Posted February 22nd, 2012, 04:21 AM
We did the half day with Big Beards in early January. At Turtle Beach (very pretty) we were given the option for the lesson and then free swim after that. Experienced types took off immediately. There was a set amount of time, probably 1/2 hour or more. We were cautioned against not "using up all of our energy" which I'm glad to have heeded as I'm not a strong swimmer. My sister did cruise around during this turtle beach part, but I didn't get the sense that there was tons to see. Your mileage may vary.
It is a small island and the turtle beach side is opposite the reef area where the "trail" is. We had to travel by boat to the other side, so it's not THAT small of an island.
The boat moves to the other side and you are given instructions about the nature preserve aspects of the place. There are permanent mooring bouys that each boat hooked up to, so you are cautioned to watch swimming near those lines. There were two other boats there when we arrived. The ocean current was coming toward the island and where we were moored, and we were shown the outer boundaries of the reef.
There is a "trail" with plaques buried in the sea floor describing different natural things, coral, fish etc. The point of the trail (I think) is to get you used to the different types of underwater terrain down there. There are big wide open parts and there are parts where you have a pretty narrow "tunnel"/"canyon" of coral you need to navigate through. The coral goes all the way to the surface! So it's a good idea to start out in the easy area and get acclimated to the area. Our guide was on the surface in a life ring, and then dragged one for whomever might need it.
This was the best snorkelling my sister and I had ever seen, but I will qualify by saying we are not pro's. All the other guest of varied experience agreed that it was the best snorkeling they had ever seen.
HOWEVER. The water was very rough. My ten year old stayed on the boat because the water was cold, and thank god he did. Those canyons of coral? No way. He would have been pushed into them by the current. He's a skinny minny and I could kick myself for not bringing his wetsuit, but this was no place for kids. I don't know if the water is always that way, it's seasonal or what.
We saw tons of different types of coral, barracudas, some squid things and all kinds of diffrent kinds of fish. I don't know if we had an hour out there, but again the water was rough and it was tiring. After the guide took us along the trail, we had free swimming time. I took lots of video. My sister and I retraced the trail and were ready to head in by then.
It was a great trip with a great crew. The "mate" works for tips, he was our guide, taught the snorkel lesson and did a lot of work. We weren't prepared for that aspect and I wish we had more cash to tip him. Ahh women and cash...