When a cruise ship stops at Belize, many guests opt to stay on the ship rather than deal with the 25-minute tender ride to the mainland. While planning a recent cruise aboard the Carnival Magic, I turned to my travel agent for advice on what to do during my stop in Belize. She immediately suggested the Snorkeling Wonders of the Barrier Reef tour. All my life, I’d heard that Belize has most of the reefs in the Western Hemisphere off their coast, and I’ve long wanted to dive the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, so this sounded like a perfect excursion for me.
The tour boasted snorkeling on the barrier reef with a professional guide, followed by some time for fun in the sun. I booked it through Carnival Cruise Line, which was charging $74.99 per adult and $64.99 per child.
If you’re doing the tour through Carnival and have a Fun Points MasterCard, check to see if there are any kinds of promotions running. During certain times of the year, the Fun Points card offers excursion discounts which can often get you 10 percent off the price.
Starting the Tour
We met in the main show lounge on board the Carnival Magic. The ticket time said we should arrive by 8:30 a.m. and that the tour would depart at 9 a.m. As it turned out we were one of the last groups called to disembark and I couldn’t figure out why… at least not until we were off the ship. As it turns out the boat we’d be taking to our snorkeling sight picked us up at the ship whereas folks on most of the other excursions had to make their way to the pier (Cave tubing and ruins are always popular excursions.).
READ MORE: Carnival Magic in Belize City
We boarded the double-decker boat and were given a quick safety briefing as we headed to Rendezvous Island, the tiny piece of land at the center of the reef we were excited to explore. The ride to the island was scenic, and the tour guide gave us a little history of the area we were visiting. If you’ve ever done the ferry boat ride to Paradise Island is Nassau, this has a very similar feeling. It was also during the boat ride that we were assigned our snorkel equipment.
40 minutes later, we arrived at Rendezvous Island and, upon disembarking, were given a beach mat and picked our spots to set up camp for the day. I couldn’t help thinking that the place reminded me of the setting of Gilligan’s Island… the only thing missing were Ginger, Mary Anne and the Howells.
Tip: If you want to get a tiki hut for your group or family, be one of the first people off the boat, there are only 12 or so huts available, and it’s the only shade on the island.
Ready To Snorkel!
A few minutes later, we were ready to head out on our snorkel tour. We divided ourselves into three groups: Beginner, intermediate and advanced. Those in the beginner group stayed very close to land as opposed to heading into the deeper waters which the intermediate and advanced group explored. Having been snorkeling for years I put myself into the advanced group.
On the way to the water, we were issued a lifejacket, mask, and snorkel. Once we had geared up we made our way into the water. Even in Belize, the water is a bit chilly in the winter. But once you got in, you quickly got used to it.
Our guide, Clive, was very knowledgeable as he guided us around the reefs and explained the different types of coral we would be seeing. He also pointed out different types of fish, sea cucumbers and live conchs. The water varied from three feet deep in the shallow areas to more than forty feet deep by the drop-offs.
There is a second guide who accompanies you in a kayak and is equipped with extra equipment should anyone need it for some reason.
If you have an underwater camera, make sure to bring it, because you’ll have a lot of opportunities to get some gorgeous shots. I brought my GoPro and took some amazing photos of the reefs, fish and different types of coral that can be found along the reef.
Note: The snorkel guide will not ask you for a tip but if you enjoyed your tour, it’s nice to extend a few dollars to them.
Hanging on the Island
After about forty-five minutes in the water, we went back to shore where we were able to grab some food and chill out for a little while before going back to the ship. There was food and drinks available for purchase on the island, and it’s important to know that they only accept cash. I would highly recommend bringing your own bottled water to the island, because it gets hot as heck out there in the sun.
Heading Back to the Ship
After an hour and a half, we gathered our belongings and made our way back to the boat. There are changing areas and restrooms not far from where the boat was waiting, allowing anyone who wanted to skip into dry clothes if they want to.
On the boat ride back to the ship, we were served free fruit punch and water. We could also purchase rum punch and beer at $5 a pop. The cups were on the small size, but if you want an authentic experience, go for it… right?
At the end of the tour, there are guides holding a tip jug as you make your way off the boat and onto the ship. These are not the same people who served as your guides while snorkeling, and the tips offered here are for the crew of the ship which ferried you back and forth.
Tips For First-Timers
Here are a few tips that I learned my first time doing the Wonders of the Barrier Reed Tour.
- Bring your own bottled water. You’ll save money by not having to purchase it. Also, don’t fill your bottle from the barrels on the island. The water is unfiltered, and you never know what might have fallen into those barrels along with rain.
- Be one of the first people off the tour boat so you can grab a tiki hut under which to put your belongings. If there is one ship in port it usually isn’t too bad, but if there are a few, you’ll wind up jockeying for space and it’s a first-come, first-served situation.
- Sunscreen is a must. As with any Caribbean excursion, the water only serves to amplify the sun and you can burn awfully quick. Trust me: Even if you think you won’t burn, you will without protection. The Caribbean heat can be brutal, even in the winter.
- Bring cash. If you want to purchase food, drinks or trinkets on the island, you’ll need it. Credit cards are not accepted on the island. Although I refer to it as an island, it’s really just a half-acre or so of sand sticking out of the barrier reef. So you won’t find an ATM machine here.
If your ship stops in Belize, do yourself a favor and do some exploring. Even if you’re not interested in this particular excursion, there are plenty of other opportunities to explore, and you’ll really be missing out if you decide not to. But this excursion in particular is, in my mind, a can’t-miss opportunity. Belize holds over half of the barrier reefs on this side of the planet, and it’s truly breathtaking.
The Snorkeling Wonders of the Barrier Reef excursion is easily one of my top three excursions in the Caribbean, and a truly unforgettable experience.