Southern Caribbean in February

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#1
NOVA
14 Posts
Joined Sep 2013
Good afternoon all,

My wife on going to a Souther Caribbean cruise out of San Juan and going to: Bonaire (8am to 5pm), Aruba (8am to 5pm), Curacao (6am to 1pm), St. Lucia (1pm to 7pm), Barbados (8am to 4pm), Antigua (8am to 5pm), St. Kitts (8am to 5pm), and St. Thomas (8am to 5pm).

I am comfortable booking diving trips outside of the ships offerings, but would prefer operators that offer port pick-up and return (all else being equal). I am not trying to pick which locations to dive as I want to dive all of them - divers, dive! Does anyone have any recommendations? I've been diving in a couple of these spots but welcome fresh perspective.

Also, I am concerned about St. Lucia and Curacao since those are fairly short port days. This ship is offering a 1-tank dive excursion (of the Antilla) - looking forward to the wreck - amazing history... but 1-tank... you've got to be kidding me. I have reached out to Curious 2 Dive (thanks Harris), hopefully that works out. Any other thoughts on operators in these ports and the time crunch - especially St. Lucia. I understand the north side of the island is a no-go this time of year??

Thanks everyone!
#2
Denver, CO
894 Posts
Joined Dec 2006
Originally posted by DCCruiserX1
Good afternoon all,

My wife on going to a Souther Caribbean cruise out of San Juan and going to: Bonaire (8am to 5pm), Aruba (8am to 5pm), Curacao (6am to 1pm), St. Lucia (1pm to 7pm), Barbados (8am to 4pm), Antigua (8am to 5pm), St. Kitts (8am to 5pm), and St. Thomas (8am to 5pm).

I am comfortable booking diving trips outside of the ships offerings, but would prefer operators that offer port pick-up and return (all else being equal). I am not trying to pick which locations to dive as I want to dive all of them - divers, dive! Does anyone have any recommendations? I've been diving in a couple of these spots but welcome fresh perspective.

Also, I am concerned about St. Lucia and Curacao since those are fairly short port days. This ship is offering a 1-tank dive excursion (of the Antilla) - looking forward to the wreck - amazing history... but 1-tank... you've got to be kidding me. I have reached out to Curious 2 Dive (thanks Harris), hopefully that works out. Any other thoughts on operators in these ports and the time crunch - especially St. Lucia. I understand the north side of the island is a no-go this time of year??

Thanks everyone!

OK, first I would definitely not book the ship's excursion in Aruba All the cruise lines use Red Sail. They have pretty poor reviews and reputation, and I've seen their boats on dives. The very definition of a cattle boat from what I've seen (like 50 divers and snorkelers).


Going in order:

San Juan: I don't think there's any worthwhile diving in San Juan itself. I dove a shore dive there from one of the hotels, I wouldn't bother again. The good diving in Puerto Rico requires getting out of the city is all I know.


Bonaire: I strongly recommend VIP Diving. They have port pick-up and return, and provide absolutely personalized service. If you have been before, or do research and have sites you want to visit, you tell them where you want to go. The entire island is yours. They include nitrox with the price, but of course you have to have your nitrox specialty, you would want to get that in advance of your trip if you don't have it. If you like wrecks, the Hilma Hooker is a good one. Again, if you want to dive it, they'll want to see you've got your wreck specialty cert. Initially the price will likely strike you as high for shore dives. By the end of the day, you'll be bragging about what a bargain you got. HINT: They have both 80 and 100 CF tanks, so ask for the 100s. They're no extra charge. (www.vipdiving.com)

Aruba: Easy answer, Happy Divers Aruba. Jeffrey there is great. Maximum 6 divers, usually less. Since the boat is limited, book early. Jeffrey will provide port pick up and and return, and a great day. Let him know you want to dive the Antilla, and he'll make it happen. There are other nice sites nearby. The Pedernales also has interesting history. Blue reef gives you a wreck and reef. Jeffrey can take a couple days to respond to emails, but he'll get back to you and get you all set. (www.happydiversaruba.com)

Curacao: It sounds like you've already got the answer. Hans with CURious2dive will give you a great day. He has nitrox at an extra fee, but the dive profiles make it worth it. If you're interested, ask him to take you hunting lionfish. It's a lot of fun, and it helps the reef. Your port hours are odd, but Hans will make it work if anyone can, and he definitely picks up and returns to the port. The tugboat site is quite famous and a lot of fun. I like Director's Bay a lot too. (www.curious2dive.com)

St. Lucia: I dove with Scuba Steve's. They were good, but not amazing like the above and below operators. The sea life there was great. We dove Superman's Flight, which is probably the most famous site there. Our second dive, Pinnacles, was actually better. They offer two packages. Pay the extra for the upgraded package, as the lower price keeps you close to the port where the viz isn't so good. The nice thing is the dive boat picks you up from the cruise ship pier. No way to know if they can work with your hours. (www.scubastevesdiving.com)

Barbados: Another simple answer, West Side Scuba Centre. Peter and Heather there definitely will take good care of you. Another great wreck dive here, the Stavron Ikita. The wreck has something for everyone, the mast is nearly at the surface, and the prop is at 130 feet. They will meet you at the port, and return you. (www.westsidescuba.com)

Antigua: The diving is no where near the port. We dove with Dive Carib, which is on the south side of the island in English Harbor The port is 20 miles +/- away on the west side. The diving was only OK, and not worth the hassle, I will say seeing English Harbor was worthwhile, especially since St. John hasn't got much to offer. Dive Carib wasn't exactly my favorite operator, but they're basically the only option. If I book a cruise that calls on Antigua, I'll likely stay on the ship. (www.divecarib.com)

St. Kitts: Another easy one, Dive St. Kitts. They provide port pick up and return. However, the pick up seems to be Their weak point. Every time it's been a bit disorganized, however, it's always worked out. They have a multitude of nice sites,a nd usually you see some interesting life All this combines with a really friendly operator. (www.divestkitts.com)

St. Thomas: If you like wrecks better, I'd say Blue Island Divers. If you want reefs, Aqua Marine Dive center would be my recommendation. Blue Island's boat comes to the port, so that solves that. Dive Aqua Marine will provide pick-up/drop off. Of the two I found Aqua Marine to be the friendlier and more personal, but both are good. For some reason, Aqua Marine uses 72 CF tanks, instead of the usual 80 CF, no biggie, but it shortens your dive time a little. (www.blueislanddivers.com and www.diveaquamarine.com)

Feel free to email with any questions.

Harris
Denver, CO
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#3
NOVA
14 Posts
Joined Sep 2013
Harris,

Thank you so much for the information. That was very helpful and I've already booked with two of the operators and working on the others. I have been to Antigua a couple of times in the last year or so - the first time I did not dive because I'd read it wasn't worth it. The second time was a cruise sponsored by my LDS - we went with Jolly Dive. Aside from a drive and the owners selling t-shirts from the house (no shop) I think they did a good job - although on trip advisor reviews are mixed.

This will be the first time that I've gone out on my own in a large way to schedule dives. I've done one before (ProDivers in St. Thomas) so the local time, my time, and ship time is something I really need to figure out. Don't want to miss the dive boat on one end or the ship on the other...

Do you (or anyone) happen to know what Norwegian cruise lines uses for ships time? At this time of year those of us on the east coast are on the same time as the Caribbean. Although when we fall back an hour in a few months they don't do that so when I cruise in February the islands will be an hour ahead. So I need to find out if the published docking time is local time or ship time - and, if ship time what that will be (I am guessing it will remain Eastern???). Any insights?

Thanks so very much,
Rodney
#4
Denver, CO
894 Posts
Joined Dec 2006
Originally posted by DCCruiserX1
Harris,

Thank you so much for the information. That was very helpful and I've already booked with two of the operators and working on the others. I have been to Antigua a couple of times in the last year or so - the first time I did not dive because I'd read it wasn't worth it. The second time was a cruise sponsored by my LDS - we went with Jolly Dive. Aside from a drive and the owners selling t-shirts from the house (no shop) I think they did a good job - although on trip advisor reviews are mixed.

This will be the first time that I've gone out on my own in a large way to schedule dives. I've done one before (ProDivers in St. Thomas) so the local time, my time, and ship time is something I really need to figure out. Don't want to miss the dive boat on one end or the ship on the other...

Do you (or anyone) happen to know what Norwegian cruise lines uses for ships time? At this time of year those of us on the east coast are on the same time as the Caribbean. Although when we fall back an hour in a few months they don't do that so when I cruise in February the islands will be an hour ahead. So I need to find out if the published docking time is local time or ship time - and, if ship time what that will be (I am guessing it will remain Eastern???). Any insights?

Thanks so very much,
Rodney
Rodney,

I cruise primarily on Celerity, with the occasional Royal Caribbean. They almost always go on local time I took one Norwegian cruise years ago, and I do remember they did NOT switch to local time.

However, since you're sailing from San Juan, all the islands will be on the same time as Puerto Rico, so there shouldn't be a difference between ship and island time; or a need for any time changes during your cruise. None of the Caribbean islands switch to daylight time, and all are on Atlantic Standard time (UTC -4). Eastern time is UTC -4 for Daylight Saving Time, and UTC -5 for Standard Time.

Harris
Denver, CO
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#5
649 Posts
Joined Jun 2014
My wife is the diver in the family so I am passing along what she did last fall. I believe on Bonaire it was very difficult to book off-ship because the bigger company had contracts with the cruise line. They were very upfront when she tried to book directly.

They actually wound up claiming to be staying at a resort, and they took a taxi there to get picked up an avoid the higher price. Not recommending but that's what they did.
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#6
NOVA
14 Posts
Joined Sep 2013
Thanks Harris.

I'd forgotten that we're cruising from San Juan - so used to leaving out of Miami or Ft. Lauderdale - duh. I suspect you are correct, although I'll check in with NCL.

Thanks so much for all of the great information!

Who do you use on Western Caribbean cruises? We've used Dreamtime in Costa Maya (ship excursion), Anthony's Key in Roaton (ship excursion - bit chaotic at the shop), and both Dive with Martin (on our own) and Sand Dollar Sports in Cozumel (ship excursion), and Dressel Divers in Jamaica (ship excursion).

Thanks again,
Rodney
#7
NOVA
14 Posts
Joined Sep 2013
Wow! That is a creative solution - although I'm guessing a bit of a headache. Do you recall the name of the operator that she ended up using?

Thanks again,
Rodney
#8
649 Posts
Joined Jun 2014
Originally posted by DCCruiserX1
Wow! That is a creative solution - although I'm guessing a bit of a headache. Do you recall the name of the operator that she ended up using?

Thanks again,
Rodney
I'm just guessing - Dive Buddy? She had used them years ago and likes them.
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#9
NOVA
14 Posts
Joined Sep 2013
Thanks very much! I really appreciate the info. This is our first trip to Bonaire so coming in on a cruise is a bit of a taste-test before heading out there at some point for a week or so...

Thanks again,
Rodney
#10
Tucson, Arizona and San Carlos, Mexico
4,296 Posts
Joined Jul 2009
We went to Captain Don's Habitat in Bonaire and had two wonderful shore dives. Just take a taxi each way.
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#11
NOVA
14 Posts
Joined Sep 2013
Originally posted by Laurie S.
We went to Captain Don's Habitat in Bonaire and had two wonderful shore dives. Just take a taxi each way.
Thank you Laurie,

I've not heard of Captain Don's Habitat. Is it a far taxi ride ($)?

Thanks again,
Rodney
#12
Greeley, Colorado, USA
85 Posts
Joined Nov 2004
Bonaire is a fairly small island, nothing is a very long taxi ride! Been there x5 for island-based diving vacations. Captain Don's is a top-notch operation, and the shore diving on Bonaire can't be beat. Although I will say that one of the rare times we did a boat dive out to Klein Bonaire (tiny island off the coast of the main island) we saw a giant manta ray...so cool!!
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#13
Charlotte, NC
308 Posts
Joined Feb 2011
We used Indigo Divers in Antigua a few years back and they sail out of Jolly Harbour, which (if I recall) was about 25-30 minutes away. We really liked them. Used The Dive Bus on Curacao and had a great time (shore diving). We did a cruise and went diving in every port and a couple picked us up at the cruise dock, but I can't remember which ones. They were all very responsive to emails, so just ask them.

We've been to Bonaire 5x now (not on cruises, just trips to Bonaire) and have used a few operators over the years. We stayed @ Captain Don's once (it was a pit), but the house reef was great. Not sure how it would be for cruisers, but definitely get something setup ahead of time! The island is pretty small and cab rides up to Captain Don's (or other operators near there) would be maybe 15 minutes. I think an added benefit of using a resort dive operator (Captain Don's, Dive Buddy, etc.) is that they'd probably help you get a cab home and everything is contained right there. Not so great that you'd only see their house reef, but since you have limited time, it's a solid option. Otherwise, you really need to rent a truck for the day use an operator like Dive Friends, pick up tanks and plop yourself in the water at one of the clearly marked dive sites on the island.

FYI - in all our trips to Bonaire, we've never done a boat dive. The shore diving is fab - but get a copy of Bonaire Shore Diving Made Easy, as she details how easy/difficult dives are based on a myriad of factors and gives advice on parking, entry, exit, etc.
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#14
NOVA
14 Posts
Joined Sep 2013
Originally posted by aqua2
Bonaire is a fairly small island, nothing is a very long taxi ride! Been there x5 for island-based diving vacations. .... Although I will say that one of the rare times we did a boat dive out to Klein Bonaire (tiny island off the coast of the main island) we saw a giant manta ray...so cool!!
The manta would be awesome! Thanks for sharing. We are really looking forward to diving the island - I know this is a must visit scubacation location, so we're sure to fly down at some point to experience more of what the island has to offer.

Thanks again,
Rodney
#15
NOVA
14 Posts
Joined Sep 2013
Originally posted by lunula
We used Indigo Divers in Antigua a few years back and they sail out of Jolly Harbour, which (if I recall) was about 25-30 minutes away. We really liked them. Used The Dive Bus on Curacao and had a great time (shore diving). We did a cruise and went diving in every port and a couple picked us up at the cruise dock, but I can't remember which ones. They were all very responsive to emails, so just ask them.

We've been to Bonaire 5x now (not on cruises, just trips to Bonaire) and have used a few operators over the years. We stayed @ Captain Don's once (it was a pit), but the house reef was great. Not sure how it would be for cruisers, but definitely get something setup ahead of time! The island is pretty small and cab rides up to Captain Don's (or other operators near there) would be maybe 15 minutes. I think an added benefit of using a resort dive operator (Captain Don's, Dive Buddy, etc.) is that they'd probably help you get a cab home and everything is contained right there. Not so great that you'd only see their house reef, but since you have limited time, it's a solid option. Otherwise, you really need to rent a truck for the day use an operator like Dive Friends, pick up tanks and plop yourself in the water at one of the clearly marked dive sites on the island.

FYI - in all our trips to Bonaire, we've never done a boat dive. The shore diving is fab - but get a copy of Bonaire Shore Diving Made Easy, as she details how easy/difficult dives are based on a myriad of factors and gives advice on parking, entry, exit, etc.

Thank you very much for the link to the guide I will take a look at that. The idea of renting a vehicle and just driving around the island seems a bit daunting - especially being on island for only about 8 hours.

I've read about a few of the resorts - do you have a favorite that you'd recommend? We do plan on going down at some point for a dedicated island vacation.

Thanks again,
Rodney