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Dive Review of Islamorada Dive Center/Hilton Key Largo in
The Continental USA/Florida Keys

Islamorada Dive Center/Hilton Key Largo: "Discovering Islamorada", Jul, 2015,

by D. Tan, NY, US (Reviewer Reviewer 5 reports). Report 8291.

No photos available at this time

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

Accommodations 4 stars Food 4 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 4 stars
Comments We've dove off of Key Largo for many years (with Ocean Divers) but decided to do something different on this trip and take a private charter for our group of 5. We had originally booked 3 days with Rainbow Reef Dive Center, but wanted to do the Eagle wreck down off Lower Matecumbe Key and, after originally promising to take us in the morning, then saying they could only do it in the afternoon and would limit us to 40 min dives due to the length of the trip (apparently they wanted to book a second private charter on this holiday weekend day), they put us in touch with Islamorada Dive Center for this first day of our trip. The IDC private charter rate was $775 for up to 6 divers, considerably more than RRDC's $595 for up to 10 divers. On the other hand, we were able to dive our schedule and started at a leisurely 9:30am after driving down 20 min from the Hilton Key Largo (a solid, but often pricey, resort-style hotel, midway between Key Largo and Islamorada diveshops).

We arrived at the shop and Captain & Owner Eric Billips greeted us along with Divermaster Tony Young. We had expected to be on their 54' Sea Ray Sundancer, Siesta, but were told that the boat drafts 5' and could only go out in the afternoon due to the tides. Instead, we loaded aboard their 36' Newton, The Life Aquatic, just a few feet down the marina from the dive shop. The boat was fully equipped with life vests, raft, EPIRB, O2, radio. There was also a head below, a cooler, a separate camera bucket amidships, and two hot-water showers. For $775, I would have expected some snacks to be provided - we got Jolly Ranchers.

We did two dives with an hour surface interview between. We had beautiful conditions, with light seas (1-2 ft), little or no current, and average visibility. Nitrox was available for $10/tank and we analyzed in the shop at 28%.

Unlike most continental U.S. dive shops, IDC puts a free guide in the water for every dive. Tony did a great job looking after my father, who has been diving for more than 10 years, but can still get nervous about his air consumption (we had him on 100-cu ft tanks). The rest of us were able to dive in buddy pairs to the limits of our computers and air.

The Eagle is a 310-ft freighter that sunk upright in 1985, and then was broken in two and laid on its starboard side by Hurricane Georges in 1998. We descended down the mooring line to the stern port rail at about 70 ft. Max depth at the sand is about 110 ft. We did not penetrate the main structure, but in the forward part of the ship, there is a blast hole in the hull of the hold (from when the ship was reefed) that makes a nice easy swim-thru. There is decent coral growth on the ship but not a tremendous amount of fish: a small school of 4 Atlantic spadefish above the wheelhouse, a pair of large blue angelfish down in the sand beneath the hull. However, we were thrilled when the 2 resident goliath groupers (≈5-ft) made an appearance over the crack admidships - definitely a highlight!

Our second site was a ledge called The Chutes with a sloping wall beginning at 50-60 ft and hitting the sand between 80-100 ft. We were greeted by a school of 3 dozen Atlantic spadefish, followed by a caravan of 4 snooks that led to a 3-ft black grouper. Large French, queen, gray, and blue angelfish were prevalent. In stark contrast to the shallow reefs off Key Largo, the reef was dense and in excellent condition, on par with that of some Caribbean islands we've been to. On our return leg along the top of the wall, at the back of the group, my wife spotted a large green turtle, which we chased toward shore for a minute or so. Just as we gave up trying to catch up, we realized that we were right on top of a second, beefy, barnacle-laden, 4-ft green turtle, crawling across the sand. Cursing the fact that I had failed to change my GoPro battery between dives, I did manage to grab one short video before it conked out. At this point, a couple minutes into deco and a long swim from the boat, we ascended to 50 ft, shot a sausage, and completed our stops while watching the turtle continue to crawl across the bottom...right over to a 6-ft spotted eagle ray, which graciously swam up to us and circled before heading back down to the sand!

Our live pickup was expertly handled with no stress, aided by the calm conditions. Eric and Tony agreed that 2 turtles and an eagle ray were worth ditching the group for!

Having dove out of Key Largo on standard 2-tank charters for many years, this was an eye-opening experience, as we got to explore some excellent new sites and the ability to do two 'real' dives made the extra cost of the private charter worthwhile.
Websites Islamorada Dive Center   Hilton Key Largo

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 251-500 dives
Where else diving Andros, Bonaire, Curaçao, Grand Cayman, Heron Island, Key Largo, Little Cayman, Roatan, Saba, St. Martin, Turks & Caicos
Closest Airport MIA Getting There 2-h drive from MIA

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny Seas calm
Water Temp 84-90°F / 29-32°C Wetsuit Thickness 0
Water Visibility 40-60 Ft/ 12-18 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions Computers & air.
Liveaboard? no Nitrox Available? yes

What I Saw

Sharks None Mantas None
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles 1 or 2 Whales None
Corals 4 stars Tropical Fish 4 stars
Small Critters N/A Large Fish 4 stars
Large Pelagics N/A

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

Subject Matter 4 stars Boat Facilities 4 stars
Overall rating for UWP's 4 stars Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments Large camera bucket amidships on the boat. Limited dry space, though, with the table near the stern and uncovered.
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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