ROATAN - OCT. 6 - NOV. 3, 2018
They have some special planned each day you're there. Saturday is arrival day and starts with a meet-and-greet at the airport and then an orientation at the resort, followed by lunch, and then settling in. Sunday is orientation, first dive day, and Fish ID. Monday is a visit to Maya Key (privately owned second resort island), Tuesday is Night Dive, Wednesday is Fiesta Night BBQ, Thursday is Night Dive, Friday is Sorry-to-See-You-Go Day (well, it's not designated as such but there's no afternoon diving so you can dry things and start packing), and Saturday is Departure Day.
Our group this consisted of 14 people: Sharon Depreister, Louis Weisberg, Marilyn Lawrence, Shirley Parry, Tamar Toister, Patti Wey, John Morgan, Ric Selber, Donna & Cecilia Groman, Selo Imrohoroglu, Candy Botnick (non-diver), Laurie Kasper, and me (Ken Kurtis). Laurie/Tamar/Ric/myself were repeaters from the first trip.
Everyone loved the resort and it really runs efficiently. It’s all-inclusive so the schedule each day was pretty much the same: breakfast starting at 7AM, first dive around 8:15AM, second dive at 10:15AM, lunch at Noon, third dive at 2:15PM, back by 4PM, option to shore dive (which no one did – too rough the first few days and too much schlepping if you were really going to do it), dinner at 6PM-ish (they serve until 9PM) and eventually off to bed. The Tuesday and Thursday evening night dive were at 5:35PM, which pushed dinner for those divers back to about to 7:30PM.
The food ranged from OK to excellent. (The ribs at the Wednesday night BBQ were beyond excellent.) Breakfast was an assortment of fruits and breads and then you could order eggs, bacon, toast and other hot items. Lunch and dinner always offered a choice of either soup or salad to start (always different), and then a choice of three entrées, one of which was always a veggie option, followed by dessert. Juices, coffee & hot tea, iced tea, and water are all included. You pay extra for soda and all alcohol.
One nice thing they do for groups – they did this in 2013 as well – is that they designate tables for you. So we had a table of eight and an adjacent table of six that were marked “Reef Seekers” so we never had to hunt for a seat. It also meant that we had specific waiters assigned to our table and we had them (Larry, Joseph, & Brandon) for the entire week which is nice because they get to know your personal preferences.
The bungalows in which we stayed were also outstanding. If you’re going to book this on your own, be aware there is some terminology and geographics you need to master lest you end up with a room you don’t like in an area you don’t want.
The resort is divided into two areas: Hill and Key. The Hill is on the main island side and contains the reception area, dining room, dive dock, gear locker room, dive shop, snack shack, nitrox tank room, gift shop, photo shop, restrooms, and – a little further down – dry dock, compressor room, and medical clinic (with a recompression chamber).
The Key is a small island unto itself, maybe 100 yards away from the dive dock (there’s a panga water taxi that runs 24/7 and which literally takes one minute to get you from one side to the other – very well-organized) and this where most of the bungalow rooms are, plus a pool & bar, shore dive shack, and a spa.
On top of that, you need to understand the nomenclature for the rooms, which grammatically makes no sense to me. First are rooms called Standard which are all non-air-conditioned (humidity averaged 70-90% so I can’t imagine sleeping without AC) ones and they're all on the Hill.
Next up are the Superior and Deluxe rooms. Now you would think that – grammatically – something called “Superior” is better than something called “Deluxe.” But you’d be wrong. I mean, “superior” literally means “higher in rank, status, or quality.” But at Anthony’s Key, they’re reversed.
All the rooms on the Key are over the water. (And they’re all really nice, so don’t take any of this the wrong way.) The difference between the two is that the Superior rooms are roughly 250 square feet, have two full (double) beds, and two rooms share a common deck, also over the water, with hammocks, chairs and a table.
The Deluxe rooms are roughly 400 square feet, have a king and a full (double) bed, slightly bigger bathroom, and a private outside deck area over the water, accessible only from the room, but also with a pair of hammocks, a table, and some chairs. For those of us with cameras (remember that I’m a big fan of NOT keeping cameras in air-conditioned rooms overnight due to condensation when you take them back out into the hot, humid air), this private deck gave us a great, secure area in which to work on camera gear and store it overnight.
Laurie & I were in #25 which, along with 26/27/28, have just been refurbished. The rooms are slightly larger and nicer, but the private decks are slightly smaller than the other Key Deluxe rooms. Not a big deal but they also lacked a table which was significant for me with all the camera gear I carry. But – and this underscores the wonderful responsiveness of the hotel staff under manager Yolanda Miller – I asked Yolanda on Sunday morning if there was any way to get a table for our deck and by noon, it was there with two more chairs. That’s called good customer service.
In fact, that’s one great thing about Anthony's. The staff is unfailingly pleasant and polite to everyone. And bear in mind that this is really a very large operation. They’ve got a lot of land, they have (I think) 66 rooms which can handle two people each (so “full” could be as many as 132 divers – there were about 80 there for our week), and this means they’ve got to have a lot of people to service all of that. And like I said, nary a frowny face amongst the bunch.
The resort's also wired for Wi-Fi and its free. We had a very strong signal (five bars) in our room so I was easily able to post photos and do e-mail from there. I heard a few other people not in our group say they weren't getting a good signal in there room but we didn't experience that. And we discovered another bonus.
If your cell phone has Wi-Fi Calling (mine does), enable that on your phone, disable the cell portion, and you're got free cell phone service. In the past, I'd have to see if my phone was compatible with the country I was visiting, then I'd have to sign up for a special foreign plan for a month or so, and it didn't always work well. But this time, I just enabled Wi-Fi calling and dialed without a country code just like I was in Los Angeles. The calls went through quickly and the sound quality was excellent.
Anthony's dive operation is really dialed in. They’ve got a bunch of boats: seven 42-footers (which is what we had), four 48s, and a 46-foot snorkel boat. We were assigned our own boat (Isamar) with the same DM/Guide (John Carter) and same boat captain (Roos) each day.
The other nice thing they do – and it seems a little “corporate” at first but really works out well – is that the dive shop pre-assigns the dive sites for all the boats each day. What that eliminates is one boat racing another to be the first one on a mooring to dive it. It actually works quite well.
In that same vein, they also pre-assign the two wreck dives, the Odyssey and the Aguila. Quite frankly, neither one is much to write home about. In fact, John states that the Odyssey (which I didn’t dive – I was under the weather that day) literally has zero fish on it. And the big attraction of the Aguila used to be the large Cuberra Snappers and Black Groupers that hung out by the wreck because the DMs fed them. But they stopped that practice about a year ago so now there’s not much there either. Fortunately, both are near decent reefs so you spend 10 minutes on the wreck and the rest of the time go explore the reef.
Speaking of time, the dive sites are all very close to Anthony’s. With the exception of Mary’s Place (more on that in a bit), the sites are anywhere from a 2-10 minute boat ride away. Dive times were usually pegged at 50 minutes (night dives around 40) but we generally did about an hour with no complaints. And because all of this is close-in, you return to Anthony's after each and every dive. The advantage of that is that If you want to skip the first dive, you don’t screw yourself out of the second, as you would on a 2-tank plan. Or maybe just do the first, skip the second, have lunch, and then come back for the third. Plus, if anyone has a sensitive stomach, you spend your surface interval at the calm dock rather than out on a mooring where you might roll around a little bit. At first the idea of coming back to the dock seems a little silly, but it actually works out quite well.
About half of our group dove nitrox and I think the consensus was that we found the nitrox procedures a bit annoying. At most places, tanks are placed or filled on the boat and you analyze to confirm the mixture plus some places (but not all) still have you make entries in a master nitrox book.
Anthony's has a small room designated for this with plenty of tanks inside. But you analyze everything way ahead of the dive, usually the day before. Go to the room, grab the filled tanks you'll need for the next day, calibrate the analyzer to air, then hook up each tank in turn to analyze the mix and confirm the tank is full. (They were very good about consistently getting fills to 3000psi. I think the shortest fill we had may have been 2700. No biggee.) But then it got a little cumbersome.
Then you filled out the log with your name, date, tank serial number, O2 mix %, maximum-operating-depth (MOD), your locker number (different from your room number), your room number, and then signature. But after that, you then needed to label the tank. So you took a piece of masking tape and wrote your boat name, your locker number, MOD, and mix % on the tape and put it on the tank, then moved the tanks into a different corner to store until the dive. Your DM would then (the next time you were diving) come grab the tanks needed for the dive for each nitrox person and load them on the boat.
Like I said, seems a bit more cumbersome then it needs to be, especially given that the mix was almost always coming in around 30.5%. I think the lowest I ever saw it was 29.8% and the highest was maybe 30.9%. And given the reliability of their mix, the procedure simply seems like overkill. I'm sure this is the way they've done it forever and it's one of those things that no one thinks to look at again to see if the procedure still makes sense.
This also might be a good time to reiterate - and this applies to anywhere you dive, not just at Anthony's Key - the importance of having your computer set appropriately. Remember that the general rule of thumb is that you can have the computer set at a mix level LOWER than what you're actually diving - so it's OK to have it set on AIR (21%) rather than 32% if that's the mix level - but it's never OK to have the computer level set HIGHER than what you're actually diving. So if you have your computer set at 32% and your mix comes in at 30.5%, especially if you push the limits, you could be setting yourself up for a chamber ride.
I have long advocated that if you're going to dive nitrox and you want the benefit of the longer bottom times nitrox was designed to create, set your mix to 28%. This is far enough above 21% (air) to produce a significant increase in your available bottom time. It's also far enough below the intended mix (usually 32% at a resort or on a boat) that it builds in a little additional fudge/safety factor. In other words, your computer will think you're at an NDL slightly before the actual NDL of the mix.
The other advantage of diving this way is that you won't have to be resetting your computer for every new tank, again because it's OK to set your computer to a LOWER mix percentage than what the gas actually is. At Anthony's (and I've had this experience at other places as well), I never saw the mix go below 29-and-change so setting at 28% should work for your entire trip. As Ron Popeil would say, "Set it and forget it."
We did have some minor calamities befall us on the trip. Three of us had minor bouts of tourista that caused us to miss some dives. We had one flooded dive computer that we think was due to a screw on the battery door that didn't seat properly. Fortunately, we were able to clean it out, install a new battery, and it was good to go. We had one lost mask when someone was taking it off their head, it slipped out of their hands, bounced off the seat and over the side, and sank into the briny deep. (We were over the drop-off/wall so it's likely a couple of hundred feet deep.) And we had one flooded strobe that was due to a pinched o-ring which you could see peeking out from under the battery door post-flood. This one was due to poor technique of seating the door (Sea&Sea YS-D2) by holding down two of the three corners of the battery door, and then rotating the locking ring shut. But you're not putting even pressure all the way around that way, the door can tip at an angle, and that's what caused the o-ring to pinch and extrude. A better method is to push straight down on the center of the battery door and hold it, and then rotate the locking ring until you hear it click into place.
We also had some weather calamities in the form of rain, sometimes torrentially so. But it certainly wasn't as bad as in 2013, when it rained just about every day we were there and the viz back then down to about 40 feet was horrible.
Some of the worst weather - and definitely the worst for me personally - happened Sunday night. It had rained off and on all day and we had the presence of mind to take with us to dinner the very large umbrellas (bigger than golf umbrellas) than Anthony's has in each room. It was raining lightly as we walked to dinner and took the water taxi over and continued that way for a little while. But in about half an hour, the heavens opened up. I mean it POURED like it was coming out of a fire hose.
And that's when, in the middle of the main course, I suddenly realized that I had left a lot of my photo gear out on the deck, exposed to the elements. And I was very concerned that - even though the deck is large and I had everything pretty much in the center - if the rain was coming in at an angle or if the wind started blowing a bit, cameras and lenses were going to get wet and perhaps ruined. I decided I needed to scoot back to the room to secure everything. So I took the water taxi across and intended to head to our bungalow.
To give you an idea of what the rain and conditions were like, if you've seen the original "Jurassic Park," picture the scene where Wayne Knight has stolen the dinosaur embryos, sabotaged the computer system, and is trying to drive to the dock in a very heavy downpour that's washing out roads and messing up direction signs. That's what it was like when I got back on the Key. Only I wasn't worried about getting killed by a Dilophosaurus.
The biggest problem I had was, because I was hunched under an umbrella and looking mainly down to try to avoid all the little streams and puddles that were forming - my shoes and socks got soaked anyhow - I missed a turn and got hopelessly lost. I first ended up in the middle of the Key by the pool and then took another wrong turn and ended up near bungalow 53, on the opposite side of where our bungalow 25 was. Fortunately, a staffer saw me and took mercy on me. He guided me to the right place. And further fortune shined upon me as the rain was coming fairly straight down and while the photo gear got some mist on it, nothing was damaged and I was able to secure and button up everything. But it was a rather harrowing 15 minutes or so for me.
The weather also created water conditions Sunday-Tuesday that were less than ideal. There was a lot of particulate in the water and there was a lot of surge. Viz wasn't the greatest either, at maybe 40 feet or so. Things cleared up dramatically on Wednesday, and Thursday & Friday were generally pretty clean and lots of blue water with minimal particulate.
The diving itself ranged from so-so to fairly good, and we had a couple of outstanding animal encounters. But I'd say my overall impression was very healthy reefs and lots of sponges(especially large barrel sponges) but not a lot of fish. Certainly not the large schools or shoals you would hope to see in places like the Maldives or Palau. And even in those places, it's not like it used to be.
This lack-of-fishiness is not specific to Roatan. Anecdotally, it's happening worldwide. There simply seems to be less fish around because either we're eating them or collecting them or killing them off with polluted waters. It's a situation that's been documented scientifically and, for those of us who have been diving certain areas time and again over the years, it's something you notice with your eyes.
Despite that, we saw some really cool stuff. Probably our favorite were the two Eagle Rays who graced us with their presence on Thursday at a spot called - no kidding - Green Outhouse. They were cruising along the wall of the drop-off and were slightly ahead of me so I thought I couldn't catch up. But they went around a corner of the reef and I saw DM John go over the top so I thought I'd also zoom over to see what was what and was quite pleased to find that they'd slowed down. I was able to not only catch up with them but to get right over the top of them (I assume this was a male/female pair)and snap off some shots, which are displayed on my SmugMug page for this trip. Either I've gotten better at not spooking them or they were very calm because I was probably only five feet or so above them (at a depot of around 95 feet) and they didn't seem to mind.
On that same dive, we had a HUGE Barracuda with his mouth wide open getting cleaned, a couple of turtles, and then the Eagle Rays made a second pass through our group about five minutes later, and a large Black Grouper who "adopted" us and hung with the group for the last 10 minutes of the dive, swimming in and out of our formation as we meandered back to the boat.
We also really enjoyed the dive at Four Sponges - this was on Monday when conditions were still not great - because you drop down into an enormous field of Yellowhead Jawfish, bobbing up and down over their burrows. These guys/gals are looking to snatch a snack out of whatever floats by and may also be preening for a mate. Once they get comfortable with your presence, you can get pretty close. The Motherlode of Jawfish is finding a male who is brooding eggs in his mouth but we didn't get that lucky on this foray.
I was pleased to see a number of Nassau Groupers on various dives. Though previously plentiful in the Caribbean, it seems they went from being routinely sighted in the 80s to rarely sighted in the 2000s, so it was nice to see them on most of the dives here.
Likewise, there were juvy Princess Parrotfish in great numbers everywhere, Stoplight Parrotfish, Redband and Bucktooth Parrotfish, and even a number of Hogfish including Spanish Hogfish, as well as a lot of Creole Wrasses.
The small-to-medium sized fish seemed to be in decent numbers so we'd see lots of Gobies, Hamlets (mainly Indigo), Sharp-Nosed Puffers, a fair number of Queen Angeles (along with a few Gray and one French), Squirrelfish, Trunkfish, juvy Filefish, and lots of Arrow Crabs, Banded Coral Shrimp, Pederson's Shrimp, and Harlequin Shrimp. (You can see all of these in the Roatan slideshow on the SmugMug page.) We saw a lot of Green Morays as well, and big ones too.
On our night dives, we found a number of Octopuses, lot of lobsters (saw them during the day too), and I even spotted a Slipper Lobster on Tuesday night.
Maybe one of the best finds for me was when DM John was able to spot a Toadfish and lure him out of his lair. In Cozumel, you'd find the Splendid Toadfish which has gorgeous colors of yellow and blue. This guy could be called the Drab Toadfish because he's basically yellowish-brown and pretty ugly (and fierce-looking to boot) as it looks like someone stepped on him and squished him. But it was a way cool find and I think we eventually saw three of them at various times in the week, including on one of the night dives.
Probably the favorite dive for everyone was Mary's Place on Monday. This dive would normally be out of the range of the Anthony boats (it takes over an hour to get there) as it's on the south side of Roatan. But because on Mondays Anthony's schedules a special lunch of Maya Key, which they also own and which is also on the south side of Roatan, you can arrange to do Mary's, which is what we did.
It's basically a very large pinnacle that was split in three years ago by an earthquake. So there's a huge vertical crack that runs through it. You follow your guide in and through the crack and around and then through again. I can't tell you the exact path but there's plenty of life in the crack as well, with gorgonians and sea fans abounding, as well as some feathery black coral. There are also lots of fish that hang around including a school of Jacks during our visit. Not sure if they're resident at Mary's or were just visiting.
We also got a very pleasant surprise when we cruised up into the shallows around 40 feet deep and discovered a brown Longsnout Seahorse. John said he'd never spotted this one before and I seem to recall from five years ago, that John said there really weren't many seahorses left in Roatan. It's certainly not got the reputation of Bonaire for these little guys. So this was an unexpected treasure. There's a video of this dive (and the seahorse) on our YouTube page and the link is: https://youtu.be/Y6yx0mJNuqg.
Overall, we got in 19 dives during the course of the week. Other than Mary's, I can't say there was anything spectacular in terms of the sites, but they were pleasant. Certainly no one came up going, "THAT was a waste of time." But, especially from a photo standpoint, plan on medium-to-little stuff. Dramatic walls like you might see in Indonesia or huge schools of fish like you might find at Blue Corner in Palau are simply not what Roatan is all about.
But if you're looking for good diving, at a well-run operation, that gives you good value for the money, then Roatan and Anthony's Key Resort should certainly be on your list. We'll be going back and perhaps we'll even be able to take you along with us next time.