If you have never been in a submarine gliding silently and effortlessly along a coral wall teeming with marine life, you are in for a big treat.
The US Coast Guard approved Atlantis XI is a 65-foot long battery-powered submersible specially designed for underwater sightseeing adventures in tropical waters –– and where better than the Cayman Islands with some of the clearest waters in the world.
The boat has a 48-passenger capacity, is air-conditioned, pressurized, and is clean and comfortable. Light from 26 large side portholes and the huge front captain’s bubble dispels any feeling of darkness or closeness. The view-ports also provide all guests with a wide window into the fascinating undersea world.
How and where to sign up
We were on a fun-filled seven-day Princess Western Caribbean Cruise. We could have signed up for our underwater tour on board ship, but opted to take a stroll and get tickets at the Atlantis retail store located on the waterfront in bustling George Town, Grand Cayman.
The inside of the well-provisioned Atlantis Adventure Center store looks something like the lobby of a movie theater, but with the addition of clothes- racks and trinkets for sale. There were also plenty of smiling employees ready to discuss the best tours for the family.
The Atlantis Adventure Center is just a two-minute walk from the bustling docks where the cruise ship tenders deposit passengers.
After choosing a tour and purchasing tickets, it was a little wait before our excursion was called. We picked up a snack and drink right there in the store while we anticipated our upcoming adventure. In about 20 minutes, our tour was called and 30 of us boarded a two-level tender that would take us out to the dive site.
On our way to the submarine rendezvous point just off shore, we were given a thorough safety briefing about the Atlantis.
Before long, a light object appeared in the deep water just below our boat. Within seconds, the Atlantis breached the surface shedding water everywhere – just like in the movies.
Getting into the submarine
The change of submarine passengers was very orderly. First, the Atlantis disembarked the last tour group to the first level of the waiting tender. Our group was gathered on the second deck, and as soon as all the new submariners were aboard, we were instructed to move down the steps of the tender to the deck of the Atlantis. That accomplished, we entered the hatch compartment, and did a backward ladder descent seven feet into the boat. It was all very exciting.
Comfortably seated we waited for the hatch to close, and watched our captain – who was in full view of the passengers at all times – submerge das boot.
Down there with Davy Jones
We leveled off at 105 feet and cruised along to the tutoring of our convivial dive guide. He explained that colors dissipate as the boat goes deeper, and how the varieties of fish change with the depth, and – wow, look at that wreck off the starboard bow! We learned about barrel sponges, soft coral and hard coral, and thoroughly enjoyed the easy to hear and understand narration.
Sadly, our underwater tour ended in about 45 minutes, the hatch opened, and we were now the experienced submariners smiling at the next group of neophytes about to take the plunge.
A less expensive alternative
Because we enjoyed the submarine experience, and had some extra time before our shipped sailed, we also took the Seaworld Observatory tour offered by the same company.
Similar to the submarine, the inside of the Observatory has large portholes for viewing the underwater world. The big difference is that the Observatory never leaves the surface. Passengers sit in air-conditioned comfort, just five feet below the waterline.
Note: The Atlantis submarine does not allow children under four years of age, but they are permitted on the Observatory tour.
You might expect that this tour would not be as exciting as the submarine, and it isn’t, but at a greatly reduced price, it comes with superb views of fascinating wrecks, and a knowledgeable narrator who talks about the amazing sea life that passes before your eyes.
We give two thumbs up to both tours.
About the Caymans
The Cayman Islands are located south of Cuba and northwest of Jamaica. They are generally flat as a pancake with little tropical vegetation, yet they are prized among well-informed vacationers for their miles and miles of pristine white sandy beaches, and the best turquoise-blue and sea-green waters in the world.
Because of the unique water clarity, the Caymans are a SCUBA divers paradise. Having spent many weeks on the islands during the now long-defunct annual “Cayman Madness” event, we can attest to the extraordinary dive sites and excellent dive-boat operators.
In addition, Grand Cayman is a safe island with a plethora of great ocean front hotels and fine restaurants – and the people of the Cayman Islands are delightfully friendly and well educated. The Cayman Islands are clean, and you can drink the tap water. What’s not to like?
“Get out there, but be prepared.”
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Copyright © 2018 Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff
Photos Copyright © 2018 Judy Bayliff