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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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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