Review Key Largo Diving on Rainbow Reef

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I dove with RR fairly recently and on every dive I thought it was pretty clear the guide was optional . The Captains always clearly gave instructions for people not diving with the guides. I wonder if there was something about the crew or conditions that day
My experiences have all been good with RR but haven't been there in a few years. Going back in June. The current is what the current is. Why were you on 120's? So long I didn't go through the whole thing....

Note: Unless things have changed, going with their guides is NOT mandatory. We never go with the groups, just drop and go off on our own, but let them know topside of course. If you're on your own, you can get out of the cattle. Sure it's more crowded than bonaire but it's not terrible once you get away on your own.

Just judging by the way this is written, I'm going to assume there was probably fault on both sides in some way shape or form.

I guess I'll find out in June.
It could have been a mix of things. It's literally the worst dive experience I have ever had on a charter. As the paying customer, that's what should matter the most. Sure, put part of the blame on me, but I'll likely never dive this charter again. Their boat, their rules. My money, my choice.
Why were you on 120's? So long I didn't go through the whole thing....
Because I own and dive my own gear. A better question is, why would I go to 100ft with an aluminum 80 on air?

For me - Horizon does much better job than RR. I do understand DM's challenges and responsibilities on the dive, but I never had a pleasant experience with RR (5 or 6 trips).

Overall my best experience by far in the upper keys was with Horizon and Keys Dives.
Same here....Key Dives has been good to us and we have used them on multiple occasions. We even took the kids down there for the coral restoration dive. Kids loved it and learned something to boot!
As someone who dives frequently in the upper keys a lil bit of an eyewitness report
The elkhorn and staghorn corals that were planted suffered the most and a majority did not recover
The crf has now transitioned to mountain and star coral for plantings
The bleached reefs have recovered and the fish population is still impressive and thick
Multiple shark and turtle sightings on almost all dives
Stoney coral was horrible as it is all over
The death of the keys reefs makes for exciting news articles though
My 2 cents
As someone who dives frequently in the upper keys a lil bit of an eyewitness report
The elkhorn and staghorn corals that were planted suffered the most and a majority did not recover
The crf has now transitioned to mountain and star coral for plantings
The bleached reefs have recovered and the fish population is still impressive and thick
Multiple shark and turtle sightings on almost all dives
Stoney coral was horrible as it is all over
The death of the keys reefs makes for exciting news articles though
My 2 cents
It could have just been the dive sites we visited, but they were devoid of life and corals.
To the original poster Mr Chen.
You put it very nicely. I would not dive with them again if they were the last boat available and free.
Conch Republic caters to all levels. They are far superior but if you want a guide it is extra. Try them out.
Frankly, I like diving with Rainbow Reef Dive Center! I am based in Fort Lauderdale and they are usually my Upper Keys go-to shop - especially for Key Largo wrecks - for the following reasons:

  • They always have a wreck guide available at no charge. (I am often single since friends do not always want to do 100-foot wreck dives.)
  • Ability to dive 2 different wrecks on a trip (Spiegel & Duane, Bibb & Benwood, etc).
  • Reliable.
  • Sometimes, afternoon wreck dives.
  • They often add Molasses Reef to trips - the reef is in the best condition in Key Largo. The rest are in very bad shape due to crowding, bleaching, etc.
  • Typically, wreck bottom times are much longer than those stated in the review.
  • Pricing - generally cheaper than other Key dive operators.

Some things I do not like:
  • Boats are big, and some weekend groups can crowd a site.
  • Large operation.

I am less of a fan of South Florida diving (Fort Lauderdale to Jupiter). Reefs are barely existent, but sea life can be good - lobsters, turtles, nurse/lemon/bull sharks, and Goliath Groupers.
Last week, seas were rough up here in the WPB/Jupiter area and my cousin was in town for a week of diving. On the first 2 days, we dove BHB, which gave him an opportunity to get any gear issues discovered and resolved. It also allowed him to get comfortable after being out of the water for 4 months. It was shaping up that we could do one boat dive in Jupiter/WPB that week, but the day prior, diving looked possible further south. Based on some posts I read here and a recommendation to dive Rainbow Reef, we booked the morning and afternoon trips for that day. We drove down to Homestead the night before and stayed the night before making the 30 min drive to Key Largo.

Pre-Dive Planning
Booking the dives was easy enough. I called in and asked a lot of questions and they were patient in answering every detail. The plan was to dive the Spiegel Grove and the Duane in the morning. These are deeper dives. The afternoon trip was going to Conch Wall and the Pickle Barrel Wreck, which are a lot shallower. The booking included AL80 tanks with air, which would be a benefit to vacation divers, but I already own my own tanks and prefer diving with them (HP120's). My tanks are filled with nitrox and I had them filled with an appropriate mix for the depths of the two wrecks. One of the policies I appreciated was the no cancelation fee for being a no-show. This gave us flexibility that if the seas were rougher than we were comfortable, we could skip the afternoon boat or if something happened while trying to get there in the morning, we weren't stressed about being charged.

Google Maps lead us directly to the boats without confusion. The parking lot was a little tight for my F150 truck, but I was able to squeeze into a spot. We had to carry our gear and tanks from the parking lot to the check-in and docked boat area. It's a little further than I like carrying heavy gear, but we sucked it up and made it happen. Check-in was a little confusing for a new diver because there were divers everywhere and signs for which way to go, etc. One of the employees pointed us to the check-in area inside the building which had a long line, but it moved quickly. Two boats were loading and we moved our gear to the correct boat. Of note, no hunting allowed, not even lobstering on this dive op.

Trip 1 Prep
We were given a nice comfortable area to sit without any divers near us. This is great because I had an AL40 pony with me, making it easier to gear up. The tank slots were the large PVC cut-outs and my steel tank boots wouldn't fit, so they strapped them in oddly with cargo straps. It was immediately annoying, so the captain asked if we wanted the boots off. I said that was fine and he got a hammer to help knock them off. The tanks sat in the slots at an angle but were stable. I setup my gear and realized I forgot to take some Bonine. I ran back to the truck to get some for myself and my cousin. Apparently, my high pressure SPG hose blew while I was away. The metal sleeve near the first stage cracked open, so my reg was out of service. The crew was great and without question, handed me a rental set to use. The boat had lots of weights but were short on 2 pounders, so the deckhand ran to another boat to get more. The boat is a nice size with an upper deck seating area. You can also go to the bow. I like it when boats give you the freedom to move around. The experience on the boat was great and the crew gets 5 stars.

Dive 1 Spiegel Grove
There were 2 dive guides and they split up the boat to where each guide had an equal share of divers. Group 1 was all nitrox divers on AL80 and Group 2 was air divers on AL80. For whatever reason, they paired us with HP120's on nitrox with the air divers. The dive guides were overly protective, hand holding, and making everyone follow them strictly. Our group dropped in, went down the line, did a couple of really small swim throughs on the wreck. Water temp was 74 and there was nearly no current. Sharks and big fish were swimming around. We've been at depth for 15 minutes and the dive guide is signaling everyone back up the line. My cousin and I still had over 2000 lbs of air and weren't anywhere close to our NDL. We could see the other group still around the boat, but the DM wouldn't let us deviate from the group, so we surfaced with the group.

Surface Interval
There were zero snacks and no fruit brought out (am I Jupiter/WPB spoiled or what?). They had Coke and Diet Coke in a cooler. Water was found in the water jugs. I don't drink soda much, but I wanted to get the salt water taste out of my mouth and drank one. I witnessed the dive guide berating one of the divers about their dive profile. It turns out, the guy didn't have a computer and he wasn't doing exactly what the dive guide wanted. I was surprised that they would let divers dive without computers and never checked that everyone had a DSMB. The captain did do thorough roll calls after every dive.

Dive 2 Duane
My cousin decided he need to take a dump within the 10 min call to suit up and dive. He opted to skip the dive, but this meant I missed the drop with the group. The capt asked if I was self reliant, indicating I could go it solo behind the group. I told him I wasn't self reliant certified, but you can see I have two computers, two DSMBs, AL40 pony, and safety gear like whistle, mirror, nautilus. He looked me over and said go for it. I start down the line and ran into group 1 coming up for their safety stop. The current is screaming and their bubbles hit my mask so hard it almost knocked it off my face. I get passed them on the rope and continue descending. At 40ft the regulator suddenly became extremely difficult to breathe through. I did 2 large sucking breathes on it and turned the knob. Upon turning the knob to the "pre-dive" setting, it became easier to breathe. I calculated my risk profile quickly and decided I didn't feel comfortable continuing with the rental regulator. My Perdix 2 said I had a 3 min safety stop obligation, so I crawled back up the rope and joined the other group already doing their safety stop. I'm fine with calling a dive and don't regret doing so.

Between Trips
We left our gear on the boat except the two used tanks. The office at the boat dock didn't have any equipment, so we drove down the street to the Rainbow Reef dive shop so I could purchase a new high pressure hose. You get to spin a wheel to win something, so my cousin and I both spun the wheel. He won $7 off a shirt, and he was disappointed that they didn't have any shirts with their dive op name printed on them. I came a hair away from a free dive trip, literally just had to blow on it. Instead, I won a high five. I bought a new hose, and they had the tools to install my SPG on the hose and the hose to my first stage. The lady in the dive shop was nice and helpful. We grabbed a small chicken sandwich at Wendy's.

Trip 2
We each still had an HP120 on the boat and opted to use the boat's AL80's for one of the shallow dives for this trip. Our stuff had been moved and the boat was packed, zero spaces open. It felt like a cattle boat at this point. We setup our gear before the boat left the dock and the replacement hose resolved my regulator issues.

Dive 3 Conch Wall
We got paired up with the same dive guide as trip 1. Conch wall reminded me of Bonaire, but nowhere near as nice. There were hardly any corals and everything was covered in silty sand. The only things of note that we saw were a small southern ray and a green moray eel, neither of which was pointed out to us by the dive guide. We did about 25 minutes of diving before heading to our safety stop. Again, my cousin and I had plenty of air and NDL. My cousin tried to challenge going up, but he was signaled to start surfacing, so he did. Water temp here was 75 with a light current. This was a drift dive. I was disappointed by the conditions seen underwater. I expected corals and lots of tropicals. It felt more like a 45 degree walled desert. Total dive time, 34 minutes.

Dive 4 Pickle Barrel Wreck
Max depth on this dive was 25 ft. It's the one we dove the AL80's on with air. Like the first dive, everything was covered in a layer of sand. There were ledges all around, so I expected to see lots of lobsters, but only found one. We saw no other sea life worth mentioning. We made it to the wreck and it was just pieces of scrap metal laying on the floor. There was a barrel, and I found the anchor. We followed the guide around. We ended our dive with over 1800 pounds of air and nowhere near our NDL.

Final Thoughts
My impression was that this dive op is highly geared towards vacation divers. The captain and deckhand were exceptional. The office personnel were polite and friendly. The dive shop was a good experience. The dive guide was rough around the edges and didn't want to admit that our dives were cut short because we were paired with air divers on the Spiegel. The dive profiles were way too short. At the end of the day, the diving experience was the worst part of the trip. I personally would not book on this charter again because I don't feel that it caters to my experience level as a diver. Additionally, I wasn't really impressed with the reef diving in Key Largo. Someone suggested we need to dive Molasses. If I can find a dive charter which doesn't cater so heavily to vacation divers, I might consider diving the Spiegel again and dive some nicer reefs.
nice log

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