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My family and I are headed to Ft. Lauderdale Aug 2, 2012 and we need some advice. First, I would love advice about shore dives. I know Blue Heron Bridge is nice, but what else would you suggest in the West Palm Beach/Fort Lauderdale area? The second question has to do with equipment. We all bought weight-integrated BCs and will definitely want to use them on the dives. I have some soft weights, but would not bring them on the plane if I knew local dive shops throw them in along with a tank rental. Do you know of Dive shops either in the Ft. Lauderdale area or in the Keys that have complimentary (or very cheap) soft weights (the pouches)?
Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is probably one of the best shore dives in Florida. There is a fishing pier at the end of Commercial Blvd that marks the dive site. On the north side, there is a public parking lot, but the reef on the north side of the pier isn't as good. On the south side of the pier, the reef is much more colorful and full of life. Parking is on the street so that may be a bit more challenging to find a spot. All parking is metered at both sites. North side is a pay station, south side is parking meters (bring lots of change).
There are 3 (maybe 4) reef lines right off shore. The first is only about 50 yds out, but is well traveled and beat up. The second starts at the end of the pier, about 100 yds out. Definitely a better area and I don't even bother with the first reef anymore. The 3rd reef is too far out and I haven't been to it yet. Obviously, depths get deeper the further out you go with the second reef being 20 ft-ish depending on the tides. Make sure you check the direction of the current and start your dive swimming against the current and drift back the second half of the dive.
Blue Heron Bridge is a nice spot. There are lots of different creatures there, but you can (should) only dive that site at slack tide. High slack tide is best visibility wise. When it is not slack tide, the current through that area is rippin' and will take you off the bridge. Night diving there is allowed, but by permit only. I know that one dive shop does have a permit and will allow divers to use it for a small fee. I can't think of the shop right now.
Be sure to take a float with you for both sites. The bridge is extremely busy with boat traffic, and it's the law.
The shop I would use down there I believe is called Gold Coast Scuba on the north side of Commercial Blvd, just a mile or so from the ocean. There is another, smaller shop closer to the beach, but when I was there, I didn't get that warm-fuzzy welcome feeling.
Weights are included with the dive trip, but I haven't seen many dive operators with soft weights available. My gf's bc is weight integrated and the hard weights ripped one of her weight pockets on our last dive. If I had thought about it I would of brought my soft weights with me (I use a bp wing and don't use weight anymore, so all my soft weights were sitting in the closet).
The shop That I would recommend to you is "south Florida Diving HQ". They can really take care for your needs over there (http://www.southfloridadiving.com/). I went diving with them a month ago and had really good time, at the same time that I saw a very well organized and quality operation.
Regarding the weights, they can take care about that for sure, you don't want to travel with them (I know I don't ).
My 0.02 USD! I can't say I don't envy you guys!
By the way, if you go to FLL you NEED to go wreck diving, it's a must!!
I've been scuba-diving In Key Largo the last 8 months, I've tried some stores and I can tell you that there are 2 great scuba diving services, Ocean Divers and Quiescence. I think both can help you with your soft-weight issue.
I know in the Keys that they provide soft weights on the boats. I never take weights with me.
Going to WPB today and heard they charge extra for weights so I will be taking mine.
Rainbow Reef is a great dive op. They have DM/guide in the water on all dives with no extra charge.