My Experience Becoming a Certified Scuba Diver: A Whole New World of Adventures Begin

by on October 30, 2013 · 27 comments

in Trip Reports

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In preparation for my upcoming trip to the Maldives, I wanted to get certified in scuba diving so I can take full advantage of some of the best diving in the world while I’m there. Two weeks ago I did some research and found South Beach Divers, located near where I live in Miami Beach who offer a PADI 3 Day Open Water Class. There are a few other companies in South Beach that also offer this course, but this class seemed like it would be the best fit for me and my schedule.


The 3-day course costs $450 and includes an e-learning curriculum and scuba gear aside from the mask, snorkel and fins, which you can rent or buy from South Beach Divers. I saved 5% by signing up online and immediately received my e-learning link and the necessary forms to be fill out including a student contract and medical statement. While the online class was lengthy, consisting of 6 sections with assessment tests at the end of each, it was very thorough and made me feel more comfortable about what I was about to get into and understanding the concepts of how the human body is affected by being under different levels of water. All 6 assessments must be completed by your first class and it takes about 8-10 hours to finish the entire course. I would not recommend trying to skim through or have someone else take the test for you!

To put it in perspective, the same course would have taken 4-5 days through the Conrad Maldives dive center and cost 498 euros ($684) plus $197 PADI fee plus fee for going out on the boat for the 4 certification dives. No thank you.

Class Schedule

While the exact schedule can vary depending on the number of students in the class and weather conditions, the three days are expected to go something like this:

At 8:00am you will meet at the store to hand in your online course completion form or quizzes from the book. Once these are verified, you head straight to the pool and go over all the skills that you will need to know before proceeding to the ocean. In my pool session it was just me and another student, which I preferred compared to a larger class. The pool session will go until about 12.30pm or until everyone is comfortable with the skills. If you do the E learning program, after the pool session you will do a brief quiz to verify it was you who took the online class and then you are done for the day. If you choose the book and DVD version, you will need to take 4 quizzes and then a final exam.

*Since it was only me and one other student in my class we were finished by 1:30pm on the first day.

This lagoon wasn't quite as exciting as a reef, but it was fine as I got comfortable being in the open water for the first time

This lagoon wasn’t quite as exciting as a reef, but it was fine as I got comfortable being in the open water for the first time

You will meet at South Beach Divers at 10:00am for the first two open water dives in the John Pennekamp Marine Sanctuary in Key Largo, which has the largest living coral reef in North America. This is the only Miami Dive Center that includes two dives in Key Largo as part of the certification course.  This location is really great both for diving and snorkeling, so you can even invite non-diving friends along. Sadly, conditions did not permit a reed dive, but we will went to Key Largo to dive in a lagoon at Jules’ Underwater Sea lodge- a hotel competely under water. We were allowed to swim into the hotel and frankly it smelled horrible and dank and I would not want to actually spend an evening in a complex that is completely underwater. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

The water at Jules wasn’t as nice, but I was still amazed being in a real body of water on my first dive to 30 feet. Looking up to the surface for the first time as I kneeled on the bottom of the lagoon was surreal. We finished up around 4pm and it took about 90 minutes to drive back to Miami. I’d recommend driving on your own, because you may have to wait for other dive groups if you take the group shuttle. If you do the reef dive you may not end until 5:00/5:30pm.

My scuba classmates on our final certification dive at the Belzona Barge off Key Biscayne

My scuba classmates on our final certification dive at the Belzona Barge off Key Biscayne

On the third and final day, you meet at South Beach Divers at 7:30am to complete the final two open water dives off the coast of Miami Beach. You get to dive on one of the more than 70 shipwrecks that lie right off the coast of Key Biscayne and on our dive we saw Hawksbill turtles and a ton of beautiful fish- including a huge sea Permit that was hanging out in the wreck. Upon returning (and passing) you will be issued a temporary certification card so you can start diving right away.  SBD processes your PADI certification card online so you will get you temporary card right away. Your permanent license will arrive around 7 days later and it can be sent anywhere in the world.  You are now also  qualified to take the PADI advanced class as well numerous specialty classes like Wreck Diver and Underwater Photographer.  All students that graduate will receive a $50 credit towards the next class if taken within 30 days.

 *Luckily we agreed to push this class back to 12pm and receive our certifications that afternoon after the final dive since morning conditions off Miami Beach were not looking ideal. 7am on a Sunday is just rough!

Though it was an intense three days (I basically hibernated afterwards!), not only was it a ton of fun to get out into the water and learn a new skill in a few different environments, but it also suited my schedule perfectly since I was able to get certified in a matter of days and be ready for my upcoming trip rather than having to plan out a ton of training way in advance or waste a day or two once I arrived in the Maldives- especially since I learned that you cannot fly for 12-24 hours after your last dive (due to risk of decompression sickness from being on a pressurized plane), so I’m glad I’ll be able to maximize my first real dive trips.

Overall Experience
My instructor Jonathan was great and kept me and the other student completely at ease. He was funny, yet very thorough and would clap underwater when you did a good job. Three more divers joined on day 2 and 3 and we really bonded as a class and I can completely see how diving can bring people together. I can see this as a great way to bond as a family, though it is an extreme sport so I wouldn’t recommend getting certified if you aren’t comfortable being in the water or have at least a decent level of physical fitness. It definitely doesn’t take Olympic swimming standards or any superhuman breathing capability, but there are a lot of things going on and you want to be calm, because panicking “down under” can lead to serious injury or death.

While I’m still a newbie, I’m already planning future trips around great dive spots. Feel free to share your experiences on your best and worst dives!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Mr. Cool

    about time. eating, drinking, beach bumming gets old

  • Eric

    Visit Cozumel. One of the best dive sites that isn’t a extremely long flight. So is Grand Cayman Island. Always been a dream of mine to make it to the Great Barrier Reef…

  • Chris Duck

    Thanks for the info. I’ve been meaning to do this for years. We’ve done the “discover scuba” thing in the Greek islands, Phuket, and Bali, but we keep visiting these fantastic dive destinations and then missing out on the diving.

    I’m definitely going to have to bite the bullet and get certified soon.

  • Felicia

    Traveling to a famous dive spot is great motivation to get certified – I did training dives at home before going to the Great Barrier Reef, and completed the certification on open water dives in Australia. It’s another great option if you’re trying to cut a day or two off your certification on your trip!

  • mrsnarbonne

    I recommend doing more dives if possible before your trip to the Maldives because as with any skill, it takes practice to get over a learning curve. I’ve definitely enjoyed later dives because buoyancy control and checking the gauges

  • mrsnarbonne

    becomes easier with practice, so you can spend less time focusing on the technical aspects and more time enjoying the views.

  • Hess

    Night dive with the manta rays in Kona Hawaii. It’s an awesome experience that i enjoyed more than the Great Barrier Reef.

  • Eric

    I got PADI certified in the Cayman Islands. Thanks to your advice I was able to book another trip with CSP on Travelocity for maximum points. Slowly accruing enough for an anniversary trip to the Maldives myself. Enjoy—I’m sure you were told though, be extremely careful when diving and flying. You need enough time before and after flights to dive (especially if you are going deep, relatively speaking)

  • Eric

    Cayman is amazing for diving.

  • Rebekah

    Was at Rangali this Jan. The folks there are good. I’ve been certified for more than 30 years.

    Diving is fantastic. Rangali is my second favorite place in the world to dive. I’ve been all over the Caribbean, the Red Sea several time, the Philippines,
    Suliwesi, Borneo, Bali. Good luck and great diving.

    And you will get tons of Hilton points for incidentals at Rangali!

  • Sharkman

    Great to see you are certified!!! It’s a whole new world down there! My wife and I have both been dive professionals for over 20 years so if you have any questions about dive destinations, don’t hesitate to ask! Happy diving.

  • DownwithPointsGuyUpwithMiles

    be careful of the reverse ear blockage…its dangerous

  • Andrew C

    Have been diving for 15+ years – this is absolutely true. You live in such a perfect location to get in some practice before the big trip.

  • clvus

    I took a similar course in Thailand, once in Koh Tao and again with my 13 yr old son on Koh Lanta. THe courses there run at half your price, but the level of instruction is good (aussie instructors if I remember) The advantages, beside the cost, are that you start off in the ocean (off a beach to start) and you’re immediatedly immersed in all the submarine glories like coral fish and barracuda. The water is generally warm and there are some great sites with lots to see and easy to dive, tho depending on the time of year visibility varies. Another great place to get some more underwater time in is Bali with some amazing diving off the northwest (Menjangan) and a wreck on the east coast (Tumeben) but this gets crowded now. Dives in Indonesia and Thailand are good value and recommended.

  • Hiro

    Jonathan is great. I got my scuba license at the same place and he was my instructor. Underwater is a whole different experience.

  • JakePB

    @clvus:disqus , may I get some advice? My wife & I will be at the Conrad Koh Samui and Conrad Bali over the holidays and would love to hear your suggestions for dive spots. Most of what I’ve found for Thailand involved overnight live-a-board type stuff, and we’re much more into day trip dives. Care to share some thoughts?

  • JakePB

    Great advice Eric! Diving in Cozumel is surprisingly superior to Hawaii, for example, yet a fraction of the cost!

  • LarryInNYC

    Cool! My wife an I did our certifications in Koh Tao as well, but in the early 1990s (I don’t imagine it’s the same there now) and later on the same trip did the Liberty ship of Tulamben in Bali. Great times!

    The flip side to the fact that you’re immediately in scenic, fauna-laden waters is that you’re immediately in scenic, fauna-laden waters. The class was in 30 feet and my wife was doing her breath-controlled push-ups on the bottom when I noticed that she was about to lie down on a small sea snake. The next day the instructor told us “I look up that snake, by the way. You get bit, you don’t make it to the surface.”

  • Jason

    Congrats on getting certified! I have been diving a long time and it is a fantastic activity. I have been to many places in the world, but the most beautiful things I have ever seen have been underwater. Remember that no one can master an activity like diving in 3 days. Dive within your limits and get some experience. The best thing about diving is that every time you do it you suck a little bit less. Have fun!

  • clvus

    It was a very long time ago I took the Thai diving certification. There are some great spots near Koh Tao ( Whale sharks sometimes) reachable on two dive day trips. I’m sure your hotel will be able to set something up or recommend, plenty to choose from
    In Bali the best diving is NW of the island which is a long drive from Nusa Dua. I’ll bet you can find locally ( in the south) day trips to Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida. Some of the diving there is tricky with very strong currents but its unspoilt and theres a chance of multi Manta Ray spots. You hotel will be able to set it up I’m sure.

  • NiceSharky

    Congrats! One of my most memorable dives was in Rangiroa, French Polynesia, where the tides fill the atoll and then flush out…we tethered with rope and small hook to the bottom and flew like kites while the tides swept out turtles, sharks, rays, everything right by us. Amazing experience! btw, it never hurts to be overly prepared…so go for advanced diver certs next! maybe night diving? or cave?

  • BoggsAZ

    I made the most of a vacation in Maui by completing my open water dives and certification with Lahaina Dive shop. What an amazing set of dives!

    Now that you are diving, remember that most life insurance policies will not cover you. You may consider getting a rider to cover you, or may need to find another policy. Diving is not without risk, and you want to make sure your loved ones are protected…

  • tranquilorobbie

    A truly special and unique place is Cabo Pulmo, near Los Cabos. Being myself a Mexican, the story of the local residents instead of overfishing they decided to protect the reef, it’s something I still can’t believe. You should see the size of the marine life, its really amazing.

  • NoVaDiver

    In the Caribbean: Bonaire (you can get there by Delta) and its easy shore diving is something you MUST experience–it also has the best diversity in the Caribbean, although no large pelagics. Roatan, Belize, and Cozumel are good–Cozumel is a particularly good deal–and none require long or expensive flights. I would not dive Grand Cayman again–way too expensive and very little to see–but I would go to Little Cayman.
    Once you’ve dove any of the Pacific sites, however, I think it’s difficult to go back to the Caribbean. Not that the Caribbean doesn’t have its charms and positives, but compared to Palau? The BEST place, however, has to be Indonesia–although some areas require lots and lots of travel. When you become a bit more experienced and perhaps get into UW photography, why not try Lembeh–bonus that you get to travel through Singapore.
    We just got back from a liveaboard trip (Rocio del Mar) in the Sea of Cortez. Sea Lions, whale sharks, and a lots of nudibranchs. Loved it and the only flight required was a quick one to Phoenix (followed by a pleasant 4 hour van ride to Mexico.)
    Good luck and happy diving!

  • NoVADiver

    I think that depends on where in Cayman. As I wrote upthread, I would absolutely not dive Grand Cayman again (except perhaps to see the USS Kittiwake) as it is way too expensive for mediocre diving. I would, however, dive Little Cayman again.

  • Skyy

    So it begs the question of what then is your most favorite place? Have friends in Bali we want to visit, so have been seriously contemplating Raja Ampat but keep hearing the Phiiipines are better. Would love your thoughts.

  • Yuxuan Wang

    I just moved from China to the US recently so my diving experiences are mainly at the Southeast Asia. So far the one I like most is the liveaboard at Komodo National Park, Indonesia. That might be one of the cheapest liveaboard diving in the world, and during the manta ray season (late September to early October) it’s really amazing. This was my favorite shot of 2012:

    Also that’s my first time traveling in business class, using my UA miles, flew PEK-SIN-DPS on SQ and QR (before UA-QR partnership ends), then flew DPS to LBJ on regional turboprop planes like ATR72 and MA60. Both the business class and the turboprop planes were excitement new experiences to me.

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