Excursion Focus: discover diving in St. Thomas

When Harmony of the Seas docked in St. Thomas yesterday, I was more than excited for the day ahead. Not only were we able to dock in Charlotte Amalie after initially thinking we couldn’t, but I had a brand new experience booked for that day.

Photo credit: Underwater Adventure

I pre-booked the Discover Scuba Diving excursion, offered by Royal Caribbean, which takes guests on a 4-hour beginner scuba diving experience with an instructor. This is available to all guests over the age of 12 and you do not need a diving license to participate.

Overview

With the Discover Scuba Diving excursion you will learn the basics of diving and make your first dive in a few hours.

The group met at the pier and embarked on a 30-minute boat ride to Buck Island, a small nature preserve just south of St. Thomas.

On the way to Buck Island, our instructor gave us a detailed overview of the basics of diving. We learned which hand signals to use while diving, when to use each piece of equipment and how to breathe underwater. The instructor questioned us about the content to make sure we were confident before starting the dive.

When we arrived at Buck Island, we anchored the boat in Shipwreck Cove and it was time to test our knowledge underwater. Our group of ten was split into two groups. One group would dive while the other was free to snorkel, swim or relax on the boat.

The staff helped us put on our diving gear and guided us on how best to jump into the ocean from the boat. Falling into the ocean and taking my first breath underwater was exhilarating, although it felt unnatural.

Photo credit: Underwater Adventure

Once our group was fully in the water, we slowly descended into the water for a one-on-one knowledge test with the instructor, where we practiced the skills learned on the boat while becoming more comfortable with our equipment and breathing technique.

After everyone proved their skills, we held onto the ropes attached to the boat and slowly descended deeper into the ocean until we reached the bottom. At the bottom of the bay lay the shipwreck of the Cartanza Senora, a 190-foot freighter that was abandoned and sunk in the 1970s.

Photo credit: Underwater Adventure

We let go of the ropes and our instructor led us for a dive around the shipwreck where we encountered colorful coral, numerous species of fish and even an eel! On some days there are turtles, stingrays and nurse sharks around the shipwreck, although we didn’t encounter any on our dive.

Once back on the surface, the other group took their turn to dive and we spent the rest of the time snorkeling at Shipwreck Cove before catching the boat back to port.

The Discover Scuba Diving tour is operated locally by Underwater Adventure: Adventure Scuba & School. The excursion can be booked through Royal Caribbean and cost $109 per guest when prepaid. Wetsuit rentals are also available, although the water at the shipwreck was warm so not quite necessary.

Comments

I would 100% recommend the Discover Scuba tour to anyone interested in exploring the ocean beyond what you can see while snorkeling. It’s the perfect way to try your hand at diving before getting certified, and this was one of my favorite excursions I’ve ever taken.

The location of the diving was perfect for a first experience. Not only was the shipwreck much larger than I had imagined, but it also attracted marine life and vegetation. Being able to dive with the fish around you instead of viewing them from above while snorkeling made me feel very connected to the ocean and the environment around me.

The staff were also very patient and helpful throughout the day, making me feel comfortable trying something I had never done before. I also appreciated that the tour group was quite small as this allowed for more personalized attention during the dive.

It was hard to keep track of time when we were 45 feet underwater, so I’m not sure how long we were actually diving. However, I felt that the time underwater was the ideal amount for a first experience.

You must be able to swim reasonably well for this excursion. The dive equipment includes a life jacket, which I found very helpful during our time learning and reviewing safety tips above water. If you can confidently swim while snorkeling or stepping into a pool, you’ll be fine.

You should be aware that even if you book the diving excursion, not everyone is always able to dive. Two members of our group found the ear pressure too intense to dive all the way to the shipwreck. However, the majority of the group were able to successfully reach the bottom and dive around the wreck, so it’s definitely worth a try if you’re interested.

In addition, if you are prone to seasickness, you can take medicines or other remedies with you. The drive to Buck Island was a bit choppy at times.

Overall, I’m extremely happy that I decided to book the Discover Scuba Diving excursion and I think I’ve found a new hobby! I can’t wait to get my scuba certification soon so I can explore more of the diverse underwater ecosystem in the Caribbean and around the world.

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