Turks & Caicos Research Notes

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drrich2

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This report came from researching Turks & Caicos as a dive destination. My April 21-28, 2018 trip aboard Turks & Caicos Aggressor II is detailed in this report, with many photos, my dive profile details & the specific costs & overall budget for my trip. Here, I'm sharing findings more generally.

Turks and Caicos

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URL: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/de/Tc_blu.gif
Public Domain file by Ian Macky, hosted at Wikimedia Commons​

Summary of the Islands
(Condensed from the Wikipedia entry unless otherwise noted, supplemented from the Turks and Caicos Tourism Official Website or with general info. widely available).​

——An archipelago of low-lying limestone islands (8 main islands, many smaller islands, total land area ~ 238 square miles; there are marshes and mangrove swamps) southeast of the Bahamas. It's divided into 2 island groups (the Turks Islands to the east and Caicos Islands to the west), themselves separated by the Turks Island Passage (~ 7,200 feet deep). The archipelago is sunny, tropical, rather dry, has near constant trade winds and is subject to hurricanes. 8 Of the islands are inhabited. The largest island, Middle Caicos, is ~ 56 square miles with a 2012 pop. only 168! The most populated island, Providenciales (a.k.a. 'Provo') is ~47 square miles and had 23,769 inhabitants. Grand Turk is ~ 6.71 square miles and had a pop. of 4,831. Summer highs seldom exceed 91 degrees nor winter lows drop below 64 degrees C. Note: the Turks and Caicos Tourism Official Website says there are over 40 small islands and cayes; the 'island count' for T&C varies with the source used.

——It's a British Overseas Territory (& citizens are full British citizens) yet the U.S. dollar is the official currency; the official language is English (though a creole is also in use). Known mainly for tourism and as an offshore financial center per Wikipedia entry. As of 2012 the pop. included 31,458 residents, of whom 23,769 lived on Providenciales (a.k.a.; 'Provo'). The capital, Cockburn Town, is on Grand Turk island. Grand Turk is a cruise ship port. Of the 7 airports, the main entry into the region is via Providenciales International Airport (PLS). Per the Turks and Caicos Tourism Official Website, they draw > 1 million tourists/year (albeit the majority via cruise ship; in 2016 there were 1,300,575 tourists, 453,612 stop-overs, the other 846,963 arrived via cruise), and the economy relies mainly on tourism. Visitors are allowed to stay up to 30 days, renewable one time only. Explorer Ventures site noted Grand Turk and Provo are ~75 miles apart; G.T. is 7 miles long and 1.5 miles wide.

——They drive on the left-hand side but use left-hand steering column auto.s imported from the U.S. Visitors from the U.S. and Canada may drive up to 30 days on their drivers' licenses. They're on Atlantic Standard Time (AST) all year; no daylight savings time. Electricity is 120 volt/60 hertz (as per the U.S. standard). For shipping they have post offices, Fed. Ex., UPS and DHL. Freshwater is a limited resource; they use cisterns to collect rainwater, and desalinization (reverse osmosis). Southwest Airlines offers round trip flights, with 2-free checked bags and budget 'wanna get away' class tickets offering you cost control. A number of airlines go there, but I'm cheap and S.A. doesn't show up on Orbitz, Travelocity, etc..., so be aware!

——The Turks and Caicos Official Website noted that Grace Bay Beach was noted 2nd best beach in the world as a 2017 TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Award, that Providenciales was the TripAdvisor 2015 latest pick for the world's top island, that they boast one of the lowest crime rates and highest crime-solved rates in the Caribbean, and that confrontation and violent crimes are extremely rare. They claim a modern hospital system with 2 medical centers (1 on Provo, 1 on Grand Turk), and that Provo has a number of private general practitioners and other islands have community clinics.
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drrich2

drrich2

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The Scuba Tourist Perspective
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——On Scuba Board, divers usually refer to Grand Turk separately from 'Turks and Caicos' as destinations, with the latter usually indicating Providenciales (Provo). Grand Turk has a rep. as a rustic, low-key destination for good Caribbean diving and topside relaxation; I see few, sporadic trip reports on Scuba Board. I don’t believe either live-aboard dives G.T. routinely. Provo has a rep. similar to Grand Cayman; one of the more expensive Caribbean island destinations, with a nice topside, good food and world class beaches, and the Turks and Caicos have a rep. for some of the best diving in the Caribbean (though I saw Little Cayman so attributed more often), best done by live-aboard as day-boat trips can be quite long. The Turks and Caicos Aggressor II's 'Know Before You Go' page notes water temp.s average 82 degrees F in summer and 78 degrees F in winter. The Turks and Caicos Explorer II's FAQ claims water temp.s range from a low of ~ 72 degrees F in winter to a high of ~ 82 degrees F in summer, normally with little appreciable current at sites they visit and viz. generally 75 - 150 feet. The Turks and Caicos Tourism official website claims water temp.s in summer run 82 – 84 degrees and in winter ~ 74 – 78 degrees. Surf-Forecast.com offers current water temp.s for Grace Bay Cut, Providenciales.

——Update: During my Turks & Caicos Aggressor II trip 4-21-18 to 4-28-18, low temp.s ran ~ 79 degrees, and viz. varied from ~ 50-100 feet. While Grace Bay has nice beach, much of the area around Provo and West Caicos was iron shore, viewed from the boat.
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Live-aboard Diving
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——Live-aboard diving here has a rep. for averaging deeper overall than some destinations, as in some areas the reef wall starts deeper without the option for staying over shallower reef (unlike Little Cayman). Update: From 27 dives aboard Turks & Caicos Aggressor II, diving off Provo. & West Caicos, my impression was the boat often moored over flat, sandy stretches ~ 40 – 45 feet deep, most with patchy rocky outcrops with coral growth, with a variable swim-out to a fairly abrupt transition to steeply sloping wall (often vertical) starting roughly around 50 feet deep, and I could see sandy bottom in the distance below – it didn’t seem like diving over a bottomless abyss, but could easily exceed the boat’s recommendation of 110 feet max. depth. Some sites had ‘trenches’ through the rock, either above or on the wall; there were a couple of ‘open top swim throughs.’
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——At this time, there are 2 live-aboard offerings; the Turks and Caicos Aggressor II (Aggressor Fleet), and the Turks and Caicos Explorer II (Explorer Ventures), both of which I saw excellent reviews of.
 
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drrich2

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——Turks and Caicos Aggressor II - Offers 6, 7 & 10-night trips (note: part of the year they do Silver Banks snorkeling with humpback whales instead of scuba; Jan. 20 to Mar. 31 in 2018); they provide transport from airport to yacht and back, but in addition to the main trip cost, there's a bed tax paid onboard ($110 for 7 nights in 2018). 120-Ft length, 22-ft beam (max. width), 18 passengers, 6 crew. 1 Master, 6 Deluxe and 2 Twin-share staterooms. They aim to offer 5 dives/day, except for 2 on the last day. Their Dive Map page shows sites off Provo, West Caicos and French Cay. My trip 4-21-18 to 4-28-18, we dove off Provo & West Caicos, but didn’t hit French Cay (I think weather was the issue, though we didn’t directly experience harsh weather. Our Captain mentioned that while still a really good night dive, French Cay had substantial damage from the hurricanes of 2017, including loss of some very old, large sponges).

——Turks and Caicos Explorer II - Typically 7-night trips. They also do Silver Banks snorkeling with humpbacks part of the year. They also offer 5 1/2 days diving, aiming for 5 dives/day. The website indicates they teach the SDI Solo Diver course, and allow solo diving for divers with a solo cert. and gear appropriate for solo diving (which they offer to rent!) (Solo Diving Policy & Courses). 115 Ft Length, 22-ft beam, up to 20 passengers and 8 crew. 2 VIP, 5 Main Deck and 3 Lower Deck staterooms. As of this writing, in addition to the main trip cost, there's a $95 hotel tax and a $65 fuel surcharge. Their website notes transfers are not included in the package but a local diver will meet you at the airport and is aware of the boat's location, and cab fares are generally up to $45 each way for up to 2 people, and up to $25 for each additional person. Their sample itinerary lists Provo, West Caicos and French Cay sites.

——As of Nov. 24th, 2017, T&C A. II base rates (for most of 2018) were $3,295 (Master), $2,995 (Deluxe) & $2,795 (Twin), and T&C E II rates $2,895 (VIP), $2,695 (Main Deck) & $2,495 (Lower Deck). Be mindful the Aggressor's bed tax ($110) is higher than Explorer's hotel tax ($95), but Explorer charges a $65 fuel surcharge and transfers might add $90 to cost. Even Explorer's cheapest rooms don't entail sharing your bathroom with another room (unlike Aggressor's Twin Share), but Aggressor gives you that cost-saving option. In terms of sales, in recent years Aggressor's been offering big discounts (roughly ~ 1/3rd base price) booking early to late winter (Nov. to Feb.), and Explorer Ventures sometimes offers sales. Nitrox (EAN 32%) is extra on either ($100 for a week on T&C A II, $150 on T&C E II).

——Comparing the boats more directly, only the T&C Aggressor II has a hot tub (often used by a number of people our trip). In one thread (Post #6), DiverSteve noted on the Aggressor II there’s a bunk above your head, and every cabin except the master has a small porthole at the waterline; of the Explorer II he noted windows and an extra deck, the flybridge – covered, drinks in a fridge and possibly music, with padded, fitted benches, but that E. II is more solid-sided and so more wind-affected. Aggressor’s website has a photo of what looks like a nice top deck to me; compare to the E. II’s). RonScuba (Post #9) noted on A. II the bottom bunk feels claustrophobic as there’s not much room between top & bottom bunks, and getting down from the top you step on the sink vanity or risk stepping on the person in the bottom bunk (but RonGoodman at age 70 (Post #10) didn’t find it a problem). E. II only has bunk beds in lower deck staterooms (judging from their photos, looks like the ‘windows’ there resemble the A. II’s rectangular ‘portholes’); all A. II’s except the master have bunk beds. Photos show much larger windows in E. II’s other room categories.

——Update: my trip aboard T&C Aggressor II I stayed in a quad. share room (2 of us, in bunk beds, with the adjacent bathroom shared with another room just like ours). The ‘small porthole’ was a decent-sized rectangular window and let in plenty of light. I never looked out for the view. The bottom bunk didn’t offer a lot of head room but sufficed; my roommate was tall with long legs & didn’t complain about the top bunk (a short person might have!). The top deck had a ‘bar like’ area with a fridge with cold drinks. There was a sound system people hooked their smart phone to, and lounge chairs and padded benches. My quad. room:
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——A Note about Big Tanks: Turks & Caicos by live-aboard is noted for deep profiles due to the reef wall starting deep. Many of us prefer tanks larger than the standard 80-cf tank; can you get them? On the T&C Explorer II, Simcoediver (Post #4) and scbaNE2179 (Post #5) got 100-cf tanks; as of his Dec. 2016 trip scbaNE2179 indicated there were a total of 4 available. I think from BigJimDiver’s post (Post #7), T&C Aggressor II had at least 2 (& likely more) as of Dec. 2016. Update: My 4-21-18 to 4-28-18 T&C Aggressor II trip, they had a 100-cf HP steel tank for me (requested in advance; rated pressure 3442 PSI noted on neck) – but fills tended to run ~ 2900 – near 3300, so you may not get quite that much. At least one other diver had a 100-cf tank. My SAC rate mainly hovered around 0.56 cf/min., give or take a bit; I wouldn’t have wanted to use an 80-cf tank!

——Note #1: My choice was dictated by a big Aggressor Fleet sale in Nov. 2017; book by Nov. 24th, complete your trip by end of April 2018 and save 34%! Even booking the cheapest rate (a 2-person room sharing a bathroom with another such room), I saved ~ $950! In recent years, Aggressor Fleet has run similar big sales covering much of their fleet.

——Note #2: Explorer Ventures has an annual sale; for 2018 I learned of it Jan. 3, 2018 (after I’d booked the Aggressor; guess they missed the boat on this one…). On the T&C Explorer II, they offered up to $500/person off (booking by Jan. 31) in April (1 week), August (1 week), Sept. (2 weeks), Nov. (1 week) & Dec. (3 weeks). Both Aggressor and Explorer Ventures run other sales at times.
 
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drrich2

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Land-based Diving

——I linked threads with discussions & trip reports later in this report. I didn’t research land-based housing and scuba ‘day boats’ as a reputation as an expensive destination, long boat rides (from Provo) or rustic settings with little topside appeal to me (e.g.: Grand Turk, Salt Cay), the prospect of much less diving and the complications of planning out such a trip for a solo traveler made no sense vs. a live-aboard (to me). Trip economics sometimes favor couples (or more) who share a hotel room; live-aboards (if you share a room with a same sex roomie) may favor solos.

Miscellaneous

——Phone contact and internet service are often unavailable. IIRC, aboard the T&C Aggressor II we were told we’d likely be out of cell service range when away from Provo (but I believe someone got a bar of service when off West Caicos). Since AT&T didn’t include Turks & Caicos in our stateside iPhone plan, I paid the $60 fee for 1-month of ‘passport’ service (which cuts rates). My iPhone showed FLOW as the cell provider when I had service, I had to turn data roaming on to get e-mail, texting my wife (as texts, not using iMessage) worked, and I don’t know FLOW’s relationship to AT&T or what the added charges beyond the $60 will be.

——After our boat returned to port, I could’ve taken a cab to and from Grace Bay for some shopping; I was told that’d run ~ $10 each way, it was hot and sunny, I went on to the airport. Provo.’s small airport is 2-story, the 1st floor got uncomfortably warm with people sweating, and the 2nd was inexplicably cooler. There wasn’t much to do around the marina; I wanted to walk around to get an unobstructed full shot of our boat, but was told in light of hurricane damage that wasn’t readily practical.

General Resources

Wikipedia entry - Turks and Caicos.

CIA World Factbook entry - Turks and Caicos.

Turks and Caicos Tourism Official Website.

Visit Turks & Caicos Islands.

Trip Advisor 'Things to Do' page for Turks and Caicos.

5 Things to Know Before Visiting Turks and Caicos! By Nadeen White, on The Blog at Huffington Post, May 2, 2016. Her stay was on Provo, but it’s a nice topside look-around with a heads up about high costs (on lots of things) and more. Turns out mosquitoes are an issue!

Your Guide to Diving Turks and Caicos (Including Grand Turk, South Caicos, West Caicos, Providenciales and Salt Cay) – at Undercurrent.org.

Turks and Caicos Aggressor II page at Aggressor.com.

Turks and Caicos Explorer II page at Explorer Ventures.

Turks & Caicos - Aggressor II cabin question (valuable for comparisons with the Turks & Caicos Explorer II boat and rooms). Input from Diver Steve (Post #6) & Giffenk (Post #7) is especially interesting.

Beaches Resort, Turks & Caicos – a family-friendly all-inclusive land resort on Providenciales.

Undercurrent.org’s Turks & Caicos overview and dive report listing (requires subscription for full access).

Trip Advisor’s ‘Things to Do’ listing for Providenciales.

Trip Advisor’s ‘Things to Do’ listing for Grand Turk.
 
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drrich2

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Turks & Caicos Live-Aboard Trip Reports.

——Live-aboard Review: Turks & Caicos Explorer II (12/10/2016). An excellent practical discussion of a trip (his 3rd with them that year!).
——What Did You Like Most About Turks & Caicos Live-aboards?
——Live-aboard newbie looking for a first live-aboard. Posts #4, 11, 13, 20 & 33.
——Family Scuba Diving aboard the Turks and Caicos Aggressor II, by Mary Francis Emmons, Oct. 26, 2016 at ScubaDiving.com. Discussed one of Aggressor’s Family Weeks.
——Turks & Caicos Explorer in May (Post #4, from a few years prior).

Turks & Caicos Land-based & General Discussions.

——Turks and Caicos Dive Travel Guide: Triple Play, by Patricia Wuest, July 4, 2015 at ScubaDiving.com. A trip visiting 3 islands: Grand Turk, Salt Cay and Providenciales.
——Turks and Caicos (Provo) Dive Spot Review – a March 2016 thread by Trevor McLay with discussions about land-based Provo. offerings.
——Turks and Caicos Dive Op.s - a Jan. 2016 discussion of land-based options.
——Turks & Caicos for time looking for recommendations where to stay. July 2017. 40th Anniversary trip, so wasn’t aiming for low budget.
——Turks & Caicos (Provo) – French Cay vs. West Caicos. Oct. 2016 Discussion asking about dive operators and areas while staying at Alexandra Resort on Grace Bay. A number of divers contributed ‘mini-trip reports.’
——Turks and Caicos Trip. April 2017. Discussed accommodations, dive op.s and diving.
——Dive Provo, Providenciales, T&C. Dec. 2017. Doc Harry’s trip report on diving with Dive Provo out of Providenciales. He dove West Caicos, French Key and Northwest point of Provo.
——August trip to Turks – how’s the reef after 2017 tropical storms? Jan. 2018. See Doc Harry’s trip report (Post #5) from Provo. (Nov.?).
——Salt Cay in the Turks & Caicos. Oct. 2016 Discussion.
——Any good Caribbean Dive Resorts for a non-diver? Posts #21, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28.
——The Timeless Beauty of the Turks and Caicos – by Jennie Lay, Oct. 21, 2007, at ScubaDiving.com. Older article that discussed Provo, Grace Bay, Pine Cay, French Cay, West Caicos, Grand Turk, Salt Cay and topside interest.

Grand Turk Trip Reports.

——Trip Report Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos (Jungho Kim’s end 2014/early 2015 2 week trip staying at Osprey & diving with Blue Water Divers - A number of divers discussed Grand Turk’s topside, and contrasted it with Provo.
——Grand Turk Island Trip Report (ScubaBurt’s Feb. 2002 trip staying at Arawak Inn and diving with Oasis Divers). Be mindful that’s many years ago, but scuba trip reports on G.T. are few.
——Grand Cayman, Turks and Caicos or Florida Keys. July 2017 discussion; check out Hoag’s info. (Posts #14 & 16) on his Grand Turk experience.
——Quick note on Grand Turk’s cruise port; it mainly caters to Carnival Corporation lines, such as Carnival, Princess and Holland America ships. A look at a schedule showed some Silversea offerings, but the overwhelming majority I saw were Carnival ships. Here’s the Grand Turk Port Schedule.
 

KathyV

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And that's the end of that! Hope it helps someone else get a handle on the destination and saves some of the leg work researching it.

Richard.

Thanks again for sharing your detailed and well-organized and presented research notes and trip report!
 

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That was a lot of detail. For me though the money shot was a picture of your room. I have not done a Live aboard and a view of your room reminds me of one of the reasons I haven not yet. I can camp in small tent, but for the money and a week of nonstop diving I would rather have a nice land based room, do all the shore diving I desire, eat when and where I want and not be on a boat with the same folks for 7 days. I know, it may just be me. Glad you enjoyed it.
 

KathyV

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That was a lot of detail. For me though the money shot was a picture of your room. I have not done a Live aboard and a view of your room reminds me of one of the reasons I haven not yet. I can camp in small tent, but for the money and a week of nonstop diving I would rather have a nice land based room, do all the shore diving I desire, eat when and where I want and not be on a boat with the same folks for 7 days. I know, it may just be me. Glad you enjoyed it.

I always think that the diving is the easiest from a LOB but that the living is the easiest from a resort.

There may be a selection of staterooms available on LOBs, ask @Trailboss123 because he recently did a LOB trip on the Belize Aggressor III and he reserved the master suite, see the link below. Larger rooms cost more but they are more comfortable - but not as roomy or as comfortable as a hotel room.

Here are photos of the cabins available on the T&C Aggressor, we did the "Deluxe" which was one step up from the "Twin" booked by @drrich2, our room was small but a little bigger than his (8 x 7 ft instead of 6 x 7 ft) and we had an ensuite toilet/shower so we didn't have to share - but it was a tiny space:
Aggressor Fleet® | Official Site | Liveaboard Scuba Dive Yacht Trips

The T&C Explorer is a larger boat than the Aggressor so the staterooms may be bigger - I'm not sure.

It's a trade off and there are pros and cons for each option. You usually get more dives and often better dives on a LOB, and it is so easy - just set up your gear once and then slip into it and step off the boat whenever you want to dive; but if you are stuck on a boat in bad weather - it would be much better to be on land at the resort.

When we were on the T&C Aggressor, we decided to splurge on our last night in port. We could have slept on the Aggressor in the harbor that night - we had already paid for the cabin and we could have had a continental breakfast before disembarking in the morning but then we would have to hang around the harbor and the airport before leaving for home.

But we we decided to have some fun on our last night and the next morning. We arranged for Grace Bay Auto to leave a rental car for us at the marina (they left the keys in the Harbor Master's office) and we booked a room at the Ports of Call Hotel (formerly the Comfort Suites), and we thoroughly enjoyed our remaining time on the island.

We did go back to the boat for the Friday night cocktail party - and I think some of our fellow passengers thought that we were crazy for spending the extra money for just one night - but it was comfortable and fun and we thought it was worth it!

Belize Aggressor III Trip Report – April 21-28
 
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