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BEFORE YOU GO

Review: Aruba Snorkel and Beach Cruise Excursion

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve been told to bring my scuba to Aruba. The only problem: I’m not a scuba diver. Getting certified is one of those things that I’ve always meant to do, but just haven’t gotten around to.  I am, however, a really good snorkeler. So when the Snorkel and Beach Cruise shore excursion showed up as an option during my recent cruise on the Carnival Vista, I immediately booked it. Snorkeling? Aruba? I was sold… even before finding out it included an open bar.

Tour Overview 

This four-hour tour operated by Pelican Adventures through Carnival Cruise Line started with an amazing trip along Aruba’s coast on a catamaran, and featured snorkeling stops at two different reefs. The first reef was in relatively shallow water (about 10 feet below the surface), but it was the second stop which really caught my attention: We would be snorkeling at the wreck of the Antilla, a World War Two German freighter that has, since it’s sinking (which is a story in and of itself, and we’ll get to that in a minute), morphed into a coral reef and become home to a wide variety of tropical fish. We would then head to the beach for lunch and a little relaxation before heading back to the ship. All in all, it sounded like my version of a perfect day.

The price of the excursion was $104.99 per person. Yes, there are cheaper snorkeling options out there, but the others I looked at didn’t include an open bar on the catamaran or a BBQ lunch. They were simply basic snorkeling excursions.

The Aruba Sail and Snorkel Experience

Once we disembarked from the cruise ship, there were representatives from the excursion company holding up Carnival signs with our excursion name on it. Once everyone was gathered, we walked down the pier and boarded the catamaran to begin our adventure. The catamaran itself was spacious, featuring bench seating and two bathrooms inside the cabin, and a wide open space at the front of the boat where (once underway) you could sprawl out on what the guides called “trampolines.” There was one on each side of the catamaran, and they were essentially nets on which you could stretch out. As the boat headed out, you were suspended just a foot or two above the water.

It was a 45-minute ride to the first snorkeling spot, and a few minutes after we left the doc, the crew raised the sails and opened up the front of the boat for us to sit and enjoy the ride. The catamaran is both power and wind driven.  I was surprised how many people opted to stay in the shade of the cabin as opposed to heading for the “trampolines”, but hey, that meant more room for those of us who wanted to feel the wind in our hair and the spray of the ocean which would occasionally splash up onto us.

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We sailed through turquoise and dark blue shallow waters, often able to see the bottom. Once we got to the first reef, the crew walked us through how to put the life jacket on as well as how to operate the snorkel and mask. We had to put a solution in the mask so it wouldn’t fog when we were in the water. I know some people don’t love the idea of wearing a life vest while snorkeling, but as it turns out, but the cruise line (for insurance purposes) and the Coast Guard (for safety purposes) require guests to do so.  And no, it doesn’t matter how good a swimmer you are.

I’ve snorkeled all my life, and their gear was solid. I usually bring my own gear when I go to the Caribbean, but having booked the excursion in advance and read that they provided gear, knew there wasn’t any reason to do so.

The First Reef

There wasn’t much to see at the first reef, if I’m being honest. The water was about 10-15 feet deep, and we saw some coral and only a couple of fish. I think this first stop is less about seeing underwater creature and more about getting people comfortable with the equipment and the idea of snorkeling before we moved on to the main event. While there were several people who, like me, had been snorkeling numerous times, there were others who’d clearly never had the pleasure. I suspect a lot of people’s first exposure to snorkeling is under situations exactly like this one… on a cruise ship excursion. (I also suspect that the vast majority of them love it and find themselves looking forward to doing it again!)

We got to swim around at this location for about 30 minutes before we got back on the catamaran and set sail for the next stop… which was where the real fun was!

The Ship Wreck 

As I mentioned before, the second stop was at the site of the wrecked German freighter Antilla. As a lover of nautical history, I was all about this part of the excursion. This cargo ship was active during World War Two, although it had an incredibly short lifespan. It was being chased by the enemy and instead of allowing the ship and its cargo to be captured, the captain decided to purposefully sink her. Ordering the Antilla to proceed at full speed ahead, the boilers overheated and blew a hole in the side of the ship. As a result, the ship sank in 60 feet of water, with all of the crew surviving and managing to row their way to the shore. And now, that incredible piece of history was here, off the coast, waiting to be explored.

We anchored on the back of the sunken ship and were set free to explore. When I first jumped into the water, I was momentarily stunned nearly to the point of being overwhelmed with excitement. I’ve been to beautiful reefs over the years, but nothing could compare to this. Sure, we hadn’t gone to the bottom of the ocean floor in a submersible, but this was probably the closest I was ever going to come to capturing the emotions felt by the people who discovered the Titanic‘s wreckage. I could have shouted “I’m king of the world!” at that moment… were it not for the fact that I was, you know, underwater and probably would have drowned.

We could inflate and deflate our life vests in order to make it easier to swim beneath or return to the ocean’s surface. At first, I stuck close to the surface, scoping out the wreckage from above until I found the area I wanted to explore. Then I deflated my vest and dove down. Although the ship sank in 60 feet of water, the Antilla is laying on her side. This means that the part closest to the surface is only about 20 feet beneath you as your snorkeling on the surface.

A lot of coral has grown on the side of the ship over the years, and a ton of angelfish live there. I had my GoPro with me, and was able to get some fantastic shots of this underwater kingdom and its inhabitants. There was a scuba diving excursion at the wreck as well, and it was kind of cool to see them exploring the ship up close. (It also left me determined to get certified so that if and when I do this excursion again, I’ll be able to fully explore the Antilla!)

After 30 minutes of exploring this amazing site, we boarded the catamaran again and headed for the beach to enjoy some food and drinks.

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BBQ On The Beach 

It took a few minutes for us to head to the shore where the catamaran was tied up to the dock so we could disembark.  There was a BBQ lunch served in a shaded area (barbecued chicken and ribs, baked beans, pasta salad, corn and a roll, as well as water or soda). For those who needed it, there was also a bathroom near the end of the dock.

Once beachside, loungers and umbrellas were available so we didn’t get scorched by the Caribbean sun… which is way too easy to do when you’re caught up in having a good time and not applying sunscreen as often as you should! We went straight into the ocean and man, did it feel good to get a break from the heat!

The Return Trip

After an hour at the beach, we re-boarded the catamaran and began making our way back to the terminal where the cruise ship was docked. On the 45-minute ride back to the ship, the bar was open again for rum punch, water, and soda. (Sorry, folks, no beer!) Just like on our way out to the first site, once we were underway, they put the sails up and let us sit on the front of the catamaran. We were able to stay there right up until we were about five minutes from docking, at which point they took the sail down and went under their own power to the pier. The ship docks right in the heart of downtown, so once you get off the catamaran, you can either make the five-minute walk back to your waiting ship or hit the stores (most of which sell jewelry) located around the dock.

Final Thoughts

This was probably one of the best Caribbean cruise excursions that I’ve ever experienced. It was very well organized, and the team was very professional and helpful, especially with inexperienced guests who might have been nervous about snorkeling or had difficulty with the gear. It’s always an added bonus when they don’t try and guilt you into a tip as the tour is ending. There was a tip jar on the bar, which I was happy to see some people putting cash into. As for myself, I happily gave a tip to the crew — whose knowledge and friendliness helped elevate this already amazing excursion — as we were getting off the catamaran.

Want to learn more about this amazing excursion? Find everything else you could want to know here: Snorkel and Beach Cruise Excursion.

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BEFORE YOU GO

12 Differences Between Carnival Horizon and Carnival Vista

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Just because two ships are in the same class doesn’t mean that they are exactly alike. After all, even twin sisters have differences — some subtle, some blatant. In the case of ships, changes can be made for numerous reasons. Perhaps a new feature is being added, or the initial design didn’t work out quite the way everyone imagined it was. Each new ship in a specific class is like a chance to enhance on what came previously.  So it’s not surprising that when Carnival Horizon was being built, the company incorporated lessons learned from the first-in-her-class Carnival Vista while also adding completely new elements to the already successful formula.

So what differences have we noticed so far between the two ships? Take a look at our list below, and then hit the comments if you’ve spotted other differences between the sibling ships.

1. New Lighting in the Atrium

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Chances are good that upon entering the atrium, your eyes immediately will be drawn to the Dreamscape funnels and their beautiful, constantly-changing imagery. But take the time to really look around the atrium. You’ll notice that between each of the three levels, there’s a circle of track lighting which not only helps create the illusion of a bigger space, but adds an additional design element which is somehow subtle and striking at the exact same time.

2. Tap Entry to Staterooms 

Carnival Horizon

Your sign-and-sail cards now have RFID technology which allows you to enter the room without sticking your card into the slot. If you look closely, you’ll see a small wire running along the outer edge of the card that lets it communicate with your stateroom door when you get close. This is the same concept utilized by Royal Caribbean for their WOW bands and Disney — both in the parks and on their ships — with the Magic Bands.

3.  Bonsai Teppanyaki

Carnival Horizon

One of the biggest and most noticeable changes is obviously the Bonsai Teppanyaki restaurant. Based on our experience and the difficulty people have had in booking the space (which has limited seatings available), we won’t be a bit surprised if this restaurant is not only included on future builds, but perhaps even added to other ships in the fleet when they go through refurbishments.

READ MORE: Bonsai Teppanyaki Review 

4. The Speeds Bumps are Gone 

Carnival Horizon

On the Carnival Vista there were several areas on decks three, four and five which had slightly-raised edges around the fire doors. Anyone dragging their feet (or using a cane or other mobility device) would definitely notice (and possibly trip over) them. On Horizon, however, they seem to have addressed the potential problem.

5. There are More Havana Suites 

Carnival Horizon

As soon as renderings of the Carnival Vista began circulating, people went nuts for the new Havana Suites and their lanai-like balconies. Not surprisingly, once the ship was actually introduced, the entire Havana area — including the aft area which is reserved for Havana guests during daytime hours — proved crazy popular. So it’s not surprising that when it came time to parse out staterooms on Horizon, they added a few extra cabins in this category.

Read More: Carnival Horizon Trip Report: Embarkation Day

6. The Pig & Anchor Smokehouse

Carnival Horizon

Yes, the RedFrog Pub is gone… but before you get your knickers in a knot, know that the Pig & Anchor Smokehouse/Brewhouse is most definitely a worthy replacement. The food is amazing, there’s plenty of cold beer on tap and entertainers keep your toe tapping. This is a very welcome addition to the Carnival fleet… so much so that I actually heard people say the Pig & Anchor alone could sway them to choose Horizon over Vista.

READ MORE: 35 Tips For Sailing The Carnival Vista

7. Entertainment In The Steakhouse

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Sometimes, the smallest ideas can have the most surprising results. Who would have thought that simply flipping the locations of Piano Bar 88 and The Library Bar would make such a difference? But because the piano bar is now directly next to the steakhouse, diners can enjoy the smooth sounds of someone tickling the ivories while they enjoy their meal. And as far as I’m concerned, the more live entertainment, the better.

8. The New Doors 

Carnival Horizon

You know how sometimes when you would go outside on deck 5, there’d be a gust of wind and the door might actually be hard to open? Sometimes, depending on the weather, you could hear doors slamming all day and into the night. Well, thanks to the airlock-style doors installed, it’s now a much smoother inside-to-outdoor transition. It may seem like a minor change, but it makes life easier, and isn’t that what we all want out of a vacation?

9. Taste Bar is Gone 

Carnival Horizon

Change is good… usually. But the jury’s still out on this one. Word is that Taste Bar will eventually be eliminated fleet wide. On Horizon, it’s already a gone pecan. You can still grab some limited food here at breakfast time, and on sea days they set up a salad bar, both of which help disperse the crowds at the Lido Deck Marketplace. Personally, I’ll miss the Taste Bar, which often offered samplings of foods from some of the specialty restaurants on board.

1o. A Larger Guest Relations Area 

Carnival Horizon

Frankly, we hope that you never have to visit the Guest Relations deck… at least not because you’re having trouble on your cruise. But if you do, the expansion of this space on deck 3 is a good thing, as it’s created more work stations at which the crew can try and make right whatever has gone wrong. Not only is the space larger, but it has a much more open feel did the same area on Carnival Vista.

11. Additional Seating Outside 

Carnival Horizon

A big reason many of us cruise is to connect with the ocean. There’s something about sitting outside — whether reading, eating or napping — and feeling the sun on your face as you gaze off into the distance that’s about as peaceful as life gets. So it’s only fitting that on a ship named Horizon, they’ve created a lot more spaces from which to… well, gaze at her namesake.xThis is especially true on the starboard side of deck 5, which on Carnival Vista was home to Guy’s Pig & Anchor. Here, the space has been freed up for more seating. In fact, that’s something we noticed at every turn on this ship: There are all sorts of areas, both indoors and out, to sit, whether by yourself or with a group. There are cozy nooks and loungers and quiet corners everywhere.

12. Smart Elevators

Carnival Horizon

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Carnival Horizon rolled out smart elevators that are often used in busy land-based buildings. These elevators eliminate the stop-and-go at every floor. Instead, you walk up to the elevator and push which floor you’d like to go. From there, the elevator’s brain picks which lift is quicker for you and assigns your an elevator. The new elevators also expedite disembarkation by moving 1,000 guests per hour. The new elevator system is scheduled to be implemented on Carnival Panorama and eventually retrofitted to Vista.

Have you noticed any other differences between the Carnival Horizon and the previous ship in her class? With the Carnival Panorama currently being built, are there any changes you’d like to see implemented on her? 

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BEFORE YOU GO

Everything Carnival Horizon, Part 5: The Bars

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A word of advice: When traveling on the Carnival Horizon, don’t make plans with your friends by saying, “I’ll meet you at the bar.” Why? You might never find one another! Heck, even saying, “I’ll meet you at the bar by the pool” could lead to confusion, because there’s more than one… actually, there’s more than one pool and more than one bar! But never fear, because in Part 5 of our series exploring everything about this massive ship, we’re finally getting around to doing a bar crawl.

The Perfect Place To Start

Carnival Horizon

The Atrium Bar.

For a lot of cruisers — us included — the first thing they do upon boarding a ship is grab a drink with which to toast the beginning of their vacation. On the Carnival Horizon, a lot of people wind up doing so at the Atrium bar… which makes sense on a lot of levels. After all, those gorgeous Dreamscape funnels are the first thing you see, and they draw us in like moths to a flame! And while we’re big fans of everything about the atrium, we suggest coming back later. Why fight the crowds when there’s a whole big ship — jam-packed with bars — waiting to be explored?

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Pig and Anchor aboard Carnival Horizon.

Our suggestion?

Head to the Pig & Anchor! After all, it’s not just a smokehouse, but a brewhouse, too… and in fact, takes the place of the beloved RedFrog Pub on this ship. For many cruisers, ourselves included, heading to the Pub to kick off the vacation is a long-standing tradition. Well, trust us… the Pig & Anchor is a fine, fine substitute. (This is also a great place to hit after dark, especially if you prefer your music on the more countrified side.) Lest you think a brewhouse has nothing but beer on tap, belly up to the bar and take a look at the specialty cocktails such as the Blackberry Bourbon Fizz or the Smoky Manhattan (and yes, it automatically became our favorite because it’s topped with a crispy slice of bacon and everybody knows bacon makes everything better).

Lounging By The Pool

Carnival Horizon

Lido deck on Carnival Horizon.

Pick your poison: Tequila or rum? Whichever you prefer, you’ll find a potent potion available at the BlueIguana Tequila Bar or the RedFrog Rum bar, both conveniently located within shouting distance of the main pool. And if you’ve opted for the quieter Tides pool — located at the back of deck 10 and offering killer views of the wake — there’s always the appropriately named Tides Bar. And if you want to get away not only from the typical poolside madness but kids altogether (hey, no judgment here!), there’s a nice little bar up on the Serenity Deck where you can grab a cocktail and then meander over to one of the very, very comfortable loungers, clamshells, or hammocks. (Although careful, because after a couple drinks, those hammocks can be downright dangerous… especially when trying to get out of one!)

A Drink Before Dining

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Alchemy Bar on Carnival Horizon.

The pre-dinner (or pre-show) cocktail is, for us, one of the joys of cruising. And if you want to elevate it to the next level, the best place to do so is the Alchemy Bar. A word of warning, however: Don’t go here looking for a beer or a soda, as you will be politely but firmly sent elsewhere.

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Carnival Horizon

The Alchemy Bar has the cure for what ails you.

This spot is all about the hand-crafted cocktails lovingly prepared by lab coat-wearing mixologists. Another word of warning: Many of the drinks on this limited menu are as potent as they are delicious. Looking to ease your way in? Give the refreshing (and popular) Cucumber Sunrise a try. And if you can’t find something on the menu that sounds appealing, tell the mixologist what ails you (and what you think might cure it), and they’ll whip up something specifically for you.

READ MORE: 5 Reasons To Visit Carnival’s Alchemy Bar

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Casino Bar on deck 4.

Alchemy is also a great bar to hit up after dinner and before a show. But you could also swing by the casino bar (home to a second Dreamscape funnel, which comes as a surprise to many people) to get your literal pre-game on. Need to check on the latest sports score? The Skybox Sports Bar, located just off the casino, is a safe bet. (Sports… bet… see what we did there?)

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Sports Bar on Carnival Horizon.

After dark, all of the ship’s bars come to life, many featuring live entertainment. If you feel like grooving to a Latin rhythm (or simply watching others do it while you sip a Cuba-inspired drink), hit the Havana Bar. Had a few cocktails and feel like singing (but not quite brave enough to attempt karaoke)? Hit the piano bar, where the only person required to have talent is the piano player, while everyone else can sing along with no fear of judgment from their fellow crooners.

Now that you’ve figured out all the best spots to get your drink on, let’s take this in an entirely different direction. Here’s hoping you don’t have too much of a hangover, because we’re going to be dealing with kids — and all the ways to keep them occupied — in our next entry.

Read our past entries:

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Carnival Horizon Bonsai Teppanyaki Review

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When Carnival rolled out the Horizon, it didn’t just introduce a new ship to its fleet… it also introduced a new dining option into its rotation. Already having had great success with their Bonsai Sushi restaurant, they expanded the brand by introducing Bonsai Teppanyaki. So how does the restaurant stack up to some of the other specialty restaurants on board? We swung by to check the place out, and here’s what we found.

A First For Carnival Cruise Line

Given that cruise ships have a limited amount of space available, the decision to devote prime real estate to something new —as opposed to simply sticking a tried-and-true venue into the spot — is not undertaken lightly. That is especially true when the restaurant in question is a revenue-generating specialty venue, requiring that guests be willing to pay for the experience. So clearly, Carnival had both a lot on the line and complete faith in the idea of a Teppanyaki-style restaurant.

Teppanyaki restaurants are nothing new. On land, Benihana has been using the concept of knife-wielding chefs putting on a show while making a delicious meal since 1964. Variations on the theme have also been introduced on cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, over the past few years. So while Carnival’s not necessarily breaking new ground, it’s managed to turn Bonsai Teppanyaki into a pretty sure-fire hit by using the laws of supply and demand: The restaurant only holds 16 people per seating, meaning that on any given sailing, a relatively small number of passengers will have the opportunity to try the hot spot.

It’s that intimacy which also makes Bonsai Teppanyaki a special experience, and one particularly suited to families and groups of friends. Which, again, means this is one of the first reservations you should make when planning your cruise. You snooze? You will definitely lose… your opportunity to eat here.

About The Dining Experience

Carnival Horizon

From the moment you enter, you’ll be caught up in the aura of Bonsai Teppanyaki. The decor plays on that of Bonsai Sushi, yet steps everything up a notch. This is an absolutely gorgeous space, dominated by warm orange and red colors. Upon arriving, you’re greeted by the chef who’ll be both cooking for and entertaining your table, as well as the server who will provide everything not dished out by the chef.

After the introductions are made, our chef — Edgar, from the Philippines — did a quick check to see if anyone had allergies, and then they took our entree order. This is a seven-course meal, so there’s pretty much always food in front of you. And although it is all prepared at the same time, this is not served family style. (Although if someone in your party isn’t into rice or vegetables, it means you can score some extra… but be quick to stake your claim.)

Remember, this isn’t just dinner… you’re getting a show, too. From the moment we sat down, Edgar had our entire group laughing (and occasionally gasping at some of his knife play).

What’s on the Menu?

Carnival Horizon

As mentioned above, the meal is served in seven courses, but don’t think this means you’re going to spend a lot of time hemming and hawing over what to get… six of those courses are basically pre-determined, with the entree being your only big decision. So what’s on tap?

You can view the full menu here.

Course 1: Teppanyaki White Shrimp

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Course 2:  Pork Belly Yakitori

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Course 3: Spicy Tuna on the Rocks

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Course 4: Miso Soup

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Course 5: Salad with Ginger Dressing

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Course 6: Here’s where you make your big decision between the various options available for your main course.  I went with the Steak and Shrimp, which is served with fried rice and grilled vegetables. There are also three sauces for dipping: a mayo-based shrimp sauce, ginger sauce, and a Worcestershire-based sauce.

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Course 7: Dessert, a chocolate bento box with ginger ice cream.

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Is it Worth the Cost?

With a cost of $25 to $30 per person — depending on the selected entree — this is a pretty great bargain, especially since you’re getting dinner and a show. With the 15 percent added gratuity, my bill came out to be $34.50. As always, you’re free to bump-up the gratuity if you’d like to show the service team a little extra love.

The focus here is amazing food that is perfectly seasoned and entertainment that will have you laughing long after the meal is over.

Final Thoughts 

Carnival Horizon

After we’d finished eating, I asked everyone around the table what they thought of the meal and the experience. The consensus was that a good time was had by all. (One thing several people mentioned was that their water glasses were constantly kept full… something that’s been a little lacking in some venues around the ship on our sailing.)

It is worth noting, however, that since there’s a price tag attached to the meal — and the menu is somewhat limited in options — you should make sure everyone in your party knows what they’re walking into. This might not be a great spot for picky eaters.

Carnival Horizon

It’s worth stressing again that Bonsai Teppanyaki should really be booked in advance, because with only three seatings per night and 16 guests per seating, this place fills up quickly.

Forget to book in advance? Check the Hub app to see if any slots open up. It’s rare, but hey… it happens. This is especially true on days where the ship has a long day in port. People sometimes come back later than they thought they would (or fuller, having sampled the local foods) and wind up cancelling their dinner reservations.

Would I do this restaurant again? In a heartbeat.

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Hi, this may be of interest to you: Review: Aruba Snorkel and Beach Cruise Excursion. This is the link: https://cruiseradio.net/review-aruba-snorkel-and-beach-cruise-excursion/