It's been quite a couple of years since I've been snorkeling, so I was really looking forward to our cruise this spring, on which we scheduled two snorkeling excursions: one in Roatan, Honduras, and the other in Cozumel, Mexico. We never made it to Roatan (due to substantial damage to their pier the day before we were set to arrive), so I was doubly excited about Cozumel. It... was not great.
First off, we signed up for a "3 Reef Snorkel" excursion through the cruise line, Royal Caribbean. There were probably around 40 people on the boat, with two guides, a captain, and two additional support staff. Already, you've got a big group with just a few guys to keep an eye on things.
We had brought our own masks and snorkels, but they had plenty to go around for people who didn't have them. They provided short fins and mandatory life vests, which we were required to wear but were not required to inflate.
(I'm pretty fat, and I had no trouble making the vest work for me, which was a nice change. The life vest is just an inflatable bib that hangs down over your chest with long straps to go around your back and between your legs, so you don't fall out of it. Dead simple and easy to fit.)
The whole excursion felt very rushed. They talked fast as they walked us through using the life vests. Once we arrived at the first snorkel site, they hurried us off the boat and into the water with little prep time. In the water, they wanted us to stay close together and kept us moving relatively quickly towards the pick-up site. Then they spent a lot of yelling to encourage people to move faster getting back on the boat so we could move to the next site. When I was close enough to the group to satisfy the guides, I was being kicked and elbowed by by fellow snorkelers, and when I was out of danger of being damaged I was being yelled at to keep up with the group. It was all very stressful, and I spent more time trying to figure out where I was supposed to be going than I did looking at the fish.
A typical view during the excursion: clusters of headless bodies as people tried to keep track of the guide and what he was saying.
Not that the reef itself was much to write home about. A patch reef with a few isolated coral heads, a couple of sponges, some man-made lobster houses, and loads of hydroids and sea fans, all in water that was fairly murky, by Caribbean standards. And because of the tight quarters, there was almost always some random person's knee, elbow, or hand in my photos :)
Here's a particularly nice patch of reef... a colorful sponge and such.
There was a photographer with the group who was feeding the fish, trying to set up the guests for good photos, which we then had the option of buying at the end of the trip. I have very mixed feelings about this practice, but I've heard from friends that it's fairly standard for this type of trip, at least in Mexico.
To top it all off, there were broken-off bits of hydroid floating around in the water, and it turns out that I've become allergic to their stings. Within a couple of days, I had bright red, itchy bumps and welts where I had been stung. Time to break out the antihistamines and cortisone cream.
Bottom line: I probably will not snorkel in Cozumel again, and I will probably not do another snorkeling excursion while cruising. I'd much prefer to either snorkel on my own off a beach or find a smaller group that's not in such a big, damned hurry.