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August 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 30, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Fantasy Island, Roatan, Honduras

saying goodbye to an old friend

from the August, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Fellow Diver:

Having been to Fantasy Island nine times, I was looking forward to returning to see the fine people I had befriended who worked there. But after some pre-departure email exchanges, I learned that many of them had moved on after the resort closed last year for remodeling. I pondered canceling my May trip, but decided to proceed because I loved the setting, the comfortable diving and the gracious people. In a way, however, I wish I had listened to my inner voice.

Fantasy Island ResortPassing through immigration and customs was easy, but I looked forward to getting out of that sweltering airport, which is not air-conditioned. No, it was not to be. The Fantasy Island person who greeted me said we must wait for two hours until the next flight arrived, because it had four more guests. But why? It's but a 16 mile-round trip drive to the resort and back. I should have grabbed a cab. But it was a nice ride, with a variety of flora on the shale rock and volcanic rock hills. Fantasy Island has a beautiful setting, with a lovely little bay and sand beach on one side, with another bay looking out to CoCo View Resort. From Fantasy Island, one can shore dive to the Prince Albert and the airplane, or kick over to CoCo View Wall or Newman's wall.

I had reserved a ground-floor room, but upon my arrival, I was assigned to a second-floor room, which I refused. I was told the resort was full -- even though I saw no one sitting on the beach or in the bar. I doubted their veracity, so I persisted, and magically, at 4:30 p.m., a ground-floor room became available.

At the dive shop, I was given a free pass on taking the standard morning orientation, given all my previous visits, but I did reconnect with Miguel, the boat captain, and Selvin, a divemaster. The water would be rough, they said, at least three-foot waves, and having once injured myself on a ladder in heavy seas, I was leery. However, we three came up with a way to manage the "rough" conditions, so I stowed my gear in a locker and completed the paperwork.

Diving was, as it has always been, just lovely, though the surge down to 40 feet made for great fun trying to hold steady while photographing. My first day's diving on Newman's Wall, CoCo View Wall, then Prince Albert and the airplane was easier than anything outside of the cut would have been, though getting back into the boat was still tricky. Fish life was the usual suspects -- Creole wrasse, snappers, trumpetfish, fairy basslets -- and the occasional less-usual, such as glassy sweepers inside the wheelhouse of the Prince Albert, a hermit crab and a conch moving slowly across the sand on the way to Newman's Wall, as well as a couple of scorpionfish. On the second dive, from Prince Albert to CoCo View Wall, pairs of slender filefish were everywhere, and when another approached, probably a male seeking a mate, it would be vigorously chased off. On the CoCo View Wall, I found a bulb tunicate and what Selvin called a pineapple tunicate (my book says strawberry tunicate).

Fantasy Island, Roatan, HondurasOf course, one can't be in the water all day, so it's nice to retreat to a pleasant resort, which Fantasy Island had been on my previous nine trips. But not this time. My room's balcony overlooked the little bay, and the room itself had a festive appeal decorated with lovely flowers. However, the airconditioner worked poorly, never properly cooling the room, and my requests for repairs went unheeded. To make any request, I had to walk to the front desk -- my room had no phone. That also meant no automated wakeup call, so if I wanted a morning wake-up door knock, I'd have to walk to the desk each night before.

Frequently, my room was still a mess when I returned at 4 p.m. from my dive, which meant another visit to the front desk, then a wait for someone to arrive and clean up. The in-room safe had no instructions, so after going to the front desk to request help, the staff member who arrived wanted to set the combination himself and tell me what it was. That's a recipe for theft, so I had him turn his back and listened to his instructions. The frozen shower handle took gargantuan strength to turn, and when I could move it, no hot water arrived; I walked to the desk to request a repair, more than once, but it never happened. And with no room Wi-Fi, I Googled from the computer in the steaming lobby, which I did more than expected since my TV remote stopped working. All this for nearly $1,700 a week, single occupancy.

Fantasy Island, Roatan, HondurasWhile the resort grounds and exterior are pleasing, a nasty sewage smell hung in the air. Frankly, I'd caught an occasional whiff on previous visits, but this time it was everywhere and gross enough to upset my stomach -- perhaps less a problem than it might have been because the food was mediocre and prepared with indifference, so I wasn't eating much. The exception: sautéed or fried fish was generally prepared perfectly. But the potatoes and broccoli were always overcooked, as was pork and beef, and pasta offerings had long passed al dente; I wondered whether the goal was to kill bacteria. Salads, however, were just fine. The made-to-order breakfast omelets had an off-taste, so I stuck to the cereal and fresh fruits -- after getting my own coffee and water, since it took forever to be served. As a single person dining alone, I was generally ignored by the wait staff, who made no eye contact if they did deign to serve me. From Fridays through Mondays, mainland Hondurans come for long weekends -- my guess is they're the true target market -- so on Tuesday, the poor menu selection got even worse.

Clearly, they make an effort to keep the resort clean, but once, I was sitting on my porch when water smelling of bleach (that's how you kill mold) started dripping on my hair and the balcony. Of course, I couldn't call the front desk. By the time I left the room with my camera gear, the front was being washed and the bleach water was everywhere -- in my boat shoes and dripping from the upstairs walkway. I covered my camera with a towel, so it didn't take any hurt. When I asked the front desk about it, the reply I got was, "We have to clean." Of course, without any warning to guests. But then again, they couldn't call my room; they would have to walk up.

At least I had the diving to look forward to. One day, after seeing a turtle at Calvin's Crack, I discovered a brown and white seahorse, then a toadfish, which was happy to take a speared lionfish offering from Selvin. At Pirate's Point, while an eagle ray passed in the distance, lobsters and crabs were out and about, and green morays swam freely. At French Reef, a green moray followed me around, seeming intentionally to bump into my strobes. I found a reef mantis shrimp, too shy to leave his hole. At Half Moon Bay, a frogfish pressed himself into the coral so tightly he looked like a sponge. Alas, at Mary's Place, a great dive, a seahorse that for years resided at the exit from the swim-through was no longer there. Given the number of divers who bugged him with their strobes, he has either moved on or passed on. Diving is easy in Roatan, perhaps with the single exception of Connie's Dream, or, as I like to call it, Connie's Nightmare, which always seems to be awash in heavy current and not particularly good for a camera buff. I never got to see much this trip, because the current was misjudged from the boat and we swam into it -- not an easy task -- for the entire dive.

Fantasy Island's Dive BoatsWhile I've always loved Fantasy Island's dive shop, it, too, has changed. Miguel and Selvin, as always, were fantastic. After a dive, Selvin would pass my up camera to Miguel, who would cover it with a (wet) towel to prevent the sun from shining on it. As soon as my hand was on the ladder, Selvin would whisk off my fins. Up two steps, I'd unbuckle everything, Miguel would haul the gear away, and I could safely climb onto the boat. How easy could that be? I made 18 dives, averaging 64 minutes, but rough seas led me to skip the night dive and even the drop-off dives they offer after the third afternoon dive. Nonetheless, the overall dive operation is slipping. The new Canadian dive shop manager, 26 years old, had recently earned her divemaster certification, and, having never managed a shop before, seemed in over her head, but she did try to do things well. However, the compressor was down the whole week, so they daily carted in tanks from BareFoot Cay Resort, aluminum 80s filled to only 2700 psi. I had been assured in advance there would be nitrox, but there was none. That's because BareFoot Cay charged them $11 per tank for nitrox, so, I was told, they would have to sell it for $15 to make a profit, which was too much, they figured, so they scrapped it. Ever consider just breaking even and keeping the nitrox promise? Each day, I was told the compressor part would be in that day, but when I left the island, they were still waiting for it. Frankly, I think air/nitrox is the Achilles heel here, and I'm not convinced they have the right staff producing it.

The dive shop did arrange a "farewell" dinner with the restaurant for the five of us who had been there a week, but when I arrived, I found that the restaurant set up for only four, due to a dive shop error. Poor me, overlooked again. But not to worry; they found room at the table, which was nicely set up, and the medium-rare steak made up for a charcoal-burned, cardboard- dry lobster. I felt for him; he gave up his life for nothing.

So my 10th trip to Fantasy Island will be my final trip to Fantasy Island. I like Roatan and the people, but I will pick a new resort for my next visit, one with a good dive operator, decent food and clean rooms with hot water, telephone and Wi-Fi in them. Of course, CoCo View across the way is the favored choice for Undercurrent readers, but they only offer two boat dives a day, in addition to unlimited shore diving. As a solo traveler, I can't always find a buddy for shore diving, so doing at least three boat dives a day is my thing. But Roatan has plenty of nice little resorts, and I look forward to reporting on one that measures up. Unfortunately, Fantasy Island no longer does.

-- P.S.

Our undercover diver's bio: "I started diving in 1999 because I was sure the world would end in 2000, so I figured, 'Why not, I could only drown.' Later, I committed the heinous crime of taking up underwater photography, and, obsessed with capturing critter behavior, I've buzzed around the Caribbean, where I've made most of my 528 dives (I've also dived in the Philippines). Underwater photography has helped my fish, critter and coral/sponge ID skills, so now when I'm asked, 'What is that?', I no longer have to say, 'I dunno.'"

Fantasy Island, Roatan, HondurasDivers Compass: My one-week package with three dives daily and all food was $1,520, including taxes; there is no posted tipping policy, so I tipped $100 each to the divemaster anfd boat captain (there was one each that week), and $50 each to the dive shop, room cleaners and kitchen staff . . . The chamber is a short ride away . . . there are tons of no-see-ums, worst at dawn and dusk, but they seem to disappear at night; Deep Woods OFF works for me . . . You can fly between some U.S. airports and Roatan nonstop on Saturdays; otherwise, it is usually a connection through San Pedro Sula . . . the only nighttime entertainment was fire dancers on Friday . . . snorkeling from the beach in the little bay is of limited interest; however, if you snorkel to the airplane wreck or the Prince Albert from Fantasy Island's gazebo, you can see lots of stuff, especially at dusk when the slipper lobsters and other critters come out . . . Airlines are putting Roatan "exit fees" into their ticket prices (tickets purchased after January 1, 2015), so you no longer have to make a payment at the airport . . . Website: www.fantasyislandresort.com

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