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August 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 23, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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A Few Good Deals For Divers

all-inclusive dive weeks starting at $660

from the August, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

If the U.S. dollar keeps dropping as it has, itll plummet to depths no record-setting freediver can reach. But its still possible to stretch your greenbacks far enough for enjoyable diving trips in the Caribbean and the Pacific that wont make you feel short-changed. We asked readers in our monthly e-mail newsletter for their opinions about dive boats and landbased operations that provide outstanding bang for the buck in their respective regions. We also mention some higher-end dive boats that rely on Americans for much of their business and therefore offer regular specials and last-minute deals. And weve listed a few bare-bone boats and resorts that are short on luxury but still offer plenty to see underwater which is where you intend to spend much of your time anyway, rather than your room.

The Caribbean

Roatan, Honduras. Overall, just about the least expensive diving in the Caribbean, with pretty reefs and an array of tropical fish, but rarely a surprise. While backpackers find cheap hotels and track down independent dive operators, Undercurrent readers go for legitimate dive operations, like the one we feature this month, CoCo View. Three other resorts, priced right, get generally high marks as well.

Reef House on the East End got thumbs-up for its all-inclusive packages and decent diving. Only 12 rooms but because its further down the island, you get away from the other resorts dive boats, says John Wooley (Olympia, WA). Reef Houses boats are slow, old and cough out exhaust fumes but dive crew and locations are praised. The sites, mostly walls, are great, reports Marco Accattatis (Jersey City, NJ). We didnt see another dive boat during the entire week. Not much fish life but a great variety of critters. The all-inclusive, seven-day package, double occupancy, with four daily boat dives (one at night), is $895, although Reef House is lowering it to $799 or three divers pay $895 with the fourth diver for free from September 20 to October 5 (the heart of hurricane season). Whats not included is the 16 percent room tax. (www.reefhouseresort.com)

Bay Island Beach Resort has only 15 rooms in a quiet location on the north shore. Divers praise American owners Ted and Cam for being hands-on managers. Says Don Beukers (San Jose, CA), who went last February, Before the day of our departure, they went to the airport, checked us in and returned with boarding passes. On departure day, Ted drove us to the airport and walked us through the different stations to the final security checkpoint. Every Thursday is the crab races and pig roast, with meat literally falling off the bone. There was a full bar and although we had brought our own wine along, we werent charged a corkage fee. Bob Ayers (San Jose, CA) says the north shores reefs, although more prone to storm damage, have more pelagics and less pressure from divers. Dive crew give first-class care and are old-timers. A standard all-inclusive, double-occupancy package for seven nights is $840 through September 26, then down to $740 September 27 to December 19, excluding Thanksgiving week. Included are five days of four boat dives (the last is an optional drop-off), the island party with pig roast, and a welcome drink. (www.bibr.com)

Inn of Last Resort is another East End resort with its own private lagoon. The all-inclusive Inn was a great pleasure and a good deal, say Paul and Ann Martin (Arlington, MA). Owners Andy and Donna Arcaya remember everyones names and keep them happy but theyre trying to sell the resort. Donna told Undercurrent that theyre definitely there through the end of September, maybe forever, because the sale financing has dragged on for over a year. Theyve renovated the boats and kept the place in good shape for the transfer. The seven-night package with double occupancy, minus room tax and bar tabs, has been reduced from $895 to $695 through October 30. It includes five three-dive days, but Donna says, many times we give guests a complimentary dive or two on Friday morning before their Saturday flight departure. The Inns Web site also advertises a $75 one-way deal from Fort Lauderdale to San Pedro Sula on Spirit Air, but taxes and the $100 to $200 for a flight from the Honduran mainland to Roatan kick up the price. Still, a direct flight from Houston on Continental was recently priced at $924 round-trip for September, so Spirit Air may be worth checking out. (www.innoflastresort.com)

The Juliet, Bahamas. John Wooley recommends this threemasted motorsailer he sailed on in June. A delightful crew, four dives per day, and a menu that pleased my vegetarian palate. Cabins are comfortable and air-conditioned, but not opulent and they have shared toilets. Movement through the boat is tight; if you are very overweight, you wont fit through the passageways. Most of the cruising is motoring at six knots. The Juliet takes 12 divers and offers Nitrox, individual dive stations with large gear holds, and a topside shower with hot and cold water. The seven-day cruise at $1,390 (a group chartering the entire boat pays $1,275 per person) doesnt include a $60 port fee, ground transfers or tips (they suggest 10 to 15 percent). The Juliet doesnt offer specials because, says owner John Beltrano, the Caribbean low season is actually a very busy time for us. It also makes seven- and 10-day cruises to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. (www.sailjuliet.com).

Blackbeard Cruises, Bahamas. Our March 2007 article about Blackbeards Morning Star sums it up: This cruise is like camping out at sea and best for those who lack a big budget but want a lot of dives, three squares a day, and dont care about comfort or privacy. Cabins are literally close quarters, but you may sleep better knowing you only paid $929 for a week. Tall people, prepare to duck a lot, says Bob Cottle (Cicero, IL) who sailed last November. Being 64, I found the entrances to the sleeping quarters and the dining area to be painfully short, and I banged my head more times than I care to remember. I took the four-day weekend trip ($667) and overall, it was a good deal. Food was decent, service was good and the crew friendly.

Blackbeards three boats Morning Star, Pirates Lady and Sea Explorer sail each Saturday from Bimini to various Bahamian dive sites based on weather conditions. Extra fees are a $40 port tax, $10 underwater park fee and $40 fuel surcharge ($20 for the weekend cruises). Blackbeards is taking $30 off its seven-day rate to $899 from September 1 through all of 2009. (www.blackbeard-cruises.com)

Glovers Atoll Resort, Belize. Heres a place weve never been and know nothing about, but if youre looking for Belize on the cheap, have a look at the Web site for Glovers Atoll Resort, in the midst of some of Belizes best diving. You can pitch your own tent ($12 per person a night) or get a basic tentsized cabin over the water with cooking supplies and kerosene stove ($45 per person). If schlepping food over doesnt appeal, the resort cooks and serves all meals in a thatch-roofed, openair restaurant. The weekly all-inclusive dive package in a beachfront cabin is $1,095 with 12 boat dives, one night dive, kayak or dive gear rental, and the 90-mile round-trip boat ride from the mainland. (www.glovers.com.bz) If you go, tell us about it.

Cozumel rentals and in-town rooms. The island has a range of accommodations but small in-town hotels and B&Bs offer the cheapest deals. Suites Bahia is a diver favorite. Its spartan but right in the center of town, with a small kitchenette and very well-priced at $70, says Buzz Waterston (Wallingford, PA), who visited last February. Fourth-floor rooms are the quietest and have waterfront balconies without the street noise. (www.suitesbahia.com) Steve Belmont (Fairbanks, AK) raves about the bed-and-breakfast Amaranto he stayed at in March. This was an affordable downtown place that was far away enough from the cruise-ship tourist area but within walking distance so my non-diving wife could shop and explore. We had our own bungalow for $49 a night, including tax. Jorge the owner was very helpful and friendly, as were the local residents who greeted us with holas wherever we went. The farmers market was a few blocks away, so we had fresh avocados and mangos every day. (www.cozumel.net/bb/amaranto)

Many divers rent small houses off the beach, getting the same beachfront view as hotels but for less. The two-bedroom Casa Tomas, with a pool and near the waterfront, is rented by Cozumel Vacation Rentals (www.islacozumel.net) for $855 a week from September to mid-December. Thats $122 a night, only $30 per person if split four ways (doesnt include 12 percent occupancy tax). Another good rental agency is At Home in Cozumel (www.cozumel.tc), offering discounted September and October rates. Contact both for last-minute specials.

Bonaire. Bonaire is a favorite among budget-conscious divers because it has unlimited beach diving and drive-through air at Buddys Dive Resort. Forget hotels and try house rentals. As we mentioned in our July issue, some good Web sites for finding houses here are Bonaire Partners (www.bonairepartners.com) and Sun Rentals (www.sunrentalsbonaire.com).

Asia Pacific

The Philippines. We did a big story about the bargains here in our May 2008 issue, but it still must be stressed that this is probably Asias value destination for good diving. Martha Mandel (Glendale, CA) raves about her stay last fall at the two Atlantis resorts in Puerto Galera and Dumaguete. Fivestar accommodations, quality service, attentive divemasters, uncrowded boats, good food, and always plenty of hot water in the shower. I spent $3,000 total for two weeks that included round trip airfare, accommodations, three meals a day, and airport transfers in air-conditioned vans. Diving was like jumping into a well-stocked aquarium with creatures Ive never seen before. (www.atlantishotel.com)

Mike Anderson (Irvine, CA) says Southern Leyte Divers on the island of Leyte is a hidden jewel. This German-owned and managed mini-resort is sitting on something big. Owner Gunter Mosch runs a safe, professional and service-oriented dive operation that delivers great product for a low price. Boat dives cost me $22 with my own gear. Excellent spots are Napantaw Fish Sanctuary and Limasawa Island. The diving was as good as any I did in Fiji or Chuuk, with big walls, incredible corals and all types of sea life. And crew will take you to any dive site, even if you are the only one diving. Resort rooms are also a steal, from $10 a night for a room in the main house to $40 for the deluxe duplex. For his June trip, Anderson flew Cathay Pacific from Los Angeles to nearby Cebu Island, then took the SuperCat ferry to Maasin, 30 minutes away from the resort, served by bus and jeepney. (www.leyte-divers.com/en)

Two Fish Divers Resort, North Sulawesi. Indonesia is a bargain if you can nab the occasional airfare deal (e.g., Cathay Pacifics deal of the month). Two Fish is my favorite place to see some of the worlds best reef and fish biodiversity at dirtcheap prices, says Michael Wood (Seattle, WA), who visited the Bunaken Island resort in February. I had an economy room with a shared bathroom for 10 nights at $758. Nice cabins for two are less than $100 per night, including diving and meals. The only downside is theres only lukewarm water for showering. Two Fish has seven divemasters for 22 guests, and dive groups are no more than four divers. A seven-day deal with 14 dives ranges from around $660 for a superior cottage to $525 for a budget room, but these packages (priced in euros) can only be booked on their Web site. Two Fish just opened a resort in Lembeh Straits, with rooms for just eight divers. (www.twofishdivers.com) For more deals, check the March 2007 article we did about new Lembeh Strait lodges.

Grand Komodo Tours, Raja Ampat. After reading our Raja Ampat liveaboard review in the June issue, a few readers chided us for not mentioning this inexpensive operator with five boats sailing Raja Ampat, Wakatobi and Komodo. By using Grand Komodo, youre diving for $1,500 less per person than other Raja Ampat boats because youre paying Indonesian prices, says Lee Th (Palo Alto, CA), who sailed on the Putri Pupua last November. Plus, you get an Indonesian boat owned and operated by Indonesians. It aint luxurious but I had a full bathroom and decent AC in my reasonably roomy cabin. The small boats range from three to seven cabins, but the Putri Pupuas eight-diver capacity had a crew of eight, ensuring lots of personal attention.

Their facilities and service are as good or better than other boats more often mentioned in dive publications, say Jose and Peggy Duran (Corpus Christi, TX), whove done 14 trips with Grand Komodo. They have not cancelled their departures, even when theyve had only two divers aboard. The Englishspeaking divemasters know where to find the critters and how to bypass infamous currents. The boat driver excelled at finding divers, says Th. Once I got blown off a reef into the open ocean and he found me right away. 2009 prices for a double cabin range from $190 per night on the Nusa Tara to $285 on the Raja Ampat Explorer. Packages dont include soft drinks, beer or marine conservation fee. (www.komodoalordive.com)

Liveaboards in General

Luxury liveaboards are staggering under fuel costs but because their American clientele is also feeling economic pain, theyre still offering frequent specials and last-minute deals. The best way to learn about them is to sign up for a boat operators monthly e-mail or newsletter on its Web site. Many offer multiple- diver specials.

For example, Explorer Ventures sometimes offers a pay for seven and two others travel free, special, which knocks 22 percent off each persons tab. The deal is available for Nimrod Explorer on the Great Barrier Reef through October 15, then March 15 to May 15, 2009. Its also available for the Turks & Caicos Explorer II through October 15, then again December 15 to February 15. The occasional Bring a Buddy special gives repeat clients who bring a new dive buddy for a trip a 20 percent discount for each guest bring five and your trip is free. Other specials include free cabin upgrades for couples, and private cabins for single divers at the double occupancy rate instead of the industry standard markup of 65 percent. They were recently offered on the two Caribbean Explorer boats, and Explorer Ventures sales manager Randy Harris says hell bet money that the Turks & Caicos Explorer II will offer them in September and October. (www.explorerventures.com).

The Aggressor Fleet doesnt offer many specials because, according to CEO Wayne Brown, We offer the lowest possible rates so guests dont have to wait for a special. Still, Aggressor is offering a Back to School special of free unlimited Nitrox for September trips on its Belize, Cayman and Utila boats. On every trip, divers over age 65 get a $100 discount, and retired and active military personnel, airline crew and dive instructors get 10 percent off their trip. The Bring a Friend special lets members bring a friend for half price on select weeks. The next dates are in October for the Turks & Caicos and Cayman boats, and December for the Utila Aggressor. (www.aggressor.com)

- - Ben Davison

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