Here’s how I think most dive trip planning happens. First, you and your dive buddy, or group of dive buddies, decide it’s time to think about the next dive trip. Then you all check your calendars and set the date. Next, you go out to your favorite Mexican restaurant and each of you tries to convince the others that you should all go to ____. This is usually based on what another friend or family member recently told you about their trip, an article you read in a dive or travel magazine, a post you read at one of the various online boards or even higher on the probability list, the latest trip deal that founds its way into your email inbox.
If this is how you planned your last dive trip, then the post-trip analysis probably included comments like, “It was some of the best diving ever.” “It was some of the most boring diving ever.” “The dive masters were very attentive and lead all the dives.” “They wouldn’t let us dive on our own.” “The accommodations weren’t up to our usual standards.” “The rooms were clean and comfortable.” “It was a great deal. The price was right.” “You get what you pay for and I shouldn’t have expected much for that price.” You get the idea, and we’ve all been there.
So, how can you make your next dive trip a complete success? Take control from the start and do some real planning. If you’ve ever been on a committee or hosted a family dinner, you already know first hand that you will never find something that will please everyone in a group. The first key to a successful dive trip is to understand and accept that not all trips are for all dive buddies.
The best way to have a great trip is to first decide where you want to go, what type of accommodations you want and what sort of diving you want to do. Once you’ve made those decisions, start suggesting your choices to your prospective traveling companions. Getting the group together first, then working out the details is rarely an all-around winner because groups do not make decisions, some group members just compromise more then others. By presenting the three general details of destination, type of accommodation and diving, those who say their interested will really be interested in exactly the trip you’ve got in mind.
Choosing your destination.
Always keep a list of the next 3 destinations you want to visit.
Do some basic research on all 3 that will include:
- What’s the diving like? Walls, reefs, wrecks, deep, shallow, etc.?
- When is the best time to dive? Rainy season, sea lice, whale sharks, etc.?
- What are the dive operators like? Large boats, skiffs, how many divers, etc.?
- What type of accommodations are available? You don’t have to choose yet, just know the options (condo, luxury resort, small hotel, etc.).
- How do you get there? Non-stop flight, 3 connections, drive, some combination of all of these?
With this basic information you will be able to determine which of your destinations will be best for your next dive trip based mainly on when you plan to travel. Position your plans to your buddies in a general fashion, like, “I’ve been thinking about a dive trip to Curacao in October. Maybe a nice hotel on the beach with a dive shop on site. Any interest?”
Now you’ve got your dive/travel buddies lines up and you’re ready to work out the details. With the basic framework in place you can start looking for the flights, accommodations and dive operator that meet your criteria. Before you go any further, get a ballpark budget. If someone only has $500 to spend and you already know that airfare will be $400, they need to know.
Choosing your accommodations
- Ask everyone for a list of the 3 things they must have, 3 things they’d really love to have and 3 things they couldn’t care a less about. Since you already mentioned a general type of accommodation, you should find that everyone’s needs are pretty similar.
- Decide on rooming arrangements. Is your group couples? Any singles who will be sharing? Singles wanting their own room?
- Present no more then 3 accommodation choices. Two choices would be ideal.
Choosing a dive operator
- Get a concensus on the type of diving you’ll be doing, such as shore dives or boat dives. If it’s boat dives, is there a majority preference to the type of boat, number of divers per boat, guided or unguided dives? Make your list of requirements.
- Start with the on-site operators of your accommodation choices since they’re most convenient and most offer dive & hotel packages.
- Present the on-site operators (good or bad) and if they weren’t the best match, one or two others.
- If the dive operator is not on-site, see if they offer transportation, store your gear, etc.
Once you’ve got your destination, accommodation, diveoperator and transportation choices narrowed down, you should check with 2-3 dive travel agents and see what they’ve got available. They often work out special packages and it’s likely that if you’re happy to use an on-site dive operator, you may get a good deal. Air is usually not included, but some agents will book it for you. Before you commit to the package, check with the shop(s) and hotel(s) on your list and see what they’re offering. If they give you a better price don’t be afraid to go back to the agent and ask about the package you found. Dealing with an agent provides some safety and security if you run into any problems before or during your trip. And, once you start doing business with a good agent, they will keep you let you know about specials and packages they have that suit your dive travel style.
Now that the trip is booked, the tickets are in-hand and your gear is packed. Meet your dive buddies at your favorite Mexican restaurant and raise your Margaritas to toast your next and best dive trip ever!