Browsing the shore excursions pre-cruise, I found a snorkel excursion from St. Thomas that went to nearby Saint John. Having been to Saint Thomas previously, but never to Saint John this one sounded promising, especially since I have heard good things about Saint John and the snorkeling there. It’s supposed to have some of the best snorkeling in the Caribbean. I did book that excursion, but unfortunately it was not to be.
Sometime before the cruise started, I received a notice saying that excursion had been cancelled. My sisters were quite looking forward to it as one had never been snorkeling and the other not for a very long time. It’s one of my favorite things to do so I’m always up for snorkeling. Knowing there’s not much near the dock at St. Thomas I found a different snorkel excursion as a substitute. This one went to a place called Christmas Cove and mentioned the possibility of seeing turtles and rays.
At the port in Saint Thomas nothing looked familiar. The bow of Symphony of the Seas sat nearly on the shore and there was no room on our side of the dock for any more ships. The skyride was nowhere in sight. My other visits to Saint Thomas had been at the Havensite dock and I did not know there was another. Apparently Royal Caribbean’s giant ships like Symphony of the Seas are too big for the main dock and they dock at Crown Bay. This dock could hold two ships, one on each side rather than the 3 in a row at the more familiar Havensite dock. We were the only ship there on our visit. Judging by the name and things posted at the port this appeared to be Royal Caribbean’s private dock.
The port had all the usual cruise port shops, which looked much newer than the shopping area I remembered from the other dock. It’s a couple miles to town, but people can take a taxi. The little cove was full of the same sort of seaweed we’d seen streaking along the sea near the ship for the past few days, only there it was lapping the shore. Having booked the excursion late in the game since we were originally scheduled for a different one, we ended up on the second run near the end of our port time. Given a choice I’d have picked the earlier time, but there was no choice offered when we booked. The earlier time was probably already full.
We just stayed onboard until time to meet for our excursion rather than getting off earlier to explore. There’s just shops there anyway and the snorkel excursion was already enough time for me to spend in the sun. I was happy to see that the blurbs on their website about St. Thomas excursions mentioned that only UV blocking swimsuits or reef safe sunscreen would be allowed to protect the coral. Caribbean coral needs all the protection it can get as coral worldwide is in trouble with Caribbean coral already 80% gone. Along with warmer oceans, pollution, overfishing, human caused breakage, and storms, chemical sunscreens also damage the coral and kill their larvae. It just takes the equivalent of one drop in an Olympic sized pool to cause harm so imagine how much devastation many bodies covered in chemical sunscreen brings. Unfortunately nothing was mentioned about it on the ship nor posted in the port, nor mentioned on the excursion. While we waited for the boat some people slathered themselves in chemical poison without repercussion, probably without knowing they were contributing to the demise of the coral they were so excited to go see.
Unlike when we took a tour with Trilogy in Hawaii, who had a large container of reef-safe sunscreen available to all and insisted nobody use any that wasn’t, the crew of this excursion didn’t even mention it.
The original waiting area by the dock had no shade so us and a few other early arrivals waited nearby where there was some until we were sent over to a place closer to where the boat docked. At least that spot had a tree, though after more and more people arrived it didn’t make shade enough for everyone. Boarding was by whoever got to the boat first and we were lucky to get on just in time to get the last shady places to sit. The center of the boat had a covered area, but the bow and stern were both open to the sun so the people who ended up out there had no shade at all.
From where we sat we could see one guy out in the sun at the stern getting redder and redder and sweating up a storm looking like he was about to have a heat stroke, but he managed to survive the whole thing without one. He did not have a hat, but really could have used one. Since I was on doxycycline to keep from getting Lyme disease from a tick bite I got in Vermont just before this trip, and doxycycline makes you extremely sensitive to the sun, I had to be very careful about sun exposure that trip. The full body UV blocking swimsuit I got just before the trip and some good reef-safe sunscreen made things like snorkeling possible for me that otherwise wouldn’t have been while on that antibiotic, but even with those I still had to stay out of the sun as much as possible.
On the way to Christmas Cove the crew handed out snorkel gear and explained how to use it. I have my own, but did have to take my nemesis, the snorkel vest, from them as those are required on cruise ship excursions. They just had the standard open snorkel that can get water in it, which you then have to blow out. Mine is a dry snorkel that keeps the water out, which is much nicer unless you want to dive when it then acts like a float making diving even a short distance under the surface very difficult to do. Not that diving with a snorkel vest works either because even if you don’t put any air in it there’s always some residual air from a previous user that just won’t squeeze out.
I’ve always found warm salt water to be quite buoyant and far harder to get under than to stay on top of, but my sisters said that might just be me. One in particular said she drops like a rock and wasn’t comfortable out in the water until she got a pool noodle to help her keep afloat. The other was happy to put air into her snorkel vest. A bit too much at the start as she had to let some out to get her face in the water. I really don’t know why I’m naturally buoyant in warm salt water and they’re not. It isn’t about weight. I weigh about the same as one of them and I never noticed any difference in buoyancy between now and back when I was about 30 pounds heavier. It’s not about the level of fitness because that has not affected my buoyancy over the years either. Maybe it’s a tension thing. I’ve always found snorkeling quite relaxing, where they thought it was a pretty good workout.
People had the option of jumping over the side of the boat or taking the stairs to the water, of which the boat had two sets at the stern. Nobody jumped. Everyone waited their turn for the stairs. We were ready at the start, but then they said you can’t walk across the deck in the flippers so after taking those off and then having to put them back on when we got to the back we ended up in the second group, though just barely. While waiting around near the boat for everyone else to get in I saw a large stingray down at the bottom in the sea grass. Barbara saw it too, but Linda was having equipment issues and went back to the boat. We were lucky that it took awhile for the rest of the people to get in since that gave us a chance to see the stingray and it was the only one we saw.
Finally everyone but Linda was in the water. They led us closer to shore where there was rocky structure for fish to hide in and some coral. I tried to stay with Barbara, which isn’t always easy when snorkeling, but we managed to stay near enough to find each other whenever we got separated. Most of the coral was fairly small, but there were some pretty good sized patches of staghorn coral. Unfortunately a lot of it was broken. I don’t know if that was from a hurricane or human caused damage. There were quite a few small brain corals and I saw one fan coral and a bunch of tubelike structures I didn’t recognize. They had warned of fire coral, though when I saw that before in Belize it was much larger than those tube things so they may have been either young, a different kind, or some entirely different sort of creature. Fire coral looks like coral, but is actually not coral at all, but rather something related to jellyfish – and it stings. Like actual coral there are different types of fire coral so some of what looked like unfamiliar coral species could have been the fire coral. Everything that looked like coral was small and near the bottom so not where anybody would accidently touch it.
There were lots of black spiny sea urchins, some of them quite large. The bigger fish tended to mostly hide under the rock ledge, but would come out sometimes. Smaller fish stayed in sight more. I did not see the abundance of striped sergeant majors that are usually present in large schools when snorkeling in tropical places.
Before swimming back to the boat Barbara and I swam over to some rocks sticking out of the water and there was a lot of life near them. Sealife likes structure. I hadn’t realized Linda had ever made it out there, but on the way back Barbara pointed her out on her pool noodle, so apparently she was aware that Linda had gotten back off the boat and gone snorkeling after all.
When we got almost to the boat the current was strong enough that Barbara mentioned having a hard time getting there. Pushing her toward the ladder did the trick. I wasn’t having any problems and was able to get us both there. Could be that the current was catching her air-filled snorkel vest and pushing her away, where mine was empty. Linda was not with us, but she made it to the ladder on her own.
I always enjoy snorkeling, but it is definitely more fun when there is more to see and quite sad that more is not done to protect what little coral the Caribbean has left. This site did have some coral and sealife, but not nearly as much as expected in a snorkel site, and no turtles while we were there. As is often done on snorkel excursions in the Caribbean, on the way back to the port the crew served rum punch. They also had a selection of other rum drinks as well as the water and soda they had available on the way there.
Lots of fun! A good day and yes, a good workout!
Fun yes, but I still thought it was relaxing. Maybe from doing more floating than swimming.
A very nice snorkeling tour. Rum punch is not a bad way to finish it off either!
Yes, we all enjoyed it.