Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Grand Cayman the Tax Haven--Jan. 29-31

We arrived in Fort Lauderdale and it was time to get off the ship. We loved our cruises on the Island Princess! Our hotel room wasn’t ready so we sat outside the hotel and talked to some of the people who were getting ready to head to the pier to board ships. Some were getting on the Ruby, some on the Island, others were going on the biggy from Royal Caribbean, The Oasis of the Seas.

After checking into our room, we headed out in search of a place to have lunch. Jim didn’t want to walk too far (which will have some significance later!) and so we stopped at an Irish pub up the street from the hotel. The food was really good, but they were so busy that the service was really slow. I don’t know how the waitresses managed to keep smiling with everyone after them for something! We were reminded that we were back in the US by the portion sizes. Holy moly! We love to eat, but there’s no way a person can eat all that food.

I think my mind went on blog vacation because I didn’t take a picture the whole time we were in Fort Lauderdale!

Jim rested in the afternoon and we strolled to a Mexican restaurant for dinner (and I do mean “strolled”).

We were ready and waiting to get on the Crown Princess the next morning! The shuttle from the hotel to the cruise terminal was chaos, so we jumped in a taxi and made our way there. Embarkation was smooth, as usual, and we were on the ship just after noon.

We were parked right next to the everglades…

This is the terminal where the Crown passengers were getting on the ship. This hubbub of activity is mild compared to later in the afternoon!

This is the terminal for the Costa cruise line, complete with all new buildings and a multi-storied parking garage.

It’s sunset and we’re on our way out of Fort Lauderdale!

The ship’s horn was blowing as we went by the apartment buildings. The captain had announced they would do that…I guess it’s a tradition. Some of the people have flags for the different cruise lines hanging from their balconies (and we thought we were addicts).

Beautiful beaches…

And we’re off to the Caribbean! Our stops are Grand Cayman, Honduras, Cozumel, Princess Cays (a part of the island of Eleuthra which Princess owns), and then back to Fort Lauderdale…

Our first day was a sea day which we love! We spent our time getting reoriented on the ship. Some of the staff are the same as when we cruised on the Crown in August and September, so it’s fun to recognize faces. One of the bartenders remembered us from bingo…not sure that’s a good thing!

We arrived in Grand Cayman the next morning and the first thing we noticed is how flat it is. From the ship, you can see right over the island to the water on the other side! The island is 8 miles wide and 22 miles long.

The Cayman islands (there are three of them) were originally called Las Tortugas for all the turtles that Columbus discovered when he landed there in 1503. But the name eventually was changed to Caimanas, which was the Carib word for crocodiles. The Caymans are a paradise of white sand beaches, coral gardens and spectacular shipwrecks. The three islands (Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman) boast the highest standard of living in the entire Caribbean.

We are tendering in today and the tenders are immediately out and waiting for action.

We are taking a tour of the town on a trolley and we’re meeting at the pier, so we decide to go ashore early and walk around a bit. It is a bright blue sunny day…and hot! This place is set up for ships! Lots of shopping and private tours as soon as you step off the pier.

We thought of Max and Joni, Harley lovers, when we saw this sign…

Ar har me hardies…lots of pirates around…

We noticed several of these blue iguanas around the town…

The sign explained the significance…

We tracked down the post office…it’s my usual stop if I can find one!

Here I am writing my regular postcards to Heather and cousin, Ann. I try to send them one from everywhere we go…not always possible but it’s fun to try!

And then it’s time to jump on our trolley tour of the town. No, Jim hasn’t taken to wearing necklaces…that was our boarding pass!

This is Sherman, our tour guide, in front of the legislature building. He is also a full-time firefighter and paramedic.

The crest on the building is interesting. The lion represents their status as a British colony (they drive on the “other” side of the road). The three stars represent the three Cayman islands and the sea turtle represents their roots as a seafaring and trading nation.

Freedom Square which has statues commemorating many people.

Meanwhile, I’m looking at this amazing tree, when Sherman says “and don’t ask what that tree is because I don’t know!” It was a nice tree!

Part of the downtown…

I’m disappointed…plain licence plates!

One of the many, many banks on the island…

Sherman tells us what we have all been wanting to know. How can they survive without any income tax? Yup, people here do not pay any income tax. The government makes all its money from fees. There are 540 banks on the island; 35 of them are Class A banks that have a physical presence and 505 of them are Class B banks which could be just two guys and a computer. They all pay substantial fees to the government each year.

The tourist industry is huge. Last year they had over 160,000 visitors a month from October to May and are expecting 200,000 this year. A cruise ship will pay $15 for every passenger when they land in Grand Cayman and they have an average of 100 ships a month. Our ship has 3100 passengers alone, so that’s a lot of money!

They also take money for every yacht that is registered and there are a lot of those. They may never even have sailed near Grand Cayman, but the tax advantages of registering them here make it worthwhile.

With our minds reeling with numbers, we continue around the town. Ahhh…Subway!

Interesting graveyards…they used to be allowed to bury the deceased in front of their homes, but not any longer.

Some of the charming houses. They would probably cost around $225,000…

This is your typical original Grand Cayman home…

Gorgeous flowers…

This is not your typical Grand Cayman home. It is owned by the local “Home Depot” owner.

We stopped briefly at the beach. The water was so beautiful and it was very warm.

All of the rock in Grand Cayman is limestone. It looks a lot like volcanic rock, but it isn’t.

With a last wave, it was back on the trolley to continue our tour…

Here we are waiting for everyone to board…Sherman gives us some more facts. It was a lot of information but very good!

Everyone pays $65 a month for health care and that entitles them to everything. Also interesting was the fact that everyone is allowed to come to Grand Cayman, except the Jamaicans who must have a visa to enter. Because Grand Cayman lies right in between Jamaica and the US, they are trying to stop the flow of marijuana and cocaine.

One of the prettiest original homes dating from the early 1900s.

Hurricane Ivan caused considerable damage in 2004 and some of the homes have not been restored. Although this one needs considerable work and the carport is “iffy,” it does have a very expensive BMW in it!

This was the original hotel on the island, but after the hurricane it was demolished and condos were built in its place.

Free rum cake samples…oh yum! Every kind of rum cake imaginable. I would have bought several but the darn things weigh a ton!

With our educational tour over, we jumped off and headed over to the United Church. Sherman had mentioned the inside is built like the hull of a boat. Beautiful!

Loved the windows…

This was the local ferry boat that was helping out. You can put over 200 people on this one compared to the 80 on the ship’s tenders.

Goodbye to Grand Cayman! It was a fun tour!

Heading back to the ship…

Oh yes…back to the story of how Jim doesn’t like to walk! One of Jim’s feet was very swollen this morning and I kept insisting he had to go to the medical centre. It wasn’t making sense to me that he can barely walk a block without stopping to catch his breath. He took his blood pressure when we got back to the ship and it wasn’t pretty. So he headed out to see the doctor. Hmmm…things changed a little here.

The doctor checked his BP and it was high, but his oxygen levels were seriously low. She said at that level they are normally intubating people, so he got the oxygen mask clapped on him pretty quickly. This was at about 5:00 p.m. Here is Jim all happy around 9:30 p.m. because he thinks he’s leaving the medical centre. He is feeling fine and his BP is back to normal.

The nurse isn’t happy that his oxygen level keeps dropping as soon as he is off the mask, so she makes him get back in bed to wait for the doctor. His happy face is now saying “when can I get out of here!”

Not yet, mister!

By midnight, the doctor is willing to release him with an oxygen concentrator. She is realizing that Jim’s normal levels are not everyone’s “normal” levels, so with a promise to come back in the morning, he is sprung. A happy camper back in the cabin. I think our medical bill is going to equal the cruise one, but we are so thankful for the excellent care and facilities on board.

Tomorrow we are in Roatan, Honduras, but the doctor has asked Jim to stay on board so we’ll just putter around the ship…

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