Frankly I enjoyed the diving and I am glad that I went. But, I am not likely to go back again. If I had to advise you, I would say it is definitely worth going on a few dives here but I wouldn't buy a season ticket. I'll give more info below.
Let's do the good bit first.
The mine itself was actually pretty incredible. When you first come in, you see a rock cut cavern lit up with some beautiful blue-green water below it. The water is mineral water so it is ridiculously clear. Because it’s mineral water you can actually drink it. I found myself drinking it from time to time if I got dry mouth on a dive. There is all sorts of stuff to look at on the way down to the dock. If you have time, you may want to shell out the extra cash to do the mine walking/boating tour.
The dock at the bottom is in pretty good shape all things considered. I am sure it is a herculean effort to keep everything down there in good working order. The tanks and weights are down at the bottom which makes it a lot easier. Even if I lived locally I would still rent weights and tanks rather than have to lug them down and then back up.
The dive master and safeties were really great and their commitment to professionalism and the safety of their tour groups can't be stressed enough. They take you through the various "trails" in the mine starting with what is basically a checkout dive on trail 1. You will have to do this trail before you can do any others. They will go make sure you are proficient enough for the dive ahead. Each dive involves a briefing and then 2 stops to check your air. At each stop, if you are low, you will be sent off with one of the safeties to head back towards the dock. If you pass both, you get more bottom time and end up back in the same location. If you freak out, one girl in the group ahead of mine did, you can surface and there is a kayaker who will take your weights and help you back to the dock.
Water temperature is pretty chilly. I dove a 7mm, farmer john suit and I was a little cold. The temperature on the dock is about 60-65Degrees. A few people dove 5mm wetsuits but I think they were pretty cold. Bring a hood and thick gloves. You can rent most of this from the shop but they appear to have a limited selection and the gear isn’t the best. If you have a dry-suit, that is the way to go. There isn’t really that much of an down in the mine that is dry. So, leave towels, shirts log books and everything else up top.
The trails themselves are spectacular. The lighting and the clear water make for some absolutely incredible images as you go through. The rock pillars that support the roof are so beautiful and you can’t help having an almost religious frame of mind as you go through. I did trails 1, 2, 3 and 6A and I really thought that 1 and three were the best.
Now, on to the bad.
The dives are expen$ive! I paid in the neighborhood of $70 a trail. The gear was fairly pricy for a rental as well. A lot of people that rented gear ended up with really old, beat up stuff. At least two people had wetsuits with holes in them and one guy rented a wetsuit that was much too large for him because that was all they had left. I had to rent a hood and gloves for two days and I could have probably bought each of them for only slightly more than the ones I got.
The real problem with this is it is pay up front and then it is 0% refundable. It really gets sticky when you realize that you HAVE to make dive 1 before you can do any other diving. I am not arguing this policy as, from a safety standpoint; I think it is a good policy. But, if I had missed my flight from Houston the night before and not been able to get to the mine for the 9:30AM briefing, I would have been out nearly $500 for the weekend and not been able to do anything about it. Some people mentioned that friends of theirs got “credits” good for one year after you missed. But, if you’re coming from a long way away it doesn’t do you much good.
The topside facilities are another gripe. The Surface Interval Lounge is basically an abandoned building that they put a nice heater in and some plastic picnic tables. You aren’t allowed to sit in the restaurant style booths so you tend to get fairly crowded around the tables. There is also no hot food to be had at all. There are snacks and drinks in the gift store but, if they are off on the tour, you are SOL. For the money you pay for the dive you would think they would include a hot lunch. No such luck, not even an offer to buy lunch for an additional charge. I ended up buying a bunch of stuff down at the convenience store. The girl behind the counter and the rest of the customers completely un-fazed by a man in a wetsuit buying some water and granola bars. If you go, you should treat it like a boat dive where the boat doesn’t provide anything aside from tanks and weights. You typically get an hour between dives which is barely enough time to get something at one of the nearby restaurants to go.
The Locker room is not really a locker room it is a really small changing room with a toilet and a couple of showers. The showers are coin operated, something I have never seen in my entire life. And it really sucks at the end of the day that you can’t even wash the old wetsuit stink off without shelling out extra dough. You can get a small locker out front but you need your own lock and no-one in our group brought theirs.
All in all, everything topside except for the ridiculously overpriced gift shop needs to be completely gutted and re-done.
By the way, you can bring a light on the later dives but I understand that their no-light policy has un-even enforcement. So bring it along and they should let you take it. There are several areas where you will be glad you had it.
The real impression I get from this place is ‘tourist trap’. Everything here is designed to separate you from as much of your money as possible. There is absolutely no consideration to making the experience anything more than what they absolutely have to give you for the large amount of money you are required to shell out in advance.
That said, I am very glad that I did it these dives and I certainly enjoyed the diving. I would tell you to go as well, given the opportunity. But, keep in mind, my company paid for my airfare and my hotel stays. If not for that, I wouldn’t have gone. I doubt I will ever be back and I certainly wouldn’t plan a trip back. But, if I was in the neighborhood, I might see if I could do trail 4 or trail 7.
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