Okay I'm going to be real honest here because your husband seems to have some concerns. Everyone raves about Eli's tours because if it's what you're looking for it's great. We were on the tour with several families with teenagers and many people hated it, especially the kids. I enjoyed the tour, but my husband absolutely hated it except for Hell's Gate which is awesome by anybody's standards. Our problem was we were on a boat surrounded by the most gorgeous clear water you could ever imagine and we couldn't get in it! It was over 3 hours from the time we left dock until we were able to get off the boat and swim. These 3 hours were spent hearing about every luxury hotel on the island, the famous guests that stayed there etc. For some people, this is important but we could care less and we wanted to snorkel or hike or something!
We did get to see some neat things-a mangrove area with interesting things in the water and an island where many pelicans where nesting in the trees. The babies were sticking their heads out of the nests which was really cute. Hell's Gate was great fun too. The second snorkel spot was incredibly rough because it was later in the day and the waves were whipping up so don't plan the tour based on snorkeling.
On the positive side, the guys on the boat were nice and worked hard. The lunch was also good. If you're someone wanting to basically sit on a boat most of the time or take a walk up Great Bird Island then this is a great tour. If you're leaning toward a more active tour you may want to look at his extreme tour which is more expensive.
I would love to do this tour again if they skipped all the hotel lectures which basically took up the first 2 hours or so of the tour. I would've liked to have had more time at Hell's Gate and done the snorkeling first instead of last when the waves were so rough.
Here are a few photos of the tour:
And of Hell's Gate:
Almost immideately after that review appeared on Cruise Critic we have had people cancel their trips and more have emailed their concerns. One such email is here:
We are a group of 7 people booked on Friday February 6. The email you sent us describing your tour is very different from the thread on cruise critic, http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=910813
They said they spent time collecting other people and it was 3 hours riding around before they were able to swim.
You told us in your email: “After we collect you from the ships dock, you would spend about one hour doing the tour and talk of Long20Island, Maiden Island, Guiana Island and then you head to Bird Island where you get off the boat and do a short walk/hike up to the top of the island, where the views are absolutely stunning of both the Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea and your guide will be pointing interesting things out to you on the way. When you come back from the hike, which lasts from start to finish about 35mins, there is a short snorkeling lesson to those persons that are not up to date with their snorkeling.
So how exactly will our tour be run? We like to snorkel and hike. On the way to these places we would enjoy hearing about flora and fauna. We signed up for the tour as you described it. If it is more like this participant’s description, we do not want it. We are an active group and thought we were choosing an active, intellectual tour, not a laid-back “cruise.”
Please let us know the itinerary and timeframes of the tour, which is what I asked you for in my first email to you. I will discuss it with the others in my group (we booked individually).
Here is my email reply:
Louise, the review was warped and damaging in its misleading and untrue descriptions. We collect passengers at the cruise ship dock at minutes to 10 am. At the very latest (even if we do have to pick up any other guests, which sometimes happens), we will be stopped for drinks at Long Island (Jumby Bay) by 11:15 am. Here (since it's an eco tour) we speak about the ecological aspects of the island including the turtles, reef, flats... etc.
Then, as we pass the interesting Maiden Island we speak about its ecology and history, then we’re off to Guiana Island’s mangroves to speak about the habitats and history there Following our exploration of the mangroves, we cruise through the myriad other islands pointing out anything of interest as we pass and arriving at Great Bird Island at noon or very shortly after. This is where we get off the boat to do the nature walk. That wasn't and will never be 3 hours. 10 until 12 in my book is two hours of sight-seeing and education which are some of the things that have made our Eco Tour the #1 selling tour on Antigua. After the nature walk or "hike" as some call it, we come back down to the shore where people are encouraged to take part in the snorkeling lessons. That's probably at about 12:30-12:45 pm. Those who don't want to take part sit on the boat and have drinks, swim, snorkel from the boat, chill on the beach or explore the island some more. This only takes 15-20 minutes. Then we are back on the boat to have lunch. At 1:50 pm, after lunch, we do the short trip to Hells Gate where at 2 pm there are 5 choices every day as follows:
1) Go snorkeling with a guide
2) Go and chill in the "jacuzzi" (tidal pool) at hells gate
3) Follow the guide into the caves of Hells Gate
4) Swim around the boat
5) Chill on the boat.
For 8 years those have been the choices at 2 pm on the Eco tour. Many have their mind so set on checking the caves that they don’t hear the skipper’s instructions about the other things but they are read out every time at 2 pm.
At 2:30 pm we shoot back over to Welch Rock for the final guided snorkeling. Here you have two choices: snorkel with the guides or stay on the boat. Most of the time it is calm there but we haven't figured out how to control the weather and occasionally it can be choppy in Antigua. The review made it sound as if it is rough in Antigua every afternoon and we punish our guests by only snorkeling in the rough afternoons. So strange! Anyway, after a good 30 to 40 mins of snorkeling (if you get in the water with the guides instead of taking a while to get in the water) then we pull the anchor and start heading back into the ship area in St. Johns where we get in at the very latest at 4:15 pm. On the way back there is no stopping for turtles dolphins or other points of interest. We just cruise straight back enjoying traditional rum punch and other drinks.
Our tour is very rigidly structured according to this timeline because we have to fit everything in and be back at the cruise ship dock for 4:15 pm. We have never been late and we try to do it without ever appearing to be in a rush. As I said earlier, this tour is #1 for a reason and we are not going to change much. The vast majority of people love this tour because it has a good mix of both ecological and historical info mixed with the usual suspects like snorkeling, swimming, beaching and sight-seeing. There are some people who couldn't give a dam about the turtle nesting season or about the US Army base stationed here during World War 2. Some people just want to snorkel and nothing else, some people just want to sit on a beach and nothing else, some people don't hear enough about the mangrove habitat, some people don't get to drink enough booze since we only serve alcohol on the way home, some people would like to hear music (we don't usually play any at all). We aim to please everyone who comes out with us and I personally think we do an excellent job of accomplishing that goal. It is never a 100% and there are some people who are not happy. Those people who "hated" it recently were the first I have heard of since I started running the tour.
I am sorry if I sound upset, but I have to admit that I am slightly annoyed with the review. I had a feeling we would be getting emails like yours, and I hope you have a better idea now of what to expect. Please email this to the other people in your party or to anyone else who is concerned. Thanks again for booking with us and for taking the time to email us instead of cancelling, Eli.
If anyone out there is worried about their booked tour. Please email me on elifuller @ hotmail. com or call me on +1 268 725 7263. I am available most of the time to speak about Antigua and my company and assure you that you will not "hate" the eco tour.