It was another morning in paradise, but I was running late. Having endured the death-ray stares of the passengers I had delayed with my (slightly) late arrival for a previous catamaran snorkeling tour, I was determined to be on time for this charter. I rolled up to the dock at Camana Bay with just a minute to spare, flicked on the four-ways in a loading zone and sprang out the door to spot the boat. I saw it…slowly backing up to the jetty, one relaxed guy at the controls, another waving to me with a smile. My panic must have palpable, because the waving man (whose name was Shane) quickly allayed my fears. “You’re the only person we’ve got today,” he said, smiling through his soul patch. After parking the car and climbing aboard, Shane handed me a rum punch. I looked at my watch: two minutes after ten in the morning. Again, he read my mind. “Don’t worry. You know what they say—it’s five o’clock somewhere.”

Shane, it turned out, was from Whitby, Ont., and after getting the necessary Canadian pleasantries out of the way (hockey, weather, whether Air Canada will be striking anytime soon), we talked about life on the Caymans. Having come down to help repair the damage left by 2004’s Hurricane Ivan, Shane stayed on, renting a house near a beach where he could surf, working first in construction, then on this luxury charter. I’d heard people on other islands talk about island fever, and I asked him if he ever gets it. Not really, he said—people are friendly, nothing here is poisonous, and when you need a release, you can always go to the beach.

Adam, the man at the controls and a native Zambian, added that “island life is less of a shock here. People think it’ll be like that movie Cast Away and that they’ll be like Tom Hanks, talking to a soccer ball. But it’s not like that on the Caymans. Here you have all the comforts and conveniences.”

And along with that, you also have the power of choice. Whereas many islands keep guests sequestered on all-inclusive resorts and officially-approved excursions, on the Caymans, you’re free to wander and explore and follow your own curiosity. Driving on the left-hand side of the road in my rental car, I roamed around the island. Heading north from my luxe accommodation at the Caribbean Club on world-famous Seven Mile Beach, I visited the Cayman Motor Museum, the only museum of its kind in the tropics, which includes a dozen Ferraris and fascinating collector’s items, including a 1966 Batmobile from the original TV series, one of Queen’s Elizabeth’s first royal limousines, and a Mercedes that once belonged to Idi Amin. Nearby, I took a tour through the Cayman Turtle Farm, where you can handle juvenile Green Sea Turtles and even swim and snorkel with bigger ones. On the East End of the island, I drove along the coast, past charming little Bodden Town to the Botanic Garden, where I saw bright Blue Iguanas, recently endangered but now scampering from the undergrowth and sunning themselves on the paths here in healthy numbers.

And I ate. Lots. Grand Cayman is well recognized as one of the Caribbean’s top culinary destinations, and I visited some of the island’s best restaurants. At Pappagallo, I tucked into delicious ravioli that was made using local ingredients. At Luca, I selected from a wine list so extensive that it would put a good, big-city restaurant to shame. And at Abacus, as I tore hungrily into a giant ribeye steak and some of the best baked mac and cheese on the planet, I silently vowed to return for the Cayman Cookout, which draws top chefs from around the world, including Anthony Bourdain and Toronto’s own Susur Lee.

And, not surprisingly, back on the boat, the rest of my morning involved a relaxing mix of choice and enjoyment. After our chat, the guys asked me what I wanted to do, and then we did it. My earlier panic now long forgotten, I rode a jetski for awhile, then we docked and I explored the beaches and bars at Rum Point for a bit, and then we trolled along the underwater wall that separates the North Sound from the open sea and we pulled in a couple of barracudas. Just another day in paradise, indeed.

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