Trip Report Diving Belize via Sun Dancer 2 May 2nd - 9th

Please register or login

Welcome to ScubaBoard, the world's largest scuba diving community. Registration is not required to read the forums, but we encourage you to join. Joining has its benefits and enables you to participate in the discussions.

Benefits of registering include

  • Ability to post and comment on topics and discussions.
  • A Free photo gallery to share your dive photos with the world.
  • You can make this box go away

Joining is quick and easy. Log in or Register now!

drrich2

ScubaBoard Supporter
ScubaBoard Supporter
Messages
9,177
Reaction score
7,399
Location
Southwestern Kentucky
# of dives
200 - 499
Diving Belize on the Sun Dancer 2 May 2 - 9, 2015.

thumb_IMG_1997_1024_zpsed8cjdxn.jpg



On planes, it’s often said ‘We know you have a choice when you fly, and we thank you for choosing…’ (us). For the U.S.-based employed working to upper middle-class dive tourist, that rings true in a different way. We can only get so much time off, dedicate a fraction of that to dive trips, and pay so much in airfare, lodging, transportation, restaurant food, etc… We can’t dive every destination extensively and try a variety of op.s at each. There may be non-diving family to think about.

thumb_IMG_2001_1024_zpsktbdllij.jpg



So when I read trip reports on Scuba Board, I ask two key questions; 1.) Why did you go there (instead of other options)? 2.) Why did you stay there and dive with them, and what else did you do?


I’m reporting on my 1st live-aboard trip and 1st dive trip to Belize. Live-aboards offer housing, food and transportation, so no restaurant or car rental issues; staff took me to & from the airport in Belize City. They have a broad reputation for good food and plenty of it; I’m a glutton, not a gourmet, and I enjoyed the meals on Sun Dancer 2. The Sun Dancer 2 and Belize Aggressor III are the 2 live-aboard options out of Belize; diving from the mainland isn’t the better diving, so the main competition is island-based diving out of Ambergris Caye (pronounced ‘Key’) or the Turneffe Islands.


Mainland Belize offers lush rainforest/jungle, large beautiful Mayan ruins, and a roughly Massachusetts-sized country just south of Mexico, bordering the Caribbean Sea (to the west is Guatemala, which borders the Pacific Ocean). For topside interest, a few days here could be nice. Undercurrent has a page discussing Belize diving in overview.

In the thread Recommendations for Dive Resort and in Ambergris Dive Operator Recommendations you can find dive op. rec.s; in a nutshell, Ambergris Key is a big island, reputedly catering to tourists. Saltyhawg posted an Ambergris Caye trip 2-14 - 2/10 trip report. Here’s an old late 2011 Scubaboard Thread - Ambergris Caye, Turneffe Island or Placencia that contrasts these land-based options. From what I read Turneffe Island resorts are more isolated than Ambergris Caye offerings.

Sun Dancer Properties has this map online:

belize_map_large.jpg

Of interest are Ambergris Caye, the Turneffe Islands, and the Lighthouse Reef area (which includes the Blue Hole). The Lighthouse Reef region is considered excellent Belizean diving, and that’s where the Sun Dancer 2 got in 24 of our 26 dives this trip.

In a nutshell, the live-aboards can head out to the Lighthouse Reef region, moor at a site at night, let you dive it twice in the morning, move the boat to a new site, and dive that twice in the afternoon and once either late evening or night. So, 5 dives/day spread over 2 sites amidst the best of Belize. Assemble your gear once, and aside from disconnecting your 1st stage between dives so they can refill the tank, you don’t mess with it again till the diving’s done. Sun Dancer 2 staff hose rinse gear at night; you can use rinse tanks if you wish.

thumb_IMG_8716_1024_zpsujrfsnjl.jpg


thumb_IMG_8958_1024_zpszk633fsh.jpg


I chose Belize because it’s a reputable mainstream Caribbean dive destination; I've been to Bonaire 8 times, Key Largo once (20 dives), and did 2 dives in Cozumel (so I visited), I’ve been branching out, and wanted to try a live-aboard. The Sun Dancer 2 has a good reputation as a 1st live-aboard; a nice boat, fine crew and ‘easy’ warm water diving in benign conditions with nice reefs & range of life. Belize Aggressor III didn’t have open bookings the week I needed to go, and neither did AquaCat (Bahamas). Sun Dancer 2 had strong reviews at ScubaBoard, Undercurrent and elsewhere online. Here’s a thread on Picking a Caribbean Live-Aboard to list & contrast options. I wanted mid-range mainstream comfort (e.g.: around $2,500), not ‘camping at sea’ (e.g.: Blackbeards in the Bahamas for ~ $1,000).


Sun Dancer 2 is a 138 foot blue yacht with 3 decks (in my opinion prettier than Belize Aggressor III). Website description of Sun Dancer 2. Deck 2 (top in figure) has an open area with tables & benches to the rear, & 2 fridges packing with self-serve sodas in plastic bottles. The mid-section is a nice, big enclosed diving room/den, and from that you can see the kitchen. Deck 3 is a sundeck with plenty of lounge chairs, partially covered, nice for resting up between dives.

Here’s the website deck plan.

SunDancerIISpecs.jpg

In a nutshell, the bottom deck has the dive gear area at the back (middle deck in the figure). In front of that is a long hallway with the apartments on either side. I was in room 8. Rooms are clean and comfortable; AC could get chilly at night. Bathrooms weren’t as small as I feared. I had an overhead cabinet, a couple of drawers beside the bed, a big drawer on the side of the bed and there was a small closet shared with my room mate (that’s all from memory), and a decent-sized medicine cabinet in the bathroom. Crew can store empty luggage elsewhere.

thumb_IMG_8998_1024_zpszdfpn7wu.jpg


thumb_IMG_8723_1024_zpssk3nu2wa.jpg


thumb_IMG_8722_1024_zpsnp6yzys9.jpg


thumb_IMG_1908_1024_zpsklxgfuga.jpg


thumb_IMG_8726_1024_zpsnjamd7et.jpg


The dive area was split into 2 sides; each had rinse tanks (one specific for cameras). There was a camera table with at least 2 levels if not more, one for each side of the dive deck. EAN 32 nitrox was an extra $100 for the week; they did a custom EAN 24 mix for the Blue Hole dive.

thumb_IMG_9322_1024_zpsnft8u6u9.jpg



My trip cost: ~ $650 roundtrip airfare from Nashville to Belize City, ~ $2,500 Sun Dancer 2, ~ $100 nitrox, tips, airline baggage fees, no added charge for a 100 cf AL tank by request. Bought a DVD video made of our trip for $65. There was a charge at the end for some sort of port fees of some such? That might be where I paid for nitrox?

Typical Daily Schedule:

Dive Site 1.
6:30 a.m.: continental breakfast put out (think bagles, cream cheese, cereals, etc…).
7 a.m.: hot breakfast (e.g.: eggs to order, etc…).
8 a.m. Dive brief on Deck 2, with a freshly drawn site diagram. Then down to deck one; analyze your nitrox, get in your gear & dive. Guide duty rotates so varied staff get to do some diving. Guides tend to get back to the boat at around 45 minutes to aid for ‘fintastic service’ (remove your fins & hand them up; very convenient!) but you can mess around near the boat if you wish.

thumb_IMG_1884_1024_zpsuqalksj5.jpg


thumb_IMG_1881_1024_zpsjxgggxxu.jpg


thumb_IMG_1874_1024_zpsc1xgr3v2.jpg


Many divers go do their own thing. You can dive with the guide or not. Expectation is buddy diving if not with the guide, max. depth 110 feet, back on boat with over 500 PSI. When you exit the water, in short order you’re asked max. depth and dive time, and once you get out of gear & rinse, they get a warm towel on you. If it was a night dive, hot cocoa with berries (wonderful!).
11 a.m.: Dive 2.

12:30 p.m. Lunch.

Dive Site 2.
2:00 p.m.: Dive 1.
4:30 p.m.: Dive 2.
6 p.m.: Dinner.
7:30 p.m.: Night Dive.

As an option, they can delay supper & move some day dives up a half-hour so as to have an evening/night dive before supper, instead of a night dive afterward. We did this a couple of times. No hot cocoa after an evening dive, though.

That last Friday afternoon, you have the option of paid tours, such as to visit a Mayan ruin, Belize Zoo, go cave tubing or zip line if memory serves. I skipped all that; I visited other Mayan ruins on a cruise ship stop before.

The Diving.

Late week Friday morning we got an early start squeezing in 2 morning dives at a site called Sandy Slope, at Turneffe Atoll; all our other dives (Julies Jungle, Long Caye Ridge, Site X, Long Caye Wall, Chain Wall, Painted Wall, Blue Hole, Sand Box, Half Moon Caye Wall and Silver Caves) were in the Lighthouse Reef region, most toward the southern part. It’s hard to generalize about the diving because topography varies within and between sites. Some sites have a plain sandy bottom, some a short sea grass bed & some patchy corals/sea fans, etc… There’s generally a wall, which may slope fairly steeply or be severely vertical. Coral/gorgonian/sponge growth varies from decent to quite lush. There are some huge barrel sponges. You don’t have to dive deep, but the walls tend to run way down, so you can. There’s time enough buddy pairs can dive their tanks; I never heard anyone complain of having to cut a dive short. Unless moored at a shallow site, the 15 foot deep hang bar was handy for ending dives; I liked to hold it to drag out bottom time, and sometimes saw neat animals. When the boat swings, the hang bar can be quite a ride! I recall maybe 3 dives where the guide speared lion fish.

thumb_IMG_9247_1024_zpsvfg5nmbv.jpg


thumb_IMG_9257_1024_zpsv82hkthf.jpg


thumb_IMG_9254_1024_zpsk8z1vndo.jpg


thumb_IMG_9250_1024_zpsm3uzelte.jpg


thumb_IMG_8961_1024_zpsxxt7rp19.jpg


thumb_IMG_8977_1024_zpsdwj52ttg.jpg


thumb_IMG_8922_1024_zpsujzyevmx.jpg


thumb_IMG_8908_1024_zpsysgtnmh4.jpg


thumb_IMG_8737_1024_zpsnkybriho.jpg


thumb_IMG_8793_1024_zpsvueiax5a.jpg


thumb_IMG_8896_1024_zpsvyfpfwcp.jpg


Viz. was good; I’d say better than Key Largo, not as good as Cozumel, probably not as good as Bonaire. Maybe 40 to 75 feet? Plenty food enough. Currents were negligible to mild; I think maybe once I faced some decent current. My Oceanic VT3 wrist unit gave min. temp.s of 79 or 80 all week (a guide thought actual temp.s around 2 degrees warmer) & I don’t recall any thermoclines. Crew get your fins on right before you giant-stride off, & take them off before you climb out by ladder.

thumb_IMG_9311_1024_zpsv9bk1t1r.jpg


Pretty good fish life. I’d say less fishy than Key Largo, roughly comparable to Bonaire, but more big stuff than Bonaire. Like Bonaire, tarpon, tiger grouper, barracuda and green moray eels. Unlike Bonaire, black grouper, Nassau grouper, nurse sharks & a number of reef sharks, including some pretty good-sized ones. I saw an eagle ray and some southern stingrays. One day from the sun deck after a dive we watched 4 dolphins come by close to the rear of the boat. I saw some hawksbill sea turtles.

thumb_IMG_9215_1024_zpstkfva34u.jpg


thumb_IMG_9299_1024_zpsibegtnx0.jpg


thumb_IMG_9149_1024_zps2y7xgrfd.jpg


thumb_IMG_9270_1024_zpsg8bmsspz.jpg


Oddly, I only saw 3 or 4 pork fish in 26 dives, & only one at a time. I saw a school of French grunts once; otherwise only single French grunts. I saw gray, French and queen angelfish. Saw 2 octopi on night dives, & a couple of very large, very clean channel cling crabs on night dives. Guides showed me a sea horse, pipe fish and the endemic sargassum triggerfish.

thumb_IMG_9325_1024_zps3nfsen5h.jpg


thumb_IMG_9412_1024_zpsuozdbfs1.jpg


thumb_IMG_9390_1024_zpsgjfpjxgz.jpg


On one dive, a staff person took a plastic bucket with holes containing dead lion fish out to a sandy area & a big (? 5 - 6 foot) reef shark came in & swam around for our camera. On a later dive, a guide took the bucket & distributed the dead lion fish around the reef; a big reef shark, Nassau grouper and trigger fish (? queen triggers) were pleased. But we also saw sharks naturally at times, without baiting on spearing lion fish.

thumb_IMG_9034_1024_zpsdpqrwts4.jpg


thumb_IMG_9096_1024_zpsewqxbdxe.jpg


thumb_IMG_9091_1024_zpsswyjvaxx.jpg


The Blue Hole is such a distinctive place, and controversial, that I have a separate thread on that (also discussing Half Moon Caye Island, were you can visit after the Blue Hole).
 

drrich2

ScubaBoard Supporter
ScubaBoard Supporter
Messages
9,177
Reaction score
7,399
Location
Southwestern Kentucky
# of dives
200 - 499
The Crew.

Hard to imagine better. Captain Megan hails from California & brings the enthusiastic fun spirit one might expect. The crew seem comfortable with who they are and what they do, happy to help make us happy. It’s a good ‘vibe’ I get. And by guiding they get to enjoy diving, too. Carlos (assisted by Barbara) took care of our food, and Elia kept the rooms clean. Special Kudos to Simon (guide, Engineer) for showing me a small pipefish and some kind of nudibranch. I’m told crew work for weeks then rotate out for some time off, which I imagine helps maintain good spirits.

Fellow Passengers.

A good, laid back, fun-loving easy-to-be-with bunch from a range of backgrounds, many with prior live-aboard experience and some repeat Sun Dancer 2 customers. As others said in other threads, on a live-aboard, everybody’s got something in common, and it’s easy to socialize, even if you’re something of an odd-ball introvert (& I am).

Life on the Boat.

Quite nice. Eat, sleep, dive & enjoy others’ company. After the Blue Hole, explore Half Moon Caye Island. You don’t have internet, but I didn’t much miss it. Phone calls can be done expensively, but for practical purposes, you’re cut off. No driving around or breaking down & rinsing all the gear. It’s about as easy as diving gets. There is significant boat movement at times; if you’re prone to sea sickness, have med.s you know control it. Not a problem for the rest of us. Probably not a good trip for most non-divers. David Volkmar snapped this shot of me.

thumb_IMG_9167_1024_zpsabkkyobk.jpg


Bottom Line: Loved it. Glad I went & would enjoy going again (still aiming to try new destinations). For a single traveler, a mid-range live-aboard is an all-inclusive very easy structured dive trip with many dives in a week. 4 - 5 dives/day, 5 1/2 days diving, 26 dives offered). The land-based alternatives I know are Key Largo (did 2 2-tank boat trips/day, 20 dives in 5 days, no night dives) with Rainbow Reef Diver Center (Trip Report) or Bonaire (shore diving, when/where you wish, as much as you can stand, avoid boats & no need to tip, but assembling, dissembling & rinsing gear, and hauling gear & tanks by truck all over is work). For a single traveler, costs not hugely different. For 2 or more travelers, you often get a big break on room cost with land-based, but not on a live-aboard (guaranteed private room on Sun Dancer 2 adds 65% to base rate I think). But many operators offer 2 dives/day, maybe an afternoon dive option, night dives are few, & boat rides in some places can be very long. There are much cheaper live-aboards (e.g.: Blackbeards) but you may be sleeping on a bunk in more crowded conditions without in room toilet & shower. I recommend most any avid diver without uncontrolled motion sickness issues try a live-aboard at least once. A lot of people get hooked.

Here’s the Captain’s Log report from our trip on Facebook.
 

staggsSevin

Contributor
Messages
355
Reaction score
38
Location
Arkansas
# of dives
I just don't log dives
Great write up as always. I haven't taken the live aboard leap yet myself.
 

diversteve

always tired
Rest in Peace
ScubaBoard Supporter
Messages
26,281
Reaction score
5,902
# of dives
I'm a Fish!
Kind of ruins shore diving forever though doesn't it...:D

Glad to see you finally did one.
 

NWA395

Contributor
Messages
108
Reaction score
59
Location
NW Arkansas
# of dives
200 - 499
Thank you for such a detailed trip report. We (I) am looking at the possibility of a 2016 live aboard trip and this is on my short list
 

KathyV

ScubaBoard Supporter
ScubaBoard Supporter
Messages
5,352
Reaction score
3,596
Location
Midwestern US
# of dives
500 - 999
Great report, sounds like you had a terrific trip!
 

BTB79

Registered
Messages
12
Reaction score
2
Location
San Francisco, CA
# of dives
500 - 999
Excellent Review. I was on the boat 2 years ago and the crew on this boat is one of the best that I've been with. Looking forward to going back in a couple of years. Thanks for the trip down memory lane on this boat.
 
https://www.shearwater.com/products/swift/

Top Bottom