Can you imagine it? Gliding with friendly sea turtles along the shallow floor of the crystal clear Caribbean Sea. Cutting through schools of tropical fish as they search the coral reef for food. Discovering other marine life like shapely starfish, hermit crabs scuttling around in their shells, and an octopus hiding in its den.
There’s something both magical and mysterious about the ocean that keeps pulling us back to its shores like a magnet. Just like astronauts exploring outer space, we have our own outer space to dive into that is equally unexplored, equally beautiful.
My first snorkeling experience in the ocean was on my honeymoon cruise to the sunny Bahamas. Our cruise made a stop to a few of the US Virgin Islands and we got the opportunity to briefly explore the islands of St. Maarten and St. Thomas. Out of all the shore excursions to choose from at St. Thomas, swimming with turtles sounded pretty divine.
Hopping Aboard the VI Cat
For about 75 USD each, Tyler and I secured our spots to jump onto a sleek catamaran called “The Cat” once we left our cruise ship. We didn’t know it then, but The Cat has received Trip Advisor’s certificate of excellence for getting consistently good reviews from travelers who have been there!
Once we climbed aboard the spacious boat, we took a seat and talked to some of the other passengers as we waited to set sail.
The catamaran can hold up to 80 people along with four members of the crew. We looked around and noticed that they were fully equipped with an open bar, a booming sound system, and enough space to either sit or stand on the deck for when we were to start sailing.
We met our friendly captain and crew. They gave us really intimidating fake tattoos of their logo (a kitty with a pirate’s eye patch) to sport as we sailed to our destination. I whipped out my favorite newlywed gift and started snapping shots with my GoPro (1st gen) as we shoved off the tiny island of St. Thomas.
Tyler is terrified of the ocean, so when he saw how brilliantly clear the water actually was, he was comforted to know we wouldn’t be diving into a murky pit of uncertainty.
As the water splashed against the boat, we could see shadows in the water that we quickly determined were sea turtles and manta rays. How cool!
Island music played as we sped into the wild blue, the sail flapping in the wind, just happy to be in each others’ company. We jokingly sang the theme to “Pirates of the Caribbean” as we drew closer to Turtle Cove.
Unda Da Sea!
The awesome crew of The Cat provided us with all the gear we needed to be able to snorkel safely. As we put on our vest, fins, snorkel and mask, the sail was taken down and we floated to a stop.
We arrived at Buck Island National Wildlife Refuge’s spot for swimming with sea turtles— Turtle Cove.
After being given a few brief safety tips, one by one the passengers climbed down a small ladder into the sea. The water was warm! It was the perfect temperature for me and I felt so comfortable floating there with all the sea critters. I pulled my mask to suction nicely to my face, and snorkeled away.
When we plunged our heads into the water, our ears rang with a strangely loud sound.
The coral reef we were swimming along steadily emitted a weird crackling sound. Our captain drifted towards us and explained that the crackling sound can be heard miles away and is the sound of both barnacles moving around and tons of snapping shrimp hunting for food along the reef.
Whew! I thought maybe my ears were not enjoying the water and doing some sort of crazy popping.
The captain had all sorts of teaching moments he enlightened us with. He was such a cool guy!
There were times he would dive down to the sea floor to grab a hermit crab, starfish, or other piece of sea life to show to us as he explained a few things about their survival. He passed them around to those who were close by and we each got a chance to hold them before releasing them back into the water.
I loved that he did that because it became more of a learning experience for us.
How cool was he, you ask? He offered to take a video on my GoPro of an octopus he found!
Gliding with Turtles
Being so close to all that sea life was amazing! We would occasionally spot a fish we’d never seen before and follow it for a little while, admiring it as it did its thing.
The manta rays swam parallel to the ground and seemed undisturbed by all the humans flailing around above them. And then there were the turtles…
On the ground they slowly prowled, but then suddenly took flight, gliding effortlessly around us. Even as we inched closer to them, they weren’t afraid. As the sun glistened on the water, the light caught their shells too.
It was a beautiful sight. These gentle guys were living the good life!
Everything felt like it was going in slow motion as we floated there watching the sea turtles going about their daily routines, grouping with other turtles, and swimming up to the surface to look around. It was much like a dream, and an experience I’ll never forget.
Ready to Swim with Turtles?
Made your decision? This is a must-have experience if you’re exploring the Virgin Islands. You don’t want to miss it! Here are all the trip details so you can experience the same magic I did for yourself!
Visit The Cat’s website to learn more about the trip’s itinerary. Snorkel gear is provided to you and on-board drinks/snacks are included in the price! Book your trip on their site or on Trip Advisor.
So what are you waiting for?! The ocean is calling. The turtles are waiting. Time to get some vitamin sea!🌊
Have you ever done this tour or had a chance to swim with turtles? Tell me what your experience was like in the comments below!