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Dive Review of Neal Watson's Bimini Scuba Center/Bimini Sands in
Bahamas/Bimini

Neal Watson's Bimini Scuba Center/Bimini Sands, Jan, 2014,

by Brent Barnes, OK, US (Sr. Reviewer Sr. Reviewer 10 reports with 6 Helpful votes). Report 7593 has 1 Helpful vote.

No photos available at this time

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 5 stars Food 5 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity 5 stars
Dive Operation 5 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 4 stars
Beginners 4 stars
Advanced 5 stars
Comments I returned from an excellent dive trip specifically to get close to Great Hammerhead sharks in Bimini. This is an elusive shark and Bimini is one of the few reliable places in the world you can get very close to great hammerhead sharks. The Shark Lab in Bimini has been tagging and following the great hammerhead sharks for several years but this has just opened to recreational diving in the last 2 - 3 years. The great hammerhead sharks show in Bimini in late December or early January each year and are gone by late April, presumably to cooler waters. As there is really only one or two scuba operations in Bimini, a land based dive trip to see the great hammerheads in Bimini requires advanced planning as the dive spots fill quickly from January to April and the dive boat is chartered for groups to spend a week with the great hammerheads. There are several live aboard operations based out of Florida or Nassau that visit Bimini for the great hammerheads in the spring. The only land based operation on South Bimini near the great hammerhead dive spots is Neal Watson's Bimini Scuba Center which opened in the last two years and is based out of the luxurious Bimini Sands resort on South Bimini. The day to day operations are run by Neal Watson Jr. I had dove with him in Eleuthera in the Bahamas a couple of years ago so was intrigued to dive with him again in Bimini. My dive buddy and I actually began making reservations for the January, 2014 trip in July of 2013 and found that there were only 3 weeks in the entire spring in which dive spots were open, so it is wise to reserve this dive trip well in advance. The only daily air flight from the U.S. mainland to Bimini is through Silver Airways which is a regional airline out of Ft. Lauderdale. We made our reservations with the dive shop, the Bimini Sands resort and Silver Airways a full six months in advance for mid January and everything seemed to be fine. However, we were suddenly notified three months before our trip that Silver Airways was canceling a week of flights and could get us to Bimini on our reserved arrival date but could not return us to the mainland through Ft. Lauderdale for a week after our expected returned date. It initially appeared that we would need to completely cancel our trip as the rescheduled dates that Silver Airways was flying to Bimini did not match dates in which spots were open for diving. After many calls, I was able to firmly set a 5-day trip with four days of diving which was the only 5 days in which Silver Airways did fly to Bimini which matched open days for diving! We quickly booked and there were no other major issues in planning travel. Debbie Barth took care of all of our reservations from the Bimini Sands reservations office and secured all of our room reservations, meals and planned diving in one package. Our package was $1,845 per diver (for 2 divers with double occupancy) and included 5 nights in a marina view one bedroom condo with a loft available as a second bedroom along with ALL meals to include breakfast, lunch and dinner and 4 days of 2-tank dives with two days upgraded to great hammerhead dives (there is a supplemental surcharge of $150 to upgrade to great hammerhead dives per day per diver). Our flight to Bimini was easy out of Ft. Lauderdale and there were no abnormal luggage restriction. Being photographers, we each carried two 50 pound checked bags and one large carry-on with camera equipment and had no trouble with Silver Airways accommodating us with no excess luggage charges. Upon arrival to Bimini, we caught a taxi for the 5 minute drive to Bimini Sands resort which was about $5 per person. Checking into the Bimini Sands resort was easy and there were very few people there. The Bimini Sands is a magnificent resort with approximately one hundred or so 1-BR, 2-BR and 3-BR condos that are very luxurious. Most of them are privately owned and available for visitors through a rental pool when the owners are not there. We stayed in a 1-BR condo with a loft. The loft was a very comfortable second bedroom upstairs with it's own bathroom. If you need two bedrooms save the money and get a 1-BR condo with a loft instead of a full 2-BR condo. We stayed in a marina view though there are ocean front condos available. The views are spectacular from all rooms so we felt a marina room was fine and was much closer to the restaurant and dive boat. Incredibly, I would estimate that during the second week in January there were not more than 20 people staying at the whole resort so we almost felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. The condos are great with full kitchens, cable television with DVD players and spectacular balconies. If you want television, make sure you ask for a condo with an active TV as many owners shut off their cable when they are not staying there. Though you can cook easily in the condos with full kitchens, the Bimini Sands resort is on South Bimini where there is very little infrastructure, if you want groceries you will need to catch a shuttle to the dock and catch the ferry that makes the 5 minute trip from South Bimini to North Bimini continuously until 2 AM. We unpacked and went to meet with Neal Watson but discovered that his small shop is off-site and his boat is kept at the marina. We were advised that he usually leaves in the morning around 8:30 AM. The Bimini Sands has a wonderful small restaurant open for breakfast and lunch near the marina. The service and food was excellent, we devoured the Bahamian french toast each morning and lunch was also excellent with an option of burgers or different sandwiches. Dinners were at a restaurant at a second site owned by the Bimini Sands and was approximately one mile away. They have a continually running bus going from the ferry dock to the Bimini Sands resort and then to their restaurant and we never waited more than 10 - 15 minutes for a shuttle ride. The bus is termed the "Magic Bus" and is a converted gaudy painted school bus that runs until 2 AM and can't be missed. The off-site restaurant is open 5 days a week and served excellent meals, there is a bar open 7 nights a week and serves outstanding pizza every night. We were initially confused about limitations on our "all-inclusive" meal package, but essentially we learned that we could have anything we wanted for breakfast, lunch and dinner and simply signed the check to our room and it was fully included. It is my understanding that Bimini Sands does not offer "meal included" packages year round. In short, the Bimini Sands resort was wonderful in every way. Now for the diving. We went for breakfast the first day of our diving and were not sure where or what time to meet Neal Watson. He found us at the restaurant about 8:30 AM and advised us to finish our breakfast and then head to the boat. From our previous experience with Neal Watson Jr in Eleuthera, I remembered him to be excellent and very laid back with his schedule and that is exactly the way he was all week. The first morning he took us out for a 2-tank AM dive at Little Cavern and Rockwell off of South Bimini. We were the only two on the boat. The boat is large with excellent cover from the sun and fresh water but no snacks. No orientation to the boat was really done with us. Both sites were solid dive sites in the 50 - 80 foot range with good coral and fish life though nothing spectacular. We did see a green turtle and a couple of reef sharks which were unafraid of us. We also had a brief sighting of a very large bull shark at Little Cavern. Neal took us back for lunch and we ate at the restaurant at the marina. We were scheduled to dive only in the mornings for 4 consecutive days but Neal advised us that a storm was coming in that night and we would likely be unable to dive the next day so suggested we go back out that afternoon. We agreed and did our first great hammerhead dive in the afternoon. It is my understanding that the hammers are seen more commonly in the late morning and early afternoon so that is when he prefers to do the hammerhead dives. For the afternoon hammerhead dive we had 4 other divers for a total of six. Neal used a former Shark Lab worker who is very experienced with working with sharks to go out with us. A large crate of chum and bait is taken and the hammerhead site is a designated site where the sharks have learned to show. Upon anchoring at the site, a small amount of chumming was done and we waited for the first hammerhead to show. I am told they have over a 90% success rate of hammerheads showing and they will usually have to wait between 10 and 45 minutes for the first hammer to show. The site is close to shore - no more than a half mile away but there is no public swimming in the general area. Once the first hammer shows, divers are allowed into the water and are advised to stay on the bottom in a line down current from the bait. We were allowed some mobility but were discouraged from swimming around freely. The reason for this is that when all divers are together in a line it is easier to bait the sharks into close proximity to the divers. On multiple occasions a great hammerhead came within 18 inches of my camera dome port allowing great photos. No hand feeding is done. The visibility was generally outstanding. I spent most of my time shooting from the sandy bottom but Neal did allow me to hang on the line at 10 feet to shoot down on the hammerheads and divers for part of the dive. The hammerhead dive site is not deep at only 22 feet or so, you will therefore have an opportunity to do long dives and our dives were generally 90 minutes or so. Neal goes through great efforts to bring the hammerhead sharks very close to the photographers and I cannot describe the thrill in being able to photograph these very large and wild sharks in close proximity. At most we had two great hammerheads at a time, though I am told they may have as many as 5 hammerheads at a time later in the spring. We also had multiple large nurse sharks and bull sharks will occasionally show but the great hammerheads are the stars of the show here. Indeed, a storm cancelled our second day of diving and made our third day of diving very dicey. Neal actually took us out in very poor weather the third day to try and do another hammer dive but the visibility was only about 3 feet due to the storm so we went back in. Kudos to Neal for trying to take us out. The storm finally passed and we had clear weather for our fourth and final day of diving and did a 2-tank morning dive and afternoon hammer dive. The first morning dive was on the Bimini Barge which is a rather nondescript barge sitting at 90 feet. The fish life was mediocre on the Barge but we had a pleasant surprise when we arrived. We were told the current world record holder in free diving was at the site and was doing repetitive free diving on the Barge with a small group. I planted myself under the Barge and shot many photos up through a porthole with the small group of free divers actively diving to 90 feet on the barge which was spectacular. Our second dive was at North Turtle Rocks which was a nice shallow dive with many macro subjects. We finished the afternoon with another hammerhead dive. On that afternoon, the visibility was down from the storm the day before and visibility was only about 20 feet. Also, there was no current so it was difficult to assess where the hammerhead would be coming from. We spent 90 minutes with a single 10 foot great hammerhead that had the unnerving habit of swimming towards us and then moving just out of our visibility and then surprising us from behind. In actuality, it was great fun and I never once felt threatened by these magnificent creatures. In short, Bimini is quickly on its way to becoming the next "shark" hot spot. I would highly recommend Bimini Sands and Bimini Scuba Center with Neal. I cannot report on the general diving at Bimini, but the hammerhead dives are incredible.
Websites Neal Watson's Bimini Scuba Center   Bimini Sands

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 501-1000 dives
Where else diving Florida Keys, Flower Gardens in Gulf of Mexico, Cocos Island in Costa Rica, Cozumel, Curacao, Dominica, Saba, St. Eustatius, California, Cayman Islands
Closest Airport Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather windy, rainy, cloudy Seas choppy
Water Temp 76-79°F / 24-26°C Wetsuit Thickness 5
Water Visibility 20-80 Ft/ 6-24 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions Only restriction was on designated Great Hammerhead dives in which divers were asked to remain in a designated area and hammerhead sharks were baited to come very close to the divers
Liveaboard? no Nitrox Available? yes

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas None
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles 1 or 2 Whales None
Corals 2 stars Tropical Fish 2 stars
Small Critters 2 stars Large Fish 3 stars
Large Pelagics 5 stars

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter 5 stars Boat Facilities 4 stars
Overall rating for UWP's 5 stars Shore Facilities 3 stars
UW Photo Comments The boat had ample room for cameras but no designated camera table. There was no rinse tank for the cameras on the boat though boat rides were short allowing cameras to be rinsed in your room once you returned from diving
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