Enjoying the magic of the festive season these days means taking a nighttime tour of the most colorful and elaborate Christmas lights in Grand Cayman.
The National Trust for the Cayman Islands, aware of the joy such a tradition brings, has been organizing bus tours to see the biggest and brightest of these displays for several years.
Run by the trust’s historic programs officer, Denise Bodden, who doubles as both the guide and driver, this year’s tours run on Dec. 21, 22 and 23. Each bus offers space for up to 24 travelers and leaves from the National Trust office at Dart Park in South Sound at 6 p.m.
If you’ve been lucky enough to score a seat this year, well done, because the bus tours are already sold out! So what’s the next best thing? Getting everyone in the car, and taking the route that the professionals follow each December.
Tour the lights
The tour heads first for the Mission House in Bodden Town, whizzing past the Crighton House and grounds, which are officially open for business at 7 p.m.
Arriving as the tour does in Gun Square at around 6:30 p.m., visitors are treated to a highly interesting Christmas-themed tour of the historic home, which features many of the local customs of yesteryear, before traditional Caymanian Christmas food is served up.
As well as stewed beef, which is more the traditional meat served on Christmas Day than turkey, visitors can enjoy rice and beans and fried plantain. Anyone with room for something sweet will be offered a slice of heavy cake, washed down with a glass or two of sorrel.
In former times, passengers were also known to break out into caroling led by Katie Moore.
Not on the tour? Take along some Christmas comestibles and sing your favorite carols with your family and friends.
The second stop on the National Trust’s illuminations tour is the Crighton House on Shamrock Road. After 7 p.m., the coverings from several of the displays are removed to show off the thousands of lights, which are turned on to dazzling effect.
Arguably one of the best, certainly among the best known of Grand Cayman’s mega-illuminations, the expansive grounds with their manicured trees and shrubbery make it an ideal place to stage a nightly display that draws hundreds of visitors every year right up until the first week of January.
In addition to a typical Caymanian doll’s house, albeit many times the size of a standard one, the garden is replete with other larger-than-life models: a group of red American barns with puppets playing violins, a replica of the Polar Express, elves working on Christmas toys, polar bears and penguins. Traditional displays mix with the modern in a light show that almost defies description.
Having marveled at the Crighton’s display, the tour heads off down South Sound Road in search of the smaller but no less spectacular lights at the Bodden House and gardens.
In former times, the cement house was home to seafarer “Cap’n” Theo Bodden. Now owned and lived in by his twin daughters, the modest bungalow, opposite Sunset House, serves as a surreal backdrop to the color-saturated splendor of their exotic displays. A sumptuous eyeful by anyone’s standards – flaming flamingoes vie for the observers’ attention with lime-green palm trees, along with a dozen other glowing creations.
On South Church Street, sightseers can always find several beautifully decorated gardens aside from the Bodden yard. Webster’s Estate is another area where several owners really make the effort to usher Christmas in with light displays which capture the eye.
Dr. Tomlinson’s residence
As well as taking in the Crighton residence and grounds, a wonderful free tour the public is strongly encouraged to take is of the elaborate illuminations in the grounds of the Tomlinson residence on Shamrock Road (opposite Spotts Dock). Open daily from 6:30-11 p.m., Dr. Steve Tomlinson and his family have set aside two-and-a-half acres in which to stage some magical displays.
In this, their second year of opening to the public, visitors can take guided or unguided tours to view displays including one of “Frozen” (with musical accompaniment), Father Christmas, nativity scenes, a beautiful forest with stunning conifer trails, a decorated rockery and an enchanted boardwalk with parrots and angels. Created primarily with the entertainment of children in mind, but open to all, including bus tours, the illuminations will also be visited by Santa on Wednesday.
Father Christmas and his snow blower will be on hand from 6:30 p.m. In addition to bringing a sack full of gifts for the children, Santa will be available for photographs. And if all this was not enough, visitors are encouraged to write their names and contact details on their entry tickets to enter the cash gift draw on Christmas Eve.
A voluntary donations box is on site, with the proceeds going to Cayman HospiceCare. Beverages donated by Foster’s Food Fair and Hurley’s Supermarkets are available at the start of the tour.