Cayman tourism: On cable cars and cruise ships

At birthday parties, on bar stools and around the office water cooler, a popular topic of conversation in recent days has been the idea floated by a Cayman Islands businessman to bring cruise passengers into George Town via a sophisticated system of cable cars.

Effectively, James Eldon Whittaker Jr. has introduced an aerial dimension to the port discussion, which heretofore has been confined to the sea (tender boats) and land (cruise dock).

Now, we won’t comment on the relative merits or disadvantages of the cable car suggestion, other than to observe it has stoked greater interest in the port discussion among the general public, including perhaps for people who may not have been paying attention to (or even cared much about) the subject to date.

We believe that when it comes to the cruise port — with hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money on the line, and the potential economic implications to Cayman ranging into the billions — the more attention and more conversation there is, the better. Indeed, apart from purely financial considerations, the decision on whether to go ahead with cruise berthing, or not, will largely determine the course of Cayman’s entire tourism industry for decades to come. It is that significant.

(We encourage our readers to visit, or re-visit, the Compass’s comprehensive special report on this issue, “The Dock Debate,” which was published July 30, and is still available online at the Compass Data Desk,

Since the release of the consultants’ report on the expected environmental impact of the cruise berthing project (which followed a separate report by consultants on the expected economic impact of cruise berthing), we have been receiving from our elected leaders mixed messages, maybe even indicative of a divided government.

Ostensibly, the elected government has been waiting for — guess what — the results of even more consultants’ reports before they will indicate if they will continue to pursue the cruise dock in George Town harbor. Given the quantity of information already on hand, we don’t understand what could possibly be gleaned from any new reports that could swing the government’s decision from “yea” to “nay,” or vice versa.

That being said, this Editorial Board is preparing to issue our own “official” stance on the cruise dock debate in the near future. When we do publish that editorial, our arguments will not hinge on likely negative consequences to the marine environment. Frankly, while the environmental report provides details as to how much reef, or how many shipwrecks, precisely, may be harmed, we don’t think it was particularly illuminating to read that constructing immense concrete structures and undertaking a massive amount of dredging may destroy everything in the near vicinity.

Of course it will. But the unavoidable harm to the environment constitutes, to us, just one bullet point on the list of pros and cons. Of far greater consequence, in our opinion, are the potential effects on Cayman’s economy and, perhaps even more importantly, on the quality of life for Cayman’s residents.


  1. I think that the cruise ship berthing/cable car, we need to use the scientific evidence and common sense on what the impact would be to the environment, verses benefits to the whole Islands overall. I’m not saying that we need to do a other survey or report, we have enough of them now, all government need to do is study these reports and use Mr. Bo Miller article, and understand how dredging is done and controlled in weather and how currents work, then the Government could make a honest decision to go ahead or stop. I think that the politicians would need to study and do their home work before making a decision.

  2. Bo Miller’s article is interesting but he has A LOT of assumptions in all of his reason (and especially in his figures). Most of it is speculation.

    You also have to consider that this was one of the main people, with his group, pushing to build the floating dock. There are ulterior motives in trying to shoot down the current proposal and just as everyone else in the conversation, there are financial reasons behind his stance too.

    The environment is extremely important, but I think people begin to forget one very big point: People are a part of the environment too

    If we don’t make a decision that will ensure the future of our Caymanian people and create jobs then our whole tourism product will suffer.

    A lot of "quality vs. quantity" talk going on out there. I agree but anyone that is only focused on the quality aspect forgets that the majority of the little guys depend on quantity too. Go ask the tour guides and operators what would happen to them if the Carnival crowd that everyone likes to bash did not come here especially during the summer? 75% of our summer cruise ships come from Carnival during the slow season.

  3. I think there is merit in this direction, it addresses the major issue between getting the ships far enough away from the shore to have the deep water they require both for draft and because wave action is more intense the shallower the water.

    The pier option fails because in trying to achieve a "short" pier for practicality, convenience and to lower cost, it brings the ships so close to shore that the depth they require is lost so dredging is required.

    What If…
    While the cable car option is interesting, the gondolas seem too small to handle the volume required. A suspended railway might work better for volume – a few pylons might be required but their footprint would be minimal.
    In that case the suspended railway need not stop only at GT, but could shuttle guests to 7 Mile Beach and the Turtle Farm too.

  4. As I have noted in the various media forums as of late, while the cable cars may be the public focal point of the discussion it is actually the piers themselves which are the most costly and complex part of the proposed solution, not the cable cars.

    In relative terms the design for the Cayman SkyBridge cable cars is quite easy from an engineering perspective for these global leading companies in this industry to design and build effectively. Its size, scale and complexity is not ground breaking whatsoever. There are much bigger, much faster and much more complex systems already successfully operating around the world for many years and decades. What is unique is the particular application for this tried and true technology by transitting passengers directly from pier to port.

    The piers themselves are a challenge which is why included in the Cayman SkyBridge team is not one, but two separate engineering firms (both from the UK) who are well known globally and have done many large scale platform and pier projects around the world. Based on all available information; including the Baird EIA report, ship specifications, water depths, GeoTech data, cable car requirements, specifications of the propose terminals, etc. both firms have confirmed the piers are fully viable options.

    Proving the viability of the cable car system for an environment like Cayman (hot, humid, salty, storm prone) while important, can be demonstrated without question. The piers themselves are capable of being engineered and built and the overall cost, (while more than the traditional pier alone) is less costly than the traditional pier plus the cost of mitigation.

    In the end whatever is decided, it should be done on the basis of what is the best solution for the future of Cayman.

    If there is a better and more viable solution than the SkyBridge then by all means that should be the option we choose for Cayman. However, we have looked at many solutions since 2012 to the port issue and this is the most viable solution we have found.

    More information on the Cayman SkyBridge can be found under the projects section at if interested.

    ***Editor’s Note: Commenter James Whittaker, the CEO of Next Development, is not related to Compass reporter James Whittaker.***