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“a memorable experience”
Review of Big John Scuba

Big John Scuba
Ranked #2 of 15 things to do in Semporna
Certificate of Excellence
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Attraction details
Recommended length of visit: More than 3 hours
Owner description: A small company with a BIG heart.. and passion for customer safety and satisfaction.
Wellington, New Zealand
Level Contributor
29 reviews
6 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 25 helpful votes
“a memorable experience”
Reviewed March 18, 2014 via mobile

We arrived in Semporna and decided to try to learn to dive, so we trawled around for prices to do the PADI open water. The accommodation and course package at Big John's was by far the best value for money, especially for those on a budget. Our instructor Dendy was fantastic - especially as I was a really bad learner, but his patience, mixed with the occasional stern words, got me through the course. The accommodation isn't luxury (don't expect room service or mints on the pillow!), but the rooms have all the basics - four walls, a roof and a bed. We affectionately referred to it as the shack! The people are fatastic and look after you really well, though there isn't a set diving schedule so you are never sure when you are going to be jumping on the boat. After the diving we had some fun times with the guys, singing along to their guitar playing. We enjoyed the place so much we stayed an extra 3 days. The only negative I'd say (and thus is not tied to Big Johns) is in relation to the litter on land and in the sea around Mabul. It is absolutely horrendous. The first thing I saw when I put my head under water was a used nappy! Litter is a serious and unnecessary problem throughout the region and is particularly bad at Mabul. Something needs to be done to reduce litter and clean up the place as it really dimishes the beauty of the island and the experience of being there.

Visited March 2014
2 Thank Steven L
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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228 reviews from our community

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Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Level Contributor
11 reviews
4 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 7 helpful votes
“Shocking customer service”
Reviewed March 17, 2014 via mobile

Unfortunately we never actually made it to BJC and so would like to make clear this review is about the communication I had with Mark regarding a possible stay with them.
After trying to find out information on the website and failing miserably (the pages wouldn't load properly which made it impossible to read), I sent BJC a message on Facebook. I was sent a unhelpful reply which told me to email my enquiry and redirected me to the website. I understand that some businesses prefer to email rather than use Facebook for communication and so emailed my enquiry.
I received yet another unhelpful reply, rediredcting me to the website, suggesting I try to gain access from a desktop (I had already done this) and was told they would try to respond to my email in a few days when they were back in the office.
After 16 days I still hadn't heard anything from Mark and so decided to contact BJC again. I had made a few more attempts at finding the information I wanted on the website but had no luck. I received a very condescending reply from Mark, instructing me that all the information I wanted was in fact on the website and made me feel that my enquiry had been a huge inconvenience to him.
Unfortunately I will not get chance to meet the rest of the people at BJC now as my partner and I have decided to stay with a dive school and guesthouse that doesn't make their guests feel like an inconvenience to them.
I resent being made to feel like an idiot - whether I could find the information on he website or not, I feel that Mark could have been more helpful towards my enquiry.

Visited February 2014
3 Thank katot2013
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
M13UGS, Manager at Big John Scuba, responded to this review, April 1, 2014
This was the response to Kate's Facebook message that was answered the same day.. and BEFORE the Trip Advisor review.

Thank you Kate for your mail...

I am sorry that we are/were unable to help you, however I would like to advise that I too am more often than not in areas where the internet access is remote and intermittent, or I am accessing from a smart phone and don't have access to our pricings or a reliable 'cut and paste' function, hence my/our instruction for enquirers to refer to our website for the information they are seeking.

We are a very small company and do not have heaps of office staff to answer back to all the eMails that we do receive which I know can be incredibly frustrating if no answer is received.

Your messages were not an inconvenience, though I did feel that the information is clear, but am aware that the website doesn't fare too well from hand phones...

Sipadan especially, we must have names, genders, nationalities and passport numbers.. we also need arrival dates, duration of stay so that we can widen the opportunity and increase chances of securring the space; that said if dates are not specific and information is not forthcoming it does make it a little more frustrating.

I personally, am sorry if my mail to you made you feel patronised, it was not my intent, I also apologies that my answers or redirection was not fruitful or useful for you.

All potential customers are of value, that said, we cannot always be in a position to respond fully and to each and every individual question.

We do miss out on customers as we do not respond soon enough, that is our problem, that also is a good sign given that we do some time have to turn away business as we are quite often full to the brim... some we win, some we lose.

Anyway, Kate, I realise that this has come too late and in the true light of things, should not have been necessary in the first place.

I do apologise again if my responses to you were received as condescending, patronising or that you felt as though you were inconveniencing me or us with your enquiries.

If it isn't too late, then of course we would love to help you, if it is too late, then I wish you well and hope that you have a great time diving in and around Mabul and that you do get to go to Sipadan.


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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Hong Kong, China
Level Contributor
2 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 1 helpful vote
“I can't forget all the memories you guys gave me!”
Reviewed March 6, 2014

I stayed in Big John on 19-27/2. good accommodation & food, good instructors, nice people....
I finished the OW, AOW courses, have been to Mabul island, Kapalai Island, and last but not least, Sipadan island! 16 dives in 7 days, I feel more than satisfied and happy! I really enjoy diving... fabulous Sipadan...and make so many friends in big john....... thank you for the encouragement from all instructors and dive masters, I will keep on to be a good diver and diving in all different countries ......!!!!!! And I will be back!!!!

Visited February 2014
1 Thank pennychic
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Prague, Czech Republic
Level Contributor
104 reviews
17 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 128 helpful votes
“You're treated like family here”
Reviewed February 18, 2014

And I mean family you like, not the weird auntie you have to see once a year...

We booked our 2 nights in advance by email and were impressed by the quick replies and accommodating service. We had booked 3 days of diving (2 x 3 dives in Mabul/Kapalai and 1 x 3 dives Sipadan) for me and just accommodation for my wife. Partly because of the great atmosphere at Big John's my wife decided to get her open water PADI during these 3 days. Although a bit nervous, Mark - the British instructor - put her at ease and helped her get her PADI. I went out for dives with DM Osman for two days and he was great in pointing out small and big stuff under water. Big John generally makes everyone feel welcome.

The place itself is all you need for good diving. Basic, but clean rooms, good buffet food and friendly people. The diving gear is good, best mask I've ever used and I got 250 bar on nearly all my dives!

They don't have their own Sipadan permits at the moment, but are pretty good at getting them through other schools anyway. So if you want to go, let them know in advance.

Visited February 2014
1 Thank MarkManama
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
1 review
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 6 helpful votes
“Review from a dive professional and backpacker”
Reviewed February 13, 2014

I've been working for more than five years as a dive professional in different countries, I'm a Master Instructor and I've managed a couple diveshops myself, I did scuba in quite a few exotic places, and I can say I know very well at least two dozen dive-operators from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil, Israel and Egypt's Red Sea. I've also been cruising all around this world with my backpack during the last 10 years... Never felt like writing a Tripadvisor review before, but this diveshop deserves it. As simple as that.

Big John's shop reminded me of my first days in the scuba diving industry, when I was in Egypt working for a small, family-run diveshop... That place (Dahab's Divers Down Under) was so authentic, so honest, and I had a great time surrounded by the local people, as well as great dives and some old-school, real trainning. The staff in there was so natural. They didn't wear "social masks" pretending to be the best scuba instructors in the Universe or the most robot-like receptionists walking upon the face of the Earth. Meanwhile that jewel was shinning, so shy and simple, there were other Dive Resorts in the area that aimed for the rich or the clueless. A handful of those Resorts were run by very efficient and successful european managers, but none offered an authentic experience to their customers. Their operations were too artificial, tense, unnatural, rushing. Many shops employed faisty and rude westerners way too self-centered to perceive they were foreigners earning money thanks to the kindness of the exotic locals... These same negative points were present everywhere I've been to, not only in Egypt. Mabul's case isn't different. I've been inside other shops in here and I could see this type of attitude.

Well, well, just check this out: The manager and owner of Big John (a chinese-malay that has been diving for 30 years in Mabul!) was actually teaching scuba diving today. And he got the Open Water student from another instructor, because this entry-level diver had difficulties learning a couple skills. He was also present when the locals were loading and unloading a boat bringing fresh vegetables to his guesthouse and then garbage all the way back to Semporna's pyer. These simple gestures tell us a lot. And, operations-wise, the whole diveshop runs pretty smooth. The local guides are good, the boats, the tanks, compressor and equipment are good too. Plus, the only westerner working for John lives in Malaysia for a long time. He speaks malay bahasa and he seemed to be natural and experienced enough.

This is an old-school diveshop. This is the real deal, not some tourist-trap or plastic cr*p with fancy air-con rooms or yoga by the beach, wereas you may also drink mojitos besides a 16 years-old unexperienced, half-naked Divemaster from Sweden or England. No, no, no.

Jewels like these are very hard to find. If you want to experience scuba diving the way it is meant to be, either by doing some Padi courses or by doing fundives, I'm sure this diveshop is your best bet on the malaysian portion of the Celebes Sea.

The only negative point in there, I must say it, was not even ''directly related'' to the diveshop itself:

Big John's shop stands inside Mabul's fishermen village... When I was there today, a few small boats stopped by his restaurant and sold fresh fish to his customers. That is ok, because it supports the local community and because the fishing still is made in small quantities (and is not made by using dynamite or by dragging nets through the reefs). But I didn't like to see that some boats had octopus, parrot fish, morish idol, shallow-water lobsters, spider seashells and giant cowries for sale. Selling the ever-abundant groupers, snappers or jacks is ok, but selling the aforementioned species can either unbalance the ecosystem quicker or at least steal the beauty from the divesites!

Thumbs up for this beautiful, family-run diveshop. If you become one of his lucky customers, simply buy common fishes and avoid buying exotic stuff, reef lobsters or reef crabs.

Visited February 2014
6 Thank andreldcc
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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