Out of all the excursions we had planned on our recent Caribbean cruise, I think the one we were most excited about was our visit to Stingray City in Antigua.
Us ZOO folks are big animal lovers and any chance we can get to interact with exotic creatures in their natural habitat, we are all over it! And what’s great about Stingray City is the fact that these majestic Myliobatiformes are truly “outside the cage”.
I have always avoided things like the “swim with dolphins” experience, knowing that the dolphins are in cages and not free to come and go as they please. The rays of Stingray City come to a floating dock out in the sea to be fed tasty squid and pose for pictures. They are almost domesticated, but that doesn’t mean your adrenaline doesn’t get pumping when you see these huge ghostly shadows gliding around your boat as it approaches the dock.
The folks at Stingray City Antigua do an excellent job of briefing its guests on what they can expect from the experience. One lady had asked during question period, “what if you don’t want the stingrays to touch you.” Our guide responded, “then don’t get in the water, because you won’t have a choice!” We hadn’t even boarded the boat for the ride out to the dock and numerous people already had a real look of concern in their eyes!
My initial descent into the water was a surreal one. I will be the first to admit that I was nervous – its not every day that I enter water teeming with sea creatures the size of coffee tables. And it was pretty hard not to think about the fact that it was the large spike on the stingray’s tail that was driven through his chest, killing The Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin. I guess that element of danger is a big part of what makes it such an exhilarating experience.
Initially, the sounds of women and children shrieking and crying filled the air! But things quieted down once a few people bailed and got back on the boat or realized the rays weren’t that scary after all. As long as you shuffle your feet when you walked and made sure to be careful not to approach any stingrays from behind, you were pretty safe. The rays were actually very friendly and almost seemed playful and affectionate.
And if you were brave, you could actually feed one a squid. You just had to remember to keep your fingers in – I learned the hard way and had my thumb knuckle nipped by their snapping plate-like teeth. Other than that, the interaction was very enjoyable.
Stingray City Antigua was a pretty amazing experience and one we won’t soon forget. Highly recommended! For now, back to the cage.