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Trip Report Impressions on an Old-timers Return to Cozumel

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boulderjohn

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My first trip as a certified diver was many years ago was to Cozumel, and that is where I fell in love with diving. I returned there many times over more than a decade, going through a progression of dive operators as my skill and experience grew. I thought I knew the island well. There is still a framed artistic map of the island hanging on the wall of my family room.

That all ended in 2009, with my last real recreational dive visit being a group trip I led on behalf of the shop where I was working. My last trip of any kind was 10 years ago, a trip undertaken after breaking multiple bones in an accident. I warmed up with a few days of standard recreational diving followed by technical dives with Deep Exposure, including 315 feet on Palancar Caves. I then went to the mainland for cave diving.

My reasons for not returning to Cozumel were pretty good. My trips to Mexico went instead to Akumal, where I could dive the caves and where my non-diving wife could snorkel. (The snorkeling in Cozumel is not nearly as good.) As for other trips, we visited sites like Australia, the Bahamas, Belize, Bali, Palau, and Roatan, often with another couple who dived with me. My wife and I also began to spend winter months in Florida, and that is where most of my recreational diving took place. We no longer had room in our lives for Cozumel.

Our last couple of years were also screwed up, chiefly by Covid restrictions, and we and our friends were looking for another group trip after those two bad years, and after struggling for a location, we decided on Cozumel. And so we went. We were there for a week starting June 18, and my wife and I stayed the next week after testing positive for Covid.

What follows is the impressions of an old time Cozumel diver upon returning after a long absence. It includes our extended stay as a result of testing positive for Covid near the end of our week.
 
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boulderjohn

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The Reefs

I had been reading about reef degradation, and I was expecting the worst. I was pleasantly surprised. Not only were the reefs better than I had been led to expect, but they were also better than most of the reefs I had visited over the last decade in the other places I had dived. What I had most forgotten was the breathtaking formations. My friends and I are lovers of structure, and the deep mazes and swim-throughs were right up our collective alley. We dived several sites that bore names with which I was not familiar, mostly in the far south. Not a single one disappointed.

In some cases, I could see differences from my memories of long past experiences. The Devil’s Throat looked very different from what I remembered. I had to check my logbook to see if I had visited it after Hurricane Wilma, and I had, so that could not be the reason. I did not remember having a choice of exits at the bottom. Most different was Paso Del Cedral. I would have sworn the sandy expanse over which we drifted was not the site I had dived so many times before. We also did Yucab Wall, and the only time I had done that before had resulted in an interesting experience with currents. The DM said they did not dive it often for that reason, and I know a story that makes that seem like a good plan.

Most importantly, the reefs gave me a memory of the thrill I had a quarter century ago, the thrill that had ignited my love of diving. I was happy to be back, and I plan on coming back again soon.
 
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boulderjohn

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Aldora Divers

My survey of dive operations in the first decade of this millennium had ended with Aldora Divers, and that is where we booked this year. I knew it was under new operation, so I was interested in how that would play out. For the most part, we were happy with it. I always liked the steel 120s, and having the petite wife of the couple with whom I dived use steel 100s instead made me feel like less of an air hog. The sites selected were good, and I have almost no complaints about the diving.

I had moved to Aldora primarily for one reason—lots of boats and a real effort to get similar divers on each. On my last trip in 2012, I had done 2 days of recreational diving with a different operator who was highly recommended to me. This operator also had steel tanks, but it only had one boat. The first day, there was only one person on the boat with me, and we had a great day of diving. The second day, we were joined by another couple, and the wife had terrible buoyancy skills. The DM quite literally held her hand throughout both dives that day, which eliminated any possibility of dives being done at anything but the most beginning level. When that day was over, I swore I would never make the mistake of using a one boat operator again.

Concerning that, there was a notable difference in the way Aldora is run now. Years ago, all the Aldora boats would meet at the same site for the surface interval, and during that surface interval, divers would be surveyed about what they wanted to do the next day. Divers would be assigned to new boats for the coming day by the end of the surface interval. That meant every boat would be filled with like minded divers. It also meant you might be on a different boat with a different crew every day.

There are obviously disadvantages to that, and this year we had the same boat and the same crew each day, with no attempt to reconnoiter with other boats. That was good for the most part, except two of our divers had very different goals for the dives. My friends and I and another diver were pretty much on the same page, liking structures, swim-throughs, and the deeper sites. The other couple would have been happiest if we had never gone deeper than 70 feet and never gotten within sight of a swim-through. They stayed well above us for the deeper parts of our dives and swam over the swim-throughs. (We chose not to do the Devil’s throat until after they had left for home.) They finished their dives after about 50 minutes. The DM shot a bag for them then, and they got on the boat, after which we drifted with the DM holding the flag until our dive as done, which was on average closer to 90 minutes. Our group did the dives we wanted, but hey would have been much, much happier on a different boat.

My one personal complaint is that at times it seemed as if the goal of the last portion of the dive was to reach some sort of a minimum dive time. Dives going over 80 minutes (as all of ours did) are fine and dandy when you are looking at something of interest for all but the final ascent. Many of our dives were that way, but in several cases we were drifting either well above the reef or well above sand flats for at least 10 minutes at about 40 feet or so, and I didn’t see the point in it. I would have rather dropped down to the reef, used up air, and then surfaced with a shorter dive. I am quite accustomed to getting on a dive boat with lots of gas left. It doesn’t bother me. When a dive is obviously over, I would prefer to be on the boat.
 
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boulderjohn

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Blue Angel

I had never stayed at the Blue Angel before, and we selected it because I had seen in previous threads that a number of ScubaBoard people seemed to like it. We did not use the dive operation there, so this review is purely of the hotel and the restaurant.

We were on the third floor, and our friends had an adjoining room. This allowed us to see the surprising fact that the rooms were very different. Our accommodations were very Spartan. We had two not-so-comfortable beds, a dresser that was falling apart, a table between the beds, and a bench that I suppose was a suitcase stand. We had very limited lighting. Our friends had a table, lamps, and a comfortable chair. Our balcony had a small round table and two dining room-style chairs, and we took them in and out as needed, which was a bit of a pain. When we were forced to extend our stay because of Covid and learned we would be spending most of our time in our room, we asked if we could get a different room, but that was not possible. We asked if we could get a chair, but that was not possible, either. We asked if we could take the chair from our friends’ room when they left, but nope.

The floor in our room was literally crumbling. It was made of something like concrete, with no rug or any other sort of carpeting. It had a thin layer of something smooth on the top, but that was breaking off in places. We had maid service most (not all) days, and the crumbling stuff was swept up then.

The best part of the place was the restaurant. The food was very good, and the serving sizes were ample, to say the least. The staff was very friendly. Our room package included breakfast, and we originally intended to take most of our dinners in town. This group of septuagenarians discovered, however, that after nearly 3 hours under water during the day, hanging around for the evening seemed like a good idea. We therefore ate most dinners there, and we enjoyed them all.

When we had to extend our stay in Covid isolation, we took all our meals in our room. The helpfulness of the staff made that work well—the hard part was eating the meals with our furniture situation, constantly moving the table in and out of the room. Still, the night we sat out on the balcony eating bacon-wrapped shrimp while the sun set in the distance and the live band played below us was probably better than the experiences of most people in Covid isolation.
 
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boulderjohn

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Trouble in Paradise

Lionfish


I was last in Cozumel in 2012, and lionfish were common. On each of the two days of recreational diving I did, the DM spotted and killed lionfish, sometimes several. These were on commonly dived sites. I swear that on a couple of occasions, you could tell one was near because of the way the rest of the fish were acting. They seemed to be giving a subtle “Psst! Over there!” signal, after which they would crowd around the victim and await the meal after the DM had dispatched them.

They were even more common on the tech dives. We saw a number of big ones between 150-200 feet.

I was very pleasantly surprised that we did not see a single lionfish on this trip. This was especially surprising because we did several sites that are not heavily trafficked and thus would not have had DMs regularly eradicating them. It would be interesting to see some official statistics about the current status of the lionfish.

Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease

I saw this growing menace in Akumal a few years ago, and I assumed I would see it in Cozumel as well. I did not. It’s not like I was looking for it, but I don’t remember seeing it anywhere.
 

drrich2

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Glad you made it back, and appreciate the detailed reporting. Some years back when I was planning a Cozumel trip, I was torn between Tres Pelicanos (highly reputable, with 100-cf AL tanks I would guess held around 90-cf tanks at filled pressure) and Aldora (highly reputable with 120-cf steel tanks). I figured dive times would be similar, with TP spreading them over 4 dives/day (so hitting more sites) and Aldora over 3 dives/day (so 1 less time I'd have to haul myself out of the water and sit through another surface interval). Since it was my first 'real' Cozumel trip (other than 2 cruise ship visit dives), I opted for more sites (and had a great trip).

Roughly what time did you guys make it back to the marina (or your resort) after the last dive of the day (if you did 3 dives/day, 2 morning and 1 afternoon)? Did Aldora take you to/from your resort?

My one personal complaint is that at times it seemed as if the goal of the last portion of the dive was to reach some sort of a minimum dive time. Dives going over 80 minutes (as all of ours did) are fine and dandy when you are looking at something of interest for all but the final ascent. Many of our dives were that way, but in several cases we were drifting either well above the reef or well above sand flats for at least 10 minutes at about 40 feet or so, and I didn’t see the point in it. I would have rather dropped down to the reef, used up air, and then surfaced with a shorter dive. I am quite accustomed to getting on a dive boat with lots of gas left. It doesn’t bother me. When a dive is obviously over, I would prefer to be on the boat.
Just a guess, but since big tanks enabling really long dive times are a big selling feature of Aldora, and scuba divers in general (not specific to Cozumel) often complain when not allowed to 'dive their tank' (run their air/nitrox level down within NDL limits), I imagine there's a bit of pressure to make those dives long. When Aldora was under prior management some years back, I recall the owner (IIRC) being active on ScubaBoard and quite willing to follow up complaints. Again, just a guess, but I suspect guides don't want even the suspicion they're cutting anybody's dive short.

I get your perspective on it. Hence the old adage 'Where you stand on an issue depends on where you sit.'

This allowed us to see the surprising fact that the rooms were very different. Our accommodations were very Spartan. We had two not-so-comfortable beds,
Did the other couple have the same sort of beds you did? Was there ever any explanation for why the rooms were so dissimilar? Remodeling underwater?

The best part of the place was the restaurant. The food was very good, and the serving sizes were ample, to say the least.
That's what I like to hear!

Did you try Blue Angel's shore dive? Years ago on a liveaboard, 3 people testified to me how good it was, one mentioning for 'critters.'

Got 3 last questions:

1.) Do you plan to hit Cozumel again anytime soon?
2.) Will you likely choose Aldora if you do?
3.) Will you consider Blue Angel Resort, if you get assured a nicer room like the other couple had?

Disclaimer: I know there's more to picking a dive op. or accommodation than who's 'better.' Sometimes it's who's a better match for your particular agenda.
 
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boulderjohn

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Roughly what time did you guys make it back to the marina (or your resort) after the last dive of the day (if you did 3 dives/day, 2 morning and 1 afternoon)? Did Aldora take you to/from your resort?
We only did 2 dives a day, totaling just under 3 hours of total dive time. We were picked up at the Blue Angel dock at about 7:45, and we were returned sometime after 1:30. My friends and I are in our 70s, and we did not want another dive. We were on the edge of napping instead.
Did the other couple have the same sort of beds you did? Was there ever any explanation for why the rooms were so dissimilar? Remodeling underwater?
They had a king size bed. We did not try it out.
1.) Do you plan to hit Cozumel again anytime soon?
2.) Will you likely choose Aldora if you do?
3.) Will you consider Blue Angel Resort, if you get assured a nicer room like the other couple had?
We talked about returning to Cozumel more often, because it is easy for us to get there. I would dive Aldora again, and I would consider Blue Angel, especially if we get more choice on rooms. The restaurant is a big draw.
 

DandyDon

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I am surprised that you had problems with the bed and furniture. Was the owner on site? Do you talk with her?
 

ReefHound

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Sorry to hear about the poor customer service at Blue Angel. The time to resolve substandard rooms though is really on day 1. Might be hard for them to take you seriously that you need a room change after you've been ok (as far as they knew) the original one ofr a week. Then too they might have been thinking if you have covid, why contaminate two rooms that will need extra cleaning?
 

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