Cruise ship scuba diving is like an all-you-can-dive buffet. On some itineraries, you get to pick and choose from six or seven great dive destinations—trying a little of this island and a little of that island. A land-based trip that allows you to dive at multiple destinations would cost many times more than the average cruise.
It does take a little pre-planning to make it happen, though. There are lots of details to consider, including the itinerary, the cabin you choose (Hint: near the elevators is important), and what to pack.
And don’t forget expedition cruises that include water sports like snorkeling and diving—they can take cruise ship scuba diving to a whole new dimension.
Here are the top 10 things to keep in mind when it comes to cruise ship scuba diving.
Balcony cabins are your friend.
The extra space for hanging wetsuits, swimsuits, masks and snorkels to dry is worth every penny when you are cruise ship scuba diving. Even if you don’t take your own gear with you, you will still have stuff that needs to dry. The key is to not hang anything on the balcony rail. Also, plan to bring everything inside at night when the ship is underway to make sure your gear isn’t scattered in the wind.
Make good use of the shower.
There will be times when either there is not a rinse tank at the dive shop on shore (sometimes you never see a dive shop—they pick you up in a boat), or you didn’t have time to rinse in your rush to return to the ship. In those cases, you will need to use the shower in your cabin for gear rinsing. The tricky part is getting all that drippy gear from the shower to the balcony! We usually lay out a path of pool towels to keep from soaking the carpet.
Take over-the-door hangers.
Regardless of whether you have a balcony for drying or have to leave everything hanging in the bathroom, those handy little plastic door hangers are the ideal solution for getting you extra hanging locations in your cabin. We take them on cruises even when we aren’t going diving.
Don’t attempt cruise ship scuba diving without a backpack.
Rule number one on dive boats is to not be a space hog. Don’t be that diver who rolls an entire suitcase onboard a crowded (or tiny) dive boat. Instead, invest in a mesh backpack that will make it easier to carry your gear to and from the ship. Here’s what goes into ours:
- C-cards, lip balm, identification, and sunscreen in the outer pocket.
- Fins in the fin pocket.
- Pool towels, regs, masks, wetsuits, and booties in the main compartment. We usually wear our BC’s then carry the backpacks unless the hike to the dive operator or transportation pickup point is a long one. If that’s the case, we stuff the BC’s inside and put the whole pack on our backs.
If walking from your cabin to the elevator, then to the gangway, then down a long pier and often into town to your pickup point with your gear on your back sounds like too much, then consider renting gear, or at least part of it to lighten your load. If you rent almost everything but your mask, you could pare down the weight on your back (and in your checked luggage when you fly) considerably.
I prefer my own regs and computer and my BC and I hate stinky rental wetsuits, so I almost always take my own gear. The exceptions would be if we were only going to dive once on a cruise, or if the water temperature was either so warm that I didn’t need a wetsuit, or so cold that I would have to rent a heavier one.
You don’t always have to rely on the ship’s excursions for your cruise ship scuba diving.
There are times when using the ship’s options is the easy way to go, but for the most part, better diving with smaller groups can be found by doing some research yourself before you leave home. I always ask in my first email with a dive operator if they work with people arriving in port by cruise—sometimes they can’t adjust their schedule to accommodate a ship’s arrival times. I also ask if they can provide transportation, or if there are options they can suggest. Then I ask if they can take us to their best dive spots—because we don’t want to go where the rest of the cruise ship divers are going.
Sometimes the ship’s diving excursions are the only options.
This can happen in smaller ports that have only a few operators. It may also be that the BEST operator is under contractual obligation not to take outside bookings from passengers on your particular ship. Stuart Cove’s in the Bahamas is an example of this. I have booked independently with them while cruising on some ships but had to book through the ship on others. They will let you know when you fill out their online booking form. It’s one of the few dive options well worth booking through your ship if you are in Nassau.
Don’t forget shore diving.
Don’t rule out shore diving options just because you are arriving by ship. In Grand Cayman, Eden Rock is walking distance from the cruise tender pier. The dive shop there has gear, guides, and lockers for your clothes and towels plus easy access to some great dives right from shore.
On Bonaire, you would need to rent a car or golf cart to get to some of the best sites. Dive Friends Bonaire is walking distance from the cruise pier. They will help you with your required buoyancy check, gear rentals, and point you toward the best spots in your limited time on the island.
Keep in mind what you might gain and what you might miss by diving on your cruise.
As much as we love scuba diving, there are times when either spending time with friends and family or seeing what’s on land in a port are more important. When our daughter was young, we frequently cruised with her and my mother-in-law. We worked out schedules where we only dove in the best ports for diving, and even then we did morning dives, returning to the ship for lunch with them. Afternoons were then reserved for excursions or activities for the whole family.
There are cruise ports you may never have thought about scuba diving.
People are often surprised to learn that we went diving on our cruise in the Greek Islands. While the diving was not spectacular, it was fun to give it a try. It was also a great way to connect with locals. The dive shop team on Crete would not hear of us leaving the shop following our dive until we sat and had tea and cookies. They provided transportation both from the ship and back and made us feel very welcome. That level of interaction made it one of our favorite stops on the cruise.