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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.

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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