Specialty travel ideas: How to plan a successful scuba diving trip, by choosing the right destination and hotel
Planning a deep sea scuba diving trip
When you are planning your dive trip, it is easy to get overwhelmed because there are so many options. But if you take it step by step, and do your research, everything will gradually fall into place. Though it may seem obvious, one of the most important things to consider is your destination. Choosing your destination can be very complex, however, because you need to have an idea of your skill level as a diver, the amount of money you want to spend, what type of dive operation you like, what you want to do aside from diving, and what kind of hotel or resort you prefer.
There are dive destinations for divers of every skill level. If you are a beginner, the Florida Keys are a great destination! The Keys offer lots of shallow diving where you can practice your buoyancy, get your weight and equipment worked out and still see some colorful fish, lobsters, and coral. Another dive spot that is good for beginners is Bonaire. There are plenty of dives in just 40 feet of water and the dive trips are very relaxed. It is a good idea to check out your potential destination first, read up on magazine articles and internet articles to see what the diving climate is like. Look for the average depth of the dives, the number of people on each boat, and the degree of difficulty for the dives. Even though the smaller dive operations may cost a little more, it is worth it to have a safe, more comfortable dive experience.
Depending on the amount of money you want to spend, there are dive destinations to suit almost every budget. If you have a less expensive trip in mind, Cozumel is fairly inexpensive and it offers great diving, dining and sightseeing. The dives in Cozumel are deeper than the Keys or Bonaire – the morning dives are usually in 80 feet of water or more and it is known for the drift diving. The current (sometimes swift) pulls you along, the boat follows your bubbles and is there to pick you up at the end of your dive. Drift diving is great for the “lazy” diver; you don’t have to work at swimming. However, if you are the type of diver who likes to take more time to look at things in detail, drift diving may not be the right choice for you.
The Caribbean islands are more expensive than Cozumel, but they are beautiful and fun to visit, both for diversity in culture and in marine life. Last year, we went to Dominica (the locals will be the first to tell you – NOT the Dominican Republic) and it was like being in another world. True, Dominica is more expensive than the Keys or Cozumel, but it is so tropical and lush. There are no fast food restaurants whatsoever and you truly meld into the island way of life. We saw so many different fish in Dominica – tons of eels, frogfish, spotted drums and seahorses. On our surface intervals, we stayed on the boat while our dive master swam to shore, gathered fresh coconuts and brought them back for our snack! Dominica had a superb dive operation, with small boats, wonderful staff and experienced dive masters.
Another medium-priced vacation you might consider is Roatan, Honduras. We went to Roatan several years ago and stayed at an all-inclusive resort with a full dive operation, including lockers where you could store your dive gear. The dives were great – we saw angelfish, parrotfish, eel gardens, and lots of barrel sponges in water so warm that we did not need a wetsuit. This particular resort in Roatan also had a children’s program and our daughter got to swim with dolphins, train dolphins, and go horseback riding. The all-inclusive vacation was nice because it was very relaxing; everything was taken care of for you.
On the more expensive end of dive vacations, and for those who are intermediate to experienced divers, you might consider diving off the coast of California, the Galapagos, or a liveaboard vacation. If you don’t mind wearing a dry suit, you can explore the Kelp Gardens off the California coast. There you can see sea otters, starfish and other marine life unique to the Pacific. The Galapagos Islands offers incredible diving, including schools of hammerhead sharks, penguins, and giant manta rays, but you must be an advanced diver to attempt this type of diving because of the strong currents. And, for those who are interested in diving non-stop, you could consider a liveaboard. Liveaboards offer intense diving in a variety of locations. Whatever type of dive vacation you choose, it is very important to select a responsible dive operation which maintains their equipment properly.
Concerning dive operations, especially if you are a beginner, it is best to be on a small boat. Smaller dive operations are less rushed, and they give you much more personal attention. Look for the number of people who will be going out on a boat, make sure their equipment looks like it is well- maintained, and the number of years they have been in business. You can check out a dive operation through numerous scuba magazines or online. This year, we went to Grand Turk, in the British West Indies. Grand Turk was a great dive destination with dives including manta rays, dolphins, turtles, sting rays, flying guinards, and a fantastic beach. We had a choice between two dive operations, and selected one particular dive company because it did offer smaller boats, and more personal attention. They lived up to their reputation, and we found that the other dive operation (the one we did not choose) easily had more than 10 people on each boat. Grand Turk was primarily a dive destination (versus a dive/sight-seeing adventure) – the diving and the beach were the main points of interest.
If you are looking for a dive vacation that also offers other things to see and do, especially if you have non-divers in your party, you might consider destinations such as Belize, Puerto Rico, or Costa Rica. Belize offers lots of unique adventures – when we were there, my daughter and I went cave tubing after hiking over a mile through the jungle, and we also went parasailing over the ocean. While we were parasailing over the teal blue water, you could even see the sting rays swimming underneath; the water was that clear! Puerto Rico offers interesting diving, along with lots of historical sites you can visit. And Costa Rica has diving, hiking, and sightseeing all in one eco-friendly country. If a dive/sight-seeing trip is what you are looking for – just do your research. Find out what the attractions are in that particular region, and if there is enough available to keep you interested. No matter where you go, whether you are a diver or a non-diver, it is crucial to choose a hotel or resort where you will be comfortable.
Selecting a hotel or resort is very important to your vacation and again, there are usually many choices. You should consider the size of the hotel, the proximity of the hotel to town, the amenities of the hotel, and whether or not the hotel caters to divers. Do you need a hotel on the beach? Or will a hotel with a swimming pool be sufficient? Are you going to eat all of your meals out, or do you want a condo-type situation where you can perhaps fix your own breakfast and lunch? If you are on a budget, getting a condo might be your best bet because you can eat some of your meals there and avoid the expense of a restaurant. If at all possible, we like to stay at a hotel on the beach that is also close to town. That way, we can walk into town instead of taking a taxi. It is a good idea to read reviews of hotels online before you make your selection!
Though there are many things to consider when planning your dive trip, a little bit of research will go a long way. Based on your individual interests and skill level, pick several dive destinations that might suit you, then decide how much you are willing to spend and whether you will be doing other sight-seeing besides diving. Once you have picked your location, you will be able select your dive operation and your hotel or resort based on your preferences. Remember that lots of resources are at your fingertips, either online or at your local dive shop. Good luck planning your dive trip!