Scuba Diving In The Caribbean
Living in Toronto and being a bit naturally wimpy, we save our resort scuba diving for when we head to warmer waters.
I did my scuba training in Toronto. But left my open water certification dives for a resort scuba diving trip to Cancun. My son was younger and hardier when certified. He endured the colder, green, kelp filled waters of Lake Simcoe just north of Toronto.
We have headed away a few times on resort scuba diving vacations. Our destinations were picked based on scuba diving reviews and ratings. We still send people back to scuba dive in Curaçao! You can shore dive from almost anywhere and the underwater sites are great. We stayed at a dive resort that provided tanks if you wanted to drive to another shore site. It offered reef diving a mere 5 minute swim from their dock. We did the most amazing night dive from there.
There have been times when we went on a scuba trip but should have planned better! We escaped to Belize one February with all of our scuba gear. But had we gone two weeks later, we would not have missed the whale sharks! Just means we are definitely heading back to Belize – at the right time!
Free Resort Scuba Diving
But many other vacations south are based on destinations we want to see. Scuba is a second thought. We have travelled to several all inclusive resorts that have included unlimited scuba diving. Scuba diving in Jamaica is probably not on most people’s “must dive” list. But we have used the free scuba as our daily exercise routine and to help us stay current. If we think we will scuba, we haul scuba gear with us. If not, we pare down the gear for snorkelling.
Our all inclusive trip to Sandals Emerald Bay in Exuma, Bahamas included free resort scuba diving. Every picture you have ever seen of the crystal waters of Exuma screams at you to bring scuba gear. The marina is a short drive from the resort.
You can do two dives a day or choose just one. If you want one only, you can set your alarm so you are ready for the 8:30 departure. Or have a lazier day and head out at 11:00. There was even a night dive planned (at an extra cost), but weather defeated that plan.
Scuba Diving At All Inclusive Resorts
A few things to consider when going diving from an all inclusive resort:
1) Scuba Diving Operations Staff
We have generally have found dive operation staff to be good and friendly (and great hams for the camera).
They know their reefs well. The real interested ones are always on the lookout to find something interesting for you to see.
While David is a scuba instructor, he is careful to ensure he is considered as my dive buddy and not another trained professional to assist the dive staff. The dive staff are used to recreational divers and generally go out of their way to be helpful – getting your gear ready, assisting you to the platform and helping you haul yourself and the wet, heavy gear up the ladder at the end. This last help is particular needed when waves are rocking the boat. The dive staff picked up snacks at the resort. So there was food and water for the surface interval between dives.
2) Scuba Dive Equipment
I usually travel with my own BCD. I bought a girlie BCD which fits my curves far better than your average rental BCD. Since David is an average fit and given had has several thousand dives (ex navy diver) he can usually handle anything that the rental shop fits him with. I spent many hours in the water working on perfect trim so I almost always bring ankle weights but get the rest of my weight from the scuba shop – even if they sometimes want me in a weight belt rather than filling my integrated weight pockets around my body.
We generally don’t bring our regulators with us unless reviews suggest equipment at the resort is really questionable. But make sure to carefully inspect the regulators. On more than one occasion, I have been given a free flowing regulator that I had to swap out – luckily before I jumped in
3) Scuba Dive Boats
Boats at resort scuba diving marinas are generally smaller than commercial scuba dive operations (known as “cattle boats”). This means there is space to get ready on board and it is not a long, long conga line of divers in the water. This smaller number of divers gives you a better chance to actually see what the dive master is pointing out. The boat we had this trip had a great low swim platform with two rock steady ladders to help get divers out easier and faster. There was plenty of covered space if you wanted to stay out of the sun and a fly bridge if you wanted to watch the scenery with wind whipping your hair.
4) Scuba Diving Student Offerings
Most resorts we have been at, offer both a one day “Experience Scuba” course and full open water courses (to get yourself additional PADI cards). Since we both have wallets full of PADI cards, we didn’t need any courses. But because we had not dived in the past 6 months, we both did a quick checkout in the great training pool they had at the marina.
I was surprised at how many people were taking courses or doing open water certifications at the resort. It was by far greater than any other non-exclusive dive resort we have been to. Most people we talked with said the dive training was great for them and spoke well of the staff. It did however mean that the second dives each day were a bit more crowded and the dive sites targeted were ones good for beginners and students.
5) Scuba Dive Locations
Probably our biggest disappointment when when resort scuba diving is the dive sites that we get to see. We found this to be the same problem when we paid for diving excursions when on a Caribbean cruise (potential diving at Roatan, Belize and Grand Cayman).
Often the closer sites are selected, rather than the best sites. Sometimes you end up at the same site several times (although this trip we got to 3 different sites). Some of the dive site selection is driven by weather issues or boat problems (both of which happened to us this trip).
The other thing we have noted with resort diving operations is that they tend to be super cautious and shut down the operations at the first wave of the red flag. I understand there is a safety concern but we have been to resorts where the dive operations were shut down for little reason at all (Cuba was a notable example for us). On the other extreme are some commercial operations that will cram you in a boat regardless of conditions. When I did my open water certification dives in Cancun, the waves were so high that 3/4 of the people on the boat were so sick they chose not to dive. I was not going back to dive in cold Canadian waters, so I gulped and jumped.
What We Saw Diving In Exuma
One of the biggest disappointments of our scuba diving in Exuma was in the lack of clarity of the water – one of our key reasons for wanting to dive there.
This was largely the responsibility of Mother Nature as it was pretty windy the whole time we were there and thus the shallow spots we went to (maximum depth of 37′) were pretty stirred up (<40′ visibility).
Part of this may have been because the dive sites in this part of the islands are less sheltered. We had much better visibility when we were snorkelling on our Ocean Safari trip (where we saw swimming pigs – but that is another blog!).
Our big excitement was when the dive master found the turtle.
The dive master was equally successful at scooping up lion fish for us to see and in finding lobster lairs. Most of the fish we saw were tiny but we did get to see several large schools of small fish. The coral was nice and in places splashed with colour.
We were happy we found so much more to see than when we went snorkelling on our Ocean Safari boat ride!
Maybe we are just a bit jaded from other dive trips we have taken. If you are a beginner diver or have limited real dive destination experience, the world you see underwater will be more than exciting enough to keep you diving. And if you swim really slowly and have an attentive dive master, you may be very surprised by what you might see! If you visit Sandals Emerald Bay in Exuma – as a beginner or experienced diver – don’t miss the “free” resort scuba diving.
Have you been scuba diving in Exuma? What did we miss?