Beat the Crowds
Many encounter Roatan the first time as day-guests aboard cruise ships. We must be impressive as approached from the sea with deep blue waters surrounding an emerald island fringed in white sand beaches. (We’re pretty humble about it, too.) I imagine as a scuba diver standing at the rail, the only thing that could enter your mind is; how do I get underwater? And you must! Roatan has the healthiest, most pristine barrier coral reef in the world. Add to this; the reef is close to shore, the water is warm, the currents minimal, and the viz is great. There just is no better place for a scuba excursion.
Any cruise line worth their weight in midnight chocolate buffets offers scuba excursions to their guests at tropical ports, and you will never be left behind should your cruise ship sponsored excursion be late getting back to the ship. The cruise lines contract with local operators to provide island excursions including scuba diving at ports of call. With some ships carrying up to 5000 passengers it behooves the cruise companies to contract with large providers, allowing them to minimize transportation and logistics expenses. The sponsored providers typically utilize large boats to accommodate more divers, and reduce fuel, staffing, and logistics costs.
Signing up is easy, and you will never be left behind should your cruise ship sponsored excursion be late getting back to the ship (you will hear this continually, ad nauseum). At the appointed port and hour you join a large group of divers boarding bus(es) to experience the underwater wonders. Meeting your Divemaster and geared up at the resort, you join up to a hundred or so of your shipmate divers of widely differing skill levels split up into manageable groups of 20, on a boat to the dive site that today’s Divemasters took yesterday’s divers from yesterday’s ship, who arrived in yesterday’s bus(es)… you get the picture. The water is warm and clear, but the dive sites used are those deemed able to withstand constant pressure from large quantities of big groups of day-trip divers, many of questionable skill levels. For most this type of excursion proves to be a little less than satisfying, but there are wonderful alternatives!
Using Roatan as an example, because we have some of the best diving in the world, and that we are somewhat typical as a dive destination, you will find with a quick Internet search that there a lot of scuba diving providers available. Although almost all Dive Centers are not directly affiliated the cruise ship companies (these relationships are struck at champagne and caviar retreats), all are competent excursion providers who operate day in and day out safely, and under the watchful eyes of their peers. All provide excursions to cruise ship guests, and to date, with millions of passengers disembarking yearly at Roatan’s port, there has never been a missed ship by a late returned passenger, from an independent excursion provider. Our record of returning passengers prior to ships departure may be better than the Cruise Lines, just saying.
5 Reasons to book with an Independent Dive Center while your cruise ship is at port on Roatan
1. You will be returned to your ship on time for Departure
The various cruise lines all use this ruse to instill the fear of being left behind in to their customers, and to add incentive to purchase the shipboard excursion packages. Some even may play up the lack of safety of the port of call, advocating staying in their own port tourist facility where you will definitely avoid any of the sights, history, and culture of the area you are visiting. All independent tour operators, certainly including dive shops, get their cruise ship guests to their ship in time for departure. On Roatan, with thousands of cruise ship guests to the island daily there is no reported incidence of passengers missing their departure from an independent tour operator.
2. Groups will be Smaller
This cannot be stressed enough. Booking with an independent dive center will guarantee that you are not wedged into a “cattle-boat” with a hundred other divers. Chances are good your party, be it single, a couple or small group, will have your own personal Divemaster guide. Fish, organisms and things of interest will be pointed out to you, and there will be time to slow down and appreciate the sights. Roatan has some of the world’s best diving and there is no reason for your experience here to be herded, or hurried.
3. Dive sites will be Better
Operators taking groups of a hundred divers must choose their dive sites with crowd control in mind, often using sites with shallower flat bottoms to keep the masses together, and sites with less fragile or already compromised environments. With smaller groups the choice of dive site changes. Smaller groups equates to less pressure on the reef and its inhabitants. We limit our dives to a maximum of 6 divers to one Divemaster; this allows us to take you to areas of more interesting bottom topography, diverse coral and sponge habitats, and far more fish interaction. The kind of stuff we all started diving to see.
4. Transportation will be Provided
A taxi or small van will be at the port to pick you up and deliver you to the Dive Center. This will be prearranged and you will be provided exact directions where to meet your transportation who will be waiting with a sign. For many this is an added highlight to the trip. Drivers are bi-lingual, and with the privacy of a smaller vehicle can point out sites of interest and culture along the way.
5. Pricing is Competitive
You will find that when it is all said and done, that the prices paid for diving with an independent provider rather than the cruise ship provided excursion will be about the same. There will be the added inconvenience of choosing and booking online prior to your trip (although everyone welcomes walk-ins) but the intimacy and quality of your experience will be far and above anything the cruise lines will be able to provide.
While planning your cruise give independent scuba dive excursion providers a real consideration. Go online, Google; “scuba diving +your port of call”, see what there is to offer visitors at your upcoming cruise stops, and try something a little different. Talking to our cruise guests we have found that almost all are veteran cruisers, who have learned from their previous cruises how to get a more rewarding experience. Many return without a cruise ship to spend a week or so, and find more of those hidden gems Roatan has to offer.