Under the sea: Taking an aquatic adventure

Cruise editor Rebecca Tobin went scuba diving off Cozumel, Mexico, during a cruise. Her report follows:

ix cruise passengers perched on the edge of their chairs on a small beach in Cozumel, all with eyes focused on Martin.

Martin, he of Martin's Dive Shop here, was teaching us to be novice scuba divers. "Breathe," he said, sounding like a yoga instructor. "You must be breathing under the water."

Martin spent 45 minutes teaching us underwater hand signals -- important ones like "help" and "my inner-ear hurts" -- showing us a complicated-looking vest (technically called a buoyancy control device) with gadgets and mouthpieces hanging off it, and telling us to relax.

At the end of the lesson, most of us looked a little, well, not so relaxed. But we all strapped on the vests, tanks, extra weights and snorkel fins and struggled into the water -- and I willed myself to take my first underwater breath.

I was completely distracted by fish darting about, the silence (minus the Darth Vader-like breathing sounds) and the general amazement of being 35 feet below the surface -- and just two feet from some beautiful coral formations.

My dive partners and I returned to the ship raving about our Discover Scuba experience and vowing to do it again.

Scuba divers will discover a whole new world under water.In order for your clients to scuba dive seriously, they'll need an open-water certification card -- known as a C-card -- and getting one is a lengthy and in-depth affair. On most Caribbean islands, however, you can find Discover Scuba courses or dives that don't require certification.

These dives are somewhat different than a certified dive. Participants spend about an hour going over safety techniques and procedures. They do some practice routines in shallow water before heading out to sea, and they're not out of the sight of a dive master the entire time.

They're also not allowed to dive more than 40 feet deep. That depth, however, is enough to see some stunning coral and marine life in most ports. It's often enough for most participants to consider going for that C-card.

This is an experience many clients will enjoy, as long as they are adventurous, in good shape and not claustrophobic. All participants have to fill out a medical history and release form, and some of the health requirements are strict. If you have a cold, for example, you're not supposed to dive.

And some clients just aren't going to like the feeling of being underwater. Humans aren't built for deepwater pressure. It can be a little scary.

Agents recommending any type of scuba dive should make sure the dive shop belongs to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), which maintains worldwide standards for dive training and safety and regulates Discover Scuba.

Most cruise lines' excursions include Discover Scuba courses that complement the one- or two-tank dives for certified divers. And shore-excursion companies, such as Milwaukee-based ShoreTrips.com, offer dive experiences commissionable at 10%.

ShoreTrips president Barry Karp has been diving all over the Caribbean, and he personally picks the dive shops offered on its Web site. Dive prices can range from about $55 to as high as $100.

Karp said that, if given a clients' itinerary, he's able to point out the best dive shops for beginners on the route. "It's an effortless sport, and you get to see a totally different world," Karp said. "You see the people coming off the boat, and everyone is smiling."

In fact, Karp said, one of the attractions of scuba diving actually is the complicated vest. "It has to do with equipment. It has hoses, and valves and weight belts and things like that. Guys eat that up."

Under the sea: Contacts

PADI
Phone: (800) 729-7234
Web:www.padi.com

Shoretrips.com
Phone: (888) 355-0220
Web:www.shoretrips.com

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