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bruzin_for_a_cruizin

SCUBA recommendation for ABC on RCL

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After getting a taste last year with our first dives in St. Maartin, my daughter and I are taking the Open Water certification course through a local dive shop and expect to be fully certified for our upcoming cruise to ABC in August.  

 

I understand that Bonaire is the best island of the three for diving. RCL offers a 2-tank dive for $149/person. Has anyone used this excursion, and would it be recommended? Or would we be better served -- as raw beginners -- with an outside dive shop?

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I would recommend booking yourself for all three islands.  I wouldn't characterize any of the three as "best" as they're all different.  That being said Bonaire certainly has the reputation as a "diver's paradise".  This is well deserved as the entire west side of the island is, in essence, one giant dive site. 

 

For Bonaire, I recommend VIP Diving.  The price is actually about what the RCL ship's excursion you've quoted is.  However, their level of service justifies the cost.  They provide port pick up and return, personalized selection of dive sites, and no more than 4 divers in a group.  The price also includes a nice lunch, beverages and an overall great experience.  The first step is they sit down with you, and discuss all the site options, and come up with two site that meet your desires, and your level of experience.  Nitrox is included in the price, but only if you also have your nitrox certification.  Nitrox is usually easily bundled in with your open water course, so you may want to look at that now.  Also, while they normally use standard 80 cubic foot tanks, they have 100 cf tanks available for the asking, so ask; and you'll get more bottom time for the same price, especially since newer divers tend to use more air.  One thing with VIP is they require full payment in advance, and do not offer refunds for no-shows, even if the reason is the ship didn't make port (they will switch days for you if itinerary changes).  So make sure you have travel insurance (you should anyway).  Sine you can literally select any dive site on the island, and there is never any rush, plan for your day there to take the entire time you're in port.   (https://www.vipdiving.com/)

 

For Curacao, you want to talk with Hans Pleig, as CURious2Dive.  Again, he offers port pick-up and return, and a very reasonable price.  Curacao has sites well suited to newer divers as they reward diving at any depths, so you can stay in your comfort zone easily, working your way only to the depths you're comfortable with, and still see plenty.  Nitrox is available here at an extra cost.  (http://www.curious2dive.com/)

 

Aruba is  distinctly different than Bonaire and Curacao, in that there' isn't so much of the drop off/wall appearance to most dive sites.  That leads to it having the reputation as not being as "Good" as the other islands.  I disagree, as there are plenty of reefs with abundant life, and one of the most interesting wreck dives in the Caribbean, that is also very well suited to a new diver.  The Antilla Wreck (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Antilla_(1939) ) is in about 50 feet of water, and sank in the early days of World War II, in the intervening years, the shallow depth has resulted in its breaking up in storms.  So now, its interior is quite visible with no penetration, and that depth means even new divers will be able to explore the wreck well on one tank of air.  The operator to use there is Jeffrey Kost, of Happy Divers Aruba.  Again, he provides port pick-up and return, a reasonable price, and no more than 6 divers on the boat (usually less).  I don't believe nitrox is available here.  He's a smaller shop, so can take a couple days to reply to emails.  Also, He will always show up for the port pick up, but a few minutes late isn't uncommon, so don't panic.  (https://www.happydiversaruba.com/wp/)

 

Harris

Denver, CO

 

Edited by omeinv

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Wow, thanks so much for the thoughtful and complete reply, Harris! I will definitely check out the places you recommend.

 

I'm always very wary of private excursions. I have visions of being late back to the ship and being stranded. I know it's irrational, and these guys wouldn't have businesses if they couldn't meet the needs of cruise passengers, but it's still something I'm concerned about. However, a great experience is worth the "risk!"

 

Thanks again.

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Generally the advantage to diving is that the dives are as early in the day as the operators can do them.  I've never been anything close to late, or even close to feeling anxious. 

 

When I said to plan for the whole day with VIP, it's only because, you'll likely enjoy taking time after your dives at their lovely facility. 

 

Harris

Denver, CO

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On ‎1‎/‎26‎/‎2019 at 4:26 PM, omeinv said:

I would recommend booking yourself for all three islands.  I wouldn't characterize any of the three as "best" as they're all different.  That being said Bonaire certainly has the reputation as a "diver's paradise".  This is well deserved as the entire west side of the island is, in essence, one giant dive site. 

 

For Bonaire, I recommend VIP Diving.  The price is actually about what the RCL ship's excursion you've quoted is.  However, their level of service justifies the cost.  They provide port pick up and return, personalized selection of dive sites, and no more than 4 divers in a group.  The price also includes a nice lunch, beverages and an overall great experience.  The first step is they sit down with you, and discuss all the site options, and come up with two site that meet your desires, and your level of experience.  Nitrox is included in the price, but only if you also have your nitrox certification.  Nitrox is usually easily bundled in with your open water course, so you may want to look at that now.  Also, while they normally use standard 80 cubic foot tanks, they have 100 cf tanks available for the asking, so ask; and you'll get more bottom time for the same price, especially since newer divers tend to use more air.  One thing with VIP is they require full payment in advance, and do not offer refunds for no-shows, even if the reason is the ship didn't make port (they will switch days for you if itinerary changes).  So make sure you have travel insurance (you should anyway).  Sine you can literally select any dive site on the island, and there is never any rush, plan for your day there to take the entire time you're in port.   (https://www.vipdiving.com/)

 

 

I'm glad to see your great review of VIP Diving.  This is who we have booked our dives with next month.  I was a little nervous about their cancellation policy -  but I completely understand why they do this.  I'm just so excited that its finally getting close. Our first time in Bonaire and Curacao. We are also diving St Lucia. Can't get here soon enough to get out of this cold :)

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Back this week from our cruise to the ABC islands and my dives with Happy Divers Aruba and VIP Diving in Bonaire. I just wanted to drop a note here to thank Harris for his recommendations and give my quick reviews of both shops.

 

Happy Divers was a great, casual experience. Jeffrey picked me up in his truck with 3 other divers already collected from nearby resorts. We dove both Antilla and Arashi. We drove straight to his boat about 15 minutes away and the gear was already there. We were at the Antilla in minutes, and were the only boat at the site when we went into the water. The dive -- my first certified dive! -- was awesome. 40+ minutes all around, over and through the wreck. Saw a bunch of turtles, too! We surfaced to find several catamarans with at least 30 or 40 snorkelers in the water. Arashi was a nice reef dive with lots of different fish and more turtles. He had me back to the cruise ship by 12:30, which was plenty of time to have lunch with my family and then walk around the downtown area.

 

BONUS! The next day, I got an email from Jeffrey with about 75 high-res photos from the dive! I didn't even see him with a camera, and there was no extra charge for the pics. That's a great touch, and will make for some great lifetime memories of my first 2 dives.

 

VIP in Bonaire was very different. It's a much more polished experience; after pickup at the pier, we went to the shop for paperwork, a short briefing and gear fitting. As Harris mentions, 100 cf tanks were available, so I took those. There were only two of us in the group, myself and another passenger. It took about an hour, but then we were off to our first dive spot. Bonaire is amazing... you pretty much just pull over to the side of the road anywhere, gear up, and walk out into the water. We did our first dive at a spot called "Larry's Lair" and I was blown away by the reef wall and the variety of sea life. We surfaced about .75km away from the truck, so our dive master Aaron hoofed it back and came to get me and my dive buddy.

 

After a short lunch (really great ham sandwich!), we went to our second stop, "Red Slave." This is a more intermediate dive than I probably should have done, given my limited experience, but Aaron was "impressed" with my skills and poise in the water during our first dive that he thought I could handle it. Red Slave has some moderate current, which was obviously my first time dealing with, but boy, am I glad he took us there. Barracuda, turtles, Spotted Eagle Ray and tons of fish against the reef wall. Truly otherworldly. We had to surface a bit further out from shore than I think Aaron wanted because the currents were too strong for both me and my dive buddy so we used up a bit more air than we should have, but I never panicked and felt like Aaron was completely in control of the dive.

 

Anyways, thanks again to Harris for the recommendations. I would suggest anyone going to the ABCs and wanting to dive could do much worse than Happy Divers Aruba or VIP Diving in Bonaire.

Edited by bruzin_for_a_cruizin

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3 hours ago, bruzin_for_a_cruizin said:

Back this week from our cruise to the ABC islands and my dives with Happy Divers Aruba and VIP Diving in Bonaire. I just wanted to drop a note here to thank Harris for his recommendations and give my quick reviews of both shops.

 

Happy Divers was a great, casual experience. Jeffrey picked me up in his truck with 3 other divers already collected from nearby resorts. We dove both Antilla and Arashi. We drove straight to his boat about 15 minutes away and the gear was already there. We were at the Antilla in minutes, and were the only boat at the site when we went into the water. The dive -- my first certified dive! -- was awesome. 40+ minutes all around, over and through the wreck. Saw a bunch of turtles, too! We surfaced to find several catamarans with at least 30 or 40 snorkelers in the water. Arashi was a nice reef dive with lots of different fish and more turtles. He had me back to the cruise ship by 12:30, which was plenty of time to have lunch with my family and then walk around the downtown area.

 

BONUS! The next day, I got an email from Jeffrey with about 75 high-res photos from the dive! I didn't even see him with a camera, and there was no extra charge for the pics. That's a great touch, and will make for some great lifetime memories of my first 2 dives.

 

VIP in Bonaire was very different. It's a much more polished experience; after pickup at the pier, we went to the shop for paperwork, a short briefing and gear fitting. As Harris mentions, 100 cf tanks were available, so I took those. There were only two of us in the group, myself and another passenger. It took about an hour, but then we were off to our first dive spot. Bonaire is amazing... you pretty much just pull over to the side of the road anywhere, gear up, and walk out into the water. We did our first dive at a spot called "Larry's Lair" and I was blown away by the reef wall and the variety of sea life. We surfaced about .75km away from the truck, so our dive master Aaron hoofed it back and came to get me and my dive buddy.

 

After a short lunch (really great ham sandwich!), we went to our second stop, "Red Slave." This is a more intermediate dive than I probably should have done, given my limited experience, but Aaron was "impressed" with my skills and poise in the water during our first dive that he thought I could handle it. Red Slave has some moderate current, which was obviously my first time dealing with, but boy, am I glad he took us there. Barracuda, turtles, Spotted Eagle Ray and tons of fish against the reef wall. Truly otherworldly. We had to surface a bit further out from shore than I think Aaron wanted because the currents were too strong for both me and my dive buddy so we used up a bit more air than we should have, but I never panicked and felt like Aaron was completely in control of the dive.

 

Anyways, thanks again to Harris for the recommendations. I would suggest anyone going to the ABCs and wanting to dive could do much worse than Happy Divers Aruba or VIP Diving in Bonaire.

I'm so happy to hear you had a great time.  Hopefully "I told you so" doesn't sound bad in this case.  🙂

 

I forgot to mention the emailed photos from Jeffrey.  They are always a nice bonus; doubly so since you now have photos of your first dive. 

 

Thanks!

 

Harris

Denver, CO

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Another vote for VIP diving... They squeezed me in last last week on short notice. One of the nicest shops and staff i have used.  Well staffed, clean and our dive master was pretty amazing.  For a beginning diver, this is the place to go. 

 

In Aruba Happy divers never picked me up. I got an email later that day saying oh, we picked up someone with your first name... sorry???? Really? But Pure divers was on the dock picking up some other cruise ship groups. They were pretty good, I would feel safe with them as a new diver. 

 

 

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