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March 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 31, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Find Your Diving Canceled?

there’s weather and whether they have enough customers

from the March, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Photo by Damien MauricThe Fijian islands were hit by a hurricane-force storm, Cyclone Winston, on February 20, causing loss of life and massive damage. Apparently the most powerful storm ever to have hit the southern hemisphere, it left leaving tens of thousands of people homeless. Mike Neumann from Beqa Adventure Divers on the south side of Viti Levu tells us they were severely shaken but they are otherwise OK, however, there was massive damage at the north end of Viti Levu. The Volivoli Beach Resort at Rakiraki reports, although the resort took some damage, nobody was injured, all the boats are safe and hopes the Ra Divers diving center will be back in operation shortly. However, the islands of Vanua Levu and Taveuni further north seem to have taken the brunt of the storm.

Jean-Michel Cousteau, whose resort and dive center escaped major damage, has made a direct appeal to divers to donate to the Fiji Emergency Fund, at

Damien Mauric, a French national living in London and on vacation in Fiji aboard the Fiji Siren, tells us that damage at Savusavu was severe. "It's been apocalyptical, but we survived Cyclone Winston. The hotel where we sheltered has been severely damaged. The wind took off part of the roof, and many windows were blown out, injuring people with deep and large lacerations. We had to create a hospital of fortune in the middle of all this mayhem."

"On the other side of the hill where our hotel is located, hundreds and hundreds of houses are simply gone, leaving people homeless. Our boat, the Fiji Siren is lying ashore. Luckily, none of the crew members who stayed on the boat got injured."

The Siren Fleet has been particularly starcrossed. This is the sixth major disaster in their fleet in less than seven years. For the story about the Siren Fleet we wrote in September, go to

* * * * *

No dive operator can control the weather, especially extreme weather events, and that's something travel insurance should handle. However, some dive operators can be scandalous in the way they treat their customers.

Can you think of any business that decides not to offer their everyday services during business hours because they don't have enough customers to make it profitable? No theater or golf course would last long if that were its policy.

Worse, can you think of any business that decides not to serve its customers after inviting them to show up or even accepting their reservation? Imagine a car rental agency or a restaurant pulling that trick.

So, why do dive operators operate that way, as our reviewer reported in his story about Taino Divers in Puerto Rico? They shut him out though he had exchanged emails with them, with the flimsy excuse on two out of five days -- not enough customers. He had traveled from Germany to dive with them.

Robert Levine (Englishtown, NJ) had a similar bust in February with Octopus Divers in St. Maarten; he emailed the shop in December with his arrival time and received a confirmation. "I had driven 1200 miles from New Jersey to Ft. Lauderdale, toted my dive gear onto the cruise ship. I arrived at the dive shop on time and waited until the man who opened the shop told me my dive was canceled because I was the only diver to book that day. They did not get me on another dive boat or even call a different shop, which is what they should have done. When I returned home, I received an email sent the day before the dive canceling my dive, but also stating if a diver cancels within 48 hours of the dive, he would be charged the full price on his credit card. Surely what's good for the diver does not count for the dive shop?"

Of all the reports we've received like this over the years, it doesn't seem to happen when the dive shop is connected to the hotel, and you've booked a package. The customers at risk are diving largely with independent dive operations and, as tourists who will probably never return, they have no leverage. However, if you have booked through a travel agent, you can be pretty certain the dive operation will not cancel because if they do they are at risk of getting no more business from that operator.

Southern Cross Club: This Little Cayman Resort has been getting high marks from several popular travel publications as a first-rate small beach hotel, and that's what Lisa Jabusch and Steve Nieters (Mount Juliet, TN) discovered in January. 'They took us out for all our dives (probably because we were prepaid) even if we were the only two divers! There was no grumbling or shrugging us off, and all the guides were quite skilled at showing us the macro stuff we craved -- painted elysia (5 on one dive!), seahorse, pipehorse, pipefish, yellow-headed jawfish with eggs in his mouth, and juveniles of many species (including queen trigger). . . . Ocean front bungalows were roomy, and having our own porch and outdoor and indoor showers was great after diving. Meals were fantastically delicious! Breakfast had made to order omelets, French toast or pancakes and loads of fresh fruit. Lunch was a different buffet every day, great to replenish the calories burned while diving, but our only complaint was that dinner seemed a little meager, with salad/appetizer, main, and dessert that had been pre-ordered at lunch, but every single person we interacted with was friendly and helpful. It was an exceedingly enjoyable and relaxing week."

Little Cayman Beach Resort: Here, however, lack of friendly flexibility was not appreciated by Marilyn Walker (Castro Valley, CA), who was there in January: "Read the fine print when you make your booking. The Little Cayman Beach Resort and Reef Divers sell packages, which are not refundable and are not changeable. Reef Divers' two-tank morning excursion has a different price per dive than the one-tank afternoon dive. Do not suppose that you'll be able to substitute two afternoon dives for two morning dives. You will save yourself some heartburn, and a personal intervention from the affable general manager, by sticking exactly to your dive program. Theirs is a no-change policy, whether for bad weather or personal inclination. If you are uncertain about how much diving you are realistically going to do, I recommend against prepaying any dives, as you'll probably lose money."

And that's the case with dive packages at many resorts; what you pay for is often a very specific program; however, its Undercurrent's view that when a diver pays a couple grand for week at a hotel with diving -- it's not like you paid $100 for a ten-session gym package at home -- she ought to be treated with a lot more flexibility. Hey, if a boat is going out and there's space, you should be free to trade a package dive and jump aboard. Regardless, some diver operators prefer to play hardball. If you're looking for flexibility, don't buy a package. But, keep in mind that if packaged divers fill a boat, you won't be getting wet.

Eco Divers: So, for flexibility, we like the way Eco Divers (Lembeh and Manado Indonesia) handled Brent Barnes' (Edmond, OK) problem. "Last spring, I placed in a photo contest through Beneath the Seas and won a seven-night stay with Eco Divers in Lembeh and was thrilled. But, I noted at the bottom of my winning certificate that it was only valid in 2015, and I did not have time to get to Indonesia in 2015. I sent an email to Eco Divers and got an immediate response from the owner, Andrea Bensi. I inquired if they would extend the certificate to 2016 if I paid for a second diver to come with me and he immediately assured me they would." That's a win/win situation, and Brent had a great February trip, diving and all. "These two experiences are very different as Lembeh is muck diving with amazing and bizarre critters and the Bunaken Park is amazing walls with some pelagic life. They are two hours apart by ground, and in my opinion, it would be neglectful to travel across the world to dive one without the other." As Barnes shows us, you indeed appreciate a flexible and professional dive operator when you travel halfway around the world.

- Ben Davison

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