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Switching Masks

by Lisa TE Sonne

I am ready to switch a cloth mask for an underwater face mask and swap “stay at home” for “play at sea.” Snorkeling is an immersive sensual way to enjoy new places. It doesn’t require special training or certification, the equipment is cheap compared to most sports, and the riches of experience are bountiful. Many cruises offer “shore expeditions” that take you off-shore — snorkeling.

With a good guide, it can be an easy way to “test the waters,” if you aren’t a snorkeling pro. For anyone who loves water, it can be a pleasing way to see what’s under some of the sea you have been cruising over.

As I wait for travel to be advisable again, I have put my prescription underwater face mask next to my cloth face mask and am savoring some happy memories of snorkeling from cruises as images float in.

Polynesia

When gliding under the tall graceful sails of Windstar in the French Polynesian Islands of Bora Bora and Tahiti, my husband and I were enthralled with a “Drift Snorkel”. We were outfitted with masks and snorkels tested so they fit well and given short wet suits, then taken on a glorious boat ride over turquoise and cobalt waters to a tropical shore of Taha’a. We then hiked under palms and by a mangrove forest to ease into the clear waters.

Currents carried us in the shallow warm sea through a gallery of colorful corals and schools of fish. The sensations of feeling weightless through wonders and going with currents without effort were both relaxing and invigorating. We held video cameras, and Victor later put together a short reel of flowing with one group of fish so you can sense how they move through the shimmering light, feed on the corral, and change directions en masse. www.OneMinuteTrip.com/Pacific.php

Hawaii

Uncruise Adventures has a wonderful island-hopping cruise that includes Maui, Kauia, Molakai, and Hawaii. Their boutique boat lets you approach the islands from sea, which the ancients and explorers did, but you can enjoy all the modern comforts with a great staff pampering you. Since the number of passengers is small, all activities are optional and all-inclusive. Each passenger is outfitted for the week with a package of fins, mask, snorkel, and a shortie wet suit.

Off the Kona coast of the big island of Hawaii, my fellow snorkelers and I were in two rubber zodiac boats zipping across that azure blue of the open Pacific toward Kealakekua Bay, aka Captain Cook Bay, named after the famous explorer. It’s a popular tourist destination for vividly diverse fish and can feel like swimming in open aquariums. We were en route when the zodiac drivers got very excited and slowed down. Humpback whale spouts were heading our way!

A behemoth mother and baby whale swam under our boat while a male escort “spy-hopped” straight up near us to check us out! I handed one of the helpful boat team, Buddha, my GoPro for underwater views, and I snapped away topside with a Cannon Rebel. A short video of that adventure can also be found at
www.OneMinuteTrip.com/Pacific.php

And, yes, the snorkeling at our destination was wonderful, including some friendly dolphins in the bay, but the journey was the greatest joy.

Galapagos

Snorkeling in the Galapagos is so wonderful you want to create new superlatives to describe it. The equatorial waters are colder than you might think, being off the coast of Ecuador, but the cooler Humboldt Currents from Alaska keep you moving. You may see sea turtles flapping languidly by, just a day after seeing the iconic giant land tortoises. If you are lucky, you will see the primordial-looking marine iguanas jump in for a swim. You may even witness birds diving for fish — in the air and then underwater. Most cruises in the Galapagos visit one or two islands a day and snorkeling is offered often.

I loved touring with EcoVentura, who are sensitive to the environment and use local guides who brief you well on what you see. The Princess Grace yacht of Quasar Expeditions was the honeymoon vessel that exuded luxury and was given to Princess Grace by Aristotle Onassis. Re-living either trip (above and under water) is enchanting. The snorkeling highlight, though, was when a group of Galapagos penguins decided to cavort with us – spinning right up to our facemasks then darting away. They are the only known penguins who live naturally north of the Equator. They are quite small compared to Emperor Penguins, but they impishly delighted us.

I kept laughing underwater and breaking the seal of my mask.

I hope we will all have a chance to swap cloth masks for face masks soon.

@ copyright Lisa TE Sonne
Sonne loves covering Underwater Travel, and has been collecting the best snorkeling experiences for a book. Sonne also loves scuba diving, is a member of the Explorers Club, and was the first woman to fly underwater in a winged submersible for a National Geographic television piece.

 

Larger cruise ships with less expensive cruises also often offer snorkeling opportunities on their excursion menus. Just check carefully with the Activity Director to vet the third party operators, so you can take home good memories.

It’s been many years since three generations of my family took an unforgettable Holland America Cruise through the Northwest Passage of Alaska, but while others chose shore expeditions like dog sledging or glacier hiking, my husband and I donned “dry suits” to snorkel in the icy waters to see seaweed and star fish that differed from those of warm waters. It’s also been many years, since we signed up last minute to take a Carnival cruise down the Mexican Riviera for some bargain R& R. Choosing snorkeling for us was a fun chance to watch the playful sea lions who are as curious about people as we are about them.