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Location recommendations for new divers, please!

Discussion in 'General Travel and Vacation Discussions' started by GoDawgs, Jul 2, 2019.

  1. GoDawgs

    GoDawgs Angel Fish

    # of Dives: 0 - 24
    Location: Atlanta
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    My husband and I were certified in November. Since then, we've done Bonaire, Cozumel, some North FL rivers and springs, and we have a trip coming up to Key Largo.

    We want to book a trip for March of 2020 and can't decide where to go. A travel agent at Caradonna Adventures has recommended Ambergris Caye (Ramon's), Roatan (Anthony's Key), or Grand Cayman (Cobalt Coast). It will be just the two of us and no kids.

    I want awesome, easy diving, and a resort with pretty views and great food for when we aren't diving. Reviews about the awful sand fleas and mosquitoes have me hesitant about Roatan. I've read the diving in Belize isn't as good as the other locations. And Grand Cayman looks so manicured/upscale, and I think I'd prefer a more laid back vibe. But if the diving is superior and it has the great food, then it would probably win.

    Opinions or other suggestions?
     
  2. KathyV

    KathyV ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Midwestern US
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    You don't mention budget, but if you can delay your trip to later in April (after Easter and Spring Break) things are often cheaper and less crowded in many areas of the Caribbean and the water is warmer.

    We've gone diving on both Ambergris Caye and Roatan and we had great trips, and the biting insects were bad, but I thought that they were even worse on Ambergris Caye than on Roatan. A lot depends on the winds, if there is a good breeze you are less likely to get bites. When the wind drops you are a target, and at night the bugs get worse, but you must already know that from living in Georgia.

    In my opinion, there is a hidden cost to visiting Roatan and some other cheaper areas of Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean and that is the risk of contracting tropical diseases. For our trips to Roatan we were vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B and Typhoid, and we took anti-malaria medication before, during, and after the trip. We also used the DEET bug spray to try and protect again Dengue and Chikungunya, and we were careful about the food and water we consumed. That adds to the expense of a cheap dive vacation and it detracts from the fun! Again, it's my opinion.

    One of the things we like about the Caymans is that we don't have to worry about eating the food or drinking the water or need to take extra precautions against tropical infections. It can be an expensive destination but it should be pretty easy to get there from Atlanta. You can also get bad bug bites in Cayman, but they do a pretty good job of controlling the insect populations, especially on Grand Cayman.

    If you are looking for a dedicated dive resort on Grand Cayman then look at Cobalt Coast, Sunset House, Lighthouse Point, and Compass Point. Sunset House is closer to George Town (about a mile south of town) and not very far from Seven Mile Beach, Lighthouse Point is north of 7MB but not far, Cobalt Coast is in a more remote area a bit further north of 7MB, but an easy drive to the more popular tourist areas. Compass Point is on the East End of the island, and it is a longer drive (45 min to an hour) to the airport and the more popular areas.

    Sunset House, Cobalt Coast, and Lighthouse Point have onsite shore dives on the house reef that can extend your diving opportunities. Sunset House mostly dives the West Side and South Sides, nice diving and usually pretty calm but not generally considered the best diving on the island - but lots of fish life. Lighthouse Point and Cobalt Coast usually dive the dramatic North Wall (weather permitting) or the West Side, and Compass Point dives the beautiful East Wall but they will head around the corners to the north or south sides depending on the weather.

    There are also inexpensive shore dives available on the island at places like Turtle Reef/Macabuca (north of 7MB) with onsite dive ops and facilities.

    You can also rent a condo, prepare some of your own meals, enjoy the many restaurants, and go diving with one of the many fine dive ops available, especially in the 7MB area. It's a good idea to have some kind of diving package and/or kitchen facilities or meal plan, because eating out 3 times a day (and buying boat dives al la carte) can get pricey.

    If you want to get off the beaten path, take a look at the dive resorts on the Sister Islands of Little Cayman or Cayman Brac, they are only a 30 minute flight from Grand Cayman (similar to flying to Ambergris Caye from Belize City). They are small, remote, are rural areas but still with a high standard of living. We usually stay at the all-inclusive Cayman Brac Beach Resort or Little Cayman Beach Resort (sister resorts to Cobalt Coast) but there are also other options available on the Sister Islands.

    Since you are new divers living in Atlanta, it is likely that you will eventually visit many dive destinations in the Caribbean, Florida, the Bahamas, and Central America - if you continue to enjoy diving - so take a look at the options and find the best deal for a nice place that looks good to you. There are differing opinions, and pros and cons for every dive destination.

    You might also want to consider a liveaboard vacation because you can do a lot of easy diving in a short period of time, and also look at other "new-to-you" dive destinations like Curacao, St. Croix, Saba, and more. Good luck!
     
  3. GoDawgs

    GoDawgs Angel Fish

    # of Dives: 0 - 24
    Location: Atlanta
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    Thanks! This is very helpful. Our budget is around $5,000ish for airfare, hotel, diving, and some food for 7 nights. All three of the resorts quoted by Caradonna are in line with this. Key Largo is in September, so I think we'd rather pay more and go in March as we will be getting antsy by then! I do want a resort for this trip, we but I love doing AirBnB for shorter and less expensive trips.

    What are your thoughts about using a travel agent vs. research on your own? As a new diver, it feels a bit overwhelming to have to research dive companies and pricing in addition to hotel and airfare, but maybe we are limiting ourselves by using a travel agent.
     
  4. Sh0rtBus

    Sh0rtBus BUBBLLLLLLES! My Bubbles ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Denton, TX
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    If you want easy, laid back, nice views, good food and relaxed diving, and maybe save some money too....Cozumel fits the bill. Dives are really no more than a few hundred yards from shore and there are more sites than you can shake a stick at. See pretty anything and everything you want to see diving warm tropical waters. Just my two cents....I'll be there in August.

    Honestly for Cozumel, I'd use one of the online services. Orbitz, Cheap Caribbean, etc. for your flights and hotels. Then do some research here on SB and find a dive operator you feel comfortable using. Several of them are vendors here and can even set up your entire trip for you. Just off the top of my head, Blue XTSea, Aldora, Tres Pelicanos, Dive with martin, all of these operators have very good names here on SB. So picking one really shouldn't be that daunting of a task. Hope this helps and I hope you find what you're looking for!
     
  5. KathyV

    KathyV ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Midwestern US
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    We've been working with the same great travel agent for decades and she has saved our skin many times. There may be a small fee but she is worth it. One thing that I like about using a travel agent is that they can book all our flights on one ticket. I can do that myself when I travel within the US but not when it involves foreign carriers. Why is that important? If you hit a delay along the way all of the flights are notified and adjusted and your bags follow you. If you have multiple discrete flights and something gets out of whack with one of them - oh boy! Some of the places you are considering are probably direct flights from Atlanta so that may not be as big a deal to you.

    Having said all that, I still do a lot of research, here on scubaboard and other sites. I narrow down the options and then bring them to my agent to see what she can come up with. Or I listen to her suggestions and then start checking out the options.

    One other thing to mention, Cobalt Coast is on the West side of the Grand Cayman but near the North end and it can get windy in that area during the winter months. That can impact the ability to dive the North wall and to do shore dives on the house reef at the resort. I think that the winds are starting to die down in March, especially later in the month, but you should check into that.

    Caradonna also handles a lot of other properties in the Caribbean, take a look at the Cayman Brac Beach Resort (part of the same company as Cobalt Coast) it is also all-inclusive with diving and the food is good, but I think it will give you more options to dive different sides of the island if the weather doesn't cooperate. It will be a bit more expensive than Cobalt Coast, including a short flight to Brac - but I don't think it will be a lot higher - and it is more remote and rural which you may like, as Brac is less developed than Roatan or Ambergris Caye.

    The booking agents for the Clearly Cayman Resorts (CCGCR, CBBR, and LCBR) are called Reef Fantaseas and they can also book your flights and they really understand all the nuances of Cayman Airways - which is pretty much your only choice for flying to Brac or Little Cayman.
     
    Esprise Me likes this.
  6. Esprise Me

    Esprise Me Kelp forest dweller ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Los Angeles, CA
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    I used a travel agent for my honeymoon (2 Caribbean islands) and for a trip to Mexico involving separate arrivals but one departure together for my husband and me, as well as some moving around to different places on my own before he arrived. It was so much less stressful with a travel agent; I wouldn't hesitate to do it again. If you're planning to travel together to one place on a direct flight and stick with one dive op, you don't need one, but it's not a bad idea to have one if it makes you more comfortable. Sometimes they end up essentially paying their own fees by helping you get the best deals. You don't have to work with someone local to you; you can find someone online who specializes in dive trips to the area you want to visit. Both my travel agents were based in the midwest; we never met in person.

    ETA: Forgot to mention, but one of the things the first travel agent helped me with was figuring out where to go! I gave her broad strokes: Caribbean, Christmastime, wanted to lie on a beach and drink and try scuba, not into golf or shopping, two weeks, budget about $10k, no red eyes. She came back with a detailed itinerary that was perfect, while I hadn't even known how to start narrowing down our options. The second travel agent let me in on a little secret: the all-inclusives in the area were basically the same price as the hotels that didn't include food and drink, so I might as well book an AI even if I wasn't planning to drink that much and wanted to try some adventurous hole-in-the-wall restaurants. She was right. I never would have guessed. She was also right that I didn't need to stress so much over finding a dive shop because the area was full of them and they're all pretty good, and that I could leave my fins at home. It's really nice to have a person to help you translate your vague vision into a reality, and give you practical tips along the way.
     
    KathyV likes this.
  7. diversteve

    diversteve Technical Admin

    # of Dives: I'm a Fish!
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    AKR can get pretty buggy. One afternoon we could see them in the sun. Book Superior as that means A/C. Food was just average though although you do have better options in the West Emd/West Bay a few miles west - about $10 by cab.

    More money than AKR but a lot nicer is Barefoot Cay/Divers. I've seen them rake the beach for sand flies.Good food, pool/spa and real valet diving. On the south side and 5mins. from the famous Mary's Place divesite.

    We didn't really have a bug problem on Roatan but they were murder on Utila. One of our group decided to go birdwatching in the mangroves - the next day she looked like she had the chickenpox.

    No one raves about the food at Cobalt Coast but I've heard it's decent. If you are foodies there's some excellent choices on Seven Mile Beach about 10? mins drive south. Or in Georgetown after the cruisers sail
     
    KathyV likes this.
  8. chillyinCanada

    chillyinCanada Solo Diver Staff Member

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    I've always ended up with more bites on Roatan than on Ambergris but with both it can depend on the weather and/or what the weather was like just before I got there, also which side of the island I was on.

    That said, if one is hanging out near sand or a deck on sand, perhaps of an evening quaffing beers, unless you have a really good grease slick going on your legs, it's going to be itchy later.

    In that case, benadryl and hydrocortisone cream come in very handy though lately I've been using a drop of Nasonex on bites, which seems to work a treat.
     
    KathyV likes this.
  9. Saniflush

    Saniflush ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

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    Hello fellow Atlantian (not even a word but it is now)

    You and your husband may be looking strictly at land based operations and there is lots of good advice on that offered. If you are not tied to that completely then I would also suggest you consider a liveaboard. Mrs Flush and myself were very early in our diving when we went on our first one and we thoroughly enjoyed it! We have discussed many times about how having a lot of diving in a short amount of time gave us the ability to advance our skills significantly. Almost every dive we came up from we discussed something we did that we were not please about and because it was a liveaboard we were back in the water correcting it within a couple of hours.
    I don't think we would have done that first one on our own but our local dive shop had a trip booked with a couple of opening spots and we jumped on it. I think there was a familiarity factor that played into it since we already knew some of the people that were going. After that first one though we have not thought twice about booking one ourselves without knowing anyone else that would be on the boat.
    Mrs Flush was not initially hip to being on a boat for a week (she likes her pool time as well) but that first trip made a believer out of her. Anyway, just some food for thought if you have not considered it.
     
    chillyinCanada likes this.
  10. Lorenzoid

    Lorenzoid idling in neutral buoyancy

    # of Dives: I just don't log dives
    Location: Atlanta, USA
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    If you haven’t ruled out a liveaboard, I second that suggestion. Turks & Caicos Explorer, Cayman Aggressor, maybe? Roatan is indeed an obvious next choice. I have been there twice—once at AKR—and wasn’t bothered by the sand flies. If you are interested in Belize, I would go somewhere other than Ambergris. The better diving is farther offshore. Consider Turneffe Island Resort maybe.
     
    chillyinCanada likes this.

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