We entered what looked like a souvenir shop at John's Pass and were confronted by a man selling tickets for various water activities. As it turns out, we had walked into "John's Pass Ticket Booth" and were reeled in to plunk down a deposit on this "cruise". The vendor assured us that, even though this boat tour might be a bit more expensive than others we had picked the best Egmont Key boat tour because (allegedly) unlike other cruises, the boat would stay right there at the island while we snorkeled, so we could easily (?! ...hmm... see photos) get back aboard if we needed to use the restroom or access our lunch coolers, etc. The brochure also mentioned provision of a free shelling bag (I pictured a mesh keepsake bag, perhaps) and snorkeling equipment. Sounds good, but...
We scheduled the trip for the next day and had a rather lengthy drive from John's Pass to reach the actual departure marina in Gulfport. The boat looked like an old fishing vessel with 18 uncomfortable seats up front, a bench at the back, and a storage bin on which many of us sat for much of the trip. Other passengers filed to the back of the boat and began drinking beer. The crew welcomed us with some flippant comments about the life preservers (we weren't offered one) and the availability of "the head" (bathroom below deck). He then turned on some hokey Jimmy Buffett music and away we went. Beyond that, there was little to no narration about where we were or what we were seeing as we passed along the shoreline. We saw no dolphins on the ride out to the island, but were assured we would see some later. . .
Upon arrival at Egmont Key we stopped NEAR a govt dock, but instead dropped anchor several feet from shore and had to climb down a ladder to get to the thigh-deep water below. At that point, we were offered a "shelling bag" (standard crumpled plastic grocery bag) and a dirty mask and snorkel mouthpiece. (I was instantly no longer interested in snorkeling and placed the dirty equipment in the used grocery bag that dangled on my arm while I climbed down the ladder.)
Once on the island (nice, but not as good as we were led to believe), we walked around the ruins and did find several small-med shells, but no sand dollars.
After a couple of hours in the hot sun, we were ready to go back. Before I ascended the ladder, the ship's mate asked me if I'd snorkeled. "Nope," I told him, planning to hand back the equipment when I reached the storage bin at the top of the ladder. He then proceeded to grab my shelling bag and took out the unused snorkel gear, perhaps insinuating that I was attempting to conceal it, and grumbling that it looked damaged (if so, certainly not by me!).
The return trip began with the obligatory Jimmy Buffett music. Again, no dolphins for quite a while. Then, I noticed that the captain had left the helm of the boat and was off to the side feeding the seagulls. Soon enough, dolphins! (but shouldn't someone be steering this boat???).
To be fair, we really enjoyed seeing the (promised) dolphins swim along side the boat. Still, this was overshadowed by the disappointments (past and yet to come) re: the boat and its crew.
So, now that they've "given" us the dolphins, as promised... time to pay up! We were advised to tip well because they delivered on the dolphins promise. They handed each of us a plastic pouch and practically demanded a tip (signs stressed "only if served well"). I did not feel the need to bring lots of extra cash to this deserted island, nor did I feel we were "served well"; thus, the tip was much smaller than the 15-20% requested. Once the envelopes were collected, it was clear that they were counting the tips and made snide remarks toward anyone who dared not give the requested amount. (I can echo here most of the related comments from reviewer askew16.)
Sign on board : "tipping is appreciated; mate works for tips, but only if served well" - really??
The rest of the trip was awkward and certainly did not live up to the title of "cruise".
So, while the island was ok, and we enjoyed the dolphin sightings (literally, we thank God),
the ship's crew made the overall trip a tainted memory.