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Florida Fly Drive Dive Part 2 – Palm Beach County

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In the second of this three-part blog, The Scuba Genies share their trip report from Florida!

The second leg of our Fly-Drive-Dive trip was Palm Beach County Florida. Just short of 3 hours from our first stop in Key Largo, we arrived at The Marriott Palm Beach Gardens after driving north along Highway 1, around the outskirts of Miami.

Palm Beach, Florida is home to the PGA – the Professional Golf Association, and the area is uber chic with luxury shopping, world-class restaurants, and top-notch golf resorts at every highway junction. The Marriott we booked is more of a business hotel than the traditional beach resort, but has a great pool, terrace and hot tub to the rear, plentiful free parking, and lovely rooms complete with all the mod cons – laundry service, hairdryers, fridge and coffee maker in the very comfortable and spacious rooms. A full-service restaurant and bar are on the ground floor, and there are plentiful eateries and markets within a 5-minute drive.

A friend and dive shop owner in the Orlando area recommended Pura Vida Divers, so we took his advice and booked 4 days diving. This was a great decision, as these guys really know their stuff, and provided some of the best service we have encountered anywhere. Pura Vida offers two-tank morning and afternoon boat dives with most dive sites within 30 minutes of leaving the marina. And with the boats docked just 15 minutes south of the hotel it was so convenient.

It was surreal, leaving the inlet, bumbling past the multi-million-dollar super yachts in the deep-water marinas and heading along the coast to see the huge urban landscape, including Mar-A- Lago and The Breakers resort hotels, but we had been told the diving was good, so were full of anticipation. We were not disappointed – the diving was pretty darn spectacular! Great stepped reefs, swim throughs and the perfect amount of current – together with great visibility of 20m or more.

The dive briefings were detailed, and the guiding if you wanted it, was spot-on too. This is drift diving at its best. We learned quickly to take that giant stride off the back of the boat with cameras in hand as soon as the captain yells Dive! Dive! Dive! and follow the guide down to the site.

Dive sites such as Juno’s Ledge and Flower Gardens offered up both the small stuff with numerous types of shrimp, crab and nudis to the big stuff with Goliath grouper, barracuda and sharks, it was all there! Schooling jacks, spadefish, grunts and snapper were common backdrops to the reef structure, and of course, as it was nesting season, turtles galore! We encountered numerous hawksbill, loggerhead and green turtles on every dive, and even spotted two leatherbacks on the surface, although these beauties were a little more camera-shy and shot off when we tried to get close to them.

And for the metal-heads, there are a handful of nice wrecks too, surrounded of course by Goliath grouper and several species of shark, including Lemon, Sandbar, Silk and Bulls – and it is not uncommon to get the odd Tiger or Hammerhead either. The wrecks here have been, in the main, deliberately sunk and form trails – three wrecks on one dive to make the most of the currents! The Shasha (184’ former drug-smuggling freighter) and the 180’ St Jacques and the 170” Gilbert Sea make up the ‘Governor’s Riverwalk’ wreck trail, and then there is the ‘Mizpah Corridor’, one of the best dives there is here. This is a 1/3 of a mile drift over the wrecks of the Mizpah, the PC1170 and the Amarylis, and there are plenty of Goliath grouper and sharks to accompany you as you do it! Then there is the Princess Anne, a 350’ long former car ferry, the Rolls Royce, the Edsvag and many more!

As well as day-boat diving, Pura Vida also offers two other very different options. Firstly, blackwater diving – a must-do! Dropping into the blue at night (and real night!) to drift along with the current behind a line of lights is very special. With 500’ of water below you, the line of lights is bait for the minuscule macro life that comes to the surface to feed at night and seeing all of these larvae stage animals giving off their bio-luminescence is an experience not to be missed!

Their second offer turned out to be one of our ‘dives of a lifetime’ Blue Heron Bridge. The bridge supports an 8-lane highway and spans the Inter-coastal between the mainland and Singer Island and is one of the most unlikely spots for a dive that you could think of! We arranged to meet our guide Lawrence from Pura Vida at 8:30am in the parking lot of Phil Foster Park. With high tide expected at 10:30am we kitted up and walked into the water around 9:30am beneath the huge concrete pillars, and then the magic began!

The bottom is sand and silt, and there is a man-made snorkel trail of sculptures, cuboid structures and even a sunken speedboat that provide the normal housing for fish seeking safety from the predators, but there is more – and far more!

Whilst this is the Atlantic Ocean, the warm currents coming up from the Caribbean wash these shores, bringing with them baby stuff of everything more tropical, and these seem to have found a home in the more sheltered waters under the bridge. We found numerous types of juvenile Angel fish for one, crabs, eels, drums, jack-knife fish, garden eels, filefish, nudis a-plenty and then the special stuff appeared as we further honed our spotting skills. A piece of what looked like tree-bark turned out to be a Red-Lipped Batfish, a lettuce leaf slug, a tiny octopus hidden in a rock pile and then not one, but two Striated Frogfish! And to top this all, as we started to surface after two-and-a-bit hours (max depth was 4m!) a manatee joined us, so up close and personal that I was bumped out of the way!

After the rustic peace and quiet of the first leg of the trip in Key Largo, Palm Beach County offered a very different experience, and again, we promised to come back soon – it really is that good!

For the next leg of our trip, we decided to stay in the same hotel and commute daily to Jupiter, just 15 minutes further North. Check back for more details!

KEY FACTS

  • Getting there : This was part of our Fly Drive Dive itinerary, but Palm Beach 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: We stayed at the Marriott Palm Beach Gardens, about 15 minutes away from Lake Park Marina and the Pura Vida boats. There are a number of hotel and resort options in the area to suit all needs.

Diving: Pura Vida Divers offers daily morning and afternoon charters. Their Blackwater charters are renowned and the Blue Heron Bridge dive is one we would do over and over again!

Price Guide: from £2195pp for 7 nights in Palm Beach 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: Juno’s Ledge, Flower Gardens, Bath and Tennis (named as the dive site lines up with the Bath & Tennis Club of Palm Beach).

Favourite Spots: Publix, Target, Blaze Pizza, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, PFChang’s.

Other Essentials:

  • Crate for dive gear : This was invaluable! We picked up an inexpensive plastic tub at Target and with our gear inside, we carried it right on to the boat and slid it under the bench. The were a few hoses at the Marina with fresh water available to rinse gear at the end of the day and the tub was perfect to carry our wet gear back to the hotel without soaking the rental car.
  • Cool bag with handles : These come in handy for lunches in between charters if you’re like us and can’t pass us a Publix sub. We had them made to order the night before and kept them in the room mini-fridge for the next day. We also used one to carry our assembled underwater camera onto the boat. Filled with fresh water it was an ingenious way to rinse off our precious gear after the dive.
  • Suction hooks : There are never enough hooks in a bathroom so a few of these in your bag are bound to be put to use. They are a permanently in our dive bags now.

Check our website for more information on diving in Florida

Where to Dive : North America : Florida : Palm Beach County

Come Dive with Us!


Find out more about the worldwide dive itineraries that The Scuba Place offers at www.thescubaplace.co.uk.

The Scuba Genies are John and Mona Spencer-Ades, owners and Directors of ATOL and ABTA bonded Tour Operator and Travel Agency, The Scuba Place Ltd. The Scuba Place design and custom-build exceptional diving holidays around the globe, and have been doing so since 2011. They provide travel services to groups, clubs, buddy-pairs and individuals, and have a wealth of hands on experience when it comes to destinations as they are fanatical divers themselves. John has been diving over 30 years and is a PADI Dive Master, having logged over 2600 dives. Mona started her diving career in 2004, and has logged over 600 dives – she is currently a PADI Rescue Diver. The Scuba Place also provide hosted trips to both new and their favourite destinations each year, providing expert support, under their banner ‘Come Dive with Us!’ Previous trips have been to the Philippines, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Bonaire, Florida, the Maldives, Malta, Bahamas, Thailand, Truk Lagoon, Grenada, St Lucia, Cozumel, Cuba and Egypt. For 2022 and beyond, Palau, Bali, Raja Ampat, Ambon and Coron are in the planning stage.

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Mamma Mia! Diving Skopelos (Part 2)

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Our second days dive itinerary was to the famous Christoforos wreck! This is arguably the best dive in Skopelos and though only open to divers with deep diving experience, this 83m long wreck is well worth the visit.  

The Christoforos sits in 43 meters of water with the deck at 32 to 35 meters.  A 30m dive can give an impressive view of the wreck, though such a large wreck needs a few dives to truly do it justice.  Given its ideal location just a 2 minute boat ride from the dive centre dock it is an excellent first dive of the day.  The sheltered site is also diveable in all but the absolute worst weather so although deep, the water is usually clear with little to no current making it a very pleasant dive.  The site is superb for technical diving and a great training site for the Tec 40 and 45 programs, offered by Skopelos Dive Center.  

The Christoforos wreck was originally a collier ship built in 1950 at Grangemouth shipyard under the name “Thomas Hardie”.  In 1976 she joined the Greek merchant fleet as “Christoforos”.  On the 2nd of October 1983 the Christoforos was carrying 2600 tonnes of cement from Volos to Piraeus Port. During the voyage the weather turned, resulting in the ship developing a 7 degree list, whereby she changed course for safe anchorage at Panormos, Skopelos.  The ship reached Panormos at 16:00 with a list of 17 degrees and water ingress to No. 1 hull.  Though attempts were made to right the vessel, the crew were ordered to abandon ship at 22:00.  The captain, lieutenant and the quartermaster remained to try and save the ship, but had to abandon the attempt themselves and the Christoforos finally sank at 05:30 on 3rd October 1983.  She now sits upright in 43 meters of water less than 200m from shore in Panormos.

Diving has only been allowed here since 2018, so the wreck is very well preserved and a real treat to dive.  Permission to dive here was granted by the authorities after lots of incredibly hard work by the Skopelos Dive Center staff.  Having a fantastic wreck in such an amazing location and in excellent condition is a real privilege.

Of all the sites in Skopelos this was the site Mike and I were most keen to experience.  Having kitted up and zipped across the bay to the mooring, we left the surface and followed the descent line until the wreck emerged spectacularly from the blue at 15m.  She is a big and beautiful wreck, sitting as though calmly continuing her journey along the seabed.  With most of her original features still intact there were points of interest everywhere, including the anchors, winches, ships telegraphs, the wheel and RDF antenna.  

We found that aquatic life had colonised the ship, with schools of fish, electric blue nudibranchs, a large moray eel and the resident scorpionfish lurking inside the bridge.  The Christoforos was truly a stunning wreck and despite maximising our time at depth we eventually had to say our goodbyes and begin the slow and steady return to the surface. 

After a superb morning dive we had the afternoon to do a little sightseeing of the island, with a trip to the church of Agios Ioannis Kastri made famous by the blockbuster movie “Mamma Mia!”. Mike and I spent a happy afternoon pootling around in our little hire car before meeting up with Lina from Skopelos Dive Center.  An underwater archeologist as well as a dive professional, Lina had offered to show us a rather special attraction, the Christoforos shipwreck Digital Spot public information and awareness centre.

A fantastic initiative made possible from the collaboration of the government and hard work of the staff at Skopelos Dive Center is the “Digital Spot” in Agnontas port.  This information center has a number of displays on the history of the Christoforos wreck, the process by which the wreck was allowed to be opened to the public for diving tourism, other sites of historical interest in the area, a video of the wreck and the best bit, a virtual reality dry dive experience!  The beauty of the VR system is that non diving members of the family can see what you have seen on the wreck, or you can see areas that you may not have explored during the dive due to time or depth limitations.  It was a truly immersive experience and a great addition to the dive itself.

After a wonderful day we celebrated our last evening on the island with an exquisite meal in Skopelos Town with fabulous views over the town and bay, washed down with the excellent local wine.  The lamb with lemon and potatoes was a meal which I could happily eat every day for the rest of my life! 

Skopelos is an island that truly has it all.  The diving is excellent, the landscape is beautiful with plenty of non diving activities, the locals friendly and the food and drink superb.  Given how accessible it is as a holiday destination it has avoided becoming overcrowded and even in peak season offers a fun yet relaxing atmosphere.  We highly recommend giving Skopelos a visit.  We will certainly be back again!

Thanks to:

Municipality of Skopelos (https://skopelos.com/

Skopelos Dive Center  (https://sporadesdiving.gr/)

Ionia Hotel (https://www.ioniahotel.gr/en)

Dolphin of Skopelos (https://dolphinofskopelos.com/)

Ta Kymata restaurant (@takymata)

The Muses restaurant (https://www.facebook.com/TheMussesMousses/)

Aktaiov resturant (https://skopelos.com/listings/aktaion-taverna/)

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Mamma Mia! Diving Skopelos (Part 1)

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If you have a dream of a sunny holiday spot with great diving, take a chance on Skopelos!

A small island in the Sporades of the Northern Aegean Sea, Skopelos is a quintessential Greek island, with warm mediterranean climate, friendly locals, delicious cuisine and clear turquoise blue waters. It is such a stunning location that many of the scenes from the movie “Mamma Mia!” were filmed on and around the island.

The diving here is excellent, with good visibility and warm summer water temperatures making for relaxed diving conditions with plenty to see.  Skopelos has something for everyone and is a perfect location if you are holidaying with non-divers, want a mix of diving and land based activities or simply to spend some time relaxing in the sun.  The island has a wealth of diversions: picture perfect beaches, a thriving and picturesque harbour town, great food, boat trips, and beautiful resorts with well-stocked pool bars and sun loungers for topping up the tan in style.  

Having read about the beautiful diving available Mike and I were excited to experience it for ourselves. During our stay we dived with Skopelos Dive Center at their West coast Panormos base. On arrival we were greeted by Lina and Tasos, who provided our equipment and briefed us on the day’s dive plan.  The first dive was to be at the Gallery and the second at Dasia Lift.  Eager to get in the water, we were soon kitted up and on the boat heading out to our first dive.

The island of Skopelos is blessed with some incredible topography.  We marveled at the views of nearby Dasia Island where the dive sites were located; the bright green pine forests covering white limestone and dolomite rocks along the coastline contrasted nicely with the clear azure waters below.  As we would find on our dives, the many sea caves along the shore made for great swimthroughs and caverns to explore on dives and the bright white rocks reflected the sunlight for beautifully lit and colourful seascapes in the shallows.

Our dive at the Gallery began on a sloping wall with multiple pinnacles, the first of which had a huge and completely beautiful Hypselodoris elegans nudibranch.  Following the wall deeper we came to a cavern filled with sponges, tunicates, corals and cardinal fish.  Working shallower and enjoying the light reflecting off the pale rocks and deep blue of the deeper water we came to the Gallery’s namesake passage at a very shallow 1.5 meters.  A tunnel in the rock created this wonderful feature, while light played through the shallows illuminating the benthic life as our group swam through.

All the dive sites in this area were a very short boat ride from the dock so travel times to and from the dives was a matter of minutes.  After a break back on land with a frappe from the resort bar, we headed out for the second dive at Dasia Lift. The wall here featured a cavern and tunnel swim through rising from 10m to 5m.  Once again my eye was caught by some nudibranchs (Hypseldoris coelestis and Flabellina affinis) as well as several large groupers lurking in the deeper waters.  Having enjoyed the wall at around 20m we worked our way up to 10m and to the entrance to the Lift where we stopped to appreciate a huge sea slug which posed graciously for a few photos. 

The Lift was a fun swim through with windows of light illuminating sponges and a rather grumpy looking scorpionfish.  Emerging at 5m the light in the shallows was nothing short of breathtaking.  The combination of sun streaming down on the white rocks and beautiful blue hue of the sea made the light dance, creating underwater rainbows.  All divers surfaced wishing the safety stop could lasted just a little longer.

That evening, having worked up an appetite diving, we had one of our best meals of the trip, the traditional specialty of giouvetsi; served beside the bobbing boats in the old port it was nothing short of stupendous.  Despite our discovery of a microbrewery taproom, it was an early night as the next day’s dive was to the famous Christoforos wreck!

As a destination, Skopelos really has everything you could ask for both for a diving holiday and a fun summer vacation.  Look for our next blog “Mamma Mia! Diving Skopelos (Part 2)” for details on our trip to the Christoforos wreck!

Thanks to:

Municipality of Skopelos (https://skopelos.com/

Skopelos Dive Center  (https://sporadesdiving.gr/)

Ionia Hotel (https://www.ioniahotel.gr/en)

Dolphin of Skopelos (https://dolphinofskopelos.com/)

Ta Kymata restaurant (@takymata)

The Muses restaurant (https://www.facebook.com/TheMussesMousses/)

Aktaiov resturant (https://skopelos.com/listings/aktaion-taverna/)

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