Trip Report Sunscape Curacao, Ocean Encounters, and The Dive Bus

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Altamira

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My wife and I spent 30 nights at the Sunscape Curacao Resort from mid-August to mid-September, 2021, with me diving and snorkeling, and my wife snorkeling. Overall, it was a great trip with excellent diving and good snorkeling. I took all of my own dive gear except the usual tanks/weights, so my comments below about dive rental gear at both dive ops are based only on observation, and the fact that no one had any problems with rental equipment. First, the diving and snorkeling.

We used Ocean Encounters, the on-site dive op at the Sunscape and Lion’s Dive, for boat diving, and The Dive Bus, located one block from the Sunscape entrance, for shore diving. Both dive ops were outstanding, and lived up to their long standing excellent reputations on SB. The reefs were in very good condition, and I did not see any large scale areas of deterioration. Underwater wildlife was better than I had expected. There were no disappointments on any of the dives, and I finally got to dive the Superior Producer wreck because there were no cruise ships in town on that particular dive day.


Ocean Encounters’ boats were very roomy, comfortable, well equipped, and the scuba rental gear was in excellent condition. The entire dive and boat staff from the Sunscape and Lion’s Dive were outstanding, with on-board and diving procedures as you would want them to be. Dive groups were generally determined by experience levels as much as feasible, enabling the DMs/Instructors to gear the dive profiles to the needs/desires of all divers. While there, I saw DMs/Instructors work seamlessly with divers across the spectrum of abilities. I had used Ocean Encounters for diving on cruise stopovers on three different occasions in the past couple of years, and was happy to see they maintained their same standards of excellence despite Covid and dive staff turnovers. I really appreciated the slow pace of the dives and allowing divers to wander left/right and up/down from the course to allow all of us to spend as much time as possible looking for the good stuff. Most of the dives were approximately 1 hour.

The Dive Bus. During a one day cruise stopover in 2019, I used The Dive Bus for a two tank shore dive at their house reefs Pierbaai and Car Pile. I had such a good time diving with them that it was a no-brainer for me selecting the Sunscape because of its close proximity to The Dive Bus for shore diving opportunities. Mark and Zoe certainly did not disappoint on their selection of dive sites, with an eye toward snorkeling at the end of the dives, and fun filled, relaxed diving. Both kept the dives light hearted, humorous, and slowed paced. On the dives, we had 3-4 divers of mixed experience levels. Both Mark and Zoe managed the dives expertly, and every diver got the maximum enjoyment and benefit out of the dives. It was a real pleasure diving with them. I had a rental car, so my wife and I followed Mark or Zoe to the dive sites which they selected to give me the best dives, and my the option to snorkel while and after I dived. This was the optimum solution for us, allowing me to dive and snorkel, and my wife to snorkel. I can’t imagine a better dive op for shore diving in Curacao. All of their dive rental gear appeared to be high quality and in excellent condition. As with Ocean Encounters, all dives were approximately 1 hour in length.

Snorkeling. My wife likes to snorkel in shallow water, up close to nice coral with a lot of wildlife. While every beach visited had very good coral, the majority of it was often at 20-25 ft depth. We found the best shallow water coral at Blue Bay Resort, just north of the northern most rock outcrop on the north side of the bay. Similar snorkeling was very good at Gros Knip, and Klein Knip beaches on the south side of the bays and along the rock face outside of the bay. Of course, snorkeling with the turtles at Playa Piskado, was a highlight, so much so that we made three trips up north to see these wonderful creatures. Thankfully, no one was harassing the turtles. The lagoon inside of the breakwater at the Sunscape had some developing coral, but more sea life than we saw at most of the beaches and dive sites. The rocks in the lagoon were teeming with fish, including a huge lion fish.

The only down side to boat diving during our stay in Curacao, was the persistent winds that popped up on a daily basis about the time we were finishing our first dive, and continued causing moderate chop and swell until very late in the afternoon. The wind and swells made for some pretty sporting trips up the dive boat ladder and across the boat deck. Despite the rocking, the Ocean Encounters’ boat and dive crew got everyone up the ladder in a surprisingly quick and efficient manner. On some of our trips, we had some very “green” divers until the boat reached calmer waters. Because of the orientation and sheltered position of the bays where we entered the water for shore diving, choppy water was never an issue for diving and snorkeling. We tried to snorkel the outside of the Sunscape breakwater on numerous occasions, but the chop and swell made that virtually impossible.

Sunscape Curacao Resort. The layout, grounds, rooms, facilities, staff, beach, protected dive, swim and snorkel lagoon inside the breakwater were very good. The on-site dive op, Ocean Encounters was excellent.

One of the Sunscape’s positives is the entire staff was extremely friendly and helpful throughout our stay. Unfortunately they were somewhat hamstrung by less than adequate manning throughout the resort and training in some situations. Perhaps the staffing shortage and training was the result of Curacao not being fully recovered from the Covid lockdown and infection rate, or a management issue. In all fairness, things generally seemed to be running a little smoother at the resort by the second week of our trip.

For the most part, food preparation was less than desired, and suffered from lack of people to do the jobs, and likely inadequate training of kitchen staff. Sunscape has five mostly open air restaurants: The World Cafe for buffet style meals; Da Mario’s, with an Italian menu; Himitsu, a Japanese steakhouse wanna be; Oceana for sea food, steak, etc.; and Blue Water Grill, another buffet restaurant. Unfortunately, the menus at all but the World Cafe were the same every night, so after two weeks at the resort, we wound up eating the same couple of dishes that were pretty good at Da Mario’s, Himitsu, and Oceana for dinner. Breakfast at the World Cafe, which we had to use on dive days, was marginal, primarily because they have not figured out how to keep hot food hot, and cold food cold. Oceana was good for breakfast, but it took a while because they were short staffed. Food preparation was likely more of an issue for us than the majority of guests who were only there for a week stay. I think if we had only been at the Sunscape for a week, we might have had a better impression of the food, as there were at least a couple dishes that were good at each restaurant. We did not use the World Cafe for anything but breakfast, so Ican’t comment on the overall food quality there.

The 24/7 coffee bar was excellent, providing the usual hand brewed espresso based coffees, hot chocolate, teas, snack sandwiches, and desserts.

Off site dining. You won’t find better seafood than at the Sea Side Terrace restaurant, right next to the north side of the resort, and De Visserij (The Fishery) in Piscadera, about a 20 minute drive north of the resort. Lion fish, when available, and red snapper were outstanding. You can’t go wrong eating at either place. Thanks to Mark and Zoe at The Dive Bus for recommending those two restaurants.

Despite our generally mediocre impression of many food items at the Sunscape, I would be willing to stay there again on a future trip to Curacao in the future. The resort does have a lot going for it: All inclusive, location, resort facilities, beach, rooms, staff friendliness and efforts to resolve problems, and an excellent on-site dive op and proximity to The Dive Bus to cover all of your boat and shore diving needs. Last, but not least, the Sunscape has an outstanding policy for Covid testing and care should you get nailed with Covid. The current ”3rd day on the island” Antigen Covid test is done at the resort (I recommend get there very early) so you don’t have to go anywhere to get the test. The resort also covers the cost of the Antigen test, administered on the property, which is currently required before you return to the U.S. I do not know if this is standard practice at other hotels and resorts on Curacao, but if you do get Covid while at the Sunscape, the resort will provide you room and board for 14 days at their expense while you are in quarantine. That benefit could be a real money saver for a person/family that tests positive for Covid on the pre-departure Covid test.
 

jonhall

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Nice report. That was a nice lengthy stay you had. Sunscape Curacao is one of the timeshare resorts we were looking at in the past, but only has hotel and studio units available and we generally travel with friends, thus look for 2 bedroom units. Sounds pretty nice.
 

DiveProKoko

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Thanks for the report! We're headed down in December and staying at Lion's Dive. Oddly enough, the Ocean Encounter boats are full the week we're staying there so we're piecemealing the boat diving and will buy an air package from them for the week for the shore diving. Heard good things. Thanks again!
 

drrich2

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Glad you enjoyed Sunscapes Curacao; when my wife, child and mother-in-law and I went during a Scuba Board Surge event (good times!), we were happy and made good memories. It's not cheap, but considering all-inclusive food and a kids' club our daughter loved, and a good location, it was really nice. I also had a good experience with Ocean Encounters.
 

Red_Rock_Diver

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Thanks for the informative report. My wife and I are in the middle of our month long Curacao SCUBA trip. Fifth trip here since 2017. We stay up in Westpunt at Marazul. We go the opposite of the all-inclusive route and fix most of our meals with an occasional night out. Sol Food is our favorite restaurant on the west end. . We do an occasional boat dive using Go West but 99% of our dives are shore dives at various locations on the island. Will work on posting a more detailed trip report when we return. Time for another dive.
 

drrich2

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We do an occasional boat dive using Go West but 99% of our dives are shore dives at various locations on the island. Will work on posting a more detailed trip report when we return.
I would very much like to see that. Occasionally someone who loves one dive destination decides to branch out and try another...but wants the same things he/she loved in the old one (Cozumel seems popular this way). It's problematic and unfair to cram one dive destination into the mold of another, as each is unique, but it's natural.

And so it is with Curacao and Bonaire. Some of us love the convenient shore diving freedom of Bonaire, and hear Curacao offers some of the same, with more easy entry sandy beaches and more businesses offering beach amenities (note: these days some food trucks active in Bonaire change that a little). Yet we see Bonaire repeatedly held out as the #1 shore-diving destination in the Caribbean, and trip reports from Curacao mostly feature either boat or boat + shore combo. diving, not all shore.

From what I've gleaned going over reports, Curacao's coastal road is further inland and one uses side roads to reach the shore for diving, there are longer drives between dive sites, and people are more apt to do a couple of dives at a location rather than go site-to-site (unlike Bonaire's coastline-hugging road and series of closely adjacent sites). It's not hard to get a list of sites, but trying to figure out which have amenities vs. which don't is more a hassle. I've just thrown up my hands and gone back to Bonaire (did get 10 Curacao boat dives once).

What you're doing sounds like what I've thought about doing, but I don't know how the practical 'workflow' compares to Bonaire. I'm interested to know who you use for tanks, and their stance on providing shore diving tanks to solo divers.
 

Red_Rock_Diver

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Branching out is how we got to Curacao. We have been to Bonaire 5 times and we were looking for something similar but different. Westpunt has a similar laid back feel that Bonaire has and that is why we chose this location vs the Willemstad area.

You summed up the differences between Bonaire and Curacao shore diving well. Bonaire - road runs along the shore vs Curacao - have to drive to the shore from the main roads. Sometimes only a minute drive, other times 15 to 20 minutes. Some locations on the north end of the island, have dive sites that are clustered together and it is a short drive to a new dive site or like you said, do two dives on the same reef potentially going different directions each dive depending on current. I would add that Curacao has mostly easy sandy beach entries and a longer swim out to the reef (upwards of 10 minutes depending on location than Bonaire

I have found the following resources helpful in determining amenities at dive sites.

Dive guide Curaçao Ring-bound – January 1, 2015 by Marloes Otten

She also wrote a similar guide for Bonaire.

The Beach Book, Curacao edition Paperback – August 24, 2015 by Brett Sigillo

Curacao Diving Guide, second edition by John Dohmen www.shoredivingcuracao.com


Available at the Scuba Store and More in Willemstad

Some north and central dive locations are primitive like Bonaire, the more family beach sites can have dive shops, bars, restaurants, beach amenities, showers etc.

Tank rentals to solo divers depends on the dive shop and policies seem to change continually.

 
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