Cruise ship travel, seen by many divers, including yours truly, as despoilers of both the environment and culture at their ports of call, is the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry. Bigger and fancier floating megaresorts are regularly launched and new piers constructed for the vacationing overfed, newly-wed and nearly dead at such once idyllic and hitherto unsullied places as Grand Turk.
Despite holding cruising as anathema, when I won a Western Caribbean one-week excursion sailing from FLL on the Crown Princess, my general frugality, some prodding by my significant other and a re-reading of “Taking a Caribbean Cruise on a Ship of Thousands?–tips on getting good diving in any port” (Undercurrent, Jul ’05) resulted in my taking the freebie.
Ports of Call:
Arriving from Roatan’s Mahogany Bay pier on a tipico collectivo arranged by my ship, matters scuba got off to a fine start. Anthony’s Key Resort mercifully divided the cruise divers by experience level. Just a 10 minute trip from the dock and a quick giant stride off their well-organized, clean and commodious Pro 42 and I’m in 81 degree water with 80’ viz finning down Peter’s Place. A remarkably healthy 100’ mini-wall scattered with twitchy schools of vibrantly colored blue tang and pink-tinted black durgeon, my eyes scan down past iridescent azure vase and large barrel sponges in search of any Mr. Bigs that may be cruising in the blue below. In a crevasse, a congregation of fat golden-hued football-like Bermuda chub cruise along, while above, 10-12 quite sizable black grouper indolently follow our bubbles. On the second dive, this time to 75’ at Pillar Coral, terraces of plate and other corals slope gradually and make good feeding grounds for the channel clinging crab I observe feeding out in the open. It was damned enjoyable scuba and D Marvin and Capt Corbin were relaxed and unobtrusive company.
Next stop—Grand Cayman. Still reveling in low to no current 81 degree water, I plunge into Northwest Point Drop Off, glass smooth at a time of year when conditions can get gnarly as one moves toward the north side. Serenely moseying over somewhat colorless, low relief tongue-and-groove reef at 65-90’, I get some critter action. Several small hawks bill turtles allow close passes and a fat peppermint shrimp peeks out from a below a ledge, antenna beckoning. Free swimming green morays browse leisurely, probably waiting to be fed the next lion fish speared by the D. No schools of fish of any size are to be seen, but isolated hamlets, barred, indigo, butter and black, the latter with splendidly long pectoral fins, gently laze along the reef surface, while a solitary greater soap fish does it’s “I’m not really living” routine, inertly floating on its side on the sand bottom. After a surface interval and a Granola bar, it’s down to 40’ to that old favorite, Spanish Anchor, which remains a challenge to find (look for the 3 green tube sponges; touch the anchor itself for luck). The site’s relative drabness serves to show well the occasional impressive orange elephant ear sponge.
My selected shop, Off the Wall Divers, could hardly have been more convenient; you could walk there from the Royal Walter Cruise Terminal. Run by Tom Shropshire, former onsite manager for the Cayman Aggressor for many years, and ably assisted by D Courtney and Capt Kelly, the op is professionally run and aims to make outings with them easy and enjoyable. It has only a single boat to date, but is looking to set up a second office up north. Its craft, a modest center-console model, normally takes no more than 8 divers. Kept shipshape, it has a storage chest up front, while dive gear goes along the gunnels. Also a cold water container, a first aid kit, 02 and gratis Granola bars.
My third stop was in Belize; I had tried for about 3 months to arrange diving with Sea Sports Belize, one of the two ops in Belize City. I kept getting sporadic emails indicating that they were trying to get enough divers together (required number not specified) to go out the day I was there, but things never gelled. Since I awns’t diving that day as the ship excursion to Turner Atoll with Hugh Parke’s was full, I walked from the Belize Cruise Port Terminal around the staggeringly dilapidated downtown and what should I spy but the Sea Sports Belize dive shop. I popped in and explained my situation to the pleasant young man behind the desk and was surprised to hear that the op had in fact made quorum for that day and were out diving. I awns’t made any happier when he went on to say that he was sorry I missed out, but that it had been kind of hectic over the past month what with the Rita Maya Belize River Challenge (a 4 canoe race from San Ignacio to Belize City), Baron Bliss Day (a national holiday) and other NOR diversions going on in the region. When I got home and checked my email, I had one from Sea Sports Belize, dated 2 days after my ship left port, indicating that they had a spot for me. Hmm.
Our itinerary saved the best for last. Barri, Cozumel, Island of the Swallows! Just a 10 minute taxi ride from the International Pier and I’m at the La Celesta and ready to board Liquid Blue’s Bonita Luna with its steel 120 cf tanks and space for 6 divers. There are lots of dive sites in Cox, and the string of Parlance offerings has something for nearly everyone. Working down to Parlance Caves at 90’ brings into view the enchanting schools of fish that never cease to draw my close attention. French, blue striped and white grunt, schoolmaster and sailor’s choice, lane and gray snapper, mingling peacefully and swaying lustrously with the surge. But it’s not all happening under open outcroppings in the reef; the more secretive and shy marine brethren are there for the diver with keen eyes. A signature splendid toad fish, with its broad head and bright yellow mouth and fin edges, rests its whiskered chin on a sloping sand patch beneath a rocky hole. During the surface interval, we discussed Cox’s come back from the long world economy–related tourism slowdown and from what I could gather, both topside and dive establishments are reporting a definite improvement. Most excellent.
For my final dive for the trip, boo-hew, Capt Javier and D David of shuttle me out to Torments, Hovering between 60’-70’, a lumbering, intensely blue midnight parrot fish gnaws its way down the reef, as does an even bigger rainbow parrot fish whose skin reminds me of gently corroding copper plate. Of particular interest was the largest shovel nose lobster I’be yet seen. As it crawled up the reef, I was wondering if he would be good to eat. Farther up in the water column, a wary school of great barracuda, glinting in the sun like freshly polished silver, watch me salivating. However, the dive ended on a somber note. There had been strong and unpredictable vertical currents that week and back on the boat we were informed that a novice diver disappeared on Santa Rosa Wall. Despite an impressive search by air and water, she was not found.
Back on the Crown Princess…..
It’s not nearly the dreadful experience I was anticipating. Given unlimited eats 24/7, a first rate spa and a glass-enclosed gym on the top deck and you have a good time in the making. Despite 3k+ passengers and 1.2k+ crew, I rarely felt crowded. My favorite inboard watering hole, Adagio, was always quiet and the premier restaurant, the Crown Grill, served one of the best meals I ever ate (at a $25 surcharge); the Black and Blue Onion Soup, with fresh thyme, Jack Daniels and Roquefort cheese was to die for.
I must admit that cruise ships afford some advantages to the enthusiast. These include allowing groups with non-diving members to vacation together, a number of locations to be cost-effectively screened with relative ease, an N2 fix for divers who are not up for dedicated gonzo scuba. And of course you get to gorge and relax back inboard the mother ship. For the less sedentary, there literally are non-stop activities of one sort or another from early morning to late night, so that you can start with Tia Chi and end with disco.
On the downside, ship excursion dive packages often involve moo-type ops that are limited to the least-common denominator divers on the boat, and the padding of prices is routine (as several of our readers have verified in recent Reader Reports, e.g., Robert Smithson/Dec ‘11/Dominica, Robert Hamel/Jan ‘12/Roana). Where ship time limitations permit I strongly recommend that the knowledgeable diver select his or her own ops (well in advance). The difference between my cost v the ship excursion cost ranged from $20-$50, depending upon the port. The Turner Atoll excursion that I was unable to make was a hefty $179 and I probably could have arranged something similar for about $80 less. To be fair, the excursion prices do include transportation from port to op, and basic gear if you need it, which I don’t. Bob voyage. –Mockingbird
13 thoughts on “Cruise Ship Diving”
We travel a lot with Windstar Cruises – smaller motor and sail ships, 148 – 310 people depending on the ship (2 of the former, 1 latter and they are adding three all suite 212 motorships. The three mortorsailers have water sports decks, a dive shop and two dive instructors on board, and they normally use RIBs to do their own diving (Caribbean and Pacific, not Mediterranean).
Now that my wife can’t dive any longer (trabeculectomy), we still enjoy these – I go on a couple of dives with the certified divers (they also have dives for DSD folks, which they offer aboard), and though they are a bit more regimented than some shore-based ops I get to dive, meet some fellow divers and have consistency in the operator.
All in all, it’s not my preferred way to dive, but I have 57 years of diving experience and am a bit more conservative in my diving – and this fits the bill for both of us to vacation.
My husband, family, and friends love cruising and are not divers. So, I use the cruise ship dive excursions for safety concerns to ensure that I do get back to the boat because I am by myself. With the cruise ship excursion, I am guaranteed roundtrip transportation and I am with a group of divers from the boat. I do check dive shops online sites and do price comparisons and have found them to save money, but I need the guarantee that the ship will wait for me.
Having just returned from two weeks diving in St. Thomas, often with cruise-ship divers, I can state that the operator (Blue Island Divers) really went out of their way to provide a good diving experience for both be (almost 500 dives in 5 years) to the casual diver off a cruise ship who only dives once a year. Cruise ship divers (in my mind) have a poor reputation, since they usually are relatively inexperienced and/or rusty, have poor buoyancy skills, etc., making the rest of the divers suffer. That’s why it’s a good idea to choose a dive operation that DOESN’T have a contract with a cruise line, so they’re not catering to that crowd. If you check your cruise schedule and sign up for a two-tank morning dive, you should be back by 1 pm, so it’s your own fault if you miss your ship. Be a considerate cruise diver and brush up on your skills and boat courtesy before leaving home! Your fellow divers (and dive crew) will appreciate it!
Just back from a Disney cruise to the Mexican “Riviera”. Arranged my own diving in Puerto Vallarta and Cabo. Had a great time. Biggest difficulty was finding a dive shop that had an afternoon dive on Thanksgiving since the ship got in late morning. Sunshine Diving was great. This is my third cruise ship trip to Cabo with three different dive shops. It gets better each time and for next trip Sunshine gets my vote.
We have been married 35 years. My husband had not been diving since high school when I talked him into doing a intro to scuba dive on a Mexican Riviera cruise we were on. He realized haw much he missed diving. I am not a diver, so I can sightsee while he dives and discuss both our experiences over a nice dinner in the evening. It gives you a chance to find locations you would be interested in spending a week or so without committing to a location without any knowledge of it. When we can we talk family into going. Some are divers and some are not. But it offers an oppurtunity to catch up as we don’t live close. We took my 80 year old mother on a cruise for her birthday. She had a wonderful time with her chidren and grandchildren, even got to swim with dolphins. A dive trip would not have been as successful. We do both, but cruising has become a good option for all of us.
I’ve been on one cruise ship, and it was like a travelling Disneyworld. We made dives in both Cozumel and the Caymans. Both were nice dives, but the rental gear was cheap, and the whole time we felt rushed, because the dive shop was worried about getting us back to the cruise ship on time. We had to miss one of the advertised dive locations because of of this.
Only one caution – do not book with the SCUBA diving offered as an excursion by the cruise line. They are overpriced and targetted toward the low end of the experience ladder.
Book either before leaving with a dive shop close to the cruise pier (walking distance preferably) or find out the locations of the dive shops and on arrival in port walk over and sign-up for a dive.
The other option is to check out shore diving opportunities, if you feel you have sufficient experience to dive in a place you have never been (or research the dive site(s) on-line). You can get a taxi to most locations or walk to others (Eden Rock on Grand Cayman, for example), even with a bag of scuba gear.
That’s what all the people who never took a cruise thinks about cruising. We take cruises once in a while (to give the wife a break from 18+ dives that the usual vacation incurs), but we cannot not get any of the other people we know to come along, divers or non-divers, since they think there is nothing to do besides stuffing yourself and wasting the time away.
We’ve used both types of ops, some ops will make a concerted effort to bring you back in time while others will be back when they get back.
MY WIFE DOES NOT DIVE WE HAVE TAKEN MANY CRUISE SHIPS. I BOOK ALL MY DIVES ON LINE BEFORE THE TRIP. MOST TIME I READ UNDERCURRENT TO PICK THE DIVE SHOP THATS BEST FOR ME.I WAS STAYING IN RIVERA MAYA A FEW YEARS BACK I EMAILED DAVID AT LIVING UNDER WATER IN COZMEL HE TOLD ME HOW TO CATCH THE FERRY BOAT TO THE ISLAND AT 6;00AM GRAB A TAXI TO WHERE HE DOCKS HIS BOAT ON THE OTHER SIDE OF TOWN. I TOLD HIM I WOULD BE WEARING A BIG RED LOBSTER HAT ON WHICH I WEAR ALL OVER THE WORLD . NO ONE HAVE EVER NOT BEEN ABLE TO SEE ME. EVEN WALKING DOWN THE GANGPLANK GETTING OFF A SHIP I CAN BE SEEN FOR QUARTER OF A MILE.JUST INCASE SOME ONE HAS TO MEET ME OR I BOOK A RIDE TO THE DIVE SHOP. I ONLY DIVE 6 PACK OR LESS. I ALSO BRING A WALKIE TALKIE YEARS AGO SO I COULD CALL MY WIFE AND TELL HER WHERE WE WILL MEET FOR LUNCH ON THE SHIP OR IN SOME TOWN.OTHER WISE WE TAKE SEPERATE VACATIONS TOGETHER
Big ship cruising isn’t for everyone – the diving opportunities require a little more research but they can be an enjoyable adjunct to a cruise. My wife and I did a Caribbean big ship cruise and booked the dive excursions through the ship. We made dives in Cayman using Off The Wall and had a great time. Unfortunately, we both came down with colds and were unable to dive in Roatan but the ship cheerfully refunded our money. That’s a big plus for using the ship’s designated dive op in my opinion.
Also – we have cruised several times on Star Clippers in the Caribbean and have made many dives with them. Crew members are the DMs and the whole dive operation is conducted from the ships themselves – air/nitrox, Zodiacs – kinda like luxury liveaboards. We brought our own stuff and they stored it for us. You only do a couple of dives a day but hey – these ships are real clipper ships and what a way to go! They do use the European steel tanks though so you need to adjust your weights.
“Cruise ship travel, seen by many divers, including yours truly, as despoilers of both the environment and culture…”
Cruise ships are blessing. I love them. Just think of all this crowd otherwise competing with you for a space at your favorite destinations.
I always make a point of sleeping in my dive kit on a cruise liner – especially if its got an Italian captain.
Excellent review but I would like to ad that despite the price difference between booking yourself and directly through the dive shop, the ship will wait for you if you book through them and something happens and you are late—I’ve seen it happen (Cozumel) where the dive boat had trouble and the mother ship left without the cruise passengers.
Last year travelling to Belize Aggressor on October 31st, there was the unexpected snow storm in the Northeast and everything on the northeast coast was stopped-we were caught in Miami with no way to get to Belize until the next day. Arguments as to who was responsible (airline paid the bill) and then the speed boat for over 2 hours to catch the Aggressor and one lost diving day.
Just something to consider