Trip Report Belize Aggressor III Trip Report – April 21-28

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Trailboss123

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Belize Aggressor III Trip Report – April 21-28

After many trips to Cozumel, Bonaire and Grand Cayman, I had been thinking for some time about a new Caribbean dive destination. I have read lots of trip reports on SB and reader reports on Undercurrent about land based and live aboard based Belize trips over the last few years and I concluded that for my specific needs and desires, a live aboard would be my preferred choice. Back in October and early November 2017, I began researching dive vacation options for April 2018. I came across a 34% off special being offered by Diviac (now PADI Travel) on the Belize Aggressor boats. There were only a few spots left on the BA III for the dates that worked best for me, so I jumped on it. Due to the big discount, I decided to upgrade to the only master stateroom on the boat. Total cost per person for the week came out to $2,100.

Our trip began with an early Friday morning flight out of Los Angeles on Southwest Airlines. We didn’t board the boat until Saturday afternoon, but wanted to get in a day early in the event of any luggage snafus. We had a 2.5-hour layover at the Houston Hobby airport before changing planes for our flight to Belize, which landed at 3:25pm. Belize City is 1 hour ahead of West Coast time. Flight cost was $496 round trip. I have a companion pass with Southwest, so my wife flew for free.

We met another Aggressor couple in baggage claim and went in together for a taxi, as we were both staying at the Radisson Fort George hotel, which is adjacent to the pier where both Aggressor boats are docked. They charged us $10 per person for the taxi, which was a large passenger van and then proceeded to pile 5 other people and their luggage in with us. All good and the taxi time was roughly 40 minutes after dropping 3 young girls off first at a Water Taxi stand. Not too much to say about the Radisson. It is a hotel and by the looks of it, one of the nicer places to stay in Belize City. All the staff were extremely helpful and happy and enjoyable to be around. We were afforded a late checkout of 2pm, which was nice since we couldn’t board the boat until 3pm. They even wheeled all our luggage over to the boat. Room was clean, shower was hot and with good pressure and the AC, TV and WIFI worked well, albeit the AC was a tad loud. We were placed in an adjacent building called the garden villas, I think. It was perfect. We were next to the annex pool which was super refreshing. There are two onsite bars and restaurants. One indoor and one outdoor and also bakery/café. We did a ½ day tour of the Altun Ha ruins on Saturday morning since we had most of the day to kill and couldn’t board the boat until 3pm. It was a 4-hour excursion in total. Cost was $74 per person. A little steep, but we enjoyed it and our guide/driver was outstanding.

WATER and SURFACE TEMP: Water temps were a consistent 80-81 and no current at all below the surface, but a pretty healthy surface current due to moderate winds the first couple days, but settled down the rest of the week. Mostly sunny skies and gorgeous conditions all week.

BOAT STUFF: I absolutely love the ladder for getting back into the boat. It is wide, it is sturdy and it is long and sits perfectly deep into the water for standing right on it and walking up. They do have two 100cf steel cylinders that can be reserved ahead of time. I reserved one and was super happy with it all week. Combined with my rig and exposure protection, I required zero lbs. of additional lead. There are 8 bunk rooms on the lower deck. All with bunk beds and one master stateroom on the top deck adjacent to the captain’s quarters and the wheelhouse. It has an oversized full size bed (between a queen and full). This is where my wife and I stayed and we loved it. The dive deck is spacious and on the aft and has two very nice warm outdoor showers. There is 1 bathroom on the dive deck. We really could have used 1 more. The salon and dining area is ample for the number of guests and well air conditioned. Food was good, if not a tad salty at times and plentiful. They are good about accommodating food allergies or preferences. The upper deck is a sun deck with lounge chairs, a Jacuzzi that can seat 3-4, the master stateroom and wheelhouse. The dive gear up area is very roomy. About 4-5 easy stairs brings you to the aft where you giant stride into the water. There are also 2 hot shower heads down there.

Day 1

We boarded the boat at 3pm on Saturday. First order of business was to find a dive station and unpack our dive gear and set it up. Each dive station has a dedicated bin for mask and any other miscellaneous gear not attached to the BCD. After gear set up, we were escorted to our room and given a nice orientation to the room and where everything was. After that, it was a bit of milling around, walking the boat to get familiarized and chit chatting with other guests until about 6pm when we had a group/boat orientation and formal introductions to staff and other guests. Dinner was served shortly thereafter around 7pm. We had a pretty eclectic group. 2 Italians, 1 Brazilian, 2 French and 12 North Americans from Florida, Washington, California, Illinois and Nevada.

Day 2
The boat left the dock at 5am and we powered to Turneffe Reef. Continental breakfast gets going around 5:30am and the full hot breakfast at 7am. The dive briefing began at 8am with a detailed briefing of the dive site. Dive site for the morning dives was SANDY SLOPE. It was basically as it sounds. A Sandy Slope from the mooring pin at 30 feet to about 105 feet. This was an unimpressive dive site. Some random coral heads, lots of sand, not much sea life. Made for an easy enough check out dive to begin the trip, but otherwise, I was ready to move off this site as soon as possible; but the SOP is 2 dives per dive site in the morning and 2 afternoon dives + the night dive at a different site.

Dives 3, 4 and the night dive #5 of the day had us move a mile south to a site called ZIPLINE. Not sure why it was called that. It was pretty similar to Sandy Slope. Coral heads and sand in between. Despite the less than spectacular aesthetics of the dive site, we had some nice encounters here and particularly on the night dive. We had an incredible 10- minute Octopus encounter; pair of spotted morays out hunting, a slipper lobster a huge southern ray, big scorpion fish, free swimming green moray, a cute as could be balloon fish and the coolest thing I have ever seen, but no idea what it is, so we called it the “KILTED ANEMONE CRAB” it was a crab inside a plaid colored shell with 3 tube anemones attached to its shell.
The night dive concluded with the staff providing hot chocolate w/ or w/o some creamy rum.

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Trailboss123

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Day 3
We motored through the evening and woke up on day 3 at Lighthouse reef. Dives 1 and 2 for the day and dives 6 and 7 of the trip were at Hat Caye Wall. The first dive, we went north on the wall and the second dive we went south. Both directions made for enjoyable dives and were very reminiscent in topography, coral and reef life to Northern Bonaire dive sites like 1,000 Steps, Karpata and Candyland. The northern wall was much more steep and dramatic with potential depths well below recreational level. Again, no currents below the water and the surface current had subsided with the reduction of wind. A spotted eagle ray and numerous turtles were the highlights.
Dives 3, 4 and 5 on the day were at Quebrada dive site. A gorgeous dive site. Absolutely stunning wall dive and outstanding shallows as well. Dramatic scenery from 25 feet down to about 160 feet. The wall was covered in sea fans and various sponges. We saw turtles, a small nurse shark sleeping in a tiny cutout in the wall, huge crab, more octopus, squid, barracuda, morays, lots of the typical Caribbean reef fish, etc. Super healthy. One of the better Caribbean dive sites I have experienced.

Day 4
Dive 11 of the trip was Tuesday morning at the Blue Hole. We arrived at 8:30am and had no other boats or divers in the area. The plan was for a group dive with 2 dive masters leading the group. One in front and one bringing up the rear. Just prior to descending over the edge we saw a small reef shark and a large grouper to our right, as if they were a sending off party. The descent was quick and uneventful arriving at 133 feet and working our way in and around the stalactites before a nice controlled ascent back up the wall to our drop point. We were back up at 30 feet at about the 23-minute mark and then spent the next 15 minutes off gassing at 15-20 and looking at small stuff in the eel grass.

After the Blue Hole dive, we made our way to Half Moon Caye for a walking tour on the island to see the red footed boobie birds, iguanas, frigate birds and land crabs. Back on the boat after the 1 hour island excursion, we motored over and anchored at Half Moon Caye Wall where the afternoon and night dives would begin after lunch. Our first Caribbean reef shark sightings were here at Half Moon Caye Wall. 1 small and 1 rather large reef shark made several passes back and forth along the wall. We also saw an above averaged sized spotted eagle ray. The night dive had an inordinate amount of lion fish on the reef. We also had a nice sighting of a giant barracuda out hunting. A group of arrow crabs hanging out on a sea fan and some brightly colored brittle stars on a red sponge were also a highlight. There were a number of stingrays in the eel grass as well. I really enjoyed this dive site, as it had numerous fun swim-through’s going from the sandy shallows at 35 feet and dropping maze like down to the wall at 58 feet or so. Really fun diving.

Day 5
We awoke to day 5 and had relocated to the south side of Half Moon Caye to a dive site called Angel Fish Wall. Another gorgeous wall dive. Early in the dive, I found myself leisurely following a spotted eagle ray down to 113 feet. We also had a number of reef shark sightings as we went east on the wall on the first dive of the morning, which was dive 15 of the trip. Lots of good sized groupers on the wall also. In the shallows, there was a huge patch of garden eels and right under the boat were two large Angelfish for which the dive site gets its name.
Dive 16, also on Angel Fish Wall, I decided to go west on the wall to see what it had in store and it didn’t disappoint. Numerous reef sharks, a large and ancient loggerhead turtle and lots of groupers. The wall is dramatic, quite vertical and drops into the abyss.
For the afternoon, we moved over to Long Caye and did our 2 afternoon dives and night dive at Long Caye Wall. The afternoon dives were uneventful. The top of the wall was fishy with lots of juvenile fish of various types, but other than that, nothing much to speak of. The night dive was much better with an extended octopus sighting, a very large scorpion fish and the highlight was a face to face encounter with a 7-foot reef shark that came up over the wall suddenly and right at me.

Day 6
The morning of Day 6 saw us move about 10-15 minutes to another dive site still on Long Caye called Painted Wall. It was a beautiful wall if you went left once off the boat and at the wall, which I believe was west- I forget. Anyway, the first dive of the morning, we chose to right and it was barren and uninspiring. Nothing to warrant turning on my camera for. The 2nd dive to the left was like being in a completely different place. Between 35-60- feet on the wall was the sweet spot with an abundance of gorgonian sea fans and large orange elephant ear sponges like in Cozumel. Lots of nooks and crannies and ledges to peer into. Various morays and a spotted eagle ray and lots of juvenile and small fish. My overall impression of Belize as the week is winding down and the consensus of others on the boat, is that it is not very fishy at all. Very sparse overall.

The afternoon dives had us moving an hour or so back over to Turneffe Atoll. The first dive was called Jhonny’s Wrench. It was a completely dead and algae ridden dive site. Absolutely nothing positive to be spoken about it. The entire boat complained and encouraged the captain to pull up anchor and try our luck elsewhere. No one could imagine doing another dive there, much less that and a night dive there. He was reluctant and didn’t really want to and said it may not be any better somewhere else, to which the refrain was, “we will take our chances, it can’t be any worse.”

So, we moved 5-7 minutes away to a dive site called Grand Bouge. It was a definite improvement, but still uninspired. The wall had good visibility and much more marine life than the previous site. The reef was still pretty shattered and dead. When we came back to the boat, the visibility turned to pea soup with some type of algae bloom in the water column. We could hear the boat, but couldn’t see it at all. We finally made out the shape of the dinghy trailing behind the boat when we reached safety stop depth and were able to get to the boat after finishing the safety stop. We had very poor hopes for the night dive, but it actually turned out well. The boat was sitting in 40 feet of water over sand and coral heads. The top 20 feet was still layered with algae bloom, but below that, the viz was good and we had a nice dive among the coral heads. A nice sized crab was a highlight.

Day 7
The last dive day consisted of 2 morning dives and the first one got going at 6:15am. We were moored still at Turneffe Reef and the dive site was Amber Head. Under the boat it was 15 feet. There was a sloping wall to the north of the boat that began in 35-40 feet and very gently sloped down. I hit 110 feet and turned around and made my way back up slope and cruised around. It was basically a bunch of coral heads. I made my way back under the boat and explored there. The second dive of the morning and last of the trip was after breakfast and after settling final bills (Nitrox @ $100 per person, per week, Marine Park fee @ $110 per person, Tip and any other incidentals). Only 3 of us ended up doing all 26 dives on offer and we descended and cruised around taking pics underneath the boat for 45 minutes. Never went deeper than 20 feet. Visibility was good and the winds were nonexistent in the morning. After the last dive, it was time to clean the gear and get it up on the top deck to start drying off and chill out until lunch. We cruised back from Turneffe Reef to Belize City and arrived there at 12:30pm. My wife and some others went to the Belize City Zoo. I walked over to the bar/restaurant at the Fort George Radisson to get caught up with some work. There was a 6pm cocktail party to end the trip, followed by one last night on board docked at the pier. Everyone was off the boat by 8am. Our flight home was uneventful and went through Denver before getting back to LAX at 10pm.

Conclusion: It was an enjoyable trip and everyone on the boat, from fellow divers to the crew were all competent and enjoyable to be with for a week. We had a pretty even mix of male and female and age ranges were 30’ to 70’s. I don’t see myself coming back to Belize to dive again. Cozumel, The Caymans and Bonaire are considerably better Caribbean options, in my opinion. The best diving was definitely out in the Lighthouse Reef area around Hat Caye and Half Moon Caye. I didn’t find any of the dives around Turneffe Reef worth returning to for any reason. I did enjoy the live aboard aspect of it. Apart from many 3, 4 and 5 day trips in the Channel Islands of California (which is much more camping at sea), this was my first live aboard and I will certainly do some more, in different destinations like the Red Sea or the Socorro’s.

Here is a link to my You Tube Video of the trip:
 

KathyV

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...Conclusion: It was an enjoyable trip and everyone on the boat, from fellow divers to the crew were all competent and enjoyable to be with for a week. We had a pretty even mix of male and female and age ranges were 30’ to 70’s. I don’t see myself coming back to Belize to dive again. Cozumel, The Caymans and Bonaire are considerably better Caribbean options, in my opinion. The best diving was definitely out in the Lighthouse Reef area around Hat Caye and Half Moon Caye. I didn’t find any of the dives around Turneffe Reef worth returning to for any reason. I did enjoy the live aboard aspect of it. Apart from many 3, 4 and 5 day trips in the Channel Islands of California (which is much more camping at sea), this was my first live aboard and I will certainly do some more, in different destinations like the Red Sea or the Socorro’s...

Thanks again for the great trip report. If you want to try other Caribbean liveaboards, you should look at the Turks and Caicos. We've done 2 LOB trips out of Provo to the West Caicos and French Cay areas and they were both fabulous. Lovely reefs and lots of animal life including sharks on just about every dive and also eagle rays, sting rays, eels, turtles, tarpons, and more. And you can have fun topside on Provo, too. Grace Bay Beach is a spectacular beach, nicer that Seven Mile Beach IMO.

My only objection to doing a land-based dive trip to Provo is that the better reefs are a long boat ride away and there is no shore diving - that's why I think that the T&Cs are a perfect destination for a LOB.

And we also loved our LOB trip on the Cayman Aggressor. That may seem strange because most of the time you are diving sites that can easily be reached from shore, but you get to do a lot of diving on the best sites around all 3 Cayman islands. On our trip we spent most of the time on Bloody Bay Wall and Jackson's Bight off of Little Cayman; but we also dived the Tibbett's wreck and some great sites off of Cayman Brac, and did some lovely dives off of Grand Cayman too.

The only drawback is that if the weather is bad, they will not do the crossing to the sister islands and you will be stuck on a boat, making the best of the dives available around Grand Cayman - probably on the West or South sides because they are usually the most sheltered areas.

I think I read that the Cayman Aggressor typically makes the crossing about 75% of the time, so there is a good chance that you will make it but there is a risk that you won't. You might call Aggressor and ask about the safest months to travel to Cayman when you are most likely to make the crossing.

Now that you have done a trip with Aggressor you are members of the Dive the World Club and each diver is eligible for 25% off on selected cruises for selected dates - but they are not always the most popular dates; see the link below. We did our Cayman Aggressor Trip in October on a Dive the World cruise and we had perfect weather - but we took a big risk!
Aggressor Fleet® | Official Site | Liveaboard Scuba Dive Yacht Trips

And as you know, the Aggressor Fleet usually offers a big sale early in the year for cruised through the Spring/Summer - I believe that is what you booked for the Belize Aggressor III, correct?

Since you are starting from the US West Coast you might also want to look at the Kona Aggressor in Hawaii. The diving is very different from the Caribbean. You won't see all the soft corals and sponges, but there are healthy hard corals and lots of beautiful and unusual sea life. And the night dive with Mantas off Kona was spectacular. We had a great trip, and you can also find a lot of fun topside activities in Hawaii!

Welcome to LOB diving, we've enjoyed both land-based and liveaboard diving over the years. If you want to do a lot of diving in the most pristine locations, a LOB may be the best choice. If you want to enjoy topside activities and also good diving - then a land-based trip may be the better option. When the weather is bad I would rather be on land - but when the weather is a great then a LOB can give you a wonderful dive vacation!
 
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Trailboss123

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Thanks again for the great trip report. If you want to try other Caribbean liveaboards, you should look at the Turks and Caicos. We've done 2 LOB trips out of Provo to the West Caicos and French Cay areas and they were both fabulous. Lovely reefs and lots of animal life including sharks on just about every dive and also eagle rays, sting rays, eels, turtles, tarpons, and more. And you can have fun topside on Provo, too. Grace Bay Beach is a spectacular beach, nicer that Seven Mile Beach IMO.

My only objection to doing a land-based dive trip to Provo is that the better reefs are a long boat ride away and there is no shore diving - that's why I think that the T&Cs are a perfect destination for a LOB.

And we also loved our LOB trip on the Cayman Aggressor. That may seem strange because most of the time you are diving sites that can easily be reached from shore, but you get to do a lot of diving on the best sites around all 3 Cayman islands. On our trip we spent most of the time on Bloody Bay Wall and Jackson's Bight off of Little Cayman; but we also dived the Tibbett's wreck and some great sites off of Cayman Brac, and did some lovely dives off of Grand Cayman too.

The only drawback is that if the weather is bad, they will not do the crossing to the sister islands and you will be stuck on a boat, making the best of the dives available around Grand Cayman - probably on the West or South sides because they are usually the most sheltered areas.

I think I read that the Cayman Aggressor typically makes the crossing about 75% of the time, so there is a good chance that you will make it but there is a risk that you won't. You might call Aggressor and ask about the safest months to travel to Cayman when you are most likely to make the crossing.

Now that you have done a trip with Aggressor you are members of the Dive the World Club and each diver is eligible for 25% off on selected cruises for selected dates - but they are not always the most popular dates; see the link below. We did our Cayman Aggressor Trip in October on a Dive the World cruise and we had perfect weather - but we took a big risk!
Aggressor Fleet® | Official Site | Liveaboard Scuba Dive Yacht Trips

And as you know, the Aggressor Fleet usually offers a big sale early in the year for cruised through the Spring/Summer - I believe that is what you booked for the Belize Aggressor III, correct?

Since you are starting from the US West Coast you might also want to look at the Kona Aggressor in Hawaii. The diving is very different from the Caribbean. You won't see all the soft corals and sponges, but there are healthy hard corals and lots of beautiful and unusual sea life. And the night dive with Mantas off Kona was spectacular. We had a great trip, and you can also find a lot of fun topside activities in Hawaii!

Welcome to LOB diving, we've enjoyed both land-based and liveaboard diving over the years. If you want to do a lot of diving in the most pristine locations, a LOB may be the best choice. If you want to enjoy topside activities and also good diving - then a land-based trip may be the better option. When the weather is bad I would rather be on land - but when the weather is a great then a LOB can give you a wonderful dive vacation!

Thanks for all of that info Kathy. I have thought about the Turks and Caicos and based on all of the reports I have read, I have decided that, like Belize, I will only do it via Live Aboard, as you suggest. I have also thought about the Kona Aggressor. I have a friend that worked on it for 3 years and he speaks highly of it. I will actually be going to Kona in September for a week of diving with some instructor friends. It will be land based this time since they have a time share they are offering me for free.
 

Trailboss123

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This was a very comprehensive and informative report, thank you for the time and effort you put into writing it. I'm headed to Belize on the Aggressor 4 at the end of next month with a few folks from this forum and it's somewhat concerning what I'm hearing about the reefs, but it's also no surprise. It sounds like most of the diving was mediocre, with a few great dives and some very poor dives as well. I'm getting myself mentally prepared to do a bit less diving and more relaxing and eating the great food I've heard so much about.

I think you hit the nail on the head pretty accurately. The diving at the Lighthouse Reef area and the various Cayes out there was truly outstanding and some of the best diving I have experienced in the Caribbean. You will have a great trip and at the end of the day, any day diving is always a great thing. Have fun!
 

drrich2

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Very nice, day-by-day guide to the 'work flow' of the dive trip. Should be quite useful to people considering the trip. Couple of observations:

1.) I'm surprised at the lack of 'fishiness' - not that my 2015 trip aboard the then Sun Dancer 2 out of Belize was swarming with fish, but it had decent fishiness. My main comparison to Bonaire (which I last hit in 2014, I think), was more variety of sizable grouper (whereas in Bonaire, if it's bigger than a graysby, it's a tiger grouper - from my dives there), and of course reef sharks (which I never saw in Bonaire). I've yet to see the Caribbean dive that matches the fishiness of my dive on Snapper Ledge out of Key Largo in 2013. Closest I've been to being unable to see the reef for the fish.

2.) I don't understand why they spent 2 1/2 days (was it?) diving Turneffe. IIRC, our only diving there was the last 2 dives on that last, half-day, of diving en-route back to port.

Sounds like you had a fine time, though it didn't top your favorites list. Wonder if that'd have changed if you'd only had 2 dives around Turneffe like we did?

Congrat.s on the Iron Diver award (for doing all the dives); the medallions make cool trip mementos.

Richard.
 
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