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Cozumel trip report staying at Paradise Condos and diving with Aldora Divers April 7-12, 2017

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I

idocsteve

Guest
Cozumel trip report staying at Paradise Condos and diving with Aldora Divers April 7-12, 2017. With my girlfriend, her newly certified almost 14 year old son and my sister.

Over the past 25 years or so I've dived in the Florida Keys, Bonaire, Roatan, Grand Cayman, Grand Bahama Island, Belize, Curacao and Cozumel. I feel that only the last 3 are worth the time, effort, and expense due to the noticeable decline in the reefs and lack of marine life. Of those locations, Cozumel stood out above the rest and this was my 3rd visit, a lot for a guy that doesn't like to do the same thing twice when there are so many places to see in this world.

We chose to stay in a beachfront condo we found on Homeaway.com, a site which we have used to rent homes for numerous vacations in the US. A quick word about Homeaway and the rental websites including AirBnB, and Choice Hotels. Most if not all have recently been purchased and combined by mega companies and the individual property owners are being shafted with high fees and poor customer service and many are bailing altogether. Some of the remaining property owners are resorting to deceptive advertising to lure in customers while charging high service fees to help cover their increased costs. Go read the tons of 1 star reviews by the property owners and you will see for yourself how bad it has become. But it's still good for renters if you're careful and do your homework.

A word about 'All Inclusives' versus hotels versus staying in a private home or condo. In Cozumel groceries are relatively inexpensive and restaurant food is so good and diverse and low priced that at least to me it makes no sense to go all inclusive and pay a lot of money and stuff your face to get your money's worth of lower quality food and be stuck in a small hotel room. We spent $200 on groceries, mostly cereal, eggs, yogurt, fruit, sandwich makings, energy bars, and chips/cheese/salsa snacks and of course wine. Note that alcohol may not be available on Sundays or at most during limited hours. I got conflicting information on that. It was usually easy to get a cab and they'll wait while you shop. Average one way cab from town to our southern location was $7-8 or $140 pesos. We ate at La Chosa for great Mexican and a small place called Lobster Shack which has only 4 but great menu choices- might be better for lunch but worth a visit either way. 3rd meal was at Guidos Italian near the museum a short walk north of town- not really for me but my girlfriend loved it and she is a real foodie. My sister and I thought the lasagna tasted like Spaghetti Os from a can but my girlfriend corrected us by clarifying that we don't appreciate fine Italian dining (she read this and added 'fresh pasta with bechamel and bolognese sauces' whatever that means). The average restaurant tab was about $150 for 4 including a few bar drinks. One night after I did a nite dive we went to the Money Bar near our condos for a nice late meal but nothing spectacular. South of town many places close at 9 due to noise ordinances and we just made it. We had walked 15 minutes to get there but the ladies didn't want to walk back. We waited over 1/2 hour for a cab and never got one. Eventually a local who was leaving offered us a free ride. So if you stay south or out of town be aware of the potential cab issues at night off the main drag. Tuesday and Wednesday until around 5 the town becomes mobbed with cruise ship passengers so expect traffic delays but there are hordes of taxis. We took maybe 8 cab rides during our 6 day stay, for groceries, to the restaurants, dive shop and to the airport, less than $100 total, probably a lot less than renting a car, although if you plan on touring the island that might be a better option. There are motorcycle, scooter, and jeep rentals too.

A quick word about pesos. I exchanged $1000 US for $17800 pesos at Chase bank- they special order them, it takes a couple of days, I got a good rate at 17.8 which usually beat the exchange rates we found in restaurants, shops, cabs, etc around Coz that I saw as low as 1/13 and as high as 1/20. Also using Pesos is cool, sort of like trying to learn some Spanish from the helpful friendly locals who appreciate the effort you make to respect their culture. At least one shop owner said 'I love my pesos' when I offered to pay either in US or local currency because at that shop it was the same as the exchange rate I paid back in NY so I gave her pesos and she commented how crisp and new they were. My guess is people don't tend to exchange at their bank beforehand and most local pesos are old and worn so I got to introduce some fresh bills.

Verizon offers an international calling plan called TravelPass that only costs $2 per day and allows for almost unlimited calling, texting and data usage, certainly more than anyone would use during a vacation unless they just can't stay off their phones in which case why go on vacation in the first place.

Don't forget to bring a pen with you to fill out the immigration forms on the plane before you land. Getting through the airport and immigration was fast and no hassle, it took less than 45 minutes including purchasing a taxi coupon from the ticket booth- make a right out of baggage claim and walk past all the time share booths, it's on the left, right before the terminal exit. The timeshare solicitors were not pushy or annoying at all. We were directed to a van and the driver loaded us up and brought us to the Aldora Dive shop where we checked in to drop our gear and were able to schedule an afternoon dive which doubled as Aldoras required checkout dive. Note that we taxied to Aldora a few times during the trip and at least twice the driver took us to the Aldora pier which is a few short blocks away so no big deal but you want to specify 'shop' unless of course you are headed to the pier in which case you would say 'pier' because otherwise you might be taken to the shop.

We walked 3 blocks to the ferry terminal to meet my sister whose Delta FLL through ATL to Coz flight was canceled last minute for reasons unknown so she flew into Cancun with Spirit airlines which is a direct flight from FLL, she took a 1 hour bus ride to Playa del Carmen for $10 and the 35 minute ferry to Coz. She was at first very unhappy about the flight cancelation, she thought she might have to scrap her trip entirely because Delta was unreachable the ENTIRE night after the late cancelation but it turns out this is a popular and cheaper way to get to Cozumel and we will explore that option next time. I will personally avoid Delta if possible for the terrible way they didn't handle the cancelation with their inability to adequately staff their phone lines for displaced passengers. My sister's travel agent cannot get an answer from Delta about a refund for the canceled first flight until she flies back home (why not, Delta?), but we expect them to at least provide a 50% refund on the ticket price or even more due to the nonexistent customer service. Delta actually notified her that she was rebooked on the rescheduled canceled flight- 15 minutes before it was to depart the next morning. She was home at the time. The service we had with United, and not only on this trip, was perfect in every way.

Our experience with property owner Anis and Paradise Condos was absolutely stellar. We stayed in a 3 bedroom unit facing the ocean. It has a partial ocean view from the living room and 2 bedrooms although this unit is set back a bit and there are two other buildings closer to the water, one on each side along with two palm trees that sort of 'frame' the view which is about 40 degrees of unobstructed beach and ocean. Our unit was second floor which includes exclusive use of the rooftop terrace which has a few lounge chairs and a table with a protective straw roof where you can sit and have an unobstructed full ocean view. We lounged up there after the dives and the direct sunlight was useful for drying our wetsuits and booties after the last dive of the trip. Don't let that neoprene sit there any longer than it has to. There's pipes and AC units up there so despite the table and chairs it looks more like.. well, a roof with a table and chairs on it.

The condo itself was beautiful with large open living room, fully equipped kitchen, huge master bedroom with what appears to be an oversized king bed. It's towards the back but it's like an L so you still get most of the framed ocean view, and a sliding glass door gives you access to the wrap around balcony that can also be reached by the living room and one other bedroom.

We contacted Anis a few times with questions not only about the unit but about taxis, restaurants, even recommended arrival times at the airport (2 hours). He's friendly, cooperative, very responsive and always picked up his phone. We were met upon arrival by the property manager who gave us an orientation including how not to flush toilet paper- it goes in the trash after you wipe your ass due to how waste is processed. Not sure how widespread this practice is, all I can say is at first I was mortified but by day 3 I wasn't even getting **** on my fingers anymore and it was almost second nature. There was a sewage smell at times from the laundry room which we handled by putting a damp towel over the floor drain, opening the window and keeping the door closed. Washer dryer worked fine, you can pack less and use everything twice with a mid-stay washing. All towels, linens, beach gear etc are there for your use. There's also snorkeling gear available down by the beach. If you stay there in the next few months you don't need to buy coffee filters. You're welcome. There's a water cooler with plenty of extra 5 gallon bottles so don't buy water and of course never drink Mexico tap water or use it for coffee or ice. There's a safe in the closet, put your valuables in there when you leave and check twice that you locked it. Maids clean up once in the middle of a week long stay.

Here's a link to the condominum on Homeaway.com

When shopping around town the shop owners can be really pesky almost reaching the level of mild harassment trying to get customers into their shops. I suggest simply ignoring them or asking them if they sell a particular sex toy which usually shuts them right down. I thought jewelry was supposed to be cheap in Cozumel, while my girlfriend was looking at stuff the guy noticed my 'domestic partnership commitment' ring and said he has the same one. I said 'let's see it' so he went and got a ring that was truly identical to my own, purchased at Macy's a year or so earlier- for $500 less than his asking price. We didn't buy anything there.

I will summarize the diving with Aldora by saying there is a good reason they are among the best rated dive Ops in Cozumel. The service was top notch, they are reliable, professional, friendly, and competent. They did everything from storing and assembling our gear, fixing equipment problems by providing loaners as necessary and gave us choices of dive sites. Since we were a group of four (their minimum except for guaranteed biweekly nite dives) we pretty much could pick where we wanted to dive, and we could choose to do an afternoon dive last minute, that sort of thing. A quick word to those divers who say 'No one touches my gear except me!' Get off your pedestal, the Aldora crew probably knows more about putting your rig together than most divers including you, they do it several times per day, every day. Sure they might not connect a low pressure inflator hose completely or flip the first stage upside down because it makes sense to them to do it that way, or a DM might forget to ask you about weights, but you're going to check it before your fins hit the water. They even analyze your Nitrox tanks while you watch, you don't have to touch an analyzer. Two of our group got Nitrox certified at my urging just prior to the trip but truth be told let me just say 'some' Cozumel dive Ops that will remain nameless don't even check, so theoretically non Nitrox certified divers could theoretically dive under the watchful eye of their Nitrox certified dive buddies who will theoretically tell them how deep not to go and theoretically make sure their dive computers are set for the correct blend, so they all can enjoy some exceptionally long bottom times and the additional measure of safety provided by breathing a gas containing a higher concentration of 02.

The excellent service you get with Aldora Divers comes at a price. Two tank dive prices recently increased to $95 and when you add $10 for Nitrox and 10% tip and 16% taxes and $3 per day "marine park fee", you're paying about $135 for a two tank dive - and that's without rental gear. Our total for 4 divers for 10 Nitrox dives over 4 days was $2400 and there was an issue with the bill. When we booked it was $93 and the Aldora site still says $93 on the description page although the dive price page says $95. If you think I'm being petty then go ahead and PayPal me the $80 difference just to make your point. They did a so-called 'repair' on my sister's leaking pressure gauge but when the DM gave it back to her on the boat he wasn't sure what was done to it so she continued to use the loaner, and when we checked out the repair receipt it just said $29 to inspect and lubricate or whatever. Jorge back at the shop at checkout time didn't know either. Looks like she'll have to bring it to a LDS back home so they can tell her if it was adequately repaired. Jorge dropped the dive price down to $93 and waived the $29 repair charge. He also waived the computer rental- I thought they were included with Aldora's specialized service of providing extra long dives with their 120 cf tanks because it says right in the Aldora orientation PDF on page 4 "If you do not have a dive computer Aldora will loan you one and teach you how to use it", and there is no separate price for computer rental at the bottom of that orientation document while there is a list of rental prices for everything else; but apparently dive computers do cost an additional $7 per day. We had our own computers but 2 crapped out and 2 were not Nitrox because 2 divers just got Nitrox certified prior to this trip and again I thought Aldora included them so it wasn't a priority. You get a 10% discount for cash- I didn't know that and I read everything on Aldora's site as well as the orientation PDF they emailed me but Jorge said it's there somewhere.

One other minor Aldora issue was on our last dive. It didn't get good until the last 15 minutes but the DM cut it short while our most limiting diver still had 1000 psi which is like another 10-15 minutes with those steel 120s at that depth. Why? Because we were grouped with 2 divers breathing air and they were getting close to no deco limits. Back on the boat the very nice and knowledgeable military diver father told me he uses very conservative limits for his sons safety which is fine but not on my dive time. He did share air with him at the end as per my predive request when I saw his newly certified son was using an 80 cf tank. I was mildly admonished by the DM Jorge for extending my dive and staying 30' below them while they were doing their safety stop. That's unfair and I think it's against Aldoras 'All Nitrox' boat policy/promise but it's a relatively minor issue all things considered. They also politely refused my request to allow us to carry a reel and SMB and ascend in separate buddy pairs should differing gas consumption make this a practical option.

My girlfriend wanted a private DM for her young newly certified son and after doing the math we realized it made sense to do his AOW so that he'd get the private DM, the extra 10' depth to 70', and of course the A0W card which automatically turns into the full AOW certification when he turns 15. The various DMs for our group gave him plenty of attention -some notably more than others- thank you Mauricio and Jorge, much appreciated. Being newly certified he was a bit overwhelmed with all the drift diving (her son, not Mauricio or Jorge). Sometimes the current was ripping and it was a bit of a struggle with those large heavy tanks. The AOW would have been too much, so we scrapped it altogether. He improved exponentially over the 10 dives and next dive trip will be a better opportunity for him to improve further with the skills learned in the AOW course. I am not naming any particular dive Op but 'some' Ops don't strictly enforce the 60' depth limitation. I 'may' recall seeing a depth on another divers computer of 84'..

We were given the option for the Aldora boat to pick us up at the Money Bar pier which was a 10-15 minute walk up the road, or we could wade out to the boat directly in front of our condo off the beach. We chose the latter and it worked out fine. We should have brought a dry bag because it got a bit deep during the wade out but we managed to keep our bag of surface interval stuff dry, including money for DM tips and food at the beach bar where you hang between morning dives. Aldora offers to hold and rinse your gear the entire time you are diving with them, so you don't need to carry it back and forth. My girlfriend purchased a mask prior to the trip; it was poor design with thin plastic pieces that formed the attachment for the strap. She discovered it broken in her gear bag one morning. She was given a loaner for the day and Aldora replaced her mask at the shop with a brand new one without any hassle.

The three Palancar deep reefs were on my 'must do' list from my prior trip in 2005 but found them to be almost completely devoid of Aquatic life sans an Eagle Ray and a turtle but the huge towering corals and numerous swim thrus make it the place to go for divers who enjoy diving for the geography and the impressive coral formations. Three reef dives that were absolutely stunning for abundant marine life were Columbia, Cedral and Yukab. Cedral had a really long swim thru, about 3 minutes. I tend to miss a lot of stuff, one thing I learned on this trip is that the best way to find interesting creatures is to follow the line created by my girlfriend's outstretched arm and right index finger. She has an underwater tank pressurized 'quacker' which can be heard anywhere within reasonable distance. The best spotters in your group should have one of these, which also doubles as a surface audible signaling device. I also recommend each diver have their own SMB just in case they get separated. Even better would be a finger reel and SMB that can be deployed at depth, I carry one but that's a step up for many recreational divers.

During the surface interval Aldora takes you to a nice beach with a restaurant and bar with lounge chairs and a diving platform you can lay down on. Food is available or bring some fruit, sandwiches or energy bars and relax in the sun or shade while you off gas less nitrogen than all those air breathing divers. You're supposed to use the tables and chairs to the left of the building as you look at it from the water or you might be asked to move. It's probably a deal between various dive shops and the restaurant: we bring you divers during surface interval, some of whom will buy food and you provide a nice place for ALL divers even those who bring their own food and no money. The only attitude I saw from a local the entire trip was during a surface interval when we were sitting at a table on the LEFT side having learned our lesson the previous day after cleaning the sand off our lounge chairs, getting comfortable with 45 minutes remaining on our surface interval and then being instructed to move to the LEFT side of the damn beach. So the waiter comes over with menus we say 'no thanks' and he makes a face which is a Mexicans way of saying 'freeloader scuba divers'. I take **** from no one and when he walked by I said 'Excuse me I thought it's ok for us to be here as divers without ordering anything?!' He was apologetic and all smiley as he back peddled and said oh yes no problemo for scuba divers! Maybe he was confused even though I was still wearing my wetsuit. Anyway it was unexpected given the overwhelming friendliness of the Cozumel locals especially the cab drivers who were always consistent and fair and never tried to overcharge and always smiled and were gracious for any tip no matter how small- I intentionally tipped a bit low and high at times just to get a feel of what was expected and it was impossible to tell from the reactions. They were always thankful.

At my request we dived the only real wreck on the island, it's an intact upright ~200' long intentionally sunk decommissioned military vessel with numerous rooms, hallways, staircases, railings, hatches, and even a fully furnished bathroom. There's something creepy about seeing toilet bowls in 70' of water in a dark wreck. Not much fish other than 2-3 large schools of those little silver guys that you can swim right into and through for a unique visual experience. There was a large green moray under some metal deck plating. The wreck is in sand but there is some patchy reef nearby to see when you've completed the wreck. We were guided by a very competent, detail oriented dive master named Sharif who gave a thorough pre dive briefing including a sketch of the wreck and how we would swim through it. We followed him into, down, up, and through the wreck for a full penetration dive which non wreck certified divers with good buoyancy can do since it's a guided divemaster tour. If you plan to do the wreck bring a good light and maybe a pair of reef gloves which you are prohibited from using anywhere in the Park but hey it's an old rusty wreck and I value my fingers and I didn't see any Policia down there.

I did one night dive. Aldora will not do an afternoon dive with any less than 4 divers and no one in my group wanted to do it so I stopped into the local shop at the beach by the condos and the guy said he'd take a minimum of 2 divers at 6:30 pm which meant late afternoon. I paid him $110 for myself (cost of 2 divers) and because this wasn't Aldora I didn't see the boat until about 7:30 pm. We hit the water just as it became dark. The dive wasn't all that great, notably the only Lionfish I saw the whole trip were on that dive, there were several along with lobsters, large crabs and currents that seemed to constantly shift although maybe it just seemed so because it was really freaking dark. A night dive to me is more about the visual experience, the unique diving environment and lots of creepy shadows that look like something alive and menacing. I requested a wall rather than the relatively flat default Paradise Reef where most dive Ops do their night dives. I still managed to get 50 minutes out of a 100 cf tank at depths between 40-90 ft despite the somewhat faster 'scary monster shadows' breathing rate.

Lesson learned- I asked for 4 lbs since I was slightly negative with Aldoras 120 cf steel at that weight and this dive Op provided me with a 100 cf tank. My first clue of a problem should have been when the DM was impressed that a slightly overweight 220 lb 6' guy only needed 4 lbs. I jumped in and was surprised to find myself positive despite emptying my BCD at the surface. Mistake 2- I know I didn't tell you mistake 1 yet I am going to leave it out and see if someone gets it. Anyway mistake 2 was forcibly swimming down to about 15 feet to get neutral rather than solving the weight issue at the surface. I found myself slightly underweighted the whole dive and was dreading the safety stop until I saw THE most beautiful thing on the dive- the outstretched hand of the DM with a 4 lb weight in it. After we returned to the boat we discussed the weight issue and I realized my blunder. Can you?

We are currently sitting in Cozumel airport waiting to board. I had plenty of time to finish this because we got here 2 hours early and there was about a 3 minute wait at the United ticket counter to check our bags and get boarding passes and there was virtually no wait through security. I had checked us in beforehand and thought I was being clever by emailing the boarding passes to Aldora dive shop which they printed for me, but United didn't allow me to print all of them - I have no clue why - so we had to do it at the airport but it's done when you check your bags anyway so it's really pointless to do it ahead of time unless you have no bags to check. We were at the gate within 15 minutes of arrival but your mileage may vary depending on the number of departing flights. This may be something you can check in advance. I read here on Scuba Board that you should bag check all batteries (or they may be confiscated) and then on your connecting flight after you reclaim your bags move them to carry on so that's my intent. (It worked)

I'm back with a final note. Sitting at a restaurant bar in Houston waiting for our connecting flight to LGA. We zipped right through Customs and US immigration even though the lines were probably an hour long or more. These lines can be 2-3 hours during busy periods or times of increased National security. We reclaimed our bags and probably rechecked them and were at our new gate before any of our fellow non-Global Entry airplane passengers even made it through US immigration. In fact there were still some passengers showing up to get their bags from a prior flight AFTER we showed up. You also bypass the lines at Customs and they don't ask you any questions if you answered them at the Global Entry kiosk. Get Global Entry, for $100 every 5 years and a brief trip to JFK or other International airport that provides the service. It's highly worth it even if you only travel internationally on occasion. It also gives you TSA Pre-check which, when available gets you through security much faster and no removing shoes!
 
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ggunn

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Note that alcohol may not be available on Sundays or at most during limited hours. I got conflicting information on that.
Here's the deal: Alcohol is available in stores on Sundays until 3PM. Alcohol sales in restaurants and bars is not restricted.
 

Cozdreamer

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Thank you for taking the time to share your trip! Great read to start my spring break this morning!
 

DjDiverDan

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Thanks so much for the detailed trip report. And don't feel too bad about the mistake on weights on your night dive - you're not alone. About 5 years back, I joined ScubaBoard's Cozumel Invasion in July, and we all dove with Dive Paradise. I upgraded to AL 100 tanks for all the day dives, and had my weights perfect. Then went out on the night dive, and when I was asked "how much weight?", I told the DM the same amount that I'd been using all week - I knew that was perfect. BUT Dive Paradise only provided AL80s for the night dive, and I never even thought about how the different tank size would affect weighting. I couldn't descend at all until the DM handed me a 3 lb weight to stick in my BCD pocket. Lesson learned.
 

drrich2

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Appreciate the practical insights & advice into the little situational 'glitches' that came up for you, and might for others, and your reasonable 'go with the flow' way of rolling with the punches, so to speak.

Richard.
 

ggunn

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Here's the deal: Alcohol is available in stores on Sundays until 3PM. Alcohol sales in restaurants and bars is not restricted.
I'll just add that this was confusing to me at first; all the Sunday alcohol laws I have encountered in the States that have a time element prohibit sales before that time (noon in Texas for beer and wine, for example) not after it.
 

divingjd

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Aldora is usually (not 100%) very good about grouping divers together. I have very rarely seen air and nitrox divers together on a morning boat. Afternoons, maybe, because there are not that many divers in the afternoon. In your case, the fact that you were diving with a junior diver would have made it more difficult to match you up with other divers. That might help to explain the mis-match with your diving companions.
 

waynel

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Great report. I'm just always concerned about newly certified divers immediately going for AOW. And as you experienced first hand, it's just too soon to go from newly certified straight into AOW. A new diver just doesn't have a grasp on buoyancy control yet (took me 30 dives when I was new), proper breathing, etc., so absolutely, AOW can be overwhelming. Don't know what Aldora's AOW entails but I remember having to master a number of advanced skills, including navigation (which is impossible to focus on if you are still trying to master breathing and buoyancy). Don't be in a rush to AOW just to go deeper. Let him learn some basics first. Just my opinion, but go to your local dive op and ask them. Unless they are just anxious to sell you an AOW course, they'll tell you the same thing. Get some experience first. Before you shoot for "Advanced", one should really get the "basics" down first. The AOW course will be much easier and enjoyable.
 
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idocsteve

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The dive computer rental price is listed along with all the other prices here on their website: ALDORA DIVERS

The computer rental prices may be listed on that page, but like I said, on the orientation page that they send you when you make a reservation, it clearly says "Aldora will loan you a computer if you don't have one and teach you how to use it".

It's ambiguous at the very least. To make it clearer, it should say "If you don't have a computer, you can rent one from Aldora for $7 per day".

When I take a book from the library on a loan, I don't pay for it.

If a college student takes a loan against college tuition, it has to be paid back.

I guess it's all in the context.
 
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