We are relatively novice divers, but we felt extremely comfortable diving with Pirate Island. We also paid for a guide which I would definitely recommend. There are a lot of pass-throughs that without a guide, you probably wouldn't discover on your own. Here's my breakdown Pirate Island:
Expertise - A. There were only 5 of us on the trip (if you can make it to Key Largo in early December it's a relatively slow season so you get smaller groups) but we had 3 crew with us. Two manning the boat and one dive guide. They took us out to French reef (there are a ton of different places to dive) and gave made sure that we were all comfortable with the dives we were about to take. We were a little rusty since we hadn't been diving since the summer, but they went over exactly how we were going to get in the water and how we were going to descend. Our guide, Bob, knew his way around the reefs and showed us some really cool pass-throughs. Definitely a top-notch dive shop and crew.
Marine Life - A-. The first dive was pretty straight forward. The coral is always pretty amazing to see, and there were plenty of fish, but nothing spectacular. Lots of parrot fish and other typical tropical fish. The second dive had a couple of jaw-droppers for me. First, we saw a Goliath Grouper that was literally the size of me. The crew knows that this reef is one of his normal hangouts and took us there. They estimate him to be close to 5 feet long and 250 pounds. Then we had our first shark encounter while diving! A nurse shark (they're pretty tame) was just swimming by looking for food. Pretty cool feeling for novice divers.
Value - B+. Pretty much similar prices to what we have paid in the past for diving. You can increase the value if you book multiple dive trips as well as stay at the Marriott next door. It's a two tank dive so in the end you definitely get your money's worth.
Convenience - A+. If you're staying at the Marriott Resort, this is a no-brainer. They are located on the property right outside of the pool area. They have all the equipment you need for rent, and will set it up right on the boat for you. They'll take care of everything when you're done diving and even offer lockers that you can store your stuff to dry if you bring your own equipment.
Rental Equipment - A. All the equipment was pretty much top-notch. We rented BCDs, tanks, regulators, and wet suits and all were in extremely good shape. No complaints here.
All in all, a really excellent dive shop. If I had to nit-pick and find a critique, the only thing I would recommend to them is to utilize the boat ride out (about 40 minutes where we went) to offer up information about the area. I usually enjoy learning a little bit about the area. But again, this is nit-picking and really there wasn't anything to complain about.
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