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Silent World Dive Center - Recommended
Suites at Key Largo - Recommended
My wife and I got in a three-day Keys dive trip as part of a family visit to Florida. Wanting to dive Pennekamp, and based on recommendations here, I chose Silent World as our dive operator. Dive with Silent World voted #1 dive shop in Florida
No surprises other than small positive ones, I'd agree with everything I've read on Scubaboard: This is a first-class operation and I'd recommend them.
My wife was a little anxious about getting back in the water after our February Belize trip where she was too sick to dive for the whole trip. Pat and Jen in the shop, and Angela, the DM on our first trip, did a great job of a mini-review and guidance on weighting, etc., and she really had no problems. The great easy dive conditions and consistently friendly, patient, and professional staff helped, too.
We only dove shallow reefs: Various sites on the Elbow, Molasses reef, and Horseshoe reef. The maximum depth recorded over 6 dives was 34 feet, with averages ranging from 15 to 24 feet. Bottom temperatures were between 84 and 86 degF.
SW has two 12-seat boats, so they can separate the wreck and reef divers. Our three 2-tank trips had either snorkelers or OW students along, we were never crowded. Entry is giant stride off a sea-level deck, exit is an easy ladder to the same deck, fins off. They were happy to handle my wife's request to take off weights and BC in the water and hand them up. A captain/DM and non-diving DM on all three trips, with another instructor handling OW students.
We were asked to come back in an hour or with 500 psi, and at those depths, it was always the hour that limited things. Well, except the Molasses reef dive; there was some current, and a half dozen boats near the mooring. We successfully navigated back, but to the wrong boat, and had to swim another couple of hundred yards through a moderate current. Still back with over 700.
The rental gear my wife got was mostly basic but in good condition. Two positive surprises: The gauge console had a compass; first time I've seen that on a rental. And the weight belt was a zipper/pouch design, and they had soft weights. My wife liked that enough over the web belts she's used to that we bought one for future use on our way out of the keys.
In summary, if you want nice easy Keys diving, especially if someone in your party is inexperienced or a little apprehensive about getting back under the water, Silent World is recommended. Note that they dive wrecks too, and I noticed they've got a nice selection of Halcyon and Hollis and other tech gear in the shop. I expect they do that kind of diving every bit as well, but I can't speak to that myself.
Stuff we saw that was new to us: We saw a school of at least 40-50 Midnight Parrotfish on patrol. I've seen them before, singly, but never this behavior, they actually looked like an oversize Blue Tang raiding party marauding the reef, which isn't that strange a picture since they're both primarily algae feeders. One of the DMs, Stephanie, said they do this schooling frequently there, but it was new to me. A little looking on the web agrees, I even found a Youtube video that looks similar to what we saw. I'll need to get out the reef fish behavior book when we get home.
We also saw a huge cloud of minnows as has been reported in this forum in the last week, being fed on by various predator fish. This was on Horseshoe reef on 8/22.
SW offers a few accommodation packages if you reserve a dive package, and they appear to be pretty good deals compared to the rack rate for those facilities. We asked Chris to include four nights at the Suites at Key Largo, and that got arranged with a minimum of effort on my part, and no negative surprises. Suites At Key Largo
They are two-story suites with a queen bed/full bath upstairs, and a living room with convertible sofa, 3/4 bath, small full kitchen, and screen-enclosed porch overlooking a boat channel downstairs. The downstairs is still second floor (above a car port) making the porch perfect for wet dive gear. It was clean and well maintained, everything worked, there was wifi included in the rental, and an electronic safe big enough for a laptop upstairs. Probably workable but a little tight for four close friends, very comfortable for two. Two TVs. Maid service every other day.
It won't ever be confused with Kawama Yacht Club, but OTOH it was a little more than half of what that now costs. Quite nice enough for us for a trip that was mostly focused on diving, eating in, and sleeping. The only negative was the two-story layout, but it worked.
Last edited by reefduffer; July 28th, 2008 at 11:08 AM.
Reason: Correction: Instructor, not DM, handling OW students.
Great report. Thank you.
How was the vis and the seas?
We also saw Midnight Parrots schooling. They were really working the reef over and making alot of sand. Vis was only about 30 ft on this particular dive. We'll be back in a couple weeks
Ah, the Parrots. My adult daughter did her OW certification checkout dives out of Key Largo in June. She was amazed at how SHE had to get out of the way of the Parrot school that almost ran her over! Those Key Largo reefs are simply perfect for new or nervous divers. I simply love the Florida Keys.
Oops! Left that out.
We called the vis 40', to 40-50' on the last day where there was more sun.
Seas were mostly pretty flat. On one day, first or second, there were two or three waterspouts off on the distance, but we had pretty nice weather and sea conditions for the most part, just a little overcast. Moderate current at Molasses, the rest of the dives very little.
Got the disposable camera developed. Here's the most representative shot of the Midnight Parrot school, and the minnow cloud. The third one is of about three that were mixed in with the Parrot school, about the same size (12-14") which I haven't yet identified. Anyone got a quick ID?