I love travel, and I love cruises. I head out next week on the cruise my husband “gave” me for my birthday, and I can’t wait. As I looked back at previous cruises to share info with the friend traveling with me, I realized I never shared our Belize Barrier Reef snorkeling experience. Some links are affiliate links that earn me a commission if you shop through them.
My family has made it to Belize twice on cruises, with two very different activities. The first time, we chose to go horseback riding through the jungle. Last time, we had to visit the Barrier Reef. It’s the Western Hemisphere’s largest reef, and it teems with wildlife.
After reviewing all the Belize cruise excursions, we chose to purchase the Snorkeling Wonders of the Barrier Reef. We appreciated that it advertised suitability for all levels and snorkeling abilities. The four hour excursion includes the time to and from the island and over 45 minutes of snorkeling. We found this to be plenty of time in the water, and we enjoyed hanging out on the beach area for the rest of the time.
How Do You Spend Your Time?
Belize is a tender port. You must take a boat from the cruise ship to the port. Fortunately, the Belize Barrier Reef snorkeling excursion has the boat go directly from the cruise ship to the island. This saves time and makes the most sense.
Once on the island, everyone gets their equipment and separates into groups. The snorkeling lasts for over 45 minutes, with some groups snorkeling longer than others. That’s plenty of time in the ocean swimming for most people.
After snorkeling, you have time to enjoy the beach and recover your energy for well over an hour before the boat boards again and returns you to the cruise ship. Altogether, the excursion lasts right about four hours.
You do not go ashore in this excursion, but with most itineraries, you have time to take a tender to shore after the excursion ends to explore the port for awhile before you need to head back to the ship.
How is the equipment?
The Belize Barrier Reef snorkeling excursion provides snorkeling equipment, though we also saw some cruisers who brought their own. I loved the higher quality fins provided, which meant we could swim more easily and with less effort.
The mask and snorkel were similarly above average, though less so than the fins. They had various sizes to fit younger kids and larger adults. They also assured us that all equipment got sanitized between uses – no surprise there.
Ignore her face. She really did want to snorkel!
Every snorkeler, no matter the experience, must also wear a life vest. This was a simple yellow vest that clipped around the waist and between the legs and can be inflated manually to fit your flotation preferences. We appreciated that the guides checked everyone’s equipment prior to entering the water.
How is the actual Belize Barrier Reef Snorkeling Experience?
When we arrived on the island, the guides divided up the excursion based on self reported snorkeling ability. Those who had never snorkeled went to one side of the island, while those with some experience went elsewhere, and my daughter and I chose the “comfortable snorkeling” group.
All groups receive instructions and reminders from the guides to ensure they are comfortable before entering the water. They also check equipment one last time and assist in putting on fins in the water, if necessary – our group entered from a place where we donned them in waist deep water rather than ashore.
Unlike many tours, each group enters the water in a different place, so we have less crowding than in many spots. This means we don’t all see the same thing, but there is plenty of wildlife everywhere. The advanced group we joined had the most difficult water entry, climbing down a somewhat mossy set of stairs and onto a rocky beach before getting fully submersed. We found the water on our side to be slightly rougher, but that meant 6-8 inch swells.
Each group has at least two guides, one leading the pack and the other at the rear with an extra flotation device. The guide frequently stopped to show us sea life, including bringing up a sea cucumber and urchins for us to view.
Once in the water, my daughter panicked. She’s used to jumping in off a boat rather than entering from shore, and she never managed to get comfortable. Rather than simply returning her to shore, the guide in the rear quickly identified that she was having issues. I couldn’t get her to calm down enough to put her face in the water (and avoid water coming in the top of her snorkel), so the guide had her hold his flotation device and towed her for our entire experience.
Aside from towing her and keeping her happy, he also dove down repeatedly to bring up conch shells and other things to show her that she could “keep” atop the float. She loved the attention, and this is why she agreed to snorkel going forward. Without this assistance, she never would have snorkeled again.
After the Belize Barrier Reef snorkeling tour, we exited at a sandy shallow beach. We swam around about a quarter of the island, which made our reentry much easier. The guides carefully returned all wildlife to the water after letting each of us handle it up close and personal. They made sure to provide us with information about the animals as well as any warnings. Needles to say, hold the urchins carefully, and don’t squeeze!
What Is There to Do on the Island After Snorkeling?
There are no organized activities once you finish snorkeling. We played in the shallow water along the beach for awhile. Several kids – including my own – enjoyed making sand castles near the water, as well.
Many people relaxed on the provided beach mats or in the shade of the hut, and we played catch with our velcro ball game. The time after snorkeling is intended for relaxation after your exertion. We hung out for well over an hour after snorkeling, so have a plan in your head.
We appreciated that the island included huts spaced throughout, which afforded us shade when we wanted a break. Even in March, the sun was hot, and we chose not to sit in the sun the entire day. The huts have benches, but there aren’t beach chairs everywhere across the island. Be prepared to sit on your beach mat in the sand.
The island also includes a small snack shack where you can purchase some food and drinks. The boat to and from includes water and nonalcoholic punch, but on the island, you must purchase any refreshments. If you have water from the cruise ship, you can bring that.
The snack shack included burgers ($4) and hot dogs ($3), as well as chips ($1). Interestingly, they didn’t offer water, but you had your choice between a coconut drink or soda ($2 each) or alcohol – beer ($4), rum punch ($6), rum and coke ($6), or coconut with rum ($7). Note that you can only purchase alcohol after snorkeling! Bring cash, as they didn’t take credit cards.
What Should You Bring to the Belize Barrier Reef Snorkeling Excursion?
One note on the sunscreen: please please be responsible and use a reef safe sunscreen. Traditional sunscreen ingredients kill the reefs, and many locations prohibit them for good reason.
The beach has a place to change, so if you want dry clothes after you snorkel, you can bring them, as well. Obviously you need shoes of some sort. The beach is soft sand with the exception of one entry for snorkeling, so water shoes are not necessary.
The Belize Barrier Reef snorkeling excursion we purchased includes a beach mat you pick up when you enter the island and return when you leave. We didn’t experience any insects, so no need to bring bug spray.
As with any excursion, make sure to bring cash to tip your guides. In this case, you can also purchase food and drink. While there were small trinkets available to purchase, unlike many tours, there was no push to buy anything.
If you want to capture your memories, either bring a waterproof phone pouch – and test it before you go in the water! – or a GoPro. The guide even took some people’s GoPro underwater to capture better images of the sea life for them.
If you don’t like sand on you once you get out of the water, make sure you bring my favorite beach accessory. This sand remover pouch has cornstarch that easily releases any stuck on sand. Plus, you can wash it and refill it. Just pat the pouch and then rub it wherever you have sand on your skin.
With plenty of time both in the water and to relax on the beach afterwards, make sure you have something to entertain yourself once you finish snorkeling. We brought some sand toys and a ball game. We were one of the few who did so, and we enjoyed our time on the beach more than others who were ready to leave when the captain called us to the boat. You can absolutely bring books or games with you both on your cruise ship and to the island.
If you’re particular about your snorkeling equipment, bring your own. The guides had no issue with this, though the equipment here we found to be better than most excursions.
Would I do this Belize Barrier Reef Snorkeling Excursion Again?
In a heartbeat.
The guides were fantastic, friendly and open throughout our Belize Barrier Reef snorkeling experience. They assisted my daughter and came back to check on her and reassure her that she can snorkel another day. We learned a ton about Belize and the reef on the boat ride, and we appreciated that it didn’t have a party vibe, which makes it more family friendly.
I loved the color and clarity of the water near the Barrier Reef. The water was calm, with only the advanced snorkelers heading out on the windy side that had a little more chop than the rest of the water. Best of all, we saw tons of fish and other sea life, and the guides shared what the different fish were if we didn’t know ourselves.
The equipment was great, and we felt relaxed and not pushed all day. We saw a ton of sea life, and I loved that the guides dove down to bring up some of the more interesting species or pointed out where to look.
For the Snorkeling Wonders of the Barrier Reef, we paid $74.99 per adult (13 and up) and $64.99 per child. You must be at least five years old for this excursion. The other Barrier Reef snorkeling option is the same price but requires you be eight years old. This also snorkels in one location then takes you to an island to relax after. We didn’t want two separate boat rides, and we noticed that this excursion had a water park and kayaks available for an additional cost. We didn’t want our kids begging for more to do.
Have you ever tried Belize Barrier Reef snorkeling? What was your experience?
Are you cruising and want to get more tips? Check out my other cruising articles!
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