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My fiance and I are heading to Key West in a month and are very interested in finding the best dive boat experience while there. Also interested in any thoughts about diving Key Largo as we will be there for a couple of days too. I have been diving casually for over 30 years and she is recently certified. We are interested in Reef diving and whatever will make for an interesting dive experience.
"Best" is a very subjective term, and you will get as many different respones as there are dive shops in Key Weird. I lived in KW for 13 years and taught scuba for the college. I have dove with most of the shops and have occasionaly worked on some of the boats as a DM or instructor. Just so you and your Fiance' aren't suprised, be aware most of the boats in the Keys do NOT put a DM in the water. As your fiance is new to diving, if you feel you may want a DM, plan on hiring a guide. I would highly suggest you mention this when booking. Most of the shops will do 2 tanks on the reefs on the afternoon trips. It is also common for them to take snorklers, as well as divers, on the the reef trips.
I always preferred Lost Reef Adventures, 305-296-9737, Located on Margeret St, across from Half Shell Raw Bar. The Boat, "Dream", is docked right there as well. Dream is an older, but dependable boat with a platform at water level, making for an easy giant stride. You can expect competative pricing. They are rated for 16 divers, but rarely carry that many.
Captains Corner is is another favorite,305-296-8918, located at the corner of Green and Elizabeth, by the Conch Republic Seafood Company. Their Boat, The Sea Eagle, Is larger and the deck is about 5ft above the surface. Some find the giant stide a little intimadating. They tend to be about the least expensive and are some times crowded.
I like Subtropic as well, (sorry I don't have the number), located on N. Roosevelt and Garison bight. They have a couple boats,and tend to be moderatly priced. They have the longest ride to the reefs, as they are on the Gulf side of the island.
Dive Key West, has the nicest shop with plenty of easy parking and runs a very professional opporation. They do put a DM in the water on the wrecks, I am not sure if they are doing so on the reefs. There shop is on N. Roosevelt near the Sears shoping center. Their boat, "Easy Diver" is docked at Ocean Side Marina on Stock Island, about a 5 minute drive away. "easy Diver" is newer than many of the other boats and they have one of the shortest runs to the reefs. Dive Key West is usually one of the more expensive charters, but theytend to offer a few more ammenaties that may be appreciated by newer divers.
I would also strongly suggest diving the upper Keys. The reefs are healthier. I suggest either Conch Repulic (Send Captain Gary a message on this board) or Quiesence.
I hope this helps. I am jellous, because I really miss that crazy little island at the end of the road.
I'll throw in another vote for Lost Reef. I used some other shops down there as well but I liked the boat, the crew and the fact that the boat and shop are close to each other. Parking was also easier there. I did a three day package with them and got a very reasonable price due to the multi-day purchase. I did dives on the Vandenberg as well as a couple of reef dives.
I missed your question on Key Largo................Key Largo diving is wonderful: wrecks, shallow reefs, a few deeper reefs: it has it all. It is a perfect place for a newer diver given the shallow reefs These are the shops I have used....
Thanks for the feedback! I really appreciate the information. I always try to pre-plan all the logistics prior to taking off on one of these types of trips. The more information I can acquire, the better the experience usually is.
We just spent 4 days in Key West and dove 2 days, once with Southpoint and once with Lost Reef. Overall, I liked them both and would recomend both. Southpoint has bigger newer boat. Bigger is not always better. I was impressed that Southpoint did not cancel when they had just 3 divers. We booked a Vandenberg double dive with Southpoint and Cayman Salvager and reef with Lost Reef. Crews and guides were good on both. We had nice water temps and sea conditions but vis was only about 30feet. We also enjoyed the seaplane trip to Ft Jefferson.