In the first of this three-part blog, The Scuba Genies share their trip report from Florida!
It’s a dive trip – but not as you know it!
Finding a great dive destination that we can travel to whilst the World is still in the grips of the COVID pandemic is like trying to catch flies with chopsticks, but we keep trying! Our latest exploration came about from looking at rules and regulations, evaluating them all, making plans, changing them, until finally, we came up with a place that we could go dive that we hadn’t been to before.
Being married to a US Citizen meant that I could enter the USA and having a family house to sell meant that I could also leave the UK, so Florida was on the cards. I had some preconceptions about diving in Florida – I didn’t expect it to be amazing but was so fed up with diving in the fishpond and bathtub that I was of the opinion that anything would do.
How very wrong I was!
Let me open this prose with one fact, to be substantiated later – the diving I experienced in Florida was top notch. I don’t remember surfacing once without a huge smile of my face, and I can also say that I experienced two ‘dives of a lifetime’. Having logged over 2500 dives, this is really saying something!
Now dear readers, I must tell you that this trip was very different to any other trip I have done before. No beach resort, no all-inclusive hotel, no liveaboard leg, and very little of the normal relaxing on the beach in the surface intervals. This was a 100mph experience from start to finish…
FLORIDA : FLY-DRIVE-DIVE : KEY LARGO
Arriving at Miami International Airport is always an experience – this place is busy with a capital B. Collecting baggage, through the lengthy immigration queues and on to the car rental stations was just the start.
Our intended FLY-DRIVE-DIVE package has divers exploring the Florida coastline from Jupiter in the North to Key Largo in the South, and for me, leaving Miami and heading south to the Keys was the plan.
A quick one-hour road trip through the metropolis of Miami and the edge of the Everglades National Park had us arriving in the beautiful Key Largo, checking in at the Holiday Inn in time for dinner. Neat and tidy rooms, plenty of space, coffee machine and fridge, plus hairdryer and air-conditioning and a choice of pillows – perfect!
Some very windy weather forced the local dive operators to cancel a few days of diving, so we took the opportunity to explore the area. Key Largo – a beautiful place. Only half a mile wide at its widest point, this is the longest of over 800 keys, separated by some 42 bridges! On both sides, the island is dotted with marinas, boat ramps, bars and restaurants, and whilst it is very much a beach town, there is no lack of facilities – if you forget to bring anything, you can get it here! Dive shops (some of warehouse proportions) are everywhere.
Apart from dive gear shopping, visiting the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and chilling by the pool, you must take in the sunsets. We found the aptly named Sundowners on the West side of the Key, and sat on the deck right by the water, catching the most spectacular sunset, whilst enjoying an amazing cocktail or two. And for food lovers, there is no better place in our opinion than the marina-side Sharkeys Sharkbite Grill. We ate here at least 8 times in 6 days it was that good – the BEST fresh grouper and beer boiled shrimp ever! Accompanied by cold beers and live music in the evenings, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Once the wind moved on, we scheduled five days diving in Key Largo, utilising the services of two different operators. Rainbow Reef Divers, one of the biggest operations we have experienced globally and with eight large dive boats, looked after us well for a couple of days. We also scheduled a day of diving with Sea Dwellers. Sea Dwellers are a smaller operator, with two excellent dive boats, and their attention to detail, customer service and quality dive briefings were all excellent. The more personal service they provided was something that we preferred. Both operations were within walking distance of our hotel, and this made humping gear a far lesser chore.
The diving was, quite simply, excellent. Warm and clear waters, enough current to drift properly, and plenty of nooks and crannies to drop into to explore find life to photograph. The reefs here are super-healthy, packed to the surface with marine life, and we saw sharks, turtles, grouper, spadefish, morays, tuna, dolphins to name but a few. Critters galore too – shrimp, crabs, slipper lobsters and the snake-like gold spot morays. Then, there were the wrecks!
There are over 1,000 wrecks of the coast of the Keys, but Key Largo has probably the best – with the Benwood (a phenomenal night dive too), USCG Duane, USCGC Bibb and of course, the largest deliberately sunk wreck in the World, the 160m long USS Spiegel Grove. Sunk in 2002, she is suitable for recreational divers at a depth of 25m to her decks, but technical, extended range and of course side mount and twinset divers are well catered for, as are CCR divers.
We left Key Largo swearing a blood-oath to come back, and soon, and drove up Route 1 towards our next destination, West Palm Beach, full of anticipation, but with a little sadness too – Key Largo is a place that we would go to again and again.
Stay tuned for the next leg of our Fly Drive Dive tour of Florida but in the meantime check out some of our favourite images from Key Largo:
- Getting there : This was part of our Fly Drive Dive itinerary, but Key Largo is a destination we would suggest on its own. Nonstop flights to Miami or Orlando are available daily with several car rental companies to choose from based on your needs.
- Air temperature : In the spring and summer expect highs of 26 to 32 with milder temperatures in the winter. Rain is more likely June through September.
- Water temperature : An average of 25 in the cooler months and 29 in the summer
- Visa requirements : An ESTA is required to visit the USA. Currently an ESTA costs $14.00 and is valid for multiple trips for a two-year period. Application can be completed online at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/
- Currency : US Dollar with ATM easily found and all major credit cards accepted.
- Electricity : 120V with 2 and 3 prong plugs.
Accommodation: Holiday Inn Key Largo. This hotel is just steps away from the Marina and the boats of both Rainbow Reef and Sea Dwellers. And even more importantly Diver’s Warehouse is across the street – convenient for divers yet inconvenient for the wallet!
Diving: Rainbow Reef Dive Center has a fleet of 8 boats that offer both morning and afternoon 2 tank charters. Their online calendar makes it simple to pick the dive sites that interest you.
Sea Dwellers offers both morning and afternoon charters in addition to night dives. And once a month they offer a dive or snorkel in collaboration with the Coral Restoration Foundation. Get some training in the morning with diving in the afternoon returning corals to the Carysfort Coral Nursery. How cool is that?!?!
Price Guide: from £1995pp for 7 nights in Key Largo with a 10 dive package, car rental and return flights and from £3695pp for our complete Fly Drive Dive 14 night package with diving in Key Largo, Palm Beach and Jupiter, accommodation, car rental and return flights.
Favourite Dive Sites: Molasses Reef, Hole in the Wall, Christ Statue, French Reef.
Favourite Spots: Divers Direct Warehouse! John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Publix, Sharkeys Sharkbite Grill, Sundowner’s.
Check our website for more information on diving in Florida:
Come Dive with Us!
Find out more about the worldwide dive itineraries that The Scuba Place offers at www.thescubaplace.co.uk.
How Scuba Diving can help you overcome physical and mental challenges
This International Disabilities Day (December 3 2022) PADI is reminding the world of the healing aspects that the ocean (or any body of water) can provide us all and how important of a modality it is for helping those with physical or mental challenges improve their wellbeing. From simply being within close proximity of it or diving beneath the salty surface for an underwater adventure, the ocean is also healing.
Regardless of your age, ability, or even limitations, the ocean can benefit us physically, emotionally and even spiritually. This is why PADI is on a mission to make those benefits accessible to all, launching their Adaptive Techniques Diving Course in the hopes that all of humanity can experience the full transformational power the ocean offers us.
While many are more familiar with traditional therapies, whether it be diving, mermaiding or freediving, people around the world have been forever changed by connecting with the water – conquering mental or physical perceived limitations.
There are an estimated one billion people on the planet that have a physical and/or mental disability – imagine the power that diving and immersion can have on this population if awarded the opportunity.
PADI’s history is replete with people whose lives have been transformed by connecting with the water because they were able to experience and explore the underwater world through PADI programme and certifications. PADI’s approach to diver education has always been inclusive and is a key pillar to their Pillars of Change. Everyone who meets prerequisites is welcome to join the global community of 29 million+ certified PADI Divers.
PADI created two courses that focus on increasing awareness of varying diver abilities and exploring adaptive teaching techniques to apply when training and diving with physically and mentally challenged divers: the PADI Adaptive Techniques Specialty and the PADI Adaptive Support Diver course.
These courses further expand Instructors’ and Divemasters’ abilities to be student-centered and prescriptive in approach when adapting techniques to meet diver needs. Here are the various ways PADI helps those with disabilities overcome all their challenges by connecting them with water:
1. Improved Muscular Movement, Light Sensitivity and PTSD Symptoms
A 2011 study conducted by Johns Hopkins University found, “veterans with spinal cord injuries who underwent a four-day scuba diving certification saw significant improvement in muscle movement, increased sensitivity to light touch and pinprick on the legs, and large reductions in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.”
2. Lifts Your Mental State and Mood
Did you know that the ocean air can literally lift your mood? “The sound and vision of the ocean lift our mood,” says consultant psychiatrist Dr Arghya Sarkhel. “The touch of sand and the smell of a seaside breeze leads to relaxation. On a biological level, this audio-visual stimulus incites our parasympathetic nervous system—that activates ‘rest and digest’, as opposed to ‘fight or flight’,” he says. Now scientists are quantifying the positive cognitive and physical effects of water and the improved sense of physical health and well-being.
Equally diving into the therapeutic benefits that diving can provide is Jeffery Puncher, Director for the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottowa. He is currently developing a virtual reality diving programme to help his patients find relief from stress and anxiety–using calming scenes of coral reefs and the swaying seas along with the soothing sounds of bubbles beneath the surface. This programme is currently being used with medical students, residents and faculty, with the goal of growing it to be adopted nationwide to help also support the psychological health of first responders.
3. Provides You with a Sense of Peace
Wallace J. Nichols, a marine biologist, has done extensive research on the ocean’s unique ability to induce a state of what he calls the “Blue Mind” in human beings. Blue Mind is a mildly meditative state characterized by calmness, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment. Nichols states that our brains are hardwired to react positively to water and that being near it can calm and connect us, increase innovation and insight, and heal us on a deep level.
4. Enhanced Physical Movement
Being in the water allows you the opportunity to experience a feeling of flexibility and freedom that those with disabilities would rarely get to experience on land. This is because on land the muscles become restricted by the force of gravity. But in the water, that sensation drifts away and is replaced by the freedom to feel the freedom of movement.
5. Confidence and Control
The freedom of enhanced physical movement in the water also provides a sense of increased confidence and control. They can explore beneath the surface just like able-bodied people can do, which equally increases their own self-belief and feelings of empowerment.
6. Anxiety Relief
Those with disabilities who equally suffer from anxiety can find tranquility beneath the surface. By having to focus on your breath and being in the moment, all of the mental stress that can come with having a disability is no longer top of mind and instead allows for an escape in which you can truly enjoy the moment.
Find out more at www.padi.com
Scubapro Winter Promo: free gift!
Divers can look forward to the cold-water season this winter, as SCUBAPRO is offering a free K2 Light undersuit set (top & pants) to all scuba enthusiasts who purchase an EVERDRY 4.0 neoprene dry suit by 15 January.
The EVERDRY 4.0 is a high-quality dry suit made from compressed neoprene. It combines the slim fit, comfort and flexibility of a wetsuit with the warmth and tightness of a dry suit.
The K2 Light Set is the ideal undergarment for neoprene dry suits. Its light grid plush material reliably holds the warmth where you need it in cold waters. The Everdry’s elastic wrist loops and heel strap suspenders keep sleeves and pants in place under the suit. Available in men’s and women’s sizes.
A combination that turns your cold-water lake into a hotspot!
For more information visit the Scubapro website.
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