Grand Cayman,
Submarine Capital of the World

No place has more sub rides for visitors than Grand Cayman

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Submarine Capital of the World

Once the Atlantis began operating, armchair diving became Grand Cayman's most popular spectator sport.

Since the mid-1980s, the sub has introduced thousands of passengers to the marine life that lives a hundred feet underwater off George Town. However, most people made the trip during daytime. For something new, ride the Atlantis after dark.

After logging four daytime Atlantis dives, I'm curious to see how the experience varies at night. The differences begin as soon as I climb into the tube.

Instead of sunlight blasting through the numerous portholes, subdued fluorescent lights illuminate the interior, making the Atlantis feel more like a submarine than a floating mini-auditorium.

The show's already underway. Baby tarpon of only 15-20 pounds--looking like hundred-pound behemoths thanks to the porthole distortion--flit back and forth in the bright underwater lights like insects as they search for small fish blinded by the glare.

It's hard to tell the exact number but I estimate between 15-20 of the dashing, silver-scaled fish are schooling around the sub. They end up accompanying us, their mobile feeding station, throughout the voyage.

Reaching bottom, we spot a seemingly dinner-plate sized Caribbean king crab scuttling through the corals. The waving antennas of several lobsters also give themselves away. Spotting movement like this is the key to spotting animals at night.

Suddenly our narrator becomes unusually excited as we encounter one, then two, nurse sharks cruising the reef. When we spot a third shark, he babbles like we've all just hit the lottery.

To him, we have. Encountering sharks at night is extremely rare, he assures us. In fact, he says these are the first he's ever seen.

Ironically, although the sub's lights perfectly display the varied colors of the corals and sponges, the reef is secondary, only a backdrop, as we increase our creature count.

We spot 5 more lobster, another Caribbean king crab and even an octopus on the edge of the Cayman wall.

The evening's highlight comes at the end, when both interior and exterior lights are turned off and our portholes reveal something unexpected: a huge swarm of underwater fireflies.

It's the bioluminescence which has been there all along but overwhelmed by our lights. I would happily watch this light show for hours but we're given only a few minutes. The next group of passengers awaits.

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