Dove with Garden Cove for 2 days.
On day 1 we arrived at the shop at 8am for check-in. It was interesting that even though their website boasts 3 dives for the price of 2, you are required to sign a 3 dive policy stating that the third dive is not guaranteed and is at the discretion of the captain. While I can understand the reasons behind such a policy, it is nowhere to be found on their website and was never mentioned to me during the 3 conversations I had with the shop in the weeks preceding our trip. We were given directions to the boat for an 8:30 departure. We arrived at the marina at 8:15 and did not see the boat captain until 8:45. He did not apologize for being late but did admit it was due to oversleeping. Upon his arrival, he realized that no one from the shop had brought tanks to the boat. He got back in his truck and went to the shop. Came back about 15 minutes later and we helped him load tanks. Then, he realized that he couldn't find the keys for the boat so back to the shop he went. The boat ended up leaving the marina at 9:45 after the captain and another diver "hot-wired" the ignition because the keys were still lost. There was no safety briefing conducted or introduction for that matter. I am not sure what his name even is. Being in Key Largo, the dive sites were very good. We did 3 shallow reef dives.
For day 2 we booked a lobster specific trip. We were charged an additional $10 per person for this trip. I called ahead to confirm why and was told that it was due to the boat having a license for lobstering and because they have additional fuel costs because they go to reefs farther from the marina that are not dove as much. Before leaving the dock, I asked the captain if there was a cooler with ice to put the lobster in or if I should grab a cooler from my truck. He stated that "if" we get any lobster, we can just put them in the rinse bucket. First site was decent. A lot of undersized bugs but a good dive. Second dive was horrible. There were two divers bug hunting and one just sightseeing. We saw a single bug on the second dive. This site was actually closed to divers at the time we went there according to the buoys we saw when we arrived. Captain said that most of the reef was closed but we could dive around and if we "accidentally" went into the closed area there was really nothing anyone could do about it. Third "lobster" dive was to Pickles Reef, a very popular dive site in Key Largo. Saw 1 undersized bug.
Safety Briefing: Non-existent. Captain never introduced himself nor did he go over safety equipment locations or specific boat procedures. We felt more like passengers on a ferry as opposed to paying customers on a charter dive boat.
Boat: This has to be one of the least maintained boats in Key Largo. The dive platform is tubular with no anti-skid paint or tape. What they do have zip tied to the dive platform are pieces restaurant kitchen style rubber floor mats. The fiberglass engine cowling is crumbling which made the noise of the diesel engine much louder than it should be.
As many other divers, I was enticed by the claims of 3 dives for the price of 2. I now understand why they offer this “deal” and will NEVER make this mistake again.