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October 2007    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 22, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Belize, Palau, South Carolina and More

dive operator charges 50% cancellation for bad weather

from the October, 2007 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Undercurrent subscribers have been sending reports of their spring and summer trips, from Fiji to Florida. Some had excellent dive service and accommodations, others not so great. Here's an assortment of diver feedback from the Caribbean, Pacific, even the Cooper River in South Carolina. Stay tuned for the hardbound version of all reader reports in the 2008 Travelin' Divers' Chapbook, coming at year's end.

Sun Dancer II in Belize. Previous Chapbook reviews have mentioned this boat's problems with choice of dive sites, unfilled tanks and restricted dive times, but Greg and Pat White (Cobden, IL) say those issues were nonexistent during their March trip. As light breathers, the Whites were always the last ones back but crew never indicated a problem. "Our tanks were always refilled before we got our wetsuits off, and warm towels and back rubs were waiting for us after every dive." They were impressed with the focus on safety. "We began the first night with an abandon ship drill and thorough explanation of safety features and procedures." Pat, a nurse, and other medical professionals onboard were shown the location of medical supplies and asked if they would assist in a medical emergency. Food and service were excellent. The only drawback was a tight schedule to fit in five dives per day. "Because dinner is a sitdown affair, everyone must be there on time, leaving hardly any time for a shower after the last afternoon dive. But this was the only way it could work to finish the night dive at a reasonable hour." (www.peterhughes.com)

Seahorse Dive Shop in Placencia. Seahorse Dive Shop takes divers to Gladden Spit, the Belizean atoll known for its whale sharks, but according to Todd Shannon (Mississauga, ON), Seahorse should not be known for good customer service. "Sea Horse upped the fee to enter Gladden Spit from $10 to $15. They charge 50 percent for canceled dive days due to bad weather and since you pay in advance, you're stuck." Luckily he only encountered heavy wind on his trip last May but the long boat rides were uncomfortable, doubly so because of staff's unfriendly attitudes. Pick another dive operator for the trip to the Spit.

Fantasy Island in Roatan. This resort has been considered a good all-inclusive deal, but divers who visited this year say the Fantasy was a big disappointment. "Three of the four compressors were down while we were there in May," say John and Marilyn Walker (Castro Valley, CA). "Coco View resort had to fill Fantasy Island tanks but they sometimes filled short, probably to service their own guests." Nitrox was in shorter supply and frequently short in oxygen levels. "Since their sniffer was unreliable, we couldn't be sure what the real measurement was, especially since so much else was in poor condition." David Pax (Portland, OR), also there during the compressor shutdown, says his dive boat broke down after exchanging tanks at Coco View and had to be towed back to the dock. "The dive operation is only good for beginners," says James Filmore (Post Falls, ID). "They had 15 to 18 divers per boat, with one divemaster. The boat goes back to the marina after each dive so it doesn't go far and diving gets very repetitive." "From the rush to get a locker and wait in line for weights with 100 other divers to rusty ladders with rungs missing, it was a disappointment," says Liz Morini (Plymouth, MA).

Resort facilities seem to be deteriorating. "The air-conditioning unit for the room upstairs dripped onto my A/C unit, providing a form of water torture that maintenance couldn't fix," says Pax. "My bathtub drained poorly and some public toilets didn't flush very effectively." "Saggy mattresses, and the tub and toilet were painted white, making them look dirty," says Mornini. "If I wanted a remote control for the TV, I had to leave a $20 deposit at reception. Ditto with beach towels." The heated pool had an ineffective filter, resulting in cloudy water and a bottom coated with sand and dirt. The buffet is abundant but flies crawled on the food, say the Walkers. "Our room had a notice that tap water isn't potable, but filtered water is supplied by a single refrigerated pitcher filled by the housekeeper from a jug. Not all rooms had the notice in it so many people probably drank and brushed their teeth using tap water."

Starfish Enterprise in South Florida. Many divers say diving in Florida's Palm Beach waters is superior to the Keys. Petra Israel (Annapolis, MD) writes, "When I hit the water here, just a half-mile offshore from Lantana, I was amazed to be descending to a 'real' Florida dive site." Visibility was better at 50 to 75 feet and the reef was "prolific" with multiple photo ops. "While I didn't spot the turtles and dolphins generally in the area, I wasn't disappointed by the array and variety of marine life." Israel gave thumbs up to Starfish Enterprise's Captain Craig and his 34-foot Crusader with plenty of gear space. She was allowed to drift dive her own profile and coast leisurely over healthy coral and sponges. The best part: "You can't beat the price. My only expenses were airfare on Southwest for $87 roundtrip and $57 for two tanks." (www.idivestarfish.com)

Fossil Hunting in South Carolina. Fossil hunters should dive the Cooper River, says Edward Noga. "It's like going to a museum where you're allowed to take the exhibits home." Shark's teeth, from the megalodon to great whites and makos, and prehistoric animal fossils are the main lure, and divers are guaranteed to find something. On a May trip with Cooper River Diving, Nago gathered fossilized teeth and other goodies like pre-Columbian arrow points and Colonial-age whiskey bottles. The diving is shallow, 18 to 25 feet, with occasional holes of 45 feet but it's not for beginners. "It's black water, clean but dark, and the current is ripping at times. If you're afraid of the dark and alligators, pass on it." Noga praises the "powerful" boat and captain John Cercopely. "He knows the river well and is good company." (www.cooperriverdiving.com)

Being Gracious Divers. Besides offering good diving, the Fiji Aggressor also gives guests a chance to mingle with the locals. Edie and John Sumney (Carbondale, IL) enjoyed a kava ceremony and dancing at a village on Magogi Island in 2006. They kept up correspondence with the schoolchildren they met, so on their return trip last June, they came bearing gifts. "We brought a new Toshiba laptop computer complete with a special package of National Geographic back issues up to the year 2000. The children gathered around John as he showed them how to use it, and the chief graciously accepted the gift on behalf of the school and village. "We like how Aggressor brings guests there to help support villagers' efforts to improve economically and share their culture." (www.aggressor.com)

A Better Way to Reach Palau. Michael Hofman (San Francisco, CA) found a cheaper route to Palau. "We flew through Manila on Continental Micronesia, which is a good alternative to the Guam-Honolulu trip," he said. "Fish N' Fins arranged our fare on the Manila-Koror legs for a good price, making the trip about $500 less than it would be through Guam." Fish N' Fins' Web site says it can get divers a special Continental Micronesia round-trip fare from Manila to Palau, a three-hour flight, for $475, compared to the regular rate of $760. A November round-trip airfare on Philippines Airlines from Los Angeles (a 17-hour outbound flight including a stop in Guam, nonstop returning on a 12-hour flight) was recently priced at $916, for a total of $1,391. From San Francisco, the same trip cost $996, totaling $1,471. The cheapest online rate we found for a Los Angeles-Honolulu-Guam-Palau flight, averaging 19 hours each way, was $2,047.

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