Sea Turtle Snorkeling Heaven in St. Thomas

Like most semi-regular cruisers, we had been to St. Thomas before. Several times before. We had almost given up on the most popular of the U.S. Virgin Islands as too touristy. So when we saw that our cruise ship once again stopped in St. Thomas (as most do), we knew we wanted to do something different. We stumbled upon Water Island by accident: the brother of my colleague’s wife (did you get that?) lives in St. Thomas & on a trip there last year, they discovered Water Island. I happened to be chatting with her when she stopped by the office one day, explaining my confusion over what to do on yet another visit to the island & she insisted that we had to head to this sleepy island, where golf carts rule the roads & palm trees outnumber people. What she didn’t mention is what made us fall in love with the place: just off-shore of a swimmable beach, are sea turtles.

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Photo (C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

St. Thomas Adventure Tours popped up as we were doing our research. They’re a husband & wife owned small business, which focuses on small group tours with a truly personalized experience – exactly what we look for when traveling. Their combo snorkeling & kayak tour was the perfect length for our day in port & combined two of our aquatic loves. We booked their VI Turtle Tour & counted down the days until we arrived in the Caribbean.

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Photo by St. Thomas Adventure Tours

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Photo (C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

We met one of our guides, Michelle, on the dock right off our ship. While we had planned on kayaking over to Water Island for our snorkeling adventure, the wind wasn’t cooperating the morning of our visit, so we hopped on the water taxi instead. Our other guide, Lewis, was already on the ferry dock, waiting with tickets. We were the only ship in port that day, a rare occurrence in busy St. Thomas, so Water Island & Honeymoon Beach were wonderfully uncrowded. After a brief instruction & bundling up in thermal shirts & life jackets, we headed out into the water. About 10′ off the beach, there they were: sea turtles! They were beautiful & majestic & totally unphased by our presence. Since there were only four people in our tour group, we split up into pairs, each with a guide helping us find turtles & snapping underwater photos of us (all the photos are included in the price of your tour!). I also got the chance to use our new underwater camera to take some turtle shots of my own.

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That’s me & my turtle friend!
Photo by St. Thomas Adventure Tours

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Photo by St. Thomas Adventure Tours

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Just B & some adorable turtle feet
Photo (C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

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Photo by St. Thomas Adventure Tours

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Photo by St. Thomas Adventure Tours

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Photo (C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

After about 45 minutes in the water, we headed in for lunch on the beach at Heidi’s Honeymoon Grill. There are two beach bars on Water Island’s Honeymoon Beach, both lovely & divey (but with Caribbean-speed service). While we waited on our fish tacos (highly recommend!) we enjoyed the bottled water & beers that Michelle had brought for us – lunch & beverages were included in the price of our tour.

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Photo (C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

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Photo (C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

After lunch, the other couple on our tour (who had booked a longer excursion) went off with Lewis to snorkel in a nearby reef  – Michelle gave us the option to join them at no extra cost, but we didn’t want to cut it that close getting back to the ship. We hopped onto a sit on top kayak & paddled with Michelle back to St. Thomas. Even though we’ve kayaked previously, we were a little intimidated by kayaking with a pretty intense chop, but we’re so glad we did! The views were amazing & we felt so close to nature. While paddling back, we were rewarded with views of our ship, planes taking off from the airport & seaplanes coming & going from the channel. It was not too difficult, even in the wind, & definitely do-able for even novice kayakers. Michelle’s husband Sven met us at the beach & drove us back to our ship.

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Photo (C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

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Photo by St. Thomas Adventure Tours

The whole tour was very well organized, but super casual. Due to the small group size, it felt more like snorkeling with a friend than in a formal tour – not a bad thing. We enjoyed chatting with Michelle about how she had made her way to St. Thomas, a story which I think left both of us dreaming of selling everything & moving to the Caribbean.

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Photo by St. Thomas Adventure Tours

Once back on land, we bought some duty free rum for our office & enjoyed a few beverages at the WinMill Sports Bar, right on the Crown Bar dock (the owner is best friends with Tim Duncan & the bartender was 100% southern belle). After several rum punches, we made our way back to the ship, thrilled with our most successful trip to St. Thomas yet.

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Photo (C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Note: Michelle gave us a small discount on our tour in exchange for a blog post; however, it was 100% awesome & we will gladly pay full price next time we visit. 

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About christina

Christina is a 30-something D.I.N.K. travel writer & photographer who travels the world often wedged into the middle seat. Follow her on Twitter & Facebook.

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6 Responses to Sea Turtle Snorkeling Heaven in St. Thomas

  1. Jim L. April 26, 2016 at 11:38 am #

    This looks like a fantastic experience! I’m so glad that your colleague’s wife stopped by that day! :)

    Question – it looks like you had no problem at all finding several turtles right away. Did the guides indicate this is normal, or did you get “lucky” on this day? And do you know whether you had a small 4-person group because it was a slow day, or do they only do 4-person tours? I like the idea of a very small group but I’m wondering if the groups get larger during the busy season.

    Regardless we’ll definitely be doing this on our next trip to St. Thomas! Great post!

    • christina April 26, 2016 at 12:10 pm #

      Great questions! Our understanding is that these turtles are there regularly – they feed in the area because there’s a lot of sea grass.

      Also, St. Thomas Adventure Tours caps their tours at 6 guests, so you always get the personalized service like we did! We were there during “busy” season and were very happy to not be on a 50 person catamaran tour.

      I should have mentioned in my post: if you’re staying in St. Thomas you decide to go to Water Island on your own (or even if you do a tour), definitely check the cruise ship schedule before deciding which day to go. My understanding is that Honeymoon Beach can get quite busy when there are multiple ships in port.

  2. Rebecca May 14, 2016 at 4:27 pm #

    Looks like a wonderful experience! I have a question though: are they endangered and a protected species? shouldn’t swimming near them be discouraged? I know turtles come to land when nesting and there’s real problems with tourists then.

    I just wondered if there were any preservations orders and protection rules in place for these wonderful creatures.

    • christina May 14, 2016 at 4:39 pm #

      Great question! Yes – lots of rules involved & it is illegal to harm or touch them. You have to stay at least arms length from them while in the water. When you’re swimming in a group, it’s important to stay next to/behind them (kind of in a U shape), so they always have a free area in front of them to go where they please. Also, we swam with them on a regular beach, not in any sort of a marine park or tourist attraction (like swimming with the dolphins) – which means seeing them is not guaranteed & they’re able to move around as they please.

      I grew up in Florida & know exactly what you’re referring to about nesting issues – beaches, municipalities & volunteer groups go to great lengths to protect them while they’re nesting. I definitely wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing this if I felt like it was at all threatening to the turtles. The turtles didn’t seem to mind that we were there & didn’t do anything to avoid us (on the contrary, we were constantly getting out of their way!)

  3. Colleen @ Ad-lib Traveller May 14, 2016 at 6:57 pm #

    This just sounds idyllic and such a heavenly island! Adding to my must-see list. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  4. Vanessa May 24, 2016 at 9:07 am #

    I was waiting for rum to make an appearance! I think it’s awesome that you did such a small, intimate tour – it must have been a nice contrast to the massive ship with so many people.

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