St Maarten snorkeling

The Best Snorkeling in St Maarten

April 30, 2019 by Michelle

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When we visited St Maarten, my kids begged to snorkel. They love tropical waters and exploring, so I looked for the best St Maarten snorkeling experience we could find. Some links in this post earn me a commission if you purchase through them.

Diving while snorkeling

At St Maarten, you have so many choices of things to do. When I first looked up options in Viator, a TripAdvisor Company, I almost couldn’t decide.

While Maho Beach is a classic destination, my kids wanted more than just a beach hangout. If you have never seen the planes fly directly – and low – overhead, you need to check that out somehow or some way.

Lucky for us the Sand Dollar Snorkeling Adventure goes straight past Maho Beach. Our captain stopped the boat just outside the swim area and let us experience the low flying adventure for ourselves.

Maho Beach St Maarten

We didn’t know that would be a feature of this amazing (and so affordable) snorkel trip, but it made our day. It’s pretty incredible to see the planes go straight overhead and so low. My family wanted more to their day than this, but if you want to experience more of Maho Beach, you can book a round trip transfer for way less than what your cruise ship charges.

With over 180 options from Viator on St Maarten, we had to dig deep to decide. They quickly narrowed in on snorkeling, and we found the Sand Dollar Snokeling Adventure for just $45 per person.

My kids loved that this includes snacks, drinks, and the gear. I loved that we could walk to the departure point from the pier. At three hours, this was the perfect balance between worthwhile and not too long an excursion.

Best of all YES you can do this while visiting St. Maarten on a cruise ship. They offer both a morning and afternoon option, depending on when you arrive in port, and it’s a short walk to the pickup point.

That said, if you vacation on St. Maarten, this isn’t strictly a cruise excursion trip. In fact, we were the only ones from a cruise ship on the boat the day we went. No matter how long you spend in St. Maarten or why you’re there, you can fit this snorkeling trip into your vacation.

After our experience, I can hands down say this was the best St Maarten snorkeling trip we could have taken. Everything ran smoothly, and we had a fantastic time.

Exploring underwater in St Maarten

What Makes This the Best St Maarten Snorkeling?

When we’ve snorkeled previously, we boarded a large boat with many people. With a maximum of 10 passengers – we had 8 – this small boat means less noise and we never came close to bumping into anyone while exploring.

My kids loved that this was on a smaller boat without the loud music and loud adults. It felt safer to them, and I loved the almost personalized tour we get because it isn’t a cattle call experience.

On the boat as we headed to the snorkel site, the guide provides a bit of a tour of the island so you learn about history as you go. It’s a nice way to get some variety in a location we don’t have much time to explore.

Once you arrive at the bay, the guide provides defogger for your masks to ensure you have clear vision while in the water. To exit the boat, you can jump off the back or do a side roll off the side if you’re comfortable with that.

The snorkeling encompassed a large area to explore. We didn’t get bored swimming in just one spot, which my kids appreciated.

The snorkeling area is pretty unique. Lots of boats stop there, but it remains uncrowded in this protected bay. I love that the water stays calm, which makes it easier to snorkel.

The area has a ton of sunken items to explore both from the surface and diving down to see. They have a small helicopter, submarine, airplane, toilet, cannons, etc that they sunk in Little Bay to attract life.

Tank underwater in St Maarten

I liked the variety and unique objects. The challenge? Finding them all! 

We also loved the snacks and drinks. After the snorkel stop, the captain broke out a basket with fresh bread, cheese, and apple slices. He served more food than we could eat, which was great to be able to go back and get more as needed.

Snacks on sand dollar snorkeling

The boat also has coolers with bottled water, pop, and even beer. Hold off on the beer until after you snorkel for safety reasons, but the excursion has no charge for drinks or snacks. Drinks include everything from Coke, Diet Coke, and Orange Fanta to Sprite.

It isn’t a one time only offer. If you enjoy a bottle of water and finish it and want more, you can help yourself to another one from the cooler at any time during the trip.

Free drinks on sand dollar snorkel

The snorkel stop also includes a beach break. After swimming for about an hour, you’re ready to chill out and relax on what is essentially a private beach. You have the option to swim there again, hang out on the sand, or explore the area for about 40 minutes before returning to the dock.

Relaxation beach

What more could you possibly need to call this the best St Maarten snorkeling trip? We had so many pieces of fun woven into our excursion, far more than advertised on their site.

How Do You Get to the Snorkeling Experience?

If you choose, you could get a taxi, but it’s a waste of money given how close the shop is to the exit of the pier.

While some tours meet you inside the port area, this one does not. You are responsible to get to the shop on your own, so budget 10 to 15 minutes to walk there.

The directions to get to the shop are accurate. It’s about a 10 minute walk from the ship.

You need to exit the port area entirely, which is the hardest part to figure out. Once you leave the port area, go to the left and walk five more minutes to the yellow buildings where you’ll see Chesterfield Restaurant. The shop where you check in is on the end of the set of buildings.

Check in with your ticket, and sign the waiver inside at the desk. You get further instructions at that point.

What Else Should I Know About This Snorkeling Trip?

This small boat offers no head. There is a bathroom at the dock, so if needed, make sure you use it before you head out.

You are welcome to bring and use your own gear, but the shop does provide it. The adjustable SEAC Sprint fins work well for snorkeling, and the masks came in kid and adult sizes.

While we were told we would be fitted for fins at the shop, they instead estimated what we would need and had them on the boat for us. I ended up trading fins with my son because his feet are just big enough to need one size up. 

While we didn’t see the variety of fish I do when SCUBA diving, we did see a nice variety under water. The fish consisted mostly of interesting fish like balleyhoo, but not a ton. It’s a pleasant snorkel, but don’t come into it expecting a “see all the fish” snorkel.

You’ll see a ton of sea urchins and some fire coral while snorkeling. They aren’t at the surface, but you’ll be closer to them at the shoreline if you head that way.

Sea Urchins in St Maarten

Don’t touch either one. The fire coral will burn, but you should never touch coral anyway. Enjoy looking at the sea urchins, as they’re so pretty. We saw many very large sea urchins, which made for a fun experience.

Once you finish snorkeling and climb back aboard the boat, it’s a 15 minute boat ride down the coast to Long Bay Beach. The boat moors off the beach, and you can swim there easily. Yes, you can take your drinks with you if you choose. This is a great place to build a sand castle if you bring beach toys.

Caveats About the Sand Dollar Snorkeling Adventure

My kids saw the name and immediately assumed we would snorkel in an area where we would see sand dollars everywhere.  Sand dollar snorkeling is the name of the boat, not what you’ll see! Thankfully, there’s plenty of fun without the anticipated sand dollars.

You ride on a very small motorboat with no shade. Make sure you bring hats, a dry bag, a towel or two, and lots of sunscreen. We brought one towel per person, but with two stops, consider bringing two towels.

Again, because this is a small boat that travels through a busy harbor, you experience lots of waves, so beware if you are easily seasick. No one had issues on our boat, but be aware. Once we got past the harbor, the trip smoothed out, but on the return trip, the captain opened up the motor which led to more bouncing than the trip out.

It’s worth the $20 or $30 to buy a dry bag to hold your phone, towel, and anything you want to keep dry. I use mine all the time, and it’s super comfy to carry, too. I also toss wet swimsuits in this on my way home so they don’t get everything else wet.

With a small boat traveling fast on water, you will get sprayed. The seats in the back tend to get more water in than those in the front, but expect to get misted either way. We weren’t soaked, but definitely had some sea spray throughout the trip.

This snorkel trip is better for those who have snorkeled before. While the excursion provides gear, including swim flotation belts if you choose, the captain stays on the boat while you explore, and you don’t get a snorkeling lesson like you do with larger boats and a wider variety of experience.

For me, this was perfect as my kids and I are strong swimmers and know how to snorkel. If you have never snorkeled, look for a different excursion where you can get a lesson.

What Should I Bring on the Best St Maarten Snorkeling Trip?

While snacks and gear are included, you don’t want to come empty handed. Make sure you have what you need to have the best possible day.

  • Reef safe sunscreen – The chemicals in most sunscreens come off your body when you’re in the water, and they kill coral and other sea life. Please please please use sunscreen that keeps these gorgeous locations in good condition for years to come.
  • Sun hat – Remember, this boat has no cover, so you are sitting in the sun the whole trip. Protect your face and avoid squinting. This is my favorite sun hat because it rolls up and packs beautifully and never gets crushed!
  • Towels – If you come from a cruise ship, you can take the towels from the ship with you. Depending on your resort on the island, you may or may not be able to. I like to travel with a microfiber beach towel that dries really well but also packs into a tiny space.
  • Dry bag – Like I said, sea spray enters the boat. If you have anything you want to keep dry – and I include towels in that list! – you need a dry bag. I use this every time I get on a boat just in case. Even if it drops as I get on or get off, my gear is secure and dry.
  • Cash for tips – Always tip your amazing captains when you go on excursions. They work hard and often get minimal pay and depend on your to earn a reasonable living. Don’t stiff your guides!
  • GoPro or other underwater camera – I took some amazing shots of my kids snorkeling, and we had so much fun playing with my GoPro. When I SCUBA, I use it to capture memories and amazing fish and other sea life. They’ve come down in price so much, I can’t imagine traveling without one.
  • Sunglasses – Bright sunlight on the water is no bueno on your eyes. While you can’t wear them while snorkeling, you definitely want your sunglasses for the boat ride and the beach time!

Need more ideas for your vacation than the best St Maarten snorkeling trip?

I love the Caribbean and traveling. Check out some of my other recommendations and tips for cruise and Caribbean travel.

Book the BEST St Maarten Snorkeling experience now!

Book with Viator, a TripAdvisor Company, and enjoy a worry free experience. They guarantee their prices are the lowest you’ll find – and I can vouch for that, having done the comparison on travel I’ve booked for myself.

In addition, you can cancel and receive a full refund for most excursions if you cancel at least 24 hours in advance. That means, if your cruise ship has to change course, you aren’t stuck like you are with many booking sites.

Book the sand dollar snorkeling trip here.

St Maarten Sand dollar snorkeling tour: The best St Maarten snorkeling option. It's cheap and fun, and you can walk from your cruise ship. Read more for all the details on why this is the best! #stmaarten #snorkeling #cruise #vacation

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