These two teenagers fighting were so amazingly close you could hear their tusks clanking

I ticked off another destination on my bucket list and, in retrospect, am finding it hard to determine which vacation I loved more: the South African Safari http://singita.com/ or a recent trip to the Galapagos Islands.

Weekend getaway, close by, Miami Beach. Just pack a bathing suit and go.

"Positano, like Capri is more of a way of life than a tourist destination.  La Marina Grande is the small main beach."

Aperitif on the beach at sunset, in Grand Cayman, is priceless

View from our Dorado Beach Hotel terrace.

Grand Cayman Island

By: Esilda Buxbaum

A few years ago we started what has quickly become a favorite family tradition: planning an annual beach vacation for the dead of winter. The town of Rincon on the far west coast of Puerto Rico was an easy last–minute destination for our inaugural trip but was quickly outshined by our stay at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic. The villa was spacious and beautiful, we had a private plunge pool and grill, and my grandson loved the golf carts used to get around the property. There were a few downsides, though, namely the long drive to and from the airport, the short yellow sand beach, and the lack of a variety of appealing dining options.

So this year we vowed to find an easy–to–reach Caribbean island where we could get off the plane and be at a never ending white sand beach in minutes and, as always, eat a few memorable meals. Knowing that Eric Ripert of New York's celebrated Le Bernardin had "Blue" restaurant in the Ritz Carlton Hotel on Grand Cayman's Seven Mile Beach tipped the scales in the island's favor.

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And, sure enough, after a three–hour flight, we got in our rental car and drove all of three miles to reach the Lacovia condominiums. A ho–hum exterior right on the main road belies an extremely well kept establishment with lush vegetation, a tennis court, large pool (that never had more than two other people in it when we swam), and pristine white sand beach with crystal–clear turquoise water. Though the location has 55 units, only 34 of them are available to rent and as a result the property retains an intimate feel.

The two–bedroom unit we rented for the week turned out to be a duplex with the bedrooms and two full bathrooms upstairs and a well–equipped kitchen, dining room, half bath, and living room (with dvd player) downstairs. We never used the dining room, however, opting instead to eat lunch and have cocktails (and occasionally dinner) on the balconies overlooking the beach.

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True to the name, Seven Mile Beach is a seemingly endless stretch of gorgeous beach. My daughter and I enjoyed walking along it and admiring the various hotels we passed. My son–in–law took advantage of more real estate and ran along the beach on the mornings he couldn't convince my daughter to go to the well–equipped gym. (We found–at least in February, when we visited–that the island enjoys very low humidity for the Caribbean.) Though there were various water sports available just next to our hotel, from sea kayaking to parasailing and jet skiing, we stuck to snorkeling and saw exquisite fish very close to shore.

The island boasts a number of diversions for kids. My grandson liked visiting the turtle farm because visitors can pick the turtles up out of the water and hold them. The Pirate's Caves, a 45–minute drive from the hotel, were a little hokey but are combined with a zoo that held my grandson's attention on our one cloudy afternoon. While Saint Pedro's Castle is an interesting rainy day excursion for adults, I do not recommend it for children because one must take a guided tour that is lengthy. (It's also not really a castle.)

We had planned on preparing lunches at home and hitting restaurants most nights. In advance of our first trip to the supermarket and remembering the slim options we had at the small store in Casa de Campo's marina–we had prepared a rudimentary shopping list of bare essentials: bread, sandwich fixings, some kind of vegetable, if possible. When we entered Foster's market, we were blown away by the selection, from a bevy of organic vegetables to condiments galore. Our list went out the window as we strolled the well– stocked aisles. A wine store in the same complex had a well–priced crisp rosé and the makings of gin–and–tonics.

Our first evening, we tried the Reef Grill, a short walk from Lacovia. We opted for the patio (as opposed to dining indoors or in the noisy beachside bar) and my daughter and son–in–law had a better experience than I did; they seemed to order more successfully. Conch fritters were tasty and came with a spicy mayonnaise dipping sauce. We also enjoyed a simple braised squid dish and a main course of the local fish, wahoo, which is a bit like swordfish. I was nonplussed by my yellow fin tuna dish, which seemed to have too many competing flavors and was trying to do too much. The bill was also higher than what I would expect for better food in New York, though it should be noted that the exchange rate from Cayman Island dollars to US dollars is not in Americans' favor.

We enjoyed our best meals, hands down, at Eric Ripert's Blue, where Richard Brower is the chef de cuisine. (Skip Periwinkle, which is also in the Ritz Carlton Hotel and for which Ripert allegedly consults, but is reminiscent of an American "family dining" chain restaurant.) On our first visit, we dined outdoors and opted for the six–course tasting menu for $110CI ($1 CI=$.86 US).

CONCH A trio of ceviche: coconut, lime and olive oil, and barbecue; the first two were our favorites.

CRAB Maryland lump and Peeky Toe Bay crab with shaved cauliflower and a Dijon mustard emulsion; this was very flavorful and fresh tasting–our favorite course of the evening's menu.

SALMON Wild Alaskan King salmon, barely warmed from one side, on top of a daikon radish and snap pea salad with a sweet pea–wasabi sauce; outstanding.

OCEAN YELLOWTAIL With a mango–jalapeno salad and a bourbon, lime, and guajillo pepper broth; there was a little too much going on here, but the fish was very fresh and perfectly cooked.

TUNA With chimichurri sauce, fried garlic potatoes, and a red wine–verjus sauce; this was lovely.

PANNA COTTA Yogurt panna cotta with avocado puree and grapefruit–sweet basil foam; a light, refreshing ending to the meal. Petites fours–molded chocolate turtles, pâte de fruit, and others–followed.

On our way out, the maitre d' noted our request for a different tasting menu on our next visit. And so, for our second dinner at Blue, we dined inside and were able to take some photos:

TUNA–FOIE GRAS Thinly pounded raw tuna hid a layer of foie gras and a thin crouton and was garnished with chopped chives; delicious and decadent.

WAHOO PAILLARD Thinly sliced wahoo fish with a grapefruit and fennel sauce vierge; this was nice but wahoo is just not all that flavorful.

SWORDFISH Pan roasted swordfish with hearts of palm, strips of chorizo, and a soy–ginger butter sauce; this was our favorite that night–best dish on the menu.

COBIA Sautéed with callaloo, pumpkin, and shrimp–rum butter

RED SNAPPER Served with a Puerto Rican sancocho broth, sweet potato, plantain, and avocado; the sauce was spicy and pleasantly sour and went well with the local snapper.

DESSERT We were offered a selection of exquisite desserts.

On both visits, the wait staff could not have been more professional. They were there when we needed them and very friendly towards my grandson, who flirted with the female sommelier, discussing how brave he had been earlier in the day when a bee had stung his foot. While we could have done without the white roses offered to ladies at the end of the meal, we kept the Cayman sea salt given to the men.

With Grand Cayman being so easy to get to and so beautiful, we definitely look forward to our next trip and to seeing what is on the menu at Blue.