Divers planning the next dive destination should consider their budget, the trip length, their own dive skills and diving objectives. These should also consider whether going on an individual diving expedition or joining group diving trips.
Whether you have two days or two weeks for a scuba adventure, the big question is “Where?”
How to decide where to go, so your precious play time and tight budget are put to the best use, is a challenge. Some divers find a place they like and keep returning to the same spot. This is boring but simple decision making.
If you ask well-traveled divers their favorite destination, there is usually a pause, followed by the question: “To do or see what?” There is no single perfect dive destination, it all depends upon an individual’s wants, needs and budget. The following are several factors for you to consider.
THE SIX BIG QUESTIONS
2. Trip length (travel plus diving days)
3. Individual or group travel
4. Personal dive skill level
5. Dive activities or objectives
6. Shore based or live-aboard boat
Be honest with yourself on each of these points. Budget probably makes a lot of decisions. A car trip to local waters, camping and shore diving is about as economical as it gets and can be great fun. It is a very different experience from staying at a four star resort and diving the tropics. The more creature comforts and pampering you want, the more the price escalates.
Trip length affects how far you can travel and still have time to dive. A West Coast diver with one week’s vacation will need two travel days minimum for a U.S. or Caribbean location, leaving four to five days for diving. The same diver going to Australia for a week would likely end up with three days of Great Barrier Reef diving-for most people that is too much travel time for the amount of diving!
Individual or group travel can be a hard decision. Most divers profess to being pretty independent but enjoy skipping all the paperwork, travel details and logistics. As a beginning traveler, group travel is an anxiety reducer. For a veteran traveler with a complex itinerary, solo may be best. Despite all the jokes about group travel, don’t write it off. It can be a wonderful way to meet interesting people, leave the work to someone else and do special things you would not have been able to arrange on your own.
Personal dive skill level has a big impact on what is best for you. Cocos Island is incredible for strong swimmers with excellent watermanship and no fear of large marine life. Cancun has clear, warm water and nearly constant currents. The Great Lakes are loaded with wrecks but the water is green and cold. Good or bad places? It depends upon your skill level and preference. A diving heaven for one person can be torture for another. Know before you go!
Dive activities or objectives will be a big factor in determining a good fit for your dive trip. Plan to spearfish? Ask before you book a boat, as many do not allow spearfishing. Want to see or not see sharks? Ask. You will be surprised at how frequent or infrequent sharks are at popular dive locations.
Want to make three to five dives a day? Ask about the schedule before you book. I was recently at a remote, expensive Great Barrier Reef island resort where diving was one of the few things to do. The normal program was one tank in the morning and one tank in the afternoon.
Shore based or live-aboard boat diving can be a big decision. Do you tend to get sea-sick, have a nondiving spouse/guest, only want to make two dives a day or crave the nightclub scene? A live-aboard may not be the right choice. However, if you measure a great day by the number of dives, lack of traffic and noise, no telephones and early to bed, then a live-aboard may be perfect. Boat trip prices have a range just like restaurants and hotels, so shop for more than price when picking a live-aboard.
THE 40 LITTLE QUESTIONS
Now that you have done some soul and pocketbook searching with the six big questions, here are the little questions to round out your decision making process. The answers will help you select a resort, hotel, live-aboard or dive operator once you have chosen the destination. There are no right or wrong answers, just personal preferences.
- Do you want to pay one fee and have everything included or pay as you go?
- Is this a romantic getaway at the resort of your dreams or is the hotel simply a place to sleep between parties and diving?
- Do you expect to be pampered and waited on or just to have clean, comfortable accommodations?
- Is dinner something you do before a night dive or is the dining experience the evening’s entertainment?
- Do you want to carry dive gear back and forth or leave it to the deckhands?
- Do you get bored easily or can you dive similar terrain for days and always see something new?
- Does it take you the first two vacation days to unwind from work and traveling and do you get itchy the last day before traveling home? Hint — you better take more than a week vacation.
- Can you put work, home and kids on automatic for the length of time needed for a certain trip?
- Is your wallet as deep as your dreams? Can you make the trip without worrying about the cost? Do you have champagne tastes and a beer budget?
- Do you want to try a new place or repeat a past experience?
- Ever thought about learning a new underwater skill, such as photography? What about coaching from a pro?
- Do people need to speak English for you to be comfortable?
- How tolerant are you of schedule changes, variable weather or mechanical problems? The more intolerant you are, the more research you need to do and the less likely you should travel during certain seasons or use budget service providers.
- Do you have a current passport? DAN card? Certification card?
- How many dives a day do you want?
- How long a boat ride to the dive site is preferred?
- Do you want to do shore diving, either as a guided group member or on your own?
- Can you use the resort’s equipment to dive on your own?
- Is night diving important to you? Is it common at this destination? Can dive lights be rented?
- How many divers can you expect on the boat?
- Are all levels of divers mixed on the same boat and diving the same site?
- Physically, how big are dive sites? Is it crowded underwater with everyone looking at the same pinnacle?
- Is solo diving permitted? Or will the boat pair you with another solo diver and expect you to buddy dive with a stranger?
- Are there divemasters available who will buddy dive with you if you wish?
- Are guided dives follow the leader style or does a guide hover above the group in the water and let you go where you choose?
- Is independent buddy pair diving permitted?
- Is computer aided multi-level diving permitted? Is there a chamber nearby?
- Is a time limit set by which you must be back at the boat regardless of your air supply or dive profile?
- What activities are prohibited?
- How is dive gear handled? Who carries it? Where is it stored?
- How long does the boat wait for latecomers?
- If you are going to a resort with a name personality, will that person be there when you are?
- If you are going on a name personality tour, will that person (or someone from his/her company) be on the trip and what does he or she do? Dive with you? Eat with the group? Lecture? Critique photographs?
- If food is included, how easy are you to please? Quality? Quantity? Likes and dislikes? Allergies? Fat free? Kosher? Is the kitchen/galley willing or able to meet your needs?
- Is there back-up gear available for use/rent if your personal gear fails or is lost What if you do not bring all of your own gear?
- What is the ratio of staff to divers?
- If you are a single, is there a surchage or single supplement cost? Will the boat put another single in your cabin without your permission? With your permission?
- What is the resort’s or boat’s history for mechanical failures? Do divers comment about the air-conditioning regularly failing?
- What have you read or heard about the specific boat or resort from other divers? Would they go back? Is it a goo A value for the money?
- How much investigation are you willing to do before booking a trip to ensure you get what you want and what you paid for?
There are thousands of well-run resorts, dive shops and live-aboard boats around the world. The challenge is to match the destination, operator, diving opportunities and price to the diver. A perfect match is diving bliss, a mismatch can be the trip from hell.
Diving tour operators usually have a standard of practice, schedule, equipment and staff that changes little from week to week. Travelers arrive with expectations from advertising, other divers’ stories, past experiences and their dreams and expect the destination to deliver. The closer the reality and the dream come to matching, the more satisfying the trip.
The trick is for diving travelers to honestly assess their wants and to select the dive destination and operator who delivers that product. Travel agents, group tour leaders and published stories are good places to start your research. The last step is to pick up the telephone or send a fax and ask the detailed or tough questions that will allow you to make an informed decision.