Cozumel's Dive Paradise
Dawn to Dusk Diving
by Rick Frehsee, Sep. 1997
It is exactly 8:10 in the morning on the island of Cozumel and the sun is already high in the sky. Even at this early hour there is a lot of activity going on behind the Hotel Barracuda. A crowd of divers has gathered at the beach around a dock that juts into the crystal Caribbean Sea. On the horizon and closer is a fleet of mostly mid-sized custom dive boats, their bows pointed toward the dock and groups of divers. From the rooftop of the hotel I snap a couple of pictures of the boats waiting patiently just offshore. One by one they come to the dock to board a small group from the crowd. A muscular Mexican and a white-blonde gringa, both with clipboards, oversee the boarding. Amazingly, this whole organizational sequence takes place every morning, seven days a week, 365 days a year. And, this is not even a particularly early hour for Dive Paradise. Their Cock A Doodle dive trip, a special outing for early bird divers, begins at 6:00 am.
Such is the beginning of a day in the life of Cozumel's most popular and therefore busiest dive operator. Dive Paradise currently operates three dive centers, 12 boats, officially packages with five island hotels, offers a smorgasbord of dive trips, instruction and services and has been in business on Cozumel for 15 years. In this process, with one service or another, Dive Paradise hosts thousands of divers each year. And they do it one diver at a time, each receiving a fair measure of individual attention. 'Numbers don't mean a thing without a quality or professional product,' Renee 'Apple' Applegate is quick to interject. Apple is Dive Paradise's president and, most would say, its heart and soul. Up at dawn and still working far after sunset (she is the gringa at the dock), this normal looking lady is a leader, a master instructor, a world-experienced diver and a natural ball of fire.
Although very popular, neither Cozumel nor Dive Paradise suffers from crowds of divers. In the case of the island the numbers of divers are absorbed by a string of hotels that hugs the coast and adjacent reef area that stretches for more than 20 miles. In the case of Dive Paradise the problem of potential crowding has been solved with careful expansion of boats, quality personnel and dive centers. Apple (no one I know ever calls her Renee!) expresses it this way: 'There never has been a conscious effort to get bigger, just better. Our growth in Cozumel has always been in response to diver needs and desires.'
The results are reflected in a very successful operation that still relies on fun and friendship among clients and staff. Any way you measure the performance of Dive Paradise, it's among the first two or three on an island with more than 30 operators. Take the Cock A Doodle dive program for example. Qualified divers can be picked up at 6:00 am for a series of three dives. This program has three distinct advantages: a bargain price; an early start on the diving day; avoiding crowding on a popular site; and a return to shore by noon. This is a perfect special outing for photographers (remember, the Cozumel sun gets up early). I know of nowhere else on Cozumel or anywhere in the Caribbean that this early start on the diving day is offered. A computer, logbook with 50 dives and a 24 hour reservation are required.
Cock A Doodle dives are just a start. Dive Paradise also offers a twilight two tank trip that features a combination day/night outing; an E.D.P. (Experienced Diver Program) two tank trip for computer experienced divers; a custom morning two tank trip aboard a fast, six passenger dive boat; a custom afternoon two tank, six passenger trip; as well as standard two tank boat trips; standard one tank afternoon trips; and one tank night dives.
Dive Paradise is also the island leader in enriched air diving. It can arrange for a full gamut of services from instruction to nitrox fills in popular and custom mixtures with 24 hour advanced sign-up. Almost the entire Dive Paradise staff is nitrox certified.
Dive Paradise's distinctly varied style, size and type of dive boat is in response to divers' distinctly varied wants and needs. Currently the ever growing fleet consists of 12 boats; eight large and four small boats. The big boats are normally limited to 16 divers but can accommodate larger groups who prefer to stay together. DAN oxygen, marine radios, etc., are standard safety equipment on all the boats. The Dive Paradise fleet is led by the 37 foot Renagado, a turbo-charged diesel powered V-hull with flybridge and two new big, fast boats; the 48 foot twin turbo-diesel Tango and the 46 foot single turbo-diesel Atlantis. Other Dive Paradise vessels include the 40 foot Calypso; the 36 foot Tombo; the 44 foot Yucab II and Aries; the 42 foot Paradise Diver; and Sagitario. The six pack boats in the 24 to 27 foot range are Queen Angel, Ana Luz and John-y.
The main shop, a handsome and newly renovated dive store on the beach road at the southern edge of downtown, maintains the headquarters, dive reservations desk and primary retail outlet. Across the street and less than a block to the south is the Hotel Barracuda dock and Dive Paradise store on the beach. A third and the newest store is a full service dive facility on the beach at the Villa Blanca Garden Beach Hotel (similar to the Barracuda store) with compressor on-site, extended pier, showers, storage lockers, instruction, retail and rental gear. The Villa Blanca location complements an already active shore dive program at Dive Paradise; the Villa Blanca Wall is only a 50 yard swim from the new facility. Boat dives pickup and drop-off at the Barracuda and Villa Blanca docks as well as at most popular hotel docks on the way to the southern reefs.
With an extensive menu of dive trips and the largest boat fleet on the island, Dive Paradise has access to every popular dive site and several special sites along the 20 mile Cozumel western fringing reef. Popular sites regularly visited by Dive Paradise boats include Palancar Reef, Santa Rosa Wall and Tormentos Reef. Special locations include the aforementioned Villa Blanca Wall and Tom's Wall, a drop-off named after Dive Paradise's founder Tom Hartegen.
Dive Paradise provides price-desirable and comprehensive hotel packages with many of the popular retreats on Cozumel. These include four and seven night packages at Hotel Barracuda, Plaza las Glorias, Fiesta Inn and Costa Brava. A series of Super Promotional price packages is available through December 19, 1997 (not valid five days before or after Labor Day and Thanksgiving).
For reservations and information contact Tropical Adventures Travel at (800) 909-7697 or fax (206) 441-5431. The e-mail address is email@example.com. You can visit the Tropical Adventures Travel Web site at http://www.dive tropical.com.