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All about our PADI certification on board Harmony OTS


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I wanted to start this blog by sharing our Open Water Diver Certification process on board Harmony OTS, Nov 2019. Hopefully this will help answer any questions or concerns. This will be partly live since we are still on board; if you have any questions you want me to relay, let me know! (We disembark on Nov 16, 2019)

We signed up for the excursion about a week prior to the cruise. I asked a bunch of questions, and THAT same day the excursion team reached out to the dive team. All my questions were answered that same day (appreciated the quick responses!). They also included copies of our medical questionnaire (see pictures) and asked us to send them back. The same day I sent them back, they responded with my PADI redeem key so I could start my eLearning modules. I HIGHLY recommend getting them done early (obviously...) this was a last minute decision (largely thanks to @twangster and noting some advice he posted. I owe you a beer on our next cruise...provided I get certified... 😂😉)

Since it was a last minute decision, we spent most of the morning of our embarkation (both before and after we were on the ship) frantically trying to finish 😂😭 Ultimately it didn’t seem like a huge deal if we hadn’t, since all open water stuff was going to be done the following day. They didn’t seem too concerned that some of our modules appeared as not complete (even though they were), they just softly reminded us to finish them and encouraged us to get them done ASAP. There are NUMEROUS glitches with the PADI eLearning app (known as “PADI Library” in the Apple store). We found the iPad to be WAY easier to use vs. just an iPhone. Even with the large screen of the iPhone 11 Pro... it still was difficult to navigate, watch videos, take exams, etc. 

Once on board, we showed up before 3:pm to prove all our pre-cruise requirements were completed, our medical questionnaire, doctors note (if needed), and PADI folder were all filled out. I would HIGHLY suggest you review the medical requirements and get all issues signed off by your MD well in advance. We had to show back up at 6pm to fit our gear (and buy what we didn’t have). They (Francois and Kelly) seemed really friendly, and probably would have let us borrow equipment had we pressed the issue, but we wanted to just buy our own anyway. If you’re smarter than we are, I would suggest going to your local PADI (or dive) shop, try on products there, and buy them in advance. Ultimately the masks they offered ranged in price from $20-120 , but they had limited options for colors, styles, brands etc. This is like going into your local bowling alley and seeing all the pretty, fancy pro gear, and then going online and seeing about 8 million different options than what was offered. You may not only save some money, but also have something that fits better or you like more. 

That was it for day 1!!

They were supposed to have us do our confined water dives on Perfect Day, but the pool was down for maintenance apparently. This meant we got a free day in Cocoa Cay! BUT it meant we had to use the on board pool (and NOT the aqua pool like I’ve heard they used in the past) for our initial confined dives. This meant our first sea day was an almost all day practicum  day and only in 4.5 ft of water 😂

Day 2 (our 3rd cruise day and first sea day). We met at 6:30am at the dive shop. We grabbed our gear (prepared and fitted previously) then prepped it like they taught us, and went into the pool. There are 7 in our class and they said that is about typical for on board certification. People ranged from having previous dive experience to having none. Overall our class went until about 10:30am. At that time one of our classmates apparently gagged on something and threw up in the pool 😳😒 Whatever, lol 💩  happens. Rolling with the flow of the ocean is what cruising is all about. They did have to clean out the pool which meant lessons were over for the morning. This was kinda a hindrance since we need to come BACK this/that evening at 4:30pm for more training. 


As of writing this (I’m sitting in the hot tub in the solarium relaxing until evening class), things haven’t been too crazy difficult or hard. Super basic skills (removing mask and regulators, practicing emergency procedures etc) were all we completed. (But according to our instructors we are doing relatively well!)

I’ll keep you all updated with the thing that happen next and relay any lessons learned I thought might be useful!

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18 hours ago, teddy said:

Following with interest as I am doing the Open Water Course on our Adventure sailing in January.

Thank you for taking the time to share

 

I appreciate the effort here, but I would highly recommend not doing the course if you can avoid it.  My friend did it some years ago on vacation.  It dominates your vacation.  The OP talks about it above.  It was like he wasn't even with us.  He was in class, in the pool, and had to study at night.  If it's important to you and you have time do it at home before your vacation.

 

Just my opinion, but it should be a real concern.

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@RCVoyager

While I may have a difference of opinion when we are done, I would have to say it depends on the circumstances. We intentionally did it on this cruise because we were NOT cruising with friends/family. So generally speaking, I would agree with that sentiment; it would be hard to enjoy this experience AND try to enjoy the company of fellow cruisers. We have also had to curtail our drinking (which you may not believe if you read our live blog). 
 

It really depends on the individual person and your personal goals too. If your goal is to eat, drink, see all the shows, lounge by the pool or relax the whole cruise, this may not be the best fit. But if you pick this with intention, you may have an amazingly positive experience. If we could go back and rebook and plan this better, we probably would have NOT selected the UDP, the spa all week access, or The Key. (I’ll give a better review when we are done) Getting our certification has been a goal of ours for almost 9 years. To FINALLY be able to get it done, AND scuba in some amazing ports, AND have the security of a 5 Star PADI dive shop with amazing instructors, for one low price, it really is something that SHOULD be considered. You just must do your due diligence to ensure this experience fits the circumstances. 

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4 hours ago, S0nny said:

@RCVoyager

While I may have a difference of opinion when we are done, I would have to say it depends on the circumstances. We intentionally did it on this cruise because we were NOT cruising with friends/family. So generally speaking, I would agree with that sentiment; it would be hard to enjoy this experience AND try to enjoy the company of fellow cruisers. We have also had to curtail our drinking (which you may not believe if you read our live blog). 
 

It really depends on the individual person and your personal goals too. If your goal is to eat, drink, see all the shows, lounge by the pool or relax the whole cruise, this may not be the best fit. But if you pick this with intention, you may have an amazingly positive experience. If we could go back and rebook and plan this better, we probably would have NOT selected the UDP, the spa all week access, or The Key. (I’ll give a better review when we are done) Getting our certification has been a goal of ours for almost 9 years. To FINALLY be able to get it done, AND scuba in some amazing ports, AND have the security of a 5 Star PADI dive shop with amazing instructors, for one low price, it really is something that SHOULD be considered. You just must do your due diligence to ensure this experience fits the circumstances. 

I completely agree with your position on the subject.  If your group (you mention "we") is all doing it, and it was a goal of the trip, it seems to me you have hit on the one way that it is productive to do it.

 

My comment was based upon my experience where there was 4 of us (3 brothers and 1 best friend), and 1 did it.  It turned out to be a drag on the group.

 

Here is an example of how it would not work: for me to do it on a trip with my wife only or on a trip with my wife and children (21, 19, and 12).  By the second day of my trip, their trip would be ruined, and I would have to drop out of the course to save it.

 

I would want to save others from the same pitfall who don't think in advance just how involved the process is.

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3 hours ago, RCVoyager said:

would want to save others from the same pitfall who don't think in advance just how involved the process is.

So true 😌 I was going to add this as a final suggestion when I finished. (I wanted to make sure we completed the course and could take into account all of the processes before making any final recommendations. But you’re right, I wouldn’t want anyone to book mid-review based off the small experiences we’ve had! Thanks for looking out. 

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I appreciate all the info.  It's always good to hear people's experiences both positive and negative.

I am under no misconceptions of how much time and effort is involved, and neither is my wife. 🙂    I'd be concerned if the whole course was short and simple.

I have a childhood friend who is a rescue diver up here.  He has been a great source of info for me and has made sure I know what a commitment the process is.  He also goes to St Maarten a couple times a year to dive and is hoping I go with them in June to do some diving in areas he is familiar with.

Getting certified is a bucket list thing for me.  I missed a chance to get certified in 1991/1992 when I was in the service, and have regretted it for many, many years.

 

Our cruise is 8 nights...Labadee, San Juan, St Thomas, St Maarten.   I'll have time to relax.  🙂 

I will read any and all experiences that people want to share.

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11 hours ago, teddy said:

will read any and all experiences that people want to share.

That’s kinda what I figured. I did a search of PADI Certification on the message boards, and didn’t see much come up. I thought any info would be helpful for those trying to decide what’s best for them. 

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As I understand from reading the literature, all equipment is provided other than mask/snorkel?

Thanks 🙂 

Edit:  I just received access to the online course that needs to be completed before arriving at the ship as well as an email from Royal.  My question(s) has (have) been answered.

 

There are a lot of modules.  I'm very excited but also very glad I have two months till sailing.

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  • 1 month later...
  • 2 months later...
On 1/4/2020 at 4:32 PM, Christie said:

What happened next?? Don't leave me hanging!  Highly considering doing this for our upcoming Liberty cruise and was looking to see how much of our cruise it would take up.  

Oh goodness! I must have had some serious cruise brain, because for some reason I thought I completed this process 😆 I am so sorry fam... I have failed you all 😭

OK! Let's pick this back up.

Day 2: Nov 12 (Sea day and pool skills)

We went back to the ship's pool and completed that evening of dive skills! No more issues, no more vomit (for now... 😒🤢) and no more road blocks between us and the open ocean! The remainder of the skills check took about another 3 hours, which meant we had JUST ENOUGH time to catch our reservation at Coastal Kitchen for dinner. We finished out the dive portion by prepping our gear for an early morning dive in Costa Maya!

 

 

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Day 3: Nov 13 (Costa Maya Open Water Dive 1 & 2)

We were super lucky that this wasn't going to be an early morning deal! This was fortunate for us because we were dancing to the 50's theme party most of the night. Show time the next morning was 11:30 at the dive shop to pick up our gear. We picked up our gear and did a bag drag off the ship. No real logistic issues. Carrying the bag could be challenging if you would have difficulties carrying 20 lbs the length of the ship and into port. (I am by no means in perfect health and had no issues)

Once off the ship and in the port, we waited approximately 30 minutes to get sorted into our excursions. We were separated from the certified/experienced divers, but ended up heading to the same dive destination. After being herded onto a small bus (and some of us in taxis paid for by RCI), we were on our way to our dive site. The site was about 20-30 minutes from the port, but it wasn't anything remarkable. We were going to be taking a small dive boat out to the reef area and given two tanks to dive and practice our open water skills.

PRO TIP... if you get sea sick (or even think you might get sick) consult your doc about taking something prior to jumping on the boat. The water was SUPER choppy! I normally don't get motion sickness, but prepared anyway with some natural ginger pills. I'm glad I did!

Falling off the boat and into the water was pretty magical. We made our way to the descent line at the bow of the ship and followed it down. We descended with no issues (some had ear problems, but one of the dive instructors (Kelly) spent a GREAT DEAL of time working through her issues while the other (Francois) led us down to settle on the bottom). This was a perfect place to practice our first open water skills. There was plenty of sand clearings (so worrying about messing up some 10,000 year old coral wasn't an issue). With the basic skills checks completed, we were able to practice other skills (buoyancy control, and navigation) over the coral! We were about 40 ft deep and had a good amount of time in the water. 

We surfaced, and the water had grown MUCH choppier! On the down side, this meant 3 of the other students got really sick. On the plus side, we were no longer in the pool and had to have it cleaned out AND it chummed the fish!!! After resting and re-positioning most of us were ready to go down again. (one of the students was so sick, she refused to get back in the water in spite of the instructors telling her she would feel better if she did). 

Second tank on, we dived back down. This second site had MUCH more coral and far fewer sand barges. We again only dived to a depth of about 40 ft, and worked on some additional mask skills and buddy skills. We completed some more advanced skills (taking off the tank and BCD and putting it back on). But then we got about 30 minutes exploring the coral! When we were done, we practiced ascending with our buddies and navigating our way back to the ship. 
 

The trip back to port took about 30 minutes, and we didn’t spend much time there. We were rushing to get back on the ship to watch the Aqua Show and have a few drinks!

Overall Impression

- Costa Maya was an awesome place for our first open water dive.

- The sand barges gave us plenty of area to practice our skills, and the coral was beautiful. Not sure if the water is always that choppy, but take some anti-nausea medication and you should be fine. Visibility was amazing!

- The dive shop had merch (T-shirts and hats etc), a decent bathroom, and the staff were friendly. 

- We were sent out with the "experienced/certified" diver group... which actually was super annoying. They kept trying to grab our gear instead of theirs, and they were super disorganized and needy (ironically). I felt a little Sharks vs. the Jets kinda thing going on.  

- Don't wear sunscreen. They provided some at the shop which was safe for the coral!

- Collecting our gear and keeping it separated was annoying with the "experienced" group because they kept grabbing our stuff. The space to clean your gear and prep was small and cramped for the 20+ people that were all there. 
 

 

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Day 4: Nov 14 (Roatan Honduras / Open Water Dive 3 & 4)

We had to wake up earlier this morning than we did the previous day. Bag drag started at 06:30!! It was enough time to eat some breakfast and meet in time to grab our dive bag and head off the ship. Getting off the ship and into port, we were quickly met by a bus which took us and a new set of advanced divers to the reef. 

PRO TIP: For the early morning show times, have a continental breakfast delivered by room service! It was a quick (and free) way to get some food in without rushing! Plus, we were able to enjoy the view from our balcony. 

 We arrived at the dive resort (about 30 minutes away from the port) and quickly were able to split into groups and board different boats. This place was MUCH nicer than Costa Maya and you could tell the resort catered to divers! All the staff was super friendly and you could tell they wanted to operate safely. We didn't rent equipment from here, BUT, we did have an issue with one of our tanks! (it was a good thing we performed our pre-dive inspections) The staff was awesome and changed out the tank with no issues. One of the tanks had a damaged O ring and it was leaking O2 when connected. Nothing but amazing things to say about Anthony's Key Resort. We would LOVE to come back out here and dive. They also can certify you while staying there and offered multiple tiers of certification. 

THIS REEF WAS AMAZING!! The water and current were a little more difficult to manage than in Costa Maya. Once we descended, we practiced our skills, and practiced navigation. The visibility was outstanding! All we could see was the beautiful reef all around us! We got to see a turtle, TONS of reef fish, huge grouper, a lionfish, and a shipwreck! Demonstrating the dive skills at the surface were a pain while the water was so choppy... I was not a fan! It took about 5 minutes to get my fat butt out of my BCD and put it back on 😆😭.

Kelly and Francois were our PADI Dive instructors onboard Harmony of the Seas, and I cannot say enough positive things about them. They were just brilliant and catered to our needs the whole time we were training. At this location, they were keen at getting us through our training, and really trying to let us get as much dive time exploring. I would GLADLY have taken this certification with them any day of the week and twice on Sunday!

If you can dive in Roatan Honduras, DO IT! You won't regret it!

 

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OVERALL REVIEW

Alright cruise family. I wanted to write this post to give people the opportunity to decide IF getting their certification onboard a cruise was the right choice. Let me start with some pro's and cons.

PROS: 

- Some of the BEST DIVE LOCATIONS you could certify in! It's not everyday you get to dive in crystal clear water and see amazing coral life. To certify in those conditions with varied locations is not afforded to everyone. 

- You are certifying with experienced dive instructors who really know how to cater to their clientele while providing exceptional customer service. We heard horror stories from members in our class that went diving with a local company on Cozumel. (apparently the dive "master" grabbed her by the arm and tried dragging her under when she had difficulty clearing her ears. And then when she fought back, he just LEFT HER and her buddy!)

- You will NEVER certify with equipment of this caliber. Everything from the gorgeous blue tanks, to the BCD's, and depth gauges are an amazing quality given the amount you're paying.

- Speaking of money, the COST is really on par with what you would pay on land. For approximately the same price for certifying on land, you are getting quality instructors, quality equipment, and TOP NOTCH dive destinations.

- NO IN CLASS INSTRUCTION! I personally LIKED not having to be in class like I did when I certified for my Junior Open Water Certification. It was all online and at our own pace.

- Even if you don't complete your Open Water Diver, you can be signed off for the water depth you did complete, and may have a credit towards a future PADI course. We had a student that refused to dive after our first open water dive due to motion sickness. I asked  what would happen to money she paid, and they indicated that she could use it towards a future class. I think this would just cover the PADI expenses, but at least it is comforting knowing it's not a total loss. 

CONS:

- You're supposed to be on vacation! Our vacation time is sacred to us; spending any time not drinking, relaxing, or doing cruise activities is kinda a drag. And you're not supposed to drink prior to diving... so that leaves little time to enjoy the libations. 

- Cruising with a group would RUIN your experience. If you were part of a larger group that DIDN'T want to certify, it would be very difficult to coordinate dinners and excursions around the certification and training. We were lucky it was just the two of us, but we would have been miserable doing the training if our friends were on the ship too and living their best life. 

- Not all equipment can be rented. You still have to buy a mask/snorkel and fins; they "can't" be rented. (I think your millage may vary depending on our instructors... ours were accommodating, but we wanted our own anyway).  

- Taking the course with a group of people is a gamble. Our group wasn't terrible. But, there were members that were constantly sea sick and that brought its own challenges. 

- This is not something you can add at the last moment. You have to have paperwork signed by an MD if you have any health conditions. Not everyone has a primary care provider, so not every MD would be willing to sign you off without knowing you and your medical history. You also have to complete the online training modules (which take almost 2 days if you're really going through them thoroughly... and probably longer if you are doing a few courses after work or school or dealing with kids). 

My take:

Don't book this if you are going on a cruise with a group, plan on buying a dining or drinking package, or have a splurged on room accommodations. I also wouldn't do this again on a longer cruise. Financially, we splurged for everything: room, dining, drinking... the works. That means we paid for days of dining and drinking we weren't really able to use with our constantly changing dive schedule. I would have much rather booked a 4 night cruise from a local port, and dedicate it to JUST the diving certification. When all was said and done, I don't regret doing it this way! I would get certified on a cruise ship again, but would take into consideration the comments above. 

Let me know what questions you have! I will try not to take 4 months to respond

 😜

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14 hours ago, RCVoyager said:

It really is good to be certified.  Do it at home before your trip if you can.  As Sonny mentioned, vacation time is sacred.

Unless you live in a land locked state.  I re-certified in Colorado and it was a terrible experience.  Most PADI classroom is done on a tablet at home now.  Losing some pool time on sea days would have been so much better than my land experience.  Plus your open water certification dives in the Caribbean are like getting a mini-free dive excursions.  

I'd much rather take a cruise and make it all about PADI certification with a dive excursion tacked on the end for a first real open water dive.  That way the purpose of the trip is to become certified.  

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8 hours ago, twangster said:

Unless you live in a land locked state.  I re-certified in Colorado and it was a terrible experience.  Most PADI classroom is done on a tablet at home now.  Losing some pool time on sea days would have been so much better than my land experience.  Plus your open water certification dives in the Caribbean are like getting a mini-free dive excursions.  

I'd much rather take a cruise and make it all about PADI certification with a dive excursion tacked on the end for a first real open water dive.  That way the purpose of the trip is to become certified.  

My classroom and pool work was at the local YMCA which was new at the time and very nice.  My open water dives were at a nasty gravel pit in Muncie, IN.  While I think it best to do the certification at home, 20 years later I think I'd take a pass on that gravel pit.

I guess piggy backing on your idea Twangster, get everything done at home except the two open water dives.  You could do those in the Caribbean.

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  • 8 months later...

Thank you for writing about your experiences. I had planned to do my PADI certification on a transAtlantic cruise this fall, that didn't happen... I have been thinking if I should plan to get the certification during a western Caribbean cruise to these porta, the dive sites sound nice.

But I probably won’t, since we are travelling with another family, have the drink package and suites etc, and I am our translator (we aren’t native English speakers), since it sounds as if me doing PADI will men the others are doing a “traditional vacation” while I’ll be off doing other stuff. And with the others not wanting/daring to do excursions without me... not fair on them. 
 

I guess the best plan will be for me to di PADI on a solo cruise, no stress or guilt...

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