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November 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 27, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Amoray Dive Resort, Key Largo, Florida

mixed reviews, but still a winner

from the November, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Fellow Diver:

From a statistical point of view, Amy Slate's Amoray Dive Resort is quite interesting. The online reviews I read were evenly distributed between excellent and awful, something I had never seen. So while I was there in July, I tried to figure out what was causing the spread.

Key Largo dives sites are well-described in Undercurrent reviews posted online. The area is heavily used, and not all divers are good at avoiding contact with the reefs, most of which are unhealthy at best. The dives are normally 20 to 30 feet, with many tropicals and imposing barracudas (I also saw a small whitetip and a turtle) making the location good for beginning divers and for people who haven't been diving for a while. The water temperature was in the mid-80s; I was comfortable in just a dive skin. On some dives, there was pretty good current but mostly the water was calm.

Amoray Dive Resort, Key Largo, FloridaAmoray's main dive boat is the 45-foot Amoray Diver. The Monday crew was relaxed, friendly and helpful, on a par with the crew of any dive boat I've been on. Briefings were a little weak, as the staff had not been in the area for long, not uncommon throughout the Keys. Next day, the first dive was on the Duane, a deep (for this area) wreck. This captain was more aggressive, seemly displaying an "I'm the captain" chip on the shoulder. When he barked a question at me, I replied, "Aye, captain," with no irony intended (he lightened up considerably on the later shallow dives). Given the wide range of diver skills in the Keys, and the possibility for problems to occur on this dive, he was a "drill instructor" in getting the divers' attention, and getting it through our heads that we needed to be careful and aware. His job was to get us there and back safely; I think he approached the challenge properly.

The other boat is the smaller Just-in Time, a nice six-pack and the personal property of Justin Minichino, Slate's brother and co-owner. They use it when there is overflow or when someone purchases "Platinum Service," which runs $100 a person for a two-tank dive (two-person minimum). On this boat, one can visit deep wrecks other than the Duane and Spiegel Grove with the proper advanced certification and an OK from Justin. He's knowledgeable about the reefs, and gave great briefings. On one dive, he took us to a rarely-visited reef with no buoy, and carefully set and secured the anchor in the sand. The boat has an excellent sound system. On the first dives, Justin put on the Keys' ubiquitous Jimmy Buffet (for you Parrotheads, the album sounded like Songs You Know by Heart). Cruising out to a dive site in the Keys, listening to Jimmy Buffet, hey, it doesn't get better.

On the downside, Just-in Time's Platinum Service didn't include careful gear unloading. When the trip was over, Justin unceremoniously threw his customers' dive gear off the boat onto a communal pile on the dock. Given that some divers have BCs loaded with solid lead, the chance for a problem should be apparent. In my case, it was no big deal because I was going to replace my regulator anyway. To be fair, Amoray's website says that crew will break down your gear, I just had a different meaning in mind. If you are on the Just-in Time, I suggest you unload your own gear. Another experience: While hanging on the dragline waiting to get back on the boat, Justin swam up and asked if I would let him "cut." He explained he would then help me get on the boat. But after getting aboard, he simply walked away from the dive platform and went forward, forgetting me. As this is what I expected to happen, I was amused rather than shocked or outraged. However, be warned!

The Amoray Diver in Front of the ResortAt the resort, my spotless room was perfect for divers. The floors were of a tile that does not get slippery when wet. Though sparsely furnished, I had a full refrigerator/ freezer, a small breakfast-nook table, microwave, toaster oven and coffeepot. For the meals I ate there -- fruit or yogurt for breakfast, a quick sandwich between morning and afternoon dives -- this setup was ideal. With limited counter space, preparing a real meal would be tough. Outside were large grills and picnic tables. The room could handle sleeping for six, with a queen bed in a separate bedroom and four trundle beds in the common area. As mine was a waterfront room, I had a balcony overlooking the bay and the nearby dive dock. The balcony had a very comfortable hammock where I could easily have spent the rest of the day. My room was connected to an adjoining room, so the two spaces could be combined for a large group. The single door did not block sound well, so pretty much anything in one room could be heard in the other. Once a curtain rod fell by just being brushed, but management quickly repaired it and painted the hole in the drywall.

There are plenty of stores, restaurants, etc., within walking distance. In the next parking lot over is Jimmy Johnson's (of NFL Fame), full of football memorabilia, overpriced bar food and standard Keys-style drinks. While it's worth stopping for a drink or listening to the live band, it's not a place to have a meal. Across from Jimmy's is Sundowners, which is on the bay, so the sunset view is great. The food was good and appropriately priced for a resort area. Many also mentioned Hobos, about a mile up the road; one of the captains stated it was the best steak place in Key Largo. It's a great place for good volume for a good value.

My wife, having not dived for awhile, took a morning refresher course, then in the afternoon, she joined the group led by another instructor. On both dives, he hit the water and took off, never looking back or attempting to "guide" the people who contracted his services. During the dive, my wife vomited into her regulator a few times. She is prone to seasickness, and while the fast pace set by the "guide" may not have had anything to with her distress, it certainly did not help. Because of that poor experience, she canceled her dives for the rest of the week. But because the pre-paid guide fees are non-refundable, I decided to stick with my already-booked guided dives. The one I had for Tuesday (the Duane dive day)set her pace to mine, showed me interesting spots on the reefs, and when we wandered pretty far away from the boat, she did the "peek of shame" and got us back. If you use an Amoray guide, perhaps you should put in writing what your expectations are for the guide, and have it witnessed by the guide and management.

Amoray Dive Resort, Key Largo, FloridaI'm sure the turnover rate at Amoray explains some of the wide range of ratings. If you're lucky to have good guides, you get great service. After all, the staff was highly qualified during our visit. Everyone, other than the dive "guide" noted, seemed driven to provide excellent service. As near as I can tell, the mate on Just-in Time was both a certified captain and divemaster. When he warmed up to me, he revealed himself to be an intelligent, interesting fellow.

Ok, a last Justin Minichino story, I promise, but it really illustrates some of the strange things I saw. While going through the channel between the bay and the ocean, Justin left the wheel to, I think, look for his sunglasses in one of the boat's storage areas, leaving the wheel unattended. The mate was sitting near the wheel and fully aware of what was happening. Along with "only speaking when spoken to," he apparently knew enough to not touch the wheel of Justin's boat. With nobody steering, the boat changed course, and headed for the concrete wall of the channel. Boat speed is low in the channel, so there was no immediate problem, but in roughly ten seconds, things were going to get interesting. Justin looked up and told the clearly nervous, conflicted mate that "he should steer a while." The mate leapt to the wheel with appropriate alacrity and set the boat on a safer course. It made me wonder about the treatment required to turn an accomplished and intelligent fellow into someone who could sit still during such a situation. "Sit still" is not quite accurate in this case -- he was clearly fidgeting and trying to figure out if he would be in more trouble if he touched the wheel without permission or said nothing and allowed the boat to impact the wall.

At one point, Justin mentioned (or bragged?) that people worked at Amoray only for a year, pointing out numerous boats with captains who had formerly worked for him. He gave no indication this might not be ideal for his business. The apparent "do what you're told, speak when you're spoken to" management style that I observed leads to some odd situations. It seems that the strength of the basic business model- affordable rooms set up perfectly for divers, right next to the dive boat dock - can overcome the brow-beaten staff. Most of the time, I was so impressed I wondered why Amoray was not franchised all over the world and known as the best dive resort anywhere. Then there would be the "how on earth do they stay in business?" moments. If you can overlook the lapses, then this is a great place. In fact, I have already booked another week.

-- E.R.

Amoray Dive Resort, Key Largo, FloridaDivers Compass: Two people can stay a week here and dive two tanks daily for six days, for $1,400 to $1,700 total . . . The resort is about an hour's drive from the Miami airport . . . I heard "through the grapevine" that if you wish a gratuity to reach the crew, give it to the crew directly or use the tip jar . . . Website: www.amoray.com

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