Underwater Shore Excursions

Five Faves: Cruising Deep

Cruising Deep

Five favorite attractions that go below the ocean’s surface

The ocean is what makes the cruise – without it, a cruise ship is just a big metal hotel (though admittedly one with a really good buffet). If you’ve spent any time on board looking down over the rail, or even wading into the crystal-clear waters of ports of call in the Caribbean and the Med, then you have to have felt the pull of the sea. The desire to see more of its beauty. To learn more of its mysteries. To go deeper.

Luckily, some of us get to do just that, thanks to tours that take you where everything’s better, down where it’s wetter. These are our five favorite ways to take your cruise under the sea!

In 2002, Aqua Adventures started operating B.O.B. (Breathing Observation Bubble) tours off St. Thomas. The concept caught on and in 2006, they changed their name to B.O.S.S. (Breathing Observation Submersible Scooter) to stand out from a growing crowd of copycats.

Rides on the underwater scooters last a little less than an hour at a depth of about 10 feet, which is plenty to see. You’ve got your own air supply in a fixed-height helmet, and control the vehicles (which only run at a relaxed 2 miles per hour) with an accelerator button on the steering wheel.

In several Caribbean ports, you’ll find an underwater excursion that is neither a glass-bottom boat nor a submarine, but a little bit of both: an air-conditioned “semi-submersible” that lets you walk from the upper deck down under the water level. For example, peek out through clear windows at the coral heads and undersea creatures of the Arashi Reef, off the coast of Oranjestad.

One of the tour highlights is the wreck of the Hamburg America Line freighter Antilla, scuttled in 60 feet of water during World War II, when this Dutch island was considered of vital strategic importance. The wreck, more than 400 feet long, is the largest in the Caribbean, and is now home to coral formations, colorful sponges, and schools of tropical fish.

This underwater tour keeps you dry while plunging down to 150 feet below the surface. At this depth, the reef becomes like a metropolis for marine creatures, with vast, multicolored schools of fish gliding through underwater boulevards of sea fans and coral heads. Between the portholes, the sub has framed guides to the sea life of the Caribbean, so you can tell if you’re looking at a parrotfish or a porgy, a bluefish or a barracuda.

If you happen to be pre- or post-cruising in Bridgetown, the submarine pilots also run a night tour, which features spotlights that show off the night colors (and nocturnal residents) of the reef, followed by a cocktail reception. 

For a more personal submersible experience, book a cruise on Crystal Esprit. Travelers aboard the yacht-sized luxury ship will be able to take out a three-person submarine, the C-Explorer 3.

This mini-sub has room for a pilot and two passengers and can dive about 1,000 feet beneath the sea for as long as 16 hours (though most opt for something closer to 20 or 30 minutes). This vehicle is designed to be nothing but window: you’re inside a 360-degree Plexiglas hull, able to watch the comings and goings of the underwater world everywhere around you. Currently, it’s offered aboard Seychelles itineraries, but will soon be traveling with Crystal Esprit to the Adriatic.

The Palm, of course, is Dubai’s ultra-exclusive artificial island, and Atlantis, The Palm, is a luxury resort on that ultra-exclusive artificial island. The only thing better than visiting the underwater world for an afternoon might be spending the night down there – in a suite with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out into a lagoon stocked with 65,000 marine animals.

If that’s not close enough to the underwater world, rooms also come with unlimited access to The Lost Chambers Aquarium (a walk-in aquarium and “aquatheatre”) and Aquaventure Waterpark (with record-breaking rides), as well as two free passes to the Dolphin Encounter, swimming with energetic, intelligent marine mammals in a safe, shallow manmade bay.

Next time you need a place to rest your head on a Dubai luxury cruise, this might be the ticket.

– Grant Balfour

Photos: BossUSVI; Seaworld Explorer; Atlantis Submarines; Crystal Cruises; Atlantis, The Palm.

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