Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Review: Dive Shops in the Virgin Islands

If there's anything I learned on this trip, it is that it is nearly impossible to get a good gauge of dive shops over the internet. We went with three dive outfits on this trip, and while only one was really really bad, two of them had what I consider substandard equipment --- leaking tanks or BCDs. The thing is that the prices don't vary much between dive shops --- you pay pretty much the same amount per dive, whether you're using top of the line premium gear, or junky old crap, so you might as well go with the best. In order of best to worst, here is a brief review of each shop:

DiveBVI: Hands down the best shop we tried. Their gear is brand new, and looks it. There were no leaks in the BCDs or the tanks. Everything fit. The weight belts are labeled and marked with the weights. Best of all, their guides (the one we interacted with was a gentleman from the UK named Andy) are competent, effective, communicate well, friendly, and intelligent. They'll double check your stuff and notice if you've got the wrong gear on. The energy is palpable, and they aim to give you the best experience. Their shop staff is also incredibly accommodating --- we showed up on a Wednesday afternoon to confirm our reservation to dive the Rhone. Due to some sort of error, it turned out that they didn't do the Rhone on Thursday from the location we were at. The shop staff (Casey)literally moved heaven and earth so we could do the Rhone on Thursday. Highly highly recommended. If I were to return to the British Virgin Islands for a dive trip there is no question in my mind that I will sign with these guys.

Dive Experience: Their instructors are great. They have a fast boat with a wide range, and very competent staff --- I saw them moor to a buoy, discover that the buoy was not tied down with divers in the water, and then recover the divers and connect to another buoy without a hitch. Their prices are very good, and they work hard, even when other shops are closed. Their recommendations for the hotel are spot on. There are other shops where the diving is closer (so you can do your surface interval on shore), but I had no regrets about choosing Dive Experience. The equipment however, is a bit old, and their tanks leak and are the heavy kind, which means that your weight settings won't be as dialed in after working with them. Not a big deal, but I suspect that this sort of thing doesn't happen with DiveBVI.

Killbrides Sunchaser Scuba: Avoid at all costs! The equipment is so old and worn you can see fraying on the BCDs. Everything leaked. Worse, the guide we had was a moron --- he clearly didn't know the terrain, but didn't tell us. If he had, we would have opted to guide ourselves and would not have gotten lost and would have seen more. I will definitely not go with these guys for any trip, no matter how desperate I am. My time, energy, and life is worth too much.

All these places and more are listed in Diving British Virgin Islands. When I asked people for recommendations, frequently they tell me that things change frequently in the BVIs, so recommendations can change year over year. But I suspect that the relative rankings here should be stable for at least a couple of years.
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