Dived a 1 day 2 tank dive at North Seymour and Mosquera costing $160 per person.
I had already dived the 2 previous days with Academy Bay. My girlfriend sat out the second day, where we had been to North Seymour and seen schools of hammerheads, so she was keen to try a spot for sharks but not so keen on the possible super strong currents at Gordon Rocks.
We had options of two dive companies, Sope offering $120 a dive or Hotel Silberstein. We opted for the latter given the last 20+ reviews on trip advisor were 5 star and were reluctant to compromise on safety.
We signed up with the helpful, friendly German at the hotel as the dive shop was closed past 7pm, he showed us the equipment and we spoke with the Dive Instructor, Alex, briefly on the phone to confirm numbers for tomorrow, although he seemed only really keen to state 4 times that we had to pay the hotel there and then (I'd stated this was no issue the first time it was mentioned).
We arrived early, before the 6.40am instructed the next day to try on the gear. We were told by Alex rather abruptly, and rudely I felt, that the choice for equipment was ours and ours alone, we could not complain later on if we made the wrong ones. My girlfriend is sometimes a nervous diver and had struggled for buoyancy on her previous dive so asked for some expert advice as to whether a 5mm or 7mm wetsuit would be easier to control, only to be told shortly again it was our choice alone. When I requested a 7mm, given I had dived the previous days with this, I was told I was wrong - Academy Bay don't have 7mm wetsuits (they do, also I thought it was my choice?) feeling the need to appease I asked if I could try a 5mm instead but was told we don't have time (we were still waiting for the rest of the group to arrive).
For me first impressions matter a lot and this was not a friendly customer service you would expect with any company but especially with a dive school where your relationship with the instructor is so important. If we had been an inconvenience booking late they should not have taken our money (I even apologised at the start for the late booking to try to negate any ill feelings). A Swiss girl we befriended on the dive who also booked the night before also said she was given the same cold early "welcome", maybe some people just are not morning people but this tone lingered through the day I felt.
The dive itself we merged with another group who had some discovery divers, so we had two instructors, one at the front, one at the back, and 7 divers.
- Safety brief was very thorough and detailed
- Under water signalling clear with an organised test dive to check for weighting
- Group were kept close together and monitored closely particularly by the female instructor from the other tour agency (whose name I forget but it's Jamie's daughter)
- Equipment is in acceptable condition (not too new but not too old).
- Dive buddies were clearly organised
Points for improvement
(Note given the previous 2 days diving I had done, a lot of the the below is felt from comparison between two schools. Note Academy Bay were actually $10 cheaper with free photos & videos included. When questioned on the cost we were informed this was "one of the top dive centres in Santa Cruz with exceptional dive equipment".
- cost: the other dive school that joined us turned out to be Sope! So they had the exact same dive, same boat, same lunch for $40 less!! When I asked Alex later about what we got for the extra $40 I was told it was the boat (?!) and the equipment (having inspected both my opinion is that both were pretty comparable)
- lack of a dive brief - first dive consisted of "easy, we just swim from here to there" second dive there was nothing (given it turned out to be a 20 minute drift dive after 10 minutes through the current, would of been good to know beforehand)
- the emphasise before the test dive was that this was the only time to tell the instructors about issues with the equipment, there was no changing we could do after this point (this is not a customer focused step to reassure divers about underwater safety in my view but rather a scape goat to say "I told you so don't blame me" should there have been an issue later on).
- no on board snacks until after the final dive (admittedly lunch was good when it finally came but previous dives we had been offered juice, breakfast, snacks in between dives, as well as lunch) and no towels provided.
- first tanks had a low fill of 180bar only, considering we had to do a safety dive this meant the first dive time was only 30 minutes.
- boat was rather full and crowded as such entrances were a little chaotic. It was stressed how important it was to disembark together but the call to enter was always fired rapidly without any check to see if everyone was set. There was neither time or space to do a proper buddy check.
- no clarity beforehand if we would ascend as buddies or a whole group when people were low on air, one diver ascended alone (admittedly we were fairly shallow but majority of group had less than 20 dives). My girlfriend did not even have a depth gauge.
- Pictures are not included (sold separately for $30 a package), for me this creates two issues, one with bad value, the other the instructor is wrongly incentivised to create a great GoPro collection which could compromise the safety of the dive (3 times people tried to communicate with Alex about their low air consumption on the dive but he was focused on camera work, instead the lady instructor came in to help).
As it turns out the GoPro failed so there were no pictures available to purchase even if we had wanted. We then visited Sope dive shop who kindly gave us some of their pictures for free.
In summary then I think you can get much better value and better quality dive schools elsewhere
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