We purchased the Marinarium excursion through the Gran Bahai Principe Punta Cana hotel at their excursions kiosk by the main pool. We picked this option over the Caribbean festival excursion offered by Transat Holidays because it offered swimming with the nurse sharks and stingrays in their natural habitats. I wanted to snorkel on this vacation and my friend wanted to swim in natural pool (the previous Saona Island experience was not enough for her!) so we decided to book this half day excursion. However, it is important to note I was young and naive – the stingrays and nurse sharks were enclosed in a netted area in the ocean. NOT NATURAL AT ALL!
Marinarium Catamaran Excursion Punta Cana
A small air-conditioned van picked us up at the Gran Bahai Principe Punta Cana hotel Lobby at 8:30 AM for a short 25-minute ride to the Marinarium. We were welcomed with a glass of Orange juice and told to sit in an open-air covered patio. As we waited for the remaining buses of people to arrive a young man named Pedro came out dressed in a shark costume. He was very entertaining. He played a few games with some of the kids including Fanta/Cola which was a very funny Simon says type game. There was a rope placed on the ground in a straight line in front of the kids and they were told to jump to the front of the rope when he said Cola and to the back when he said Fanta. He was very funny making all kinds of animal sounds while jumping around tricking the kids to jump when they should have stayed on one side of the rope or the other. The kids seemed to enjoy it as we all watched and laughed.
Holding Area at Dock
Shortly after the distractions from Pedro, we were sent down to the docks. At the pier before boarding the boat we were asked to sign a waiver or rules sheet discussing the rules of the ship. These were read aloud by the head crewman in French, German and English before our receiving the clipboard and reading it for signature. With that behind us, we boarded the glass bottom boat and were given a bottle of water. One of the rules was No Drinking before snorkelling with the sharks and rays, and this was strictly enforced.
Compared to the crews of our first excursion this crew was very lively and entertaining from start to finish. We were introduced to our “Paparazzi” photographer and told that pictures of us with the Stingray would be $15US and options to purchase the DVD were also available. I did not get prices on these as we didn’t get the buying a DVD filled with pictures of strangers thing?
This Swim is Not in NATURAL Pools
Once the introductions were made the DJ spun a variety of tunes, and we were on our way on a short ride out to the reefs and the Marinarium. The boat anchored in the water close to the Marinarium area which was netted regions in the water keeping the nurse sharks and rays enclosed.
They sell this as natural pools but as soon as I saw the netting I knew I made a mistake. These sharks and stingrays are enclosed within the ocean.
Snorkel with Fish was Natural
As we arrived at the Marinarium location, we were treated to a view of some great fish through the glass bottom. The staff were feeding the fish, and it was quite excellent to swim among them all. Once the boat was anchored (there is no dock we anchored in open water) we were told to divide into two groups, good swimmers and weak swimmers. This is a very important point as even as a strong swimmer and snorkeler we were not given feet fins and had to swim against very strong currents. Strong swimmers swam more out in the open water through a maze of reefs for approximately 45 minutes while the weaker swimmers stayed in an area by the boat and Marinarium nets for 30 minutes. (However, the staff fed the fish around the ship so there were tones of little fishes swimming there which was pretty amazing. I saw them on my way out of the Marinarium.)
Snorkel gear was available, I had my own but was a bit surprised that fins were not provided. The staff said they did not want the reefs to be damaged by weak snorkelers. I understand this as I’ve been on many snorkel trips where people swim on the reefs not realizing how delicate they are and how hard people are working to protect them and rebuild them.
The reefs were beautiful a lot of different types of coral, saw a few fish along the way but it was difficult due to the rough waters and the bad snorkelers that kept coming too close and scaring the wildlife deep into the reef.
Snorkel in Netted Shark and Stingray Sections
After swimming the maze of reefs, we were directed to the netted area. We had to slide over the top of a net and were escorted into the nurse shark section. However, I was swimming above water and did not realize the sharks were even in there. No one informed us of what was going on or how the process of visiting the rays and sharks was going to go. In the next netted area we had to climb atop a netted platform which was hard to walk on. The net was slippery and hard on the feet I ended up just floating over it; it was bizarre. We were lined up and one at a time were put on a lower platform next to the net platform where a stingray was placed in our arms. I only got to touch the bottom of it, which was very slimy and slippery. I would have loved to have a little more interaction than that with the rays. A better example of this type of excursion was one that I did in Antigua – no nets, and we were able to feed and interact with the stingrays.
After we were able to swim around the tank and watch the rays below us. My friend started talking about the sharks in the first tank, and I almost lost it. I couldn’t believe I missed it. But was happy when we were directed back to the shark tank to swim back out to the boat. So I got to hover around in the shark tank for a bit and catch some more shots of sharks and rays. It was creepy having them swim under me but a total thrill.
Great Boat Ride – Swim with animals is disappointing
So the animal interaction on this trip is a bit disappointing as you don’t get to do many hands-on touching with the animals but as a snorkeler, I like swimming around with them. On the way out of the Marinarium netted tanks hundreds of little yellow and black fish swam around me. Again totally awesome experience I love swimming with fish around me.
I was the last one on the boat, was having way too much fun in the shark tank and again with the little fish around the boat, but eventually, I made it back on board where the party started. Drinks were served, Rum and coke, rum and sprite and rum and Fanta. They also had plenty of water for those that wanted it. We were expecting a short ride back to the Marinarium and were pleasantly surprised to learn that we would be sailing along the Bavaro coast for a bit. The DJ played music, there were drinking and dancing, and the staff even came around with trays of white bread, some cold cuts and cheese to make plain sandwiches for a snack.
Half Day Catamaran Ride – Caribbean Party
The catamaran sailed into a beautiful natural pool, and again we were surprised to stop and be let out for a swim in the crystal clear blue waters. This was not explained to us when we purchased the trip. The staff brought out a floating bar which consisted of a life preserver with a tray on top of it and lots of drinks. It was indeed a beautiful place to stop white sand and clear blue water under a blue sky! Awesome!
We got back on the boat and were treated to a demonstration of how to make a local drink called the Coco Loco. This is my favourite Dominican drink, so this was a massive bonus for me! They mixed up large batches and came around filling small flimsy plastic shot cups full. After Coco Locos, we danced all the way back to the marina where the paparazzi were waiting with our photos and DVDs. I paid $15US for my stingray shot, and we went out to the bus.
The ride back was quick, and we arrived back at the hotel by 1:00 had lunch and then hit the beach for the rest of the afternoon. (We were the annoying people that saved their seats at sunrise and didn’t claim them until afternoon. I thought it was smart and since everyone else was doing it at the hotel why not!)
Highly recommend this excursion for snorkelers. If you want a more interactive with the animal’s trip there are other tour operators that send you to the Docked shallow pools. Maybe next time!