Updated June 20, 2019
Swimming, snorkeling and diving (for those who are certified) are some of the most popular activities on any Caribbean, Bahamas or Mexican Riviera cruise. But what if you're not a certified diver and want to see deep sea creatures in their native habitat? Or what if you can't snorkel -- either for medical reasons or out of fear?
Alternatives to snorkeling and diving do exist for cruisers who can't swim, don't like snorkeling, aren't certified to scuba or have a medical condition that prevents them from doing either one. Options vary in what is required -- snuba requires basic swim skills, while a helmet dive does not -- and how deep you can go -- 10, 20 or 115 feet. But all offer cruisers who can't or won't snorkel or scuba the opportunity to enjoy an underwater experience normally reserved for snorkelers and scuba divers.
Here are four underwater options to consider the next time you hit the beach on a cruise excursion.
Helmet diving is a great alternative for anyone who does not know how to swim or alternatively, does not like or hasn't been able to master using a snorkel breathing tube. With helmet diving, you wear what is essentially a bell-shaped helmet that goes over your head and shoulders, keeping that part of your body dry in the water. A panoramic glass "window" lets you see everything around you. A hose connects your air supply, which floats on a raft above you, to the helmet, keeping it full of fresh air throughout your dive. You can breathe normally, wear your glasses and even reach into the helmet to scratch your face or clear your ears if needed.
Helmet dives typically take place in nine to 10 feet of water and you'll spend about a half-hour submerged. Frequently dive guides will point out things to see and might even bring over sea creatures for you to touch.
Similar to helmet diving, the B.O.S.S. (which stands for breathing observation submersible scooter), replaces the scuba tank and snorkeling mask with a helmet but also incorporates a "Vespa"-style scooter, on which your air tank is mounted, that you can zip around under the water on. With both helmet diving and B.O.S.S., knowing how to swim is not necessary, you'll be able to breathe normally in your helmet and you won't go deeper than 10 feet underwater.
There are a few differences between helmet diving and B.O.S.S. however. With helmet diving, you'll be walking along the ocean floor; with B.O.S.S. you'll be moving around on your electric scooters several feet above the floor, which does mean you'll be deeper out to sea than with helmet diving. Additionally, B.O.S.S. helmets have 360-degree views rather than just the front views on most "regular" diving helmets.
Both helmet diving and B.O.S.S. cruise excursions are usually done in large groups and you most likely will end up waiting a long time for your turn. In some cases, traditional snorkeling will be an option before or after your turn. Cruisers prone to claustrophobia or sensitive to pressure changes in their sinuses might want to avoid both, as both are common complaints with any type of diving that involves a helmet.
If helmet diving and B.O.S.S. seem a little too easy, you want to go deeper out to sea and you have at least basic swim skills, then snuba might be the right fit for you.
A combination of snorkeling and scuba, snuba is a bit more similar to scuba diving than snorkeling but does not require certification. Fans of snuba say it is easier than snorkeling -- you don't have to worry about sucking in water through your snorkel if you turn your head the wrong way or go underwater. And with snuba, no intensive training is required and you don't have to fiddle with air tanks.
Like in scuba divers wear swim fins, a diving mask, weights and use a diving regulator to breathe. (For non-divers, weights neutralize your natural buoyancy in the water.) The big difference between the two is that while scuba divers must carry their air around on their backs, the air for snuba divers is supplied by an air tank floating on a raft on the surface and connected to the regulator via a long hose. This means you don't need to know how to monitor your tank (a dive operator remains on the surface to monitor air levels) and you're never too deep that you can't get to the surface quickly if you need to.
The absolute easiest alternative to snorkeling and scuba diving are submarine sightseeing dives. They'll also get you much deeper below the water's surface than helmet diving, B.O.S.S. or snuba dives.
Tourist subs are small, with some packing in up to 50 people, but most squeezing in fewer. You'll need to be fit enough to descend a short ladder into the sub. Once inside, no special skills are required as you'll spend all of your time sitting on a bench next to a large porthole from which you'll have a nearly 180-degree view. (The most common complaint from cruisers who have done a submarine dive is the cramped conditions.)
Dives last about 45 minutes and go down to about 115 feet or so. Because submarines dives go deep, you'll see a larger variety of sea life than with other scuba alternatives, including those animals that stay closer to the surface and those that live much deeper. You'll also see lots of scuba divers and you can wave to them from your nice dry seat.