Dixie Divers Guides Snorkelers and Divers

By Shirley Vanderbilt

The Vanderbilt family (unfortunately, no relation to the writer!) built Florida's first marine life attraction along the northeast coast in the early 1900s. For decades, Marineland has been reconfigured and expanded, entertaining and educating generations of visitors about exotic life. Anyone remember the '50s horror flick, Creature from the Black Lagoon? It was filmed in Marineland's main tank. Thankfully, the only creatures in the tanks these days are compliments of nature, not Hollywood. With the park's most recent renovation comes a revolutionary new program open to divers and nondivers alike, under the professional direction of one of Florida's foremost authorities on diving. Dixie Divers has been selected to work exclusively with Marineland, providing several innovative experiences within the marine park. A two hour program allows guests to snorkel or dive with the marine life in the tank. A four hour program for nondivers includes an introduction to diving and an escorted tour with an instructor in the tank. In fact, several levels of scuba instruction will be offered at Marineland, from Discover Diving to full certification courses.

Water pumped straight from the Atlantic Ocean keeps the marine tank's environment stable and provides a unique simulated ocean experience for program participants. You may choose fishwatching, video, still photography or treasure hunting as the focus of your dive. To further enhance educational opportunities, a Marine Mammal Assistant Trainer program has also been opened to participants with divemaster level certification. A full week of living on site and working intensively with actual dolphin trainers adds a unique element to any dive professional's resume, enhancing the chances for job placement in this career area. Abbreviated forms of the marine mammal training are also offered: a three day introductory course for certified divers and a one day program for the general public. Whatever level of participation, this program promises to be an exciting adventure for all involved.

It's not surprising to find Dixie Divers in a starring role at Marineland. This multi-faceted company has a history of continually pushing past tradition to blaze new trails in the dive industry. Much of this thrust originates from the indomitable energy and creativity of co-founder and owner, Nestor Palmero. A leading dive professional, he has skillfully guided his enterprise from its humble beginnings as a small retail store in 1979 to the establishment of two career training sites and a statewide franchising of Dixie Divers' PADI Five Star facilities.

With seven franchise and five company owned and operated stores throughout Florida, Palmero's vision is now expanding to the national scene. His current focus on providing divers with a nationwide network of professional dive stores will encompass more than just moving franchising beyond Florida. Also included in the design is a network of Dixie Divers charter bookings on privately operated, custom dive boats meeting specific safety guidelines and service requirements established under contract with Dixie Divers. Amenities such as fresh fruit, camera tables, rinse buckets and courteous assistance by a professionally attired crew are all a part of the company's commitment to provide a consistently high quality dive experience to the Dixie Divers' customer.

Another facet of Dixie Divers' expansion is the international travel program, which brings us back to Marineland. Many who have received their certification through Dixie Divers have remained a part of the 'family,' preferring to join store sponsored trips accompanied by a Dixie Divers pro or booking with groups through Dixie's wholesale travel division. Both of these options are accessed through toll free numbers, either connecting directly to a Dixie Divers' retail operation or to a travel desk of professional agents. This same travel service is available to secure your reservations for any of the Marineland adventures. Marineland is centrally located to many Florida attractions, such as historic St. Augustine, lively Daytona Beach and Orlando's Disney World, making it a great stopover on a Florida tour or a complete vacation in itself. Dixie Divers' marine life programs all include a full day pass for the park; and hotel packages are available as well as campground and marina facilities for the more rustic adventures.

At the present time, a minimum group of four is required for scheduling the marine tank dive or snorkel experience but the eventual establishment of a Dixie Divers franchise at Marineland will open the opportunity for individual bookings. Future plans at the park also include the use of the marine tanks' controlled environment for testing new dive products.

Education has been a major focus for Palmero and Dixie Divers from the beginning of the Dixie Divers concept. The marine mammal training program is just one of a variety of educational opportunities developed through Dixie Divers' main training component, the South East Diving Institute (SEDI). With a rural, administrative campus in Ft. Pierce and a second training site in the tropical Keys, SEDI is the only career training program offering two state licensed PADI Career Development Centers. The benefit for students is increased flexibility in choice of training environment and an opportunity to experience not only the exciting drift dives of Florida's southeast coast but also the beauty of the living coral reefs bordering Key Largo.

SEDI has, in essence, become a training center for the entire Dixie Divers' network, including the franchise operations. Many graduates enter the 'family' as career professionals, enhancing quality control of Dixie Divers' service and products as well as instruction. As a course director himself, Nestor Palmero actively promotes this striving toward quality with his involvement at the local and national level of the industry. Currently in his second term with the DEMA board of directors, Palmero was honored with the PADI Outstanding Achievement Award in 1995; recognition of his contribution to the growth of recreational diving.

Dixie Divers' retail facilities offer a complete line of services, including full PADI instruction, retail sales, equipment repair and service, travel opportunities, local dive charter bookings and a host of special events such as the yearly Lobstermania contest and reef clean-up. At the SEDI Career Development Centers, the choice of career courses includes basic to instructor training, resort management and a variety of adjunct certifications to enhance the marketability and performance of a dive professional.

The expansion of Dixie Divers' network is now making it possible for divers nationwide to find a consistent quality of service and immediate assistance with everything from instruction to travel plans. For recreational diving and travel, call (800) FLA-DIVE [(800) 352-3483] or the travel desk (800) DIVE-US-1st [(800) 348-3871]; for career training call South East Diving Institute at (800) FLA-PADI [(800) 352-7234].

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