How to do my first dive vacation
May 4, 2015 6:10 PM   Subscribe

I just acquired my PADI Open Water certification. I want to go on a scuba diving vacation in early August. I've never traveled before and don't know the best way to do it, given some complicating factors.

I am a brand new diver who just acquired my PADI Open Water certification. I want to go scuba diving in early August for, I dunno, about a week, give or take. I can't drive and don't want to dive around here (upper midwestern U.S.) anyway.

I can, however, get to an airport. So, I'm looking for a place I can fly to, stay for a week, and dive, all without a car. Not looking for luxury or the whole resort experience -- or even especially great diving -- just something easy, frugal, and low-stress, where I can maybe see some fish, and then, the rest of the day, I don't know, walk around or something.

So the priorities, in order, would be:
1) Easy
2) Diving suitable for novices
3) Easy
4) Low stress
5) Modest/frugal/inexpensive

I will be going alone and am not very confident or experienced, obviously, so would like to be paired up with someone who knows what they are doing. I assume this would be the dive master?

Nor am I confident or experienced at traveling. It would be nice to be able to search packages (but what exactly am I searching for?) and then just pick one and be done. But the packages aren't labeled like, "... and you can do it all without a car!" Are there sites that aggregate these so I don't have to sift through hundreds of Google results? Or is there a better way?

I do have a passport.
posted by panem_et_circenses to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
my siblings-in-law are really into diving (they're both divemasters now I think) and we went to mexico last year, and the dive shop they were working with just picked them up at the resort and drove them to the locations (they did a cenote and a reef I believe on two different locations) and then dropped them off at the resort after, so you can definitely contact local diveshops before you go and see if this would be possible.

In almost every resort I've stayed at they've have dive "packages" available, where you can train in the pool and then they'll take you out in the ocean. So most resorts would probably just be able to help you.

We stayed at the Now Jade in the Riviera Maya, and the diveshop was located near there. If you want, memail me and I can get specific contacts and stuff from my SIL if you want to know exactly which dive shop they used and can recommend.
posted by euphoria066 at 6:36 PM on May 4, 2015

Bonaire. Memail me if you want convincing. It's bathtub easy water for a beginner (you don't need to shore dive if you aren't ready) and there is a ton of stuff to do.
posted by cyndigo at 6:43 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

There's a ton of liveaboard boats out there. I had a great time with Pro Dive (out of Cairns in Australia), for example. Lots of them are fairly remote, so take this with a grain of salt. The Aggressor fleet is a great place to start.

Liveaboards also let you work on your AOW and Nitrox certifications, both of which I recommend next.

More local to the US is the South Florida Diving Headquarters (Pompano/Ft Lauderdale, FL). I've spent a week here and there with them and loved it. Down to earth yet safe and technical. Rent a place close and walk over every day.
posted by kcm at 7:12 PM on May 4, 2015

I did Bahamas (Nassau) 2 years ago and found it delightful. The diving was really low stress, they'd pick you up at the hotel, it was a week entirely without panhandling.

I would pick a hotel there and then work with a dive company instead of doing a liveaboard due to cost.

I would caution against hunting your next certs up (specifically AOW and Nitrox as kcm suggested), try getting some open water dives where you feel like you have your buoyancy under control. Diving is not a 'gotta collect 'em all' sport and certificates are not like merit badges.

When you think you've got that under control, try some night dives! A liveaboard will improve your skills really quickly, but 5 dives a day for 3+ days and you'll be exhausted, so if you do go this route, give yourself a day recovery at the end.
posted by msamye at 7:19 PM on May 4, 2015

Several years ago, I went on a 2 week dive vacation in the Caymans. I stayed at two different resorts -- a week at each resort. One of them was on the East End of Grand Cayman and the other was on Cayman Brac. They picked me up at the airport and for 2 weeks all I did was dive, eat, read, and sleep. It was the most relaxing vacation I've ever had.
posted by elmay at 7:28 PM on May 4, 2015

I would check whether Cocoview on Roatan is within your budget. That's about as easy as it gets. Two boat trips per day (and you have the same group on your boat the whole trip), and all the shore diving you want to squeeze in. The diving is very easy, and you still see a good mix of stuff. It's a "resort", which in this case just means you are essentially in a little bubble, it takes effort to go into town, food magically appears at the right time, and all the basics are included (diving, food, housing).
posted by ktkt at 7:44 PM on May 4, 2015

Yes, all of the dive fanatics I know go to Roatan.
The places they stay are just dive focused, not fancy at all.
posted by littlewater at 8:23 PM on May 4, 2015

+1 for Utila and Roatan. Both are easily accessible (direct flights run from Houston to Roatan), have amazing diving at a very cheap rate ($30/tank, as far as I can recall), and comfortable private accommodations for less than $40/night.

I just got back last month - memail me if you want detailed recommendations. I am a novice diver (6 dives prior to trip) and found plenty of beginner friendly sites with amazing wildlife (dolphins, turtles, squid, huge lobsters). It was a blast.

I haven't been personally, but have heard that the Mayan Riviera (Caribbean coast of Mexico) is great too. You can hop flights from the US to Cancun for dirt cheap, then travel down the coast easily on a budget.

If you can afford the plane ticket, Koh Tao in Thailand is another great divers haven that is very affordable once you are in country.
posted by 11dawgs1 at 12:29 AM on May 5, 2015

Also, don't worry about traveling alone. All of the places I mention in the post above have numerous reputable shops that are very used to accommodating beginners. The good ones put beginners in small groups with an experienced divemaster, find easy sites, watch equipment setup closely, monitor oxygen levels closely, and often track depth time for you (i.e. the divemaster has a watch and sets the recommended depth for the whole group, then tells you to stay at their level).

Look for PADI 5 Star shops that certify instructors, as a good rule of thumb.
posted by 11dawgs1 at 12:42 AM on May 5, 2015

Years ago some friends and I stayed at Deep Blue Utila in Honduras. It was by far the easiest and best dive vacation I have ever been on. They pick you up from the airport, load you on a boat (it's the only way to get from the airport/town to the resort), and take you to the resort. It's a small resort, so our dive group was the same every day, with the same two divemasters, for the week we were there. You really get to know the people you're diving with, and the divemasters and management were fantastic. I can't recommend it enough.

If the full blown resort is out of your price range, they also have a dive center/hostel in town called Deep Blue Divers. Unsurprisingly, it seemed to cater to a younger backpacker-type crowd than the resort. Utila the town is small enough that you can walk the main drag easily if you want to try some restaurants or whatever. If you're at the resort, they're happy to take you into town any time.

The diving was pretty easy there (I'm not a super-experienced diver), and they're happy to cater to the needs and wants of their groups and individual divers. Plus, you have a shot at seeing whale sharks! (No diving with them, but you can snorkel.)
posted by natabat at 8:49 AM on May 5, 2015

Your local dive shops may sponsor group trips that would solve the problem of traveling alone as well as potentially get group discounts on travel, lodging, and equipment rental.
posted by TedW at 9:10 AM on May 5, 2015

This is an industry that exists to cater largely to your level of experience. Most locations you either need no car, can take a taxi, or they provide transportation. Nobody touristy will have a car, or be expected to, basically.

How many dives do you want to do in a day? One? Three? Five? Two or three is probably about right, I'd guess- one seems like too few, and much more than three can actually be pretty tiring. OH! and, also, make sure someone who knows their stuff discusses the effects of depth and airplanes... you have to plan the last few dives/day so the nitrogen won't be a problem on the plane home. Not a big scary problem, just something to know about.

Cozumel is ok diving, touristy, and probably the least intimidating in terms of Foreign.

Roatan and Honduras are both good!

I didn't get to dive in Costa Rica, but EVERYBODY there was super friendly.

Florida Keys?

But yeah, check with your dive shops/local scuba clubs and even a travel agent.

(If you have anything vital to your trip- inhaler, custom glasses on the mask, specialty sized vest... you may want to take it in carry-on on the plane. Just in case.)
posted by Jacen at 1:05 PM on May 5, 2015

You've gotten a whole lot of really good advice here. There's a really good forum for scuba: There are travel forums in there where you can do everything from meet up with groups going places to ask specific questions. On Scubaboard you can get a sense of the (a) best or (b) best value, dive ops in a particular area.

I've mostly done liveaboards myself (always alone), because you get more diving per dollar. (You're only paying one fee, the boat. With land-based, you have to pay for your hotel, meals, AND diving fees). But if beach time or local culture is important to you, then you might opt for land based. Liveaboards vary greatly in price - there are ones aimed more toward a more economical market, and ones aimed more toward the luxury market.

As TedW said, another thing to do is check with your LDS (local dive shop) (or other local dive shops) for group vacation trips. Most of them offer one or two a year to foreign lands, and then they do most or all of the organization for you.

Have fun with your new adventure!
posted by bluesky78987 at 2:47 PM on May 5, 2015

Would it be hard for you to get nitrox? I always got a hangover from regular O2 and was glad I had free nitrox as part of my package deal when I went on a dive trip, diving multiple times a day. YMWV.

It sounds like it might be overkill for you now, but Palau has fantastic diving and would probably be a great trip once you have more experience. I had padi open water, nitrox, and deep water when I went (via a dive shop group trip), and the guides were experienced and I kept up even when my buoyancy control wasn't great. Nightlife is basically nonexistent, but the natural beauty is phenomenal and there are good restaurants/ you can walk around safely.
posted by momus_window at 7:43 PM on May 5, 2015

One last note that may make you feel better about traveling alone:

Most dive shops I have gone through have routinely had end of day get togethers (breaking out a case of beer and guitar, having a barbeque, etc) to celebrate the day's adventure. In addition, you often end up at the same accommodations as the people you dive with since many dive shops offer discounts at local hotels.

In other words, it's very easy to travel solo and make friends, as long as you are willing to strike up conversations with your boatmates and feel out the vibe of your dive shop before signing up. I have met many solo travelers in dive havens (Koh Tao, Roatan, Utila, Caye Caulker, Little Corn Island), most of whom were keen to make friends. I suspect that it's partially due to the circumstance, and partially due to the type of person who loves to have staring contests with sharks. :)

Happy trails!
posted by 11dawgs1 at 12:23 AM on May 6, 2015

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