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phxazcraig

Looking for Caymans suggestions

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I'm strongly considering a week-long trip to the Cayman islands in January, but I don't know where to go.  I have been to Grand Cayman years ago on a cruise ship stop before I was a diver.  I at least know some of the Grand Cayman attractions above water.

But I'm looking for something specific here - diving and non-diving in the same location.   My fiance doesn't even snorkel, so she has not been going on trips with me that are all diving-related.   I need to go somewhere that offers a reasonable amount of things to do for the non-diver.   At the same time I want to dive probably 2x/day, in the morning, with a small dive group or even dedicated divemaster and boat.   For me, this would be about underwater photography, and I would need not only a boat, but a divemaster who is good at finding small critters for me.  Logistics are an issue here as I won't have a car (I assume) and need to get all this done and back to the room by noon-1pm.

In the afternoons, I want to be able to go out with my girl and enjoy the tropical island amenities.    Which means there needs to be amenities.   My girl hasn't had a vacation since early 2020.

I've heard Cayman Brac is great for diving, but what does it offer the non-diver?

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I have never dived Grand Cayman, always taking a small plane to Little Cayman.  But I have heard good things about Cobalt Coast on Grand.  Same ownership as The Clearly Cayman properties on Brac and Little.  That said, I would caution you that I have had some bad experiences in that region of the Caribbean in January.  When storms come down from the U.S., they can wipe out diving for 2-3 days, or perhaps more.  I last had that experience in January of 2020.  The first day was windy and choppy with bad viz.  The next two days the conditions were bad enough we had to use tag lines to get back on the boat and the viz was horrible.  Add tot that the number of people seasick on the boat, and those two days were unpleasant.  Then all diving stopped for 2.5 days.

Day after we left, they used a dive boat to test whether they could get out.

1974639795_Screenshot2022-09-15at13-27-28FavoriteMemoriesoftheSBSURGE2020!.thumb.png.acbd3d35d82cccba60e2b9393e1490b2.png

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OK, January may require a rethink.  Or maybe not the Caribbean then.

Where ever I go, it does look like I need an all-inclusive with diving operation on-site.  (Like Divi Flamingo in Bonaire).

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16 hours ago, Draq said:

Day after we left, they used a dive boat to test whether they could get out.

That's an incredible image! The pelican looks happy enough though. 

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8 hours ago, phxazcraig said:

OK, January may require a rethink.  Or maybe not the Caribbean then.

Where ever I go, it does look like I need an all-inclusive with diving operation on-site.  (Like Divi Flamingo in Bonaire).

You might want to take a look at Lions Dive in Curacao.  (I have never stayed there...did a shore dive there and had lunch there, probably 10 years ago) I think they have things to do for the non-diving crowd and I believe that I read somewhere that they offer shuttles into Willemstad a couple times a day.  Ocean Encounters is the onsite dive op and they were pretty good back when i spent a lot of time on Curacao. Diving is similar to Bonaire, which is actually within sight of Curacao from some places.  Would want to check with the dive op, as I mostly shore dived there, but at least back in the day, they had a divemaster "lead" dives from the boat.  That may be sufficient for your needs. 

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Curacao has the advantage of being the only ABC island I haven't been to.  (Also has the advantage of being Dutch-based, and my fiance's family if Dutch.)

Temps in January?

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I know weather is unpredictable nowadays and I actually went to Grand Cayman in October 2019 technically right in the middle of hurricane season and had an amazing time, weather was perfect. I was in the same situation where my wife wanted to have other activities available. We stayed at the Marrott Beach House resort (which has an awesome gin bar, but I digress) and used Living the Dream Divers. It was super easy, they picked me up was on their boat in 5 minutes and a short ride out I was able to do two dives and be back at the resort between 11-12 pm. I found the wall diving to be awesome and of course there is shore diving available as well. I liked my location for the resort because it gave us easy access to town and eat at a variety of restaurants. It was nice getting my dives/photography fix in and still have an option for many other activities.

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5 hours ago, phxazcraig said:

Curacao has the advantage of being the only ABC island I haven't been to.  (Also has the advantage of being Dutch-based, and my fiance's family if Dutch.)

Temps in January?

That area is close enough to equator that the temps don't change much.  80's to 90's all year.  sea temps don't change much either 78-82 is typical.  oct-dec is rainy season, but for the most part it is typical short duration tropical rainstorm.  If there is a tropical storm in the region, that can change things, but they are uncommon down there.

If interested, do some internet research; there are a variety of diving options, shore diving on your own, shore diving with the dive bus, boat dives, etc.  I spent most of my time on the west side, but if not diving, there is very little to do over there.

If you go and want a nice dinner in Willemstad, try Kome.  One of my favorite restaurants.

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I also would echo support for Curacao, actually had my honeymoon there...tucked out of the hurricane zone and shore diving galore options, the town of Willemstad is really nice and it's easy to get around the island.

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OK, shifting more and more away from Caymans in January, a lot because of weather.  (Rainy season, plus water temps low for me.)

My girl announced interest in Aruba, and so I'm looking for recommendations there.   I've read the water temps are like 85F, which seems high to me considering it was colder than that in Bonaire in June.  But no biggie.  One of the reasons I want to go in January is to have a chance to test a new custom 5-mil wetsuit and get the weighting right before I go to Truk in March.

Requirements are the same.  Looking for a dive resort where I can go dive from a boat in the mornings for 2 tanks without needing to commute to the dive center.  And the resort must have options to do non-diving stuff in the afternoon, including any manner of tours or sightseeing stuff for the non-diver.   And weather needs to be decent in the afternoons for such tours.

I've been to Aruba once, on a honeymoon cruise.   Never be to Curacao, but I now remember hearing some disparaging remarks from my Bonaire divemaster, who had moved from Curacao to Bonaire a couple of years ago.  Said the dive sites were not good in ways, meaning trashed, I think.

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Never dived Aruba.  Always heard it was a fun, beach resort kind of island with mediocre diving.  have a non-diving friend that was there earlier this year and said the snorkeling wasn't interesting.

Besides Curacao, Sint Maarten or Turks and Caicos?   But T&C just got hit by a hurricane, so...??   Diving is probably better in Bonaire, but not that much different and there is nothing much to do but dive, hence my Curacao suggestion.   Plus if you shore dive you can do so from places that are alos beach resoprts with food, for the non-diving lady.  Ostrich farm, casinos, some old plantation tours, Mt. Christoffel, Shete Boca, Aquarium, slave museum (if it is still there),  substation (expensive).

Or maybe someplace with a sandals resort or something like that?  Never been to one.

Anywhere in that area I think 80-82 degrees more likely than 85, except maybe near surface.

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No shore diving for me.   Yes, Bonaire doesn't have a lot to do for the non-diver, though the food is sure good.

I just need water that is approximately as warm as I will experience in Truk, with stuff for a non-diver to easily do.   Probably in the Caribbean for ease and cost of travel from the western US.    In January I definitely have weather concerns overall.  Probably I need a dive resort within walking distance of a town that has things to do and see.   Since this trip is ostensibly to give my girlfriend a vacation, I'm not so focused on the diving, which means if the diving isn't excellent it's sort of ok.   It's partly an equipment check trip.   But time of year argues for getting pretty far south.

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Draq mentions Sint Maarten.

Good diving for sure. Water is 80F in January. Defo 5mm wetsuits! (and a vest for me).

I can recommend highly Ocean Explorers who usually do 2x 2-tank dives in the morning plus a single tank later afternoon. They are close to a number of the hotels and all the life around the Simpson Bay area.

There is plenty here for the non-diver, very good eateries (especially on the French side), nice beaches, friendly folks, cheap car hire,  a bit of Napoleonic history to check out, shopping in Philipsburg....

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On 9/15/2022 at 8:31 PM, Draq said:

I have never dived Grand Cayman, always taking a small plane to Little Cayman.  But I have heard good things about Cobalt Coast on Grand.  Same ownership as The Clearly Cayman properties on Brac and Little.  That said, I would caution you that I have had some bad experiences in that region of the Caribbean in January.  When storms come down from the U.S., they can wipe out diving for 2-3 days, or perhaps more.  I last had that experience in January of 2020.  The first day was windy and choppy with bad viz.  The next two days the conditions were bad enough we had to use tag lines to get back on the boat and the viz was horrible.  Add tot that the number of people seasick on the boat, and those two days were unpleasant.  Then all diving stopped for 2.5 days.

Day after we left, they used a dive boat to test whether they could get out.

1974639795_Screenshot2022-09-15at13-27-28FavoriteMemoriesoftheSBSURGE2020!.thumb.png.acbd3d35d82cccba60e2b9393e1490b2.png

I remember them posting that shot when I was in Grand Cayman in January 2020 - we were having a rather different experience (see the video below)! There is an important difference in the geography of Grand Cayman and Little Cayman. On Little Cayman all the dive sites are only on the NW side of the island (the shadiest side of an island so the best for sponge growth), so when you get a winter storm - known as a North-Wester - all the diving is gone. Being a bigger island, Grand Cayman has 4 sides, so whatever the wind direction there is always a lee side, often 3 lee sides. 

Here is my experience from Cayman in January 2020. Video of lots of underwater photographers - so you can check out the weather (and the earthquake we had) and what everyone was wearing. That same storm brought a couple of days of (comparatively) cold weather for us (long sleeves) - but because of the shape of the island, flat clam seas where we were (I am wearing a full wetsuit in the pool because I am in there all afternoon during the workshop and for sun protection).

While plenty of tourists dive in t-shirts and shorts in Grand Cayman in January, I’d recommend dedicated divers use a 3mm or 5mm, depending on the individual. 

Alex

On 9/16/2022 at 10:05 PM, Draq said:

 

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Fabulous that the famous Scottish neoprene kilt is catching on. Presumably not a Highlands clan?

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4 hours ago, Alex_Mustard said:

On Little Cayman all the dive sites are only on the NW side of the island (the shadiest side of an island so the best for sponge growth), so when you get a winter storm - known as a North-Wester - all the diving is gone. Being a bigger island, Grand Cayman has 4 sides, so whatever the wind direction there is always a lee side, often 3 lee sides. 

Alex

That is true.  There are a few sites on the south side that the boats will go to when conditions are poor on the north side, but they are not that great.  The picture is actually from the cut to the ocean just outside the dive resort and on the south side.  We had bad dives on the north for a couple days, then a couple mediocre dives on the south side, then it was too rough everywhere and all dives were cancelled.

For Craig, it is also worth noting that on Grand there are other things to do.  Little Cayman is truly little with only a couple of non-diving diversions. 

In any event, the islands closer to North America are more prone to bad weather in winter than the islands to the south.  For the most part, in the Caribbean, I look to the Lesser Antilles December to mid-February.

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I'm looking at Curacao and Aruba for January at this point.

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On 9/29/2022 at 11:54 PM, phxazcraig said:

I'm looking at Curacao and Aruba for January at this point.

It's great to hear you've found a new partner.  Congrats!

It's hard to get a sure thing in January, but GC may be worth the gamble if you see things to do topside.  (I've never spent more than a day not diving - so visit Hell, go to the Turtle Zoo, and then?   I just don't know.

But GC has been adding wrecks and the there was one site nearby with nice 45 degree coral tunnel swimthrus.   Lots of good wide angle stuff.   You've always been macro focused, but if the intent is to prep for Truk, I think you want to leave the macro lens/port behind and just log time with your new WA lens setup.  GC also has the somewhat gimmicky sting ray city that your partner could do as a non diver while you're slightly deeper.  

 

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On 10/28/2022 at 7:51 PM, calbeardiver said:

It's great to hear you've found a new partner.  Congrats!

It's hard to get a sure thing in January, but GC may be worth the gamble if you see things to do topside.  (I've never spent more than a day not diving - so visit Hell, go to the Turtle Zoo, and then?   I just don't know.

Yeah, I spent a day there on a Cruise ship stop, and after the circle island tour, didn't seem many sightseeing attractions left.

On 10/28/2022 at 7:51 PM, calbeardiver said:

But GC has been adding wrecks and the there was one site nearby with nice 45 degree coral tunnel swimthrus.   Lots of good wide angle stuff.   You've always been macro focused, but if the intent is to prep for Truk, I think you want to leave the macro lens/port behind and just log time with your new WA lens setup.  GC also has the somewhat gimmicky sting ray city that your partner could do as a non diver while you're slightly deeper. 

Yes, and another reason is to get my new 5-mil wetsuit tested and broken in so I have the weighting right when I get to Truk.  I've worked more and more on my wide angle, but it just seems a lot harder than macro.   With shipwrecks I'll have the big targets I need, but I've no real idea how I want to compose the shots.   I dove the Hilma Hooker in Bonaire, and I'm not thrilled with any of the shots showing parts of the ship.   Then too it was upside down, so a bit boring from above.

And I'd like to try the new Pelican out as well.

But right now it's looking less and less like I'll be doing a dive trip in January, and more and more that any travel then will be a car trip through southern Arizona and probably over to Carlsbad Caverns.   Weather permitting.

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Wide Angle is really about the composition above all else.   Really benefits from human subjects to give it scale and focus.  I think you just need to log some dives and subjects and see what you like.   

I'm doing a circuit around Cebu in December.  That will be the variety tour - there are islands for macro, ones that are known for whale sharks and threshers, swarms of sardines, and everything in between.   Great for the diving bit, but it may be a challenge to get dialed into any particular type of shooting.  

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On 11/3/2022 at 11:50 AM, calbeardiver said:

Wide Angle is really about the composition above all else.   Really benefits from human subjects to give it scale and focus.  I think you just need to log some dives and subjects and see what you like.   

I'm doing a circuit around Cebu in December.  That will be the variety tour - there are islands for macro, ones that are known for whale sharks and threshers, swarms of sardines, and everything in between.   Great for the diving bit, but it may be a challenge to get dialed into any particular type of shooting.  

Oh I have thousands of bad wide angle shots to pick from!

 

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So much of WA imagery with divers is getting the diver in a position that it contributes positively to the image. So facing the right way, fins/legs in an elegant position, eyes open, bubbles nicely emerging above the head..... simple. 

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The 'rule' of thirds is often helpful-  where you want the foreground object, or where you want the lines of the ship to run.   Both of your examples I think exemplify how center placement can often be displeasing.   (though I do enjoy making fish in the foreground look more massive than divers in the background)   

Having a trained model can be great, though I've never had that luxury.  My wife is whatever the opposite would be.   But how divers interact with a wall or a wreck is somewhat predictable, so you can try to anticipate them going to where you want.   Their use of lights to illuminate also lends to good comps, and just having them lets you give scale to the grander backgrounds.   

My GH4 housing had a very useful level to turn off the flash, great when it true open WA where the strobes add nothing but can slow down shooting rate.  Burst mode gives more chances to get the fins and bubbles in a nice way.   I don't think the R5 does, but at least I was able to jump to a flash trigger.   

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When reviewing my wide angle shots, I'm often reminded of the old Ansel Adams quote "There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept".

I rarely have a good concept when taking the image in the first place.  I'm just snapshooting.    For macro I know what I want, how to get there and how to post-process it.

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