I think they are the same, but I am not sure. One thing I know is that if you book through the cruiseline, you will pay twice what you would if you booked on your own. There are a number of places that you could book (ahead of time - make reservations) on your own. Many are walking distance to the ships. Stingray city is fun, but crowded - my kids were scared. Try Captain Marvins - I went with them and it was a smaller boat with less people than the cruise line excursions. You will go to exactly the same place. When you get there there will be about 20 boats within shouting distance of each other, some will be independent some with be through the cruise lines.
Just got back on the Valor. We booked through Cpt. Marvins. They were wonderful! We went to the Coral gardens to swim for 20 minutes and take pictures. Then to Sting Ray City. We stayed there for a half hour. Then back. Cpt. Marvins was great and even dropped people off at 7 mile beach on the was back to town. Recommend talking seasick meds before you go out. I did not feel sick on the Valor but this boat bobbed around in the water alot more. Also...we passed the Carnival tour and where we had 20 people on board...they had a double decker boat with at least 100 people.
Ive only scuba'd at Stingray City, but based on what my dad and brother have done, and the titles of the tours, this is what I think: Sting City is deeper water (10-12 ft maybe) and swimming/snorkeling while the sandbar you are actually standing in shallow water (thigh-waist high), putting your face in and seeing the rays. Be warned that it can get rough out there and often trips are cancelled.
most independant tours take you to both locations. Sting Ray City is deeper water where you actually swim and snorkel, whereas the Sand Bar is just that, a huge sand bar that you stand on, the water is aboout waist deep, here you can pet, or feed the rays, they will swim all around you, inbetween your legs- feels like a feather tickling your legs. You want to get on a small boat, which the independant operators use, sometimes the cruise ships book onto "cattle boats" with upwards to 100 people on board.
Yes, officially Sting Ray City is the 10-12 ft deep water, and Sting Ray Sandbar is the shallow waist deep water. However, many people use the term "String Ray City" to refer to "Sting Ray Sandbar", so you really have to ask which they go to.
I did the sandbar with Soto Cruises. It's excellent. You don't even have to put yor face in the water, they'll pull them to the surface so you can hold them, pet them, they pick them up and the rays squirt water at you, and they'll hold them over your head like a sombrero for pictures if you like. They also include 2 other snorkeling stops in the tour.