Princess Cruises Delivers
Underwater Scuba Fun
Interacting with a ray is a thrill for these Princess Cruises' guests on a diving adventure.*
By Michael DeFreitas
Forty feet above, sunlight sparkled at the surface. Streams of sunbeams pierced the pristine blue water, illuminating Dominica’s Scotts Head reef. I was trying to photograph a pesky, inch-long spotted cleaning shrimp wedged amid the tentacles of a giant Caribbean anemone.
Every time I had the illusive crustacean in my viewfinder it would dart back into the tangle of tentacles. Just as the shrimp started to cooperate my Princess Cruises dive buddy tugged frantically on my right arm. I jerked around to find him gesturing upwards.
Fifteen feet above a giant manta ray was performing an underwater ballet of loops and rolls. Its enormous wings propelled it effortlessly, while its cavernous mouth gathered in a feast of plankton.
Instinctively I raised my camera before realizing I was set up for macro photography not wide-angle. Talk about frustration. It was my first manta sighting in 10 years and all I could do was watch until the magnificent creature glided off into the blue depths.
Increase in Scuba Popularity
My manta experience is one reason why scuba diving has become such a popular North American pastime. And when it comes to underwater adventures, you’ll find that the Caribbean has few rivals. With more protected marine parks than any other place in the world, thousands of shipwrecks and 1,500 fish species, each dive is unique.
Many cruise lines sailing from southern U.S. ports include scuba diving as part of their 2007 and 2008 shore excursion offerings. But few offer full onboard certification programs. In my opinion, Princess leads the pack when it comes to scuba cruise packages.
Princess Cruises' New Waves instruction program includes multiple pool dives to educate cruisers about the proper use of scuba equipment and dive techniques.*
Most of that line's seven-day eastern, western and southern Caribbean cruises departing from such ports as Fort Lauderdale, Galveston and New Orleans offer their unique New Waves program. That's a full-bodied P.A.D.I. (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) scuba program. Plus, Princess gives you two other options to earn full scuba certification during your cruise.
I highly recommend their Dive Today! option where you are given home study materials to complete prior to your cruise. Then during the cruise an instructor reviews your home study work. You'll also complete the mandatory pool and open water dives during your cruise vacation.
This convenient approach reduces onboard classroom time. It also frees up more of your time for diving and other cruise activities.
Cruise guests have many options for becoming scuba certified on Princess Cruises. Here guests are shown on a pool drive onboard ship, prior to certification.*
Another popular option is the Student Referral program in which you complete the entire classroom and pool diving requirements pre-cruise at a dive center in your hometown. Then once onboard, you'll just need to complete four open water dives. Bingo, you’re certified.
Princess also offers refresher courses for those who haven’t taken the plunge in awhile and introductory Discover Scuba classes. If you’re a bit reluctant about getting underwater, take this option to find out if diving is right for you.
Princess’ new 2007 guided undersea tours include exotic dive sites in Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Curaçao, Dominica, St. Maarten and other Caribbean destinations. Certification programs range from $299 to $359 per person. Guided New Wave tours begin at $49.
You may reserve scuba tours for each port in advance through Princess’ Web site www.princess.com. Additional information about shipboard certification is available from their New Waves Dive Line, 888-919-9819 or at www.newwaves.com.
Selecting a Dive Itinerary
If you are already certified and looking for a scuba cruise the overwhelming selection of cruise itineraries can be daunting. So first decide on what type of diving you would like to do.
Keep in mind that different dives require different skill levels. A much higher skill level is required to dive a freshwater cenote (basically a deep natural well) in the Yucatan than a shallow reef off St. Thomas.
Tortola, St. Thomas, Aruba, Curacao and Grenada offer some of the Caribbean’s best wreck diving. You’ll find large marine creature encounters with whales, dolphin, shark and sea turtles on dive sites around Dominica, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, the Dominican Republic and Bahamas.
For leisurely shallow-water dives you can’t beat the pristine coral reefs of the Grenadines, Turks & Caicos and Mahahual–-the industry’s newest and hottest dive site on Mexico’s Costa Maya. Princess, Holland America Line (www.hollandamerica.com) and Carnival Cruise Lines (www.carnival.com) all offer the latter destination in 2007.
Adrenalin junkies can explore cenotes in Cancun and Cozumel, feed sharks in Nassau and St. Maarten, interact with dolphins in Freeport, fly in the current on an electrifying drift dive in Tobago or venture deep into Belize’s famous Blue Hole.
Whether you’re a seasoned diver or just curious about diving, there are dozens of dive adventures awaiting you in the Caribbean. And there is no better way to explore multiple dive sites on one vacation than by cruise ship.
Award-winning writer and photographer Michael DeFreitas specializes in adventure and cruise travel in Latin America and the Caribbean. His stories and photos grace the pages of travel magazines all over the world. Besides his magazine work he is contributing editor for five cruise guides by Ocean Cruise Guides.
*Photos used above are owned, copyrighted and used with permission of Princess Cruises. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy. Thank you.