Purring Stingrays 

The highlight of a Caribbean cruise

click to flip through (3) PHOTO BY STEVE MACNAULL - The rays at Stingray City like to cozy up to people.
  • Photo by Steve MacNaull
  • The rays at Stingray City like to cozy up to people.
   
 

The eye candy in Grand Cayman is relentless.

The water, the sky, the palm trees, the beaches, the boats, the people, the stingrays.

Yes, the stingrays.

While a lot of people fear stingrays for, well, their ferocious-looking barbed stingers, we saw them for the gentle sea creatures they are.

Which is how we find ourselves waist-deep in the crystal clear water surrounding Grand Cayman with affection-seeking stingrays brushing up against our legs like purring cats.

Not only that, but also one ray in particular is bringing us seven years good luck.

You see my wife; our 10-year-old daughter and I have each laid a big smooch on Blueberry — the stingray as big as a dining room table.

"Local legend says if you kiss a stingray you get seven years of good luck," laughs our tour guide and captain Sean Ebanks.

"But no French kissing. I think that's bad luck."

We thought our luck was pretty impeccable to start with — after all, we arrived here in the sunshine, lolling on the front of a speedboat while it raced to a sandbar in the middle of the sea called Stingray City.

The stingray pucker up and subsequent good fortune just seems like one huge bonus.

We've been deposited in this paradise by the Disney Magic on its weeklong cruise of the Western Caribbean.

There will also be stops in Costa Maya and Cozumel, both in Mexico, but Grand Cayman, Blueberry — so named for her fetching blue-gray colouring — and her posse will forever be the highlights of the cruise.

It would be idealistic to believe the stingrays are just there eagerly awaiting our arrival.

But fact is 30 years ago fishermen started cleaning their catches at the location attracting the feeding, winged angels of the sea.

Tour operators a decade later saw the potential and started to bring their own fish — and tourists — to the sandbar for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Blueberry is a little bumpy like fine sandpaper on the top, smooth as a baby's bottom underneath.

When it comes time for the much-touted kiss we decide to pucker up as a family, standing in a line to smooch Blueberry all at once on her upper lip.

We're flattered by the attention, but Captain Sean gives us no illusions.

"Stingrays are friendly creatures and don't mind people," he explains.

"But they want food. That's why they come back time and time again."

So the jug of chopped up squid comes out and we take turns holding the slimy sustenance like an ice cream cone under the water for the rays to vacuum up with their suction mouths.

Note: rays have a bony plate kisser with no teeth, so all is safe.

All too soon we're back on the boat, racing through the blue water topped by blue sky and chattering about the awesomeness of what we've just done.

While it can't quite top the rays, a stop at the Cayman Turtle Farm to feed 500 pound giant green sea turtles and get right in the pool to snuggle baby turtles is ultimately amazing too.

The rest of the cruise is no slouch either.

In Costa Maya we'll bump over sand roads through the jungle in dune buggies to find a secluded beach to swim and nosh on the most incredible tortilla chips and salsa.

In Cozumel we'll swim with dolphins.

No offense to the dolphins, but we'd done that before in Hawaii and Jamaica, and they couldn't top our new experience with stingrays.

Aboard the Disney Magic we high-fived Mickey Mouse, posed on the promenade deck with Donald Duck, lounged poolside, took in the Broadway-style shows and ate, ate, ate at themed restaurants from Animator's Palate, Parrot's Cay and Lumiere's to the adults-only Palo on Deck 10.

Oh yes, there was also a kickin' sail away party and a Pirates in the Caribbean party on night three featuring Mickey and Jack Sparrow on zip lines and the only fireworks at sea.

Check out DisneyCruise.com.

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