If you’re looking for a rec for a unique snorkeling excursion in the U.S. Virgin Islands, you’ve come to the right place! No trip to the USVI would be complete without snorkeling. But what about a snorkeling excursion with a foodie twist? After all, kicking around in flippers and sucking in salt water (no matter how hard you try not to) works up an appetite. In this post we’re going to tell you why we think Ocean Surfari has an especially unique snorkeling excursion in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Spoiler alert: it involves a pizzeria – that is a boat. You heard right. And they deliver – to your boat. *Sold!* Of course, snorkeling in the Caribbean is the real draw here, but if you’re a pizza freak like I am, this added selling point definitely tipped the scale for us and it might for you, too. Read on for all the fun!
About the U.S. Virgin Islands and Why They’re So Popular
The U.S. Virgin Islands are among some of the world’s most popular snorkeling destinations, and for good reason. It consists of about 50 different islands and cays, and is famous for its rich marine life. There are three main islands: St. Croix, and the two that all of our activities took place in and around – St. Thomas and St. John. Two-thirds of St. John is designated as Virgin Islands National Park, which supports a range of tropical habitats including some of the best coral reefs in the Caribbean. And dig this fun fact: 40 percent of this national park is underwater! How cool is that?
The conditions around these islands are perfect for snorkeling. The famously turquoise blue waters maintain a year-round temperature between 79-84 degrees and have excellent visibility, calm seas, and minimal current. Some of the “local residents” you can find yourself swimming with are sea turtles, rays, nurse sharks, moray eels, octopuses, and a plethora of tropical fish. Though we didn’t see any, we heard an occasional dolphin sometimes makes an appearance, too. You’ll also most likely see some gorgeous reefs, seagrass beds, sea urchins, and maybe even some cool sunken things like ships and planes!
Why We Chose Ocean Surfari For Our Snorkeling Excursion
Ok, let’s get into that unique snorkeling excursion we’re here to tell you about. Since we were coming into the port of Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas by way of our Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas cruise, we focused our search for a snorkeling excursion around this area. There are plenty of different companies offering a variety of excursions on and around the islands, but we settled on Ocean Surfari, who serve St. Thomas and St. John. They too have a handful of excursions to choose from, but their Do-It-All Snorkeling Trip was a no-brainer for us. I mean, its tagline is “Snorkeling, *Pizza,* and Sunset Cruise,” so what other choice is there, really?
What Does the Do-It-All Snorkeling Excursion Include?
For $99 per adult, the Do-It-All Snorkeling Trip includes: snorkeling in two different locations in the VIrgin islands National Park around St. John; fresh-baked pizza; plenty of snacks, including a variety of chips and other crunchables; soft drinks; an impressive assortment of domestic and local beers; an open bar tended by the first mate, with mostly vodka and rum drinks like Painkillers and rum punch; and a sunset cruise through the islands around St. Thomas and St. John, while the captain tells stories about the islands and their history. Masks, snorkels, mouthpieces, flippers, and life vests are all included in the booking price, and are cleaned and sanitized between uses. You can buy new mouthpieces for $5 each in the shop before boarding, and you can also rent full face masks if you prefer those. The trip lasts about 5.5 hours total, including about 90 minutes of snorkel time, and you can leave from either St. Thomas or St. John.
Amazing Customer Service
Before we get into all the cool stuff we did and saw out on the waters during our snorkel excursion, we want to shine a light on the amazing customer service we experienced in the 24 hours leading up to it. This has to do with our booking, our somewhat unique position as cruisers in this particular situation, and how well Ocean Surfari took care of us.
Why Our Booking Situation Was Complicated
Even though we were sailing with a major cruise line, our particular cruise was chartered. We were on The 80s Cruise, and I (Stephen) was performing with one of the featured bands, Jack Russell’s Great White. Along with this gig came some scheduling uncertainty. While I knew the days and times of my shows in advance, the times of my other obligations like soundchecks and personal appearances were TBD. What we did know was that all of these things were happening on two of our port days. So, until we knew if, when, and for how long I’d be able to get off the ship, we couldn’t commit to booking any excursions.
This is also why we didn’t book through the cruise line – because we couldn’t do it in advance, and excursions usually cost more once on board. Two other factors that would come into play are that our chartered cruise schedule was slightly different from the typical Royal Caribbean schedule. On top of that, our first port of call, Nassau, was canceled at the last minute due to weather. So, skipping Nassau meant we’d be arriving in St. Thomas a bit ahead of schedule, but the exact time was unknown.
How Ocean Surfari’s Customer Service Was Amazing
Fast forward two sea days, to less than 24 hours from docking in St. Thomas. Sure of our schedule now, we jumped on their site to book that snorkel cruise! In less than 30 minutes, we received two emails. One stating that we wouldn’t have enough time to get from the Crown Bay Cruise ship dock to their dock in Red Hook, which is a 30 minute drive. This was based on the typical Royal Caribbean cruise schedule, with a port time of 1:30 pm. The snorkel boat was leaving its dock at 1:30 pm, so obviously, this would be impossible. The next email was a cancellation confirmation. Since they don’t issue refunds to trips booked outside of a cruise line, they took the liberty of extending this courtesy, which we appreciated. But we didn’t see these emails until the next morning – snorkel day – after receiving a text from an Ocean Surfari associate named Chris. Since he hadn’t gotten a reply from us, he was following up to let us know that he canceled our trip and why. After a moment of panic, we let him know that we were actually docking around noon, and should make it in plenty of time. He replied that if we made it to their dock in time, he’d personally make sure we got on the boat. How amazing is that?
A few hours later we arrived at their dock in Red Hook with time to spare, and headed into the shop to re-book our snorkel excursion. We explained the situation to the friendly staff, and as they tried to re-book us, it appeared as though the boat was full. Chris wasn’t on-site, but after a quick phone call we were all set. Thank you, Chris!
The Ocean Surfari Shop
The shop has everything you might need and then some. From souvenirs to sunblock, board shorts, surrongs, sunglasses, hats, and the two items we needed: new, unused mouthpieces for the snorkels we were renting, and two towels. We weren’t able to put in a request to borrow towels from the ship since it was less than 24 hours notice, so we were relegated to buying them. But we ended up with some super cool microfiber towels. They’re very absorbent yet thin, so they wouldn’t take up as much space in our luggage as regular towels. They also repel sand and come in a variety of cool St. Thomas designs.
All Aboard the Reef Surfari!
Finally, time for our snorkeling excursion! It was a gorgeous, warm sunny day as we boarded the Reef Surfari. This spacious catamaran comfortably holds around 50 passengers and has plenty of open and shaded seating. There’s also that refreshment bar we mentioned (no booze ‘til after snorkeling – safety first!), and yes, there’s a bathroom!
Before we take off, the Captain introduces himself and his crew of two. Jake is his name, and to help us remember, he suggests thinking “… from State Farm.” Ha! Sierra’s the first mate, and Kaelynn rounds out the crew. We get an overview of the boat’s features, including some fun instructions on the toilet’s step-and-pump flushing system. “Step on the pedal on the left, and pump the lever on the right. And pump, and keep on pumping until the water gets uncomfortably high.” Hey, better than no toilet!
He tells us we’re making a short run from Red Hook Harbor across to Cruz Bay on St. John, where we’ll pick up a few more passengers. He cranks up some tunes and we shove off. With Lowrider blaring, we pulled ashore to load up our new friends. The Captain then gave a full safety briefing, instructions on putting on the snorkeling gear, and how to properly get in and out of the water. Next, Kaelynn and Sierra began handing out everyone’s snorkel gear and we hit the seas!
It’s just a short jaunt from Cruz Bay to our first snorkeling location in Virgin Islands National Park, around St. John. Along the way Captain Jake pointed out what is now my favorite boat in the U.S. Virgin Islands – Pizza Pi, where we’d be getting our fresh-baked pizza from later. But we’ve got some snorkeling to do first.
Snorkeling In Virgin Islands National Park – Location #1
Kicking our cool flippers, the exploration had begun. It was so amazing to have a firsthand look into this world beneath the sea. We saw plenty of beautiful fish, some sea urchins, and the underwater landscape itself is simply awesome. Looking down at dancing seagrass, reefs, and rock formations while hearing yourself breathe underwater is magical. Before we knew it, we saw the crew waving their arms from the boat, so we knew it was time to swim back. Good news – it’s snack time! And Ocean Surfari’s snack-game is strong, with a solid assortment of soft drinks and all the chips. All smiles, we all crunched away and swapped stories about what we saw underwater as we made our way to the next stop.
Snorkeling Location #2
Once again, it was a short ride. Unfortunately I don’t have a specific name to point out as to where either of these stops were, other than within the “Virgin Islands National Park around St. John.” I believe the locations can vary somewhat, based on various conditions and circumstances. For example, we passed up one spot because there were already a lot of boats anchored there. So I get the sense that the Captain makes the call accordingly on a case-by-case basis. The second spot that we did end up at was certainly no disappointment. Before we all got in the water, the captain pointed out an area where there was a sunken ship that we should swim out to see. Oh, now he’s speaking my language. With one “dive” under our belts, Andie and I were fearless pros at this point. In we go! Pretty quickly we spotted our first sea turtle. As much as I wanted to dive down to get a closer look, it was staring up at me and chewing, as if to say “I’m tryna eat down here!” We respectfully observed its awesomeness from the surface, all wide-eyed and gesturing to each other like two little kids. Then we saw a whole school of beautiful blue fish swim right past us. Beautiful. This area had more to see than the previous, as far as “things” in the water. It seemed like a lot more rocks and reefs, with more growth on them, too. We encountered another sea turtle below, this one lighter in color and with more pronounced markings. Also looking up at us while chewing. So cool!
We Saw A Sunken Ship!
Soon, we arrived at the sunken ship. No, it’s not a pirate ship, and no hidden treasure that we know of. But it was beautiful, peaceful, and eerie all at the same time. The waters are shallow, so some of the ship is within arms reach and very easy to swim down close to. As yet another sea turtle demonstrated, diving down just in front of me. The ship is a playground for so many different, beautifully colored fish swimming in and out of it, and who knows what other sea creatures might hide out inside. I was beginning to wish I could scuba dive, to be able to really get down there and explore at length. It was fascinating to look at and contemplate how it ended up this way. Later, the Captain told us the ship sank during the hurricanes of 2017, due to having too small of an anchor, on too short of a rode (thanks for that word, Google!). The winds slammed the vessel into the rocks and it broke apart. Some parts of the ship are clearly visible resting on the shore, too. This was as much of a highlight as the plethora of marine life we encountered. Unfortunately, we were getting the high sign from our crew, and it was time to make our way back. On our swim back, in addition to filming Andie swimming, backlit by the sun rays beaming through the water, I decided to also pay close attention to the sea floor. I don’t know exactly all that I was seeing, but the variety of textures and shapes below, seen through such clear waters is just wondrous. If our GoPro didn’t already feel like one of our better investments, it was definitely paying for itself today!
Pizza Pi: Fresh-Baked Pizza Delivered On the Caribbean
And now, the moment I’ve been waiting for. Pizza. But this isn’t your basic, cardboard-crust pizza that you’d expect would be all you can get your hands on out on the sea. Pizza Pi serves up legit New York style pizza. And let me clarify – Pizza Pi, the pizzeria, is a boat! They bake the pizza fresh and deliver it by dinghy to your boat. Now I’ve seen it all! And kudos to Ocean Surfari, there were plenty of pies to cover everyone. There was cheese, vegetarian, pepperoni, and possibly another topping option or two. Since we’re mostly vegetarian, we didn’t pay much attention beyond the cheese and veggie pies. The pizza was straight-up delicious, and truly made this a unique snorkeling excursion in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
And since we’re talking pizza – if you’re like me and can’t get enough, you should check out our post on The Top 7 Pizzerias You Must Try In Naples, Italy.
The Caribbean’s Drink of Choice – Rum
Wouldn’t you know it, the pizza paired nicely with a couple of those adult bevvies we mentioned. Namely, rum. Most rums are produced in the Caribbean, so naturally it’s the dominant drink. Under normal circumstances it wouldn’t be my first choice, but when in the Caribbean…
And Andie’s not at all a fan of rum or coconut, so neither the Painkiller or the rum punch were for her. Not to worry, our girl Kaelynn concocted a lil’ vodka punch cocktail instead, and we were all set and on our way to toasting a beautiful sunset. Oh, but not before Captain Jake (from State Farm) insisted we all do as he does. Namely, joining him in a Captain-led conga line around the boat for the duration of a ridiculous-yet-catchy song he’d cranked up to 11. I couldn’t help but imagine all of the sea life beneath us scrambling to get as far away from the human vibrations as possible. Or are they immune to it by now?
Sunset Cruise In the U.S. Virgin Islands
Captain Jake fired up the ride to take us on a storytelling cruise through the islands on our way back to St. Thomas. Before we got far, he pulled back on the throttle as we approached our new besties, Pizza Pi. We all cheered the great pie maker of the sea, both boats exchanged horn honks and we were on our way. We cruised to and paused at a few different locations, while the Captain shared history and stories about the islands, from both pirate and modern times. My fave was the legend behind the distinctive sharp and rugged rock formation known as Carval Rock. In modern times, it’s famous for making the foreground of countless Virgin Island sunset photos as well as being a hotspot for advanced cliff jumpers. But allegedly, in the lawless days of pirates in what was then then Danish West Indies, ships couldn’t go into land to trade goods, purchase supplies, or make repairs if they had live munitions on board. Doing so would have been considered an act of war. So they would fire their cannons at this rock formation to be able to legally go ashore. After years and years of being fired upon, this once rounded rock formation became the jagged and rough landmark we see today. Allegedly.
And so, all good things must come to an end. And what better way to wrap up such an amazing day than with a gorgeous Caribbean sunset… played off by Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On. Ok, I might have opted for silence myself, but hey, that’s why Ocean Surfari “makes the big bucks” as they say. They know how to party and have fun!
Have you been snorkeling in the U.S Virgin Islands? Share your experience in the comments below!
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