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Highlights of the Area


BARBADOS

Great people. Beautiful Island. Great value. Historical. But...the diving operation we located was questionable in quality.

I recently completed my annual Caribbean trip. This year we visited the Island of Barbados. We had a group of 27 people gathered from various locations around North America. While most had a good time, there were many criticisms that gave each a cautious response to a couple of questions. First, “Would you dive with this operator again?” Second, “Would a return visit to Barbados have a 100% diving emphasis?” Let me expound further on our experiences so that it may assist your decision in considering a “tropical” dive vacation to Barbados.

Getting There...

There are many airlines flying into Barbados. The scheduling is quite convenient. We utilized American via Miami. This seems fairly easy from North America. I did notice Canada Air, British Air and a few others so it is obviously a very popular island. Upon arrival you will have a wait getting through immigration. Make sure you have your passport and departure ticket in hand. You are required to fill out an immigration form and they will give you the bottom receipt. DON’T LOOSE THIS. Keep it with your passport and ticket as you will need it for departure. There is a departure tax of $13 and I caution you here that if you give them a US $20 bill, you will get Barbados dollars in change.

Getting through customs was an absolute walk. They have one or two staff members and they don’t even look at your baggage or ask any questions. At least they made no effort to ask us any questions. Remember, Immigration is the first step when entering the country. Here they check your passport (residency documents) and return tickets. Customs is the clearing of your possessions and documentation of your possessions when entering a country. This is the second step and occurs after you claim your luggage and prior to securing your transportation to your resort.

Inside there are baggage handlers. Customary tip is $1 per bag carried. Make sure that you contact your resort to pick you up and transport you to the property as it will save you some money. If you don’t immediately see your driver look a bit, as they may be late then call the resort if no luck. There are many cabbies that will offer to take you to Bridgetown. The charge is around $40.

If you don’t have transportation arranged, simply walk out to the main road in front of the airport and for 75 cents you can get a public transportation bus into town. It is real simple. Stand at a bus stop (sign) and they will pick you up.

Lodging and Accommodations...

NOTE: All prices given are in dollars US ($US). The exchange rate is $1US = $2 Barbados Dollars. We stayed at the Blythwood and Cacrabank. Actually for the price they were very nice. You can figure that in Barbados you will pay anywhere from $60 - $150 per person per night. We paid, family of 5, $185 per night including tax for a 2 bedroom unit. We had no air-conditioning or screens. However, we were 25 feet from the ocean. We had a shaded porch with very comfortable chaise lounges. There were 2 pools and outdoor fresh water rinse showers for after beach enjoyment. To keep the numerous bugs at bay we highly recommend “SKIN SO SOFT” FROM AVON AND CITRONELLA CANDLES. These two amenities will make any stay (sleep) considerably more enjoyable.

South of Bridgetown is the bargain area. The rates here are on the lower end of the scale with a few exceptions. Worthing is about as far south as you would want to stay. North of Bridgetown was the real upscale resort area. However, here you will definitely be paying a premium room fee. Both areas have wonderful accommodations, they are clean, on the ocean, close to activities and secure. Most resorts have 24 hour roaming security guards.

Meals...

The flying fish was great and the fish cake cutters (sandwich in a roll) were awesome. Food and drink (non-alcoholic) was very reasonable. There were a number of markets and many resorts had complete kitchen units available. We frequently ate breakfast in, but the local restaurants were typical in their pricing and menus as that of a Dennys or IHOP. Breakfast ran about $7 - $9 per person and you were full. Lunch? We hit the beach side sandwich and drink shacks. At first look you’ll hesitant but try one of their fish cake cutters with cheese, lettuce and their special hot sauce; you will be hooked. We spent $2 each day per person and had a great sandwich and drink. As for restaurant lunches the wait was horrendous and the pricing triple. Dinners? The restaurants pricing and menus for meals were $15 - $25 per person, including drinks and desert. Happy hour specials were very predominant. Two for One drink specials, lower meal prices, faster service and sometimes complimentary appetizers. Dinners seemed to be more reasonably priced. Probably because the drinks were a bit expensive after “happy hour”.

A suggestion here would be to take a walk around your resort and locate the restaurants in your area. Look at the menus and ask the persons exiting what they thought. I don’t think you will be dissatisfied with the food here. One word of caution. The closer to Bridgetown or the Cruise Ship harbor you get the higher the pricing and this is the same for the resorts north of Bridgetown.

Diving...

Possibly my report is skewed by our less than adequate experience but I look at the Island of Barbados as a step back in diving time. The operation we dove with was very pleasant, reliable and relaxed. However there was room for improvement.

They were very weak in organization and communication. The first day we arrived at the shop and were looking at a line-up of tanks that needed to be set-up and loaded onto the boats. This gave my entire group a very bad first impression. How could this have been corrected? I could have contacted the operator to let them know we were in town. The dive shop owner should have met with me in the early afternoon the day prior to our first dive. We could have organized the divers into groups, separated their BCD’s and Regulators so that upon arrival to the dive shop his crew could have had all our gear set-up and on the boats. After the first day this was not a problem but the communication lacked.

In one diving instance, it was imperative that we drop down the anchor line to a reef that was being heavily hit by current. Because of an inexperienced crew, this insistence was not present and therefore 13 of 20 divers missed the reef completely and ended up in water deeper than 130 feet. This was a real bad situation.

The boats were deep-v skiffs and exiting from the water was very inconvenient. Many of the divers were bruised and cut as a result. One day we ran out of gas and another day while bobbing through some rough water, the steering wheel popped off; we happened to get it recorded on video.

So as you can see, my review of diving Barbados may be biased as a result of the operation I chose to dive with. Had I not paid for all my groups diving in advance I would have fired this operation and found another. Knowing that there would be no way I would receive a refund I did not pursue this option. They did, however, exert every possible physical effort to make our experience potentially positive.

During the week, I decided that I needed a clearer picture of all the diving operations located in the Bridgetown area. So, I visited a number ( 4 ) of operations and found out a very similar story. Those operations that were a bit more professional and modern, could only accommodate a maximum of 12 divers and at that the divemasters and boat operators were very inexperienced. Operators to the north of Bridgetown possessed the same characteristics but were about 50% higher priced. Both diving and accommodations.

Barbados does have some incredible wreck dives. The Stavronikita is probably the most impressive and make sure if you do this wreck that you do the stern to bow penetration profile. All the operations know it and it its quite impressive, I hear. I was not aware of this profile until one of my divers described it to me during our flight home. Again, lack of professional and experienced communication skills.

The reef diving. Fair and unimpressive. Full of neat color and the usual reef fish but nothing spectacular and certainly ordinary. Visibility was 50 to 100 and the current, my god the currents, were with us on every single dive. Currents of at least 3 knots. Be prepared.

Conclusion...

Barbados and Diving? Not a first choice of those surveyed. Especially our operator. We definitely would not repeat that experience. Do a lot of research. Ask a lot of questions. Be in great shape and don’t expect an experienced dive staff. Remember you won’t be paying premium prices for your diving; $17 to $23 per dive.

The Island is very cultural and historical. There are many things to see and do land-based upon Barbados. We rented a vehicle and took our own tour. It is not very well mapped so you will need to ask for directions quit often. We had a great time touring around the island. Especially the north and east. Beautiful. You could easily spend 2 full days touring the various sites the island has to offer. You may want to consider purchasing a “Historical Site” membership pass. It is much cheaper this way to visit all the great historical sites, such as, Harrison Caves, Wildlife Reserve, The Animal Flower Cave, The Barbados Historical Museum and of course don’t forget the Rum Factories; the latter I am sorry to say is not included in the membership. I recommend you visit all the above sites and all the rum factories :-)

If I had to organize another trip to Barbados it would not have a diving emphasis. In fact, the itinerary would include 2 days of diving, 2 days of golf, 2 days of sight-seeing and 3 days at the beach!

Martin McClellan

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