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I will be taking a trip to Belize (San Pedro) in December with my mother (non-diver), and I was looking into a Dive Shop to meet both of our needs.
I guess my first question would be should I schedule my diving through our hotel (Pelican Reef Villas) or should I outsource to a local shop (Ecologic/Aqua Dives)?
I have done some research and narrowed it down to Ecologic and/or Aqua Dives. I am looking to dive all over the board, (boat/night/blue hole/Hol Chan/Eblow etc.) and I was wondering which shop could better accomodate. If I go through the hotel I could get a package that includes almost everything at a fair price. However, if there is anything missing from the hotel package, i don't have the option to add it. If i get a package through Aqua Dives, I can always add and additional dive through them. Ecologic does not post packages online, but i'm sure that they are offered similar to Aqua Dives.
Based on your personal experience, when in San Pedro Belize, is it better to go through your Hotel (in this case Pelican Reef), or through a local dive shop? Are the dive masters better at one or the other? How many people per DM? Accomodations such as park fees, beverages, pick-up, etc? I would appreciate any and all input on either of these two options.
Also, my mother would be a non-diver who would surely like to accompany me on the bigger dives such as Blue Hole, Hol Chan, etc. Is she going to get ripped off because she is just a snorkeler and not a diver? Also, will she be the only person snorkeling on these dives?
There are several more shops that can service Pelican Reef, a big one that comes to mind being Amigos del Mar and a small one island Divers. Come to that, although his dive shop is several miles north of town, Elbert Greer's "White Sands Dive Shop" will also serve Pelican Reef.
Amigos and Aquadives operate large boats to Lighthouse Atoll (for the Blue Hole etc), and Ecologic does the same with smaller boats. The others don't run their own BH trips but generally outsource to Amigos.
Snorkel trips to Hol Chan are very frequent and not at all "big trips". Snorkel trips to the Blue Hole cost around half dive trips, or a bit more.
Depending when your stay is you may want to book just your first day or two, to leave you with more options to try elsewhere if you feel you'd like to. Beware of paying up front for all your diving, as shops' policy on refunds if you don't make all the dives varies.
Remember that of course you pay extra (commission) for the convenience of having your resort make booking for you. Going direct to the operator, especially if you have cash or travellers' cheques, can save you considerable amounts. This may also have an impact on the refund policy.
My wife and I just did a trip to Ambergris from July 3rd to July 10th and stayed in the Sunbreeze hotel where Aqua Dives is located. We had only planned to snorkel but decided to do the PADI open water course and spent most of our trip diving (except for a great tour to Lamanai with Suya Tours, guided by Allen).
Our experience with Aqua Dives was as complete beginners and we did not do the trip to the Blue Hole (we kept that one for a return trip).
Our Diving Instructor was Max and we liked him a great deal. He only takes out students so we had to twist his arm to Dive Master us for two additional trips after certification. I doubt he could do that during busier times of the year so we were very lucky. Several other staff members assisted us during our training and subsequent dive trips and we were also very pleased with how they treated us.
I especially appreciated - just after chundering the contents of my guts over the side of the boat - that Max gave me an ice cold bag of water to pour over my face instead of belly lauging like my wife! The water was a bit choppy outside the reef that day.
We met two ladies who had done the same course and other dives with Ecologic Dive shop and they seemed to be as contented as we were. Someone else recommended Amigo Dive shop.
We are about to book a 7 day trip back to Ambergris over Christmas and will probably try another dive shop later in the week after a couple of trips with Aqua Dives. We eat in a variety of restaurants and might like diving with a variety of dive shops!
I will gladly suffer sea sickness again - as long as it occurs between wonderful dives.
I would stay away from Amigos del Mar I used them for my blue hole dive and found them
to be very unsafe.Its funny becasue I just posted about them on tripadviser and Looked and found someone posted the exact same thing 3 months earlier.I used white sands and thought they were great.I also wouldnt take a nondiver to the blue hole very long boat ride and snorklers wont think its better than the diving 5 minutes from shore.
Sure and let me say this might not be a big deal to you but it was to me and about 3 others in the dive group that I didnt know.The problem was on the last 2 dives the DM
we had and I can tell you which one it was via priivate message .He swam the whole time in front of the group and didnt turn around one time to just check on people.Normally this wouldnt bother me much because my air is usually fine but we had 9 people in our group and slowly people just went up and he had no clue.At the end of the dive it was me and one other diver and he looked up at us and said "where is everyone else".It seemed the dive was a dive for him to catch lion fish and not care about his divers who paid $250 to use there service.
The second problem was at the blue hole I followed right behind the DM and my computer
read 155 ft on a dive that I was told should be 135.I dont feel like this is the safest and is just an example to me a kind a lazy attitude they had.
Have you thought about talking to them since you live there and seem to know them?
The best example I could give is tell them to look at trip adviser many people think that bad reviews dont matter but I know a guy in cozumel who business is up 30% becasue of good reviews.