over. I put my hand down there in the attempt to keep him from hitting her. Needless to say, by the time we made it to the boat, my hand and arm had shoe prints on it and wasn’t feeling the best. Argh.
So we make it to the boat we are taking and everyone PILES IN…it was crowded. The two guys on the boat tell us to go up on the front of the boat to sit on the “sundeck”. The sundeck had a coating (kind of like the coating you put on a truck bed to keep it from rusting) but it was pointy. Not very comfortable at all. After we start moving the driver of the boat tells us “oh, just so you know, the people on the sundeck…you WILL get soaked”. Oh just flipping great. We were soaked all the way there from the waves, towels and all. Mouthfuls of water and salt water in the eyes when you least expect it. Both my girls were not happy about this. Just imagine sitting on the front of a boat with nothing to hold on to, nothing to lean against, legs and butt hurting from being poked from the deck while trying to hold on to a small child all while getting soaked on a wavy ride. Whew.
When we arrived, the place was PACKED. We circled around trying to find a place to “park”. We could see the stingrays swimming around and all the people holding them. Ok, so hopefully things were about to get better now.
As soon as we parked, the driver of the boat and the guy with him jumped off and started looking for a stingray to catch. Everyone piled off the boat and we were left trying to figure out how in the heck we were supposed to get off the front of the boat deck with the boat rocking so bad with a little one??? Really??? There was no help what-so-ever. No one in site. No concern for safety. We could have fallen off the boat and they would have never known. I have NEVER been on any excursion where the tour guides did not have a safety concern for a child. It took both me and my husband inching our way holding on as tight as we could to our child’s hand and one hand on the boat to get off. At that point I was highly pissed. After getting down below, I noticed that I had forgotten my daughters lifejacket (a puddle jumper and it’s the only thing that she can swim with that won’t tip her over). Now this was of course totally my fault, but just added to the open wound at this point. The life jacket they had for children was way too big for her and it did absolutely no good. We still had to hold her.
By the time we got off the boat, you really didn’t see very many stingrays. I don’t know if all the other groups had them or they had just went off in a different area where they were feeding him. But, we only had one. I think I seen maybe 2 pass by us (and this was after the “tour” was over and everyone was getting back on the boat. So, I think it was because the other groups had let them go by that time).
While the guy holding the stingray told everyone he was holding it and would let you hold it and kiss it, he started letting people take turns. Numerous times we were passed up. The water was really going up and down and it was really hard to stand up a lot of times. We kept going over to tell him we haven’t had our turn yet. Finally after everyone was done and headed back, he said “so everyone has had a turn right?” I kept saying “no, you keep passing us up”. So…”put your hands here”, “ok kiss him” ok, “next”. Literally a minute, if that, of interaction with the stingray. Wow, not at all what I expected. (Actually, I went back and looked at all my videos of the interaction, which one was done for each of us, and they are all around 25 seconds each person). They did give us some squid to feed to the stingrays and let us experience their "suction" when eating.
I have to say the one good thing I managed to capture and it made my day, was my youngest daughter when she was able to get by and touch the stingray. The joy of her laughter and the sound of her giggling made all the bad things of the day worth it. I just hate that I was unable to capture it from the beginning.
We piled back on the boat and said there is no way we are going back up on the deck, we’ll stand and hold on before doing that.
They took us maybe 25-30 away from the sand bar and stopped the engine and said, here’s your snorkeling spot. Hmmm, yea there were a few rocks there and a few fish, but not much. I definitely wouldn’t call it a “snorkeling spot”. The only good thing about it was there were still some Rays in the area and I managed to get a few shots of them swimming around in their natural habitat instead of being held. The snorkeling last for maybe 30 minutes to 45 minutes if that and they told everyone to get back on the boat to head back.
On the way back the guy stood on the back of the boat and de-shelled (if that’s what it was called) all the conch’s that they had caught while we were snorkeling and visiting with the stingrays. He was pulling the conch out and would put them in his mouth to gross everyone out. Then chop off their head and put them in a bucket. He kept pulling out a clear long piece from the conch and slurping it up in his mouth like spaghetti. He told us it was their version of p*n*s. (After getting home, I looked it up and found out it is the sex organ of the conch). He did slice up the conch and let people on the boat try it if they wanted too. He also let a few girls taste the “*e*i* part”.
I had asked him when he first started taking the conch out what he planned on doing with all the shells and if my daughter could have one. He said yes, he would clean them up and hand them out to those that wanted one. Still on the way back, he was cleaning shells and started handing them out. He handed several to the children that were in the van with us on the ride there. Then handed one to the parent?? Then some of the other ladies. I was still standing there waiting on my daughters…since I was the one to ASK FOR IT to begin with. My daughter started crying because she didn’t have one yet and the parent handed her the shell she had. My daughter sat down on the deck and was holding it and looking at it and saying “look mommy, it’s so pretty”. Then we pulled up to the dock and the lady grabbed it from her. Of course, instant crying. I ask the guy once more for a shell and he said he was cleaning the rest up. I waited and waited and everyone was off the boat and in the vans…of course waiting on us. I finally gave up and got off basically dragging her along crying because she did not get one. Not a pretty site. All the way back to the port I had to deal with her crying and begging for a shell. I told her we would get her one before getting back on the ship…and we did. We found a guy selling them for $6 on the street. So finally she was happy. (I still wasn’t, but she was and that was what mattered).
I do have to add, we are 100% positive that we were NOT on a Nativeway tour, but with who ever does the excursions for the actual ship (NCL). Everyone on there said they were from an NCL excursion and on the van ride back they came on the van and collected our money for Nativeway prior to letting us go. We are the only ones that paid at that time because all of the others paid the ship for the excursion. So really, I can not say what an actual “Nativeway” excursion would have been like because we were not on their excursion. But I can say if they (Nativeway) is going to put their customers on ANOTHER excursion, they might want to check out what that excursion is like because it still reflects on them as a tour operator. We booked with them, I feel that our service was not that great, the safety was compromised on the boat with our little one, they did not give us the interaction we expected or had read about and IMO I would never book with them again.
I’m still confused why we were told that we were late and on the wrong “time” when he letter specifically stated The tour departs the pier at 9:30 AM Eastern Daylight Saving Time this is ship’s time. I also have to add that the tour bus that my daughter and her boyfriend were on had the SAME TIME as we did on their clock in the van. Also, on the way back, the bus had the SAME EXACT time that I had as well. So if Cayman time was 1 hour ahead of us (in order for us to miss the tour), I find it odd that none of them on the island had a clock that said it was an hour ahead of the ships time (which is what my clock was set to). I’m still not buying it. Especially when the tour operator next to the Nativeway sign had just told me that Sharon had just walked over with a group a minute before we arrived.
We hope to someday go back to Cayman Islands and when we do, we are definitely hoping for a better experience. We would never book with Nativeway again.
On one last final note, after posting my report of dissatisfaction on TA, Sharon, the owner of Nativeway, contacted me. After a few emails back and forth, she offered to allow my family to retake this tour again with them to give them a second chance. I agreed and it just so happened that I was coming to Grand Cayman again the following year and I would get to redo this tour.
Click the following link to take you to the second time around.