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Aruba Snorkeling -- Our Experience

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We're just back from the Serenade of the Seas, and knowing that there had been some questions/comments about snorkeling in Aruba, wanted to share out experience. 


To put the bottom line upfront: If you're not a very strong and experienced swimmer in open water, I would not do a snorkeling excursion in Aruba. 


We did a cruise-ship excursion to Boca Catalina and to the Wreck of the Antilla. Everything was really well organized, and the crew who ran the excursion clearly knew what they were doing and took safety into account when making plans. Everyone wore a snorkeling vest, they offered special sizes for kids (we brought lifejackets for our kids and they were happy for them to use those as well), their equipment was in good shape and they clearly knew what they were doing. I can't fault them at all for their actions. But the bottom line is that these sites both have a strong current that isn't well set up for, for example, a drift snorkel (where the boat drops you at point A, you drift along looking at fish going with the current, and are plucked out of the water further on at point B) because the current is fast and unpredictable and heads straight out to sea. While I know that our particular experience was complicated by wind and weather, the current and choppiness of the sea seems to be a common situation, rather than just weather dependent. I knew that when I booked, but I didn't have a good sense of how it would actually effect us. 


What this meant for us was that we were fighting the current 100% of the time we were in the water, in dangerous ways. At Boca Catalina, we needed to swim against the current around the boat in order to get to where the fish and coral were. This was exhausting, even for people who are strong swimmers. I was buddied up with my younger son, and without an adult there to provide additional propulsion, he wouldn't have made it around the boat. Even with the two of us -- and as a very strong swimmer! -- it was really hard to get us around the boat against the current. Once we were there, we were constantly fighting against being pulled back against our boat, the other 5-6 catamarans in the area, anchoring ropes, or the coral it's self, making it a fairly dangerous snorkel -- given the waves and movement of the water, it would have been really easy to get hurt by having a boat come down on you or getting pushed into coral and scraped up. My husband was buddied up with our other son, and didn't even make it around the boat -- he had to stop and adjust a mask, and in the few seconds that took was already swept 50 feet out away from the ocean and had to fight the current back to the boat and were too exhausted for a second try.


The current around the Antilla was even stronger and less predictable, and the water was very, very cold -- cold enough that I wanted a wetsuit. We made one try to get into the water and were able to peek down and see some divers and a brief glimpse of the wreck before we decided that due to the movement of the ship and the heavy pull of the water that it wasn't safe for us or the kids. Most of the people on the excursion did get in, but there were several people who needed assistance -- sometimes significant assistance, including the crew members going in with life preservers and towing them back to the boat, or pulling them back on the boat due to the movement of the ladder and one person who needed to be checked over and given first aid back on the boat. I've been snorkeling and diving for about 30 years, all around the world, and have never before in my life seen anyone need to use a life-preserver to get back to the boat, so that made an impression on me.


Again, the team running the excursion were clearly safety conscious and did not lose a moment jumping in to rescue people. I definitely felt that they were on top of the safety concerns. I do question RCCI's shore excursion team's judgement in not making it more plain that this was not an excursion that was appropriate for kids or people who weren't strong and experienced swimmers. But I can see their side of the story as well -- this is the most common snorkeling excursion available on Aruba, across cruise lines, booked independently or not. This is where people go, and no one else seems to be flagging it as an excursion that you need to be fit and experienced for so it would be odd if they did -- which is why I thought it would be smart to say something on Cruise Critic so everyone can make their own best decision. 


If we had it to do over again, we'd probably have chosen to either do a land excursion (tour, ATV, maybe some caves...?) or the Atlantis Submarine tour instead. We also really liked the history museum in Oranjestad, which covers what is known about the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the ABC islands, and there are plenty of beach day options. Or, you could always get your C card and dive -- the people I talked to who dove the Antilla Wreck had great things to say about it, and seemed to have a great time. 


Hope this helps someone!



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