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November 2011    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 26, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Lionís Dive & Beach Resort, Curacao

for families, suntanners and easy divers

from the November, 2011 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Fellow Diver,

Watching coral not spawning is hard work! I traveled to Curacao during one of the mid-September weeks coral is supposed to spawn. The special evening dive, at a price of $85, began with a coral spawning presentation and a picnic supper, then onto the boats for a short ride to the dive site. I entered the water along with 40 other divers, picked a coral head that looked like it might decide to spawn -- who am I to know? -- and spent one hour and 15 minutes trying to watch the coral head while practicing perfectly neutral buoyancy so it wouldn't spawn on the sly when I wasn't looking. I was reminded of my trip to see the swirling manta rays feeding at night in Hawaii. They didn't show up, either. The next night, three of us went out from shore to the exact same coral heads--still not spawning, but a feeding octopus made the dive worthwhile.

I was with a group of divers staying at Lion's Dive and Beach Resort. Tabor Tours had met our group and transported us the 20 minutes to the resort. Check-in was quick, although the staff forgot to give some of the people their towel cards, and some divers had to wait for rooms. They urged us to meet quickly at the dive shop for our briefing before the staff went home at 5 p.m. so we would have our locker assignments and wouldn't have to waste time in the morning. Very efficient.

Lion's Dive & Beach Resort, CuracaoOcean Encounters' three boats that were being used all held at least 20 divers comfortably. They had sufficient cover from the sun, heads, and emergency equipment; the Phoenix was the fastest and most comfortable. Between dives, crew provided oranges, water and Tang. I set up my tank each morning; the staff changed tanks between dives if I wanted. I dunked my camera in the large plastic rinse can, then put it somewhere safe because it filled up fast.They did not wash any gear or transport it on or off the boat, but I preferred taking care of my own gear anyway. On the dock were two large rinse tanks and two freshwater showers.

The large resort was near capacity, mostly with non-diving Americans. There's a fine beach, two small pools and a 50-meter pool, great for swimming laps. Good snorkeling out front is easy, with coral heads and the usual tropicals. A long lagoon between the beach and a breakwater is also suitable for protected, easy swimming or snorkeling. As one expects with these family resorts, there are a variety of restaurant choices. Hemingway's offers a breakfast buffet, lunch and dinner. A small pizzeria next to the large pool serves pizzas and sandwiches for the beach crowd. Nemo's, near the lobby, is a more romantic and upscale restaurant, meaning, I was just paying more for less food. I ventured off the resort grounds a couple of times for good meals at the restaurant next to the aquarium, or the other direction to Cabana's. And there are plenty of other choices -- for smaller eating spots along the beach, take the complimentary bus to town, or grab a taxi (two Italian restaurants were within 10 minutes of the resort if the taxi driver didn't go the long way). My most memorable meal was at Hemingway's on Cuban night -- the food was exceptional and the live Cuban band very entertaining. For $30, it was money well spent. I don't know what's with divers, but most never seem to do much exploring of their destination. Willemstad has quaint, colorful buildings, a working pontoon bridge and lots of shopping. But every time I thought I would go, shore diving won out.

Each morning, two boats left the dock between 8 and 8:30 a.m., depending on how far we were going. Captains and divemasters differed almost daily. Jeremiah, the only one with us for all six days of diving, is a gem -- very personable and outgoing, and he went the extra mile to make his divers happy. He's been working there for eight years, long past the burnout stage for many guides. Although some hard corals are algae-covered, there are plenty of healthy corals and sponges, and soft corals, such as gorgonians, are large, healthy and numerous. Generally, the sloping wall begins in about 20 feet of water, so it was easy to do a 100-foot dive, work my way up the wall, and finish my 50-minute dive on top of the wall before a safety stop. Jeremiah often let us stay down longer on the second dive. Water temperatures of 84 degrees made it comfortable, and for these profiles, there was no need to use nitrox except on the Superior Producer, a small freighter, roughly 200 feet long and sitting at 104 feet. The visibility was good, allowing me to see at least half of the boat. The holds are empty. The passage heading to the engine room was tempting, but we were advised to stay out.

Lion's Dive & Beach Resort, CuracaoAnother special dive that costs extra is Mushroom Forest, taking more than an hour to get to. The healthy coral is shaped like mushrooms, caused by bacteria that ate away the coral from the bottom up. Fish hide in the innards of the coral. Between dives, I did a short snorkel to the Blue Room, a cutout cave with glassy sweepers in the back.

I didn't have any bad or boring dives. All were typically Caribbean -- pleasant and relaxing, with plenty of small, colorful fish, including cowfish, spotted drums, filefish and even flying gurnards. Christmas tree worms numbered in the thousands. Moray eels are fairly common, and I also spotted a small snake eel. I saw one turtle, a couple of small rays, and a very large black grouper swimming below me, but no sharks. I found a few lionfish for the guides to deal with. On one dive, Jeremiah found a very cooperative, pure white mantis shrimp almost out of its hole. Usually, we returned to the boat at the end of the dive, but a couple of dives were one-way drift/kick dives. We were a loose-knit group, following the guides but not plastered to them.

One can rent any sort of room at Lion's Dive, from basic digs overlooking the parking lot to a penthouse. The oceanfront suite may have a king or two double beds, but they all have an ocean view, a couch, mini refrigerator, and a balcony or patio. My suite had two double beds, a large bathroom, full kitchen, pull-down bed, sleeper couch, a chair, two televisions, a large deck and access to a private beach. One caution: On weekends, a loud band plays at a nearby resort. Earplugs saved my night.

The unlimited shore diving was easy and decent. Each group was required to tow a dive flag and stay on the surface while in the boat channel. Then it was to the left or right, staying shallow or kicking the two minutes to the sloping wall. During the shore dives, I found the den of a large octopus, several two-foot-long pufferfish, lobsters and yellow-headed jawfish. At night, there were thousands of shrimp-eyes shining like Christmas tree lights. The divemasters diligently look for and spear lionfish, and they appear to be under control at the most-visited dive sites. At the sites we went to that are not frequently dived, a dozen might be killed.

Lion's Dive is perfect for a big family, people who love beaches and pools, and groups that want to keep it simple. Painless travel, good food, nice rooms, pleasant staff and no surprises make Lion's Dive a no-brainer for Caribbean diving, especially in hurricane season, because the storms don't make it this far south. And I had a romantic bonus: My room key got me in to the aquarium next door, where the dolphin show is entertaining and I received a kiss from a sea lion (they have very soft lips).

-- D.J.

Lion's Dive & Beach Resort, CuracaoDivers Compass: My DEMA special group package for an oceanfront from was $1,260 per person and included lodging, two dives a day, breakfast buffet, airport transfers and the Mushroom Forest dive trip . . . The in-room safe was $1.50 per day; Internet was available, but evidently slow and expensive so nobody used it. . . Beers averaged $4, but there were several "happy hours" with half-price drinks; pizzas ran about $15 (enough for two people), Hemingway's averaged $20 a meal, and Nemo's ran me $30 . . . Taxi rides into town averaged $15 per cab, but the complimentary hotel shuttle ran three or four times a day, so it was easy to take the shuttle into town and grab a taxi or a local bus back to the hotel; taxis picked up at the major hotels after 6 p.m . . . I didn't have a problem with bugs, but some did; bring DEET just in case . . . Websites: Lion's Dive & Beach Resort - www.lionsdive.com ; Ocean Encounters - www.oceanencounters.com

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