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Dive Review of Sam's Tours/West Plaza Hotel Coral Reef in

January, 2004, an Instant Reader Report by Carl Scott, TX, USA
Report Number 973
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Reporter and Travel
Dive Experience
101-250 dives
Where else diving
Thailand, Sulawesi, Costa Rica, Cozumel, Little Cayman, Belize, St. Croix
Closest Airport
Getting There


Dive Conditions

Water Temp
81   to 82    Fahrenheit  
Wetsuit Thickness
Water Visibility
60   to 100    Feet  
Dive Policy
Dive own profile
Enforced diving restrictions  
Divers are typically expected to stay with the group, but a trusted diver
may do his own thing within the dive area and surface whenever ready.  Deco
diving not encouraged, but not strongly policed.  
Nitrox Available?
What I saw
Whale Sharks
> 2 
Ratings 1 (worst)- 5 (best):
  2 stars
Tropical Fish
4 stars  
Small Critters
  2 stars
Large Fish
5 stars  
Large Pelagics
  5 stars
Underwater Photography  1 (worst)- 5 (best):
Subject Matter
4 stars  
Boat Facilities
2 stars
Overall rating for UWP's  
4 stars  
Shore Facilities  
3 stars  
Sam's has a photo shop and capable staff.  However, provisions for guest
photographers were limited to a table at the dock.  The only rinse tank is
for all dive gear.  The crew does not bring a rinse bucket on the boat, but
there is safe (dry) storage for time between dives.
Ratings and Overall Comments  1 (worst)- 5 (best):
4 stars
3 stars
Service and Attitude
4 stars
Environmental Sensitivity  
Dive Operation
4 stars  
Shore Diving  
1 stars  

Overall Rating

Value for $$
2 stars   
4 stars    
One huge difference is always the dive guide and other crew.  I reserved a
week with Jonas Bernburg, but he was busy with another group my first 3
days.  The guides provided for those days were inexperienced and, thus,
were like shepherds.  They did little after the dive briefing, except to
give you someone to follow underwater.  However, Jonas is a subperb guide,
who knows the sea as well as anyone I've met.  He fixed us up with a day of
diving with mantas, at my request, and we saw about 30 individual mantas
during 2 dives at the same site.  We saw mantas in German Channel and other
sites, as well, but only 1-2 per dive.  In fact, we saw mantas nearly every
day.  Jonas says that he thinks mantas are more plentiful in Palau than in
Yap, if one knows where to look - most guides don't.  Anyone will tell you
that he is the only guide at Sam's who can put you on the mantas (the
inside scoop is that he may be starting his own dive service next year, to
dive the relatively uncharted North areas of Palau).  Blue Corner, as
always, offered up some great shark action, as well as dogtooth and
yellowfin tuna, napoleon wrasse, bluefin trevally, and schools of
barracuda.  The coral in Palau is generally nothing to write home about,
but Ulong Channel does serve up some very impressive stands of lettuce
coral, along with many other species.  Peleliu is worth the extra fee, as
it is home to big numbers of fish and many animals that are hard to find
elsewhere in the area.  The currents at some sites make this destination a
poor choice for a novice or rusty diver, but they should be no problem for
divers with moderate skills.

Jonas's experience also makes him a diver-friendly guide, who has no
problem with letting you be responsible for your own safety and dive
profile, once he is comfortable with your skills.  He knows the marine life
well and can spot creatures that many guides would miss.  The service at
Sam's is generally good, with reliable pickup service, a staff that does
want to provide you with a good diving experience, as well as a popular bar
at the water's edge.

West Plaza hotels come in 2 types: new and decent, and old and smelly.  I'd
avoid West Plaza by the Sea, and West Plaza downtown.  The other 3 are like
a Best Western, but with highly courtous and friendly Filipina staff. 
Rates are much less than those at the popular resorts, too.

Ask many different people about restaurants, if you want a treat.  There
are some good ones that are off the beaten path and look like houses.  If
you want to experience the local cuisine, emphasize it, and you may be
rewarded with some great food in a homey atmosphere.  There is also plenty
of Japanese food, Thai, Chinese, Italian, etc.  Most restaurants are in the
downtown area, within walking distance of many hotels.  Prices are
generally similar to the USA.
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