I love taking cruises. Ship activities and restaurants are great, but my favorite aspect of cruising is exploring our ports of call. Being around masses of people while we’re actually on an island doesn’t appeal to us, so we often plan our own excursions. Yes, it takes a little legwork. And sometimes you worry about missing the ship (even though that’s never happened to us). We try and find the out-of-the-way spots. Sometimes it works for us. Sometimes it doesn’t.
During our most recent cruise aboard the Carnival Conquest, we decided to do our own thing each stop. We grabbed a cab to Sapphire Beach in St. Thomas (which ended up being popular with a lot of ship passengers). In San Juan, we tooled around town and enjoyed a fabulous meal at Rosa de Triana (thanks for the recommendation, @FlavorsofSJ!).
By mid-week, we decided an organized excursion for our next stop in Grand Turk might be a good idea since we hadn’t formed a concrete plan for that day. Fellow travel writer, Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon, recommended taking an excursion to Gibbs Cay to hang out with the stingrays. (Thank you, Sarah!) We were excited to discover that the Conquest included a Gibbs Cay excursion through Chukka Tours, and quickly booked it. Best. Day. Ever.
Let me say that in my 16 plus years of travel writing, I’ve experienced my share of the good, bad, and downright ugly tour companies. The bar is pretty high for me, I’m afraid. If it’s even a mediocre tour, I tend to become a little diva-ish. Thankfully, that was so not the case with this particular Chukka tour.
Even though we were doing a ship tour, the boat was not packed and cramped. There were a lot of us, but there was a good ratio of guides to guests. The guides were funny, informative, and engaging. Part of the tour was interacting with the stingrays. They did an excellent job of making sure everyone participated and got the most out of the experience. Even the most apprehensive passenger eventually felt comfortable enough to interact.
In addition to the stingray experience, we were treated to a demonstration of how to remove conch from its shell. We were also shown which part you can eat. After the demonstration, our guide passed around samples of conch fresh from the shell. I was shocked my daughters actually tried it – and didn’t hate it!
After the demonstration, we boated over to a reef and enjoyed some snorkeling time. Our guides were watchful and diligent without being annoying. They made sure we were careful around the reef, but let us explore the area at our own pace.
The fact that they didn’t hound us to buy their photographs was a big plus for me, too. Even though they took several pictures with their own cameras, they didn’t seem to mind taking photos with guest cameras.
We’ll likely book through Chukka again on future trips, and would definitely recommend them. Do you have a favorite tour company you stick with when traveling? If so, please share in the comment section. I’m always on the lookout for reliable vendors!
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