New Providence Island, Bahamas
In the Bahamas we stayed at Riu Palace on Paradise Island. There was no diving operation at the hotel, in fact, no diving operation is located on that island at all. Instead the diving operations were located on New Providence Island where the Bahamian capital of Nassau is located. The distance between the two islands in only about 1/2 mile. We dove with both Bahamas Divers at the northeast end of the island and Stuart's Cove along the west end of the island.
Dive Operator: Bahama Divers Rating: 4.2 Stars
Bahama Divers was located on the eastern end of New Providence Island only a 5 minute ride from Paradise Island. Bahama Divers sent a van to pick us up at our hotel. The dive shop was well equipped and positioned directly at the docks where their boats were kept. As far as I could tell they had 2 dive boats and we were fortunuate to have the opportunity to ride on both of them. One boat was significantly larger than the other and had ample room to move around in the center of the boat and on top. The other boat was a center-console type where the divers stayed up front. Both boats were adequate although neither had a restroom on board.
The divermater and crew were polite and professional. A proper dive briefing was given. Two of the crew entered the water, one as the divemaster and a second as a videographer. Limited assistance was given when suiting up, but the crew did assist with water entry. Dive bottom times were dictated by the crew based upon minimum air supply or a particular maximum time. No food or snacks were provided after diving.
Overall I felt this was a good dive operation. I rate them at 4.2 Stars. They were a much smaller outfit than Stuart's Cove and as such provided, in my opinion, a much more personalized service.
Dive Operator: Stuart's Cove Rating: 3.5 Stars
Stuart's Cove is undoubtably the most impressive dive operation I has ever experienced. That is not to say it is the best. But without doubt it is a large-scale factory operation catering to a high number of divers. Stuart's Cove is located on the west side of New Providence Island. Like Bahama Divers, they too sent a bus to pick us up at our hotel. The ride was about 40 minutes since Paradise island is located along the northeast side of New Providence isalnd. Stuart's Cove was much closer to the Nassau Airport and there are plenty of hotels nearby. It was just far from where we stayed.
Stuart's Cove has a small inlet, probably man made, along the west side of the island. There they are able to store all 14 of their boats and have several buildings, or perhaps it is just one large continuous building, along the inlet. This building is their dive center where they have a large dive shop/store, a burger-type restaurant, among other things. I have to admit that in all my years of diving I have never seen a dive center so impressive. The crew wore pink-colored shirts so it was easy to spot who the workers were. There were many of them. They were working hard, moving fast, and well coordinated. It was certainly a well organized operation. Again they had 14 boats of various sizes. Not all were in use at the time, but there were several large dive boats heading out when we were there. There was a portion of the building where divers would get their equipment including their weights which were not stored on their dive boats. Although an impressive operation from the stand point of the scale of it, I think that it led to confusion from many of the divers stand point as to which boat they were supposed to be on, where to pick up which equipment, where to catch the bus. In other words, the operation was probably too big.
The boat we were on was large and had ample room to move around. The crew of 4 four was polite and professional. There were two instructors on board, one who acted as the divemaster, and a second who was teaching one student. There was some, but limited, assistance to divers when suiting up and entering the water. Many divers had rental equipment. That is normal. However, what I was flabbergasted by was that the rental equipment included standard SPG's and depth gauges rather than dive computers. Even small dive operators provide computers. For what was an enormous operation that was clearly making a great deal of money I thought that was ridiculous. The two ladies next to me were diving Nitrox. They rented equipment, and as such, did not have dive computers. I doubt that they brought their Nitrox dive tables with them, so they would have been clearly handicapped by the situation. In fact, I doubt any diver on board who was not diving Nitrox and was renting equipment had their dive tables with them.
There were a total of 17 divers on our boat and two instructors. One student was taking a class with an instructor. Therefore, the two of them dove together. That left the remaining instructor to act as a guide for all 16 of the other divers. I felt that was excessive. For a dive operation of that scale making the volume of money that they were, I think that they should have had at least one more divemaster/instructor on board for that many divers. On the second dive, which was on two nose to nose shipwrecks, that one instructor did not lead the dive at all and simply allowed the divers to enter the water on ther own. Limited, if any, assistance was provided as divers exited the water. No snacks were provided afterward.
Overall, Stuart's Cove is an impressive operation as far as the size of it is concerned. They can certainly accomodate a large number of divers. However, I felt that it was a diving factory where profits far exceed the concern for diver satisfaction. I say that due to the lack of computers as well as the high diver to divemaster/instructor ratio. I certainly enjoyed my diving. However, that is because when I am underwater I am happy, and not due to the customer service of the operation. It was extremely non-personalized. As for the computers, with the number of divers they serve everyday it would certainly cost a lot of money to switch out all of the SPG's and depth gauges to computers. However, this operation is likely making millions of dollars per year in profits. There really is no excuse for not having computers, which have now been around for two decades, other than corporate greed. The same can be said for the high diver to divemaster ratio. That is done to maximize profits. The instructor actually said they can accomodate up to 25 divers on that boat. In fairness to this and all dive operations, there is no requirement to have any divemasters as guides on your dives. They do it because the divemasters are familiar with the dive site and can point out the best things to see making ithe dive a more enjoyable experience for everyone. That is a benefit to the divers at the financial expense to the operation. Furthermore, many divers are inexperienced and may only dive every few years when on vacation. Having a divemaster in the water provides them with an experienced person who can provide underwater assistance if necessary. Of course each certified diver is responsible for themselves. But when small dive operations can provide that additional service, there is no reason why a large one like Stuart's Cove cannot. I rate Stuart's Cove 3.5 stars.