Roatan's Luxurious, Bi-Coastal Dive Resort
Text and Photography by Rick Frehsee, Aug. 1997
The island of Roatan possesses a unique geography: more than 30 miles long (including three mile long Helene, which is actually an extension of Roatan separated only by a narrow canal) and only one to three miles wide, it gives the impression of being tiny and large at the same time. Drive its length and it will take you more than an hour. But, during that sojourn, you will find several areas along the spine of the island where you can easily see both coasts simultaneously.
That is exactly the aerial view of Fantasy Island, easily Roatan's most comfortable and luxurious dedicated dive resort. There is a reef immediately in front of the resort, an extensive beach that borders the oceanside and then the resort itself, nestled in palms and greenery. Behind the resort rises the main island with its spine of verdant hills; in the background, less than a mile away, is Roatan's north coast. In that single view are the three assets that make Fantasy Island Beach Resort, Dive and Marina, one of the most unique dive retreats in the Caribbean: immediate and accessible shore diving, luxurious accommodations on a private island, and, with a dock and boats on both coasts, easy access to Roatan's best diving.
Being able to dive both sides of Roatan is a big asset. This is not one of those islands with an obvious diving coast. One side faces southeast, which is almost always direct or diagonal to the tradewinds. Roatan's southside is almost always choppy but seldom rough. The other side faces the northwest, which is usually calm, except during a north'er, an infrequent storm that can make conditions on the northern coast very nasty.
The reefs on both sides are good but different. Experienced local divers constantly argue about which side is best. The southside has a close hugging fringing reef interrupted occasionally by a bay or a lagoon. The reef is generally very close to shore and the drop-off often begins in only 25 feet of water. Really classic dive sites on the south coast, close to Fantasy Island, abound. There is the wreck of the Prince Albert, an intact island freighter in 60 feet of water, and one-half mile of excellent drop-off right in front of the resort that can be easily reached on a shore dive. Other sites nearby include Forty Foot Point, a sheer drop-off where schools of Bermuda Chubs and other fishes congregate and the Valley of the Kings, where reef crevices are decorated with bouquets of sponges.
In contrast, Roatan's north coast offers a barrier reef formation; formidable ramparts, usually one-quarter mile or so from shore interrupted only occasionally by narrow cuts. A really classic and very different kind of dive site can be found here. An example, again close to Fantasy Island's dock, is Wall Street, a mini wall that is absolutely vertical and 100 yards long.
The ideal situation, weather and reef wise, is to be able to dive both coasts. But, it's a considerable distance around long, narrow Roatan. Fantasy Island has the answer: Just east of the resort is an access road that leads from the resort to a northside dock, where one or more of its boats are kept permanently .
Hank Hynds, an instructor and Roatan local with 20 years of dive experience, heads Fantasy Island's dive operation. Hank and his team of seasoned skippers and divemasters offer morning and afternoon boat diving with guaranteed access during the week to both sides of Roatan, weather permitting. Southside trips, normally one tank outings, run at 9:00 am, 11:00 am, 2:30 pm; northside excursions are usually two tank dives. The full service dive center, along with a fleet of 42 to 44 foot custom dive boats, is on the west end of the resort property, a short walk from the hillside and beachside guestwings.
Shore diving is facilitated by a charming and practical dive gazebo, which extends into the sea from the east end of the property. No need to lug tanks back and forth from the dive center; just ask and they will bring tanks to the gazebo at a requested time and pick up the empties after the dive. It's a short swim from the gazebo to the shipwreck and the wall.
Fantasy Island's position as a resort is also unique on Roatan. This is the only luxury resort on the island that is dedicated to diving. What this simply means is that if ambiance, good food, a private beach, swimming pool, tennis courts, complete watersports and a fully air-conditioned resort with in-room TV and phones, are important to you, then you really have only one choice for a dive resort in the Bay Islands of Honduras.
The resort's physical presence is most impressive. The entire 'village' (with the exception of the north dock facility) is on a 15 acre private island connected by a bridge to Roatan. Built in 1989, with renovations and additions ever since, the resort is nestled in palms, pines, fruit and flower trees. Nearly one-quarter mile of white sand beach forms a crescent facing the sea. A large, double winged modern building with a traditional touch houses the huge reception lobby and business offices and, on the upper level, there is a restaurant, lounge and spacious conference room. Serving snacks and meals throughout the day is another alfresco restaurant and bar seaside, underneath a thatched roofed palapa. Beachfront guestrooms are on two floors of both wings. Two additional guestroom wings are closer to the dive shop and marina and, as a result, are often requested by divers. There are 82 rooms total; all similar in decoration, beautifully furnished, with air-conditioning, satellite TV, direct dial phones and a refrigerator.
In addition to a complete dive operation (rentals, instruction, wet storage, rinse tanks, etc.) the beach and marina offer ocean kayaks, canoes, sailboats, powerboats, wetbikes and waverunners. Island tours and mainland tours, including whitewater rafting and a visit to the ancient Maya city of Copan can be easily arranged by the resort's in-house travel service. Auto rentals are also available in the lobby. Getting to Roatan is easy: TACA flies modern 767 and 737 Boeing aircraft to San Pedro Sula and Roatan from several convenient U.S. gateways. After landing at Roatan's beautiful new International Airport, you will be met by a host who will assist you with customs and immigration, then Fantasy Island's private bus will transport you to the resort only 15 minutes away.
For more information, contact Fantasy Island Travel Services at (800) 6 ROATAN (676-2826) or (813) 353-9414, fax (813) 353-0154. The direct line at the resort is (011) 504-45-5222. You can also visit the Web site at http://www.empg.com/ fantasy-island.