Cozumel – Dressel Divers – Iberostar Resort
27 March 2017 - 01 April 2017
I wanted to take a few minutes and write a trip report of my recent trip to Cozumel. I’ve gleaned a lot of information from the forum over the years, and wanted to give a little back.
I consider myself an avid scuba diver, but not a “hard core” scuba diver. I have four hobbies, scuba being one of them. Living in central Indiana, my only ‘easy’ local option for diving is in the local quarries. I may make two trips to the quarries during the year, and I try to make one trip a year to somewhere with warm water. Quarries are cold, dark, and boring. But they are wet. Being in warm Caribbean water on a reef or wreck dive is very relaxing and enjoyable.
I have about 175 dives logged all around the Caribbean (Cancun, Belize, Dominican Republic, Bonaire, Turks and Caicos, Bahamas, Tampa, Grand Cayman, Fort Lauderdale, Key West, Key Largo – and now Cozumel) as well as Hawaii and La Jolla. I consider myself a “good” diver. I am very relaxed and comfortable in the water. With a pool in my back yard, I practice safety skills, buoyancy, trim, and other scuba skills all summer. I watch and attempt to mimic the good skills that I see in professional dive masters. I’ve got an Open Water certification, of course, as well as Advanced and Nitrox certifications. I don’t see the need for much more. My air consumption is good - I’m typically not the first guy to run out of air – and I can make the typical 60 minute boat dive with about 700 PSI remaining in my tank.
My wife doesn’t dive. But like just about every other woman, she enjoys sitting on a sandy beach reading a book, under a palm tree with a cold drink. She will occasionally snorkel with me. She was a swimmer all through her school years, and is a very strong swimmer, but has no interest in scuba.
“Let’s go on a “short” spring break trip so I can get some sun, and you can scuba”, she says.
“Ok – great – I hear the diving in Cozumel is good, and I’ve never been there”
“OK – as long as I get to sit on a sandy beach, 4-star resort, all inclusive, with a swim up bar, you can dive as much as you want….” , she says.
So, I did a bit of research on the forum, more research on Trip Advisor, and some other random internet searching and ended up selecting IBEROSTAR resort in Cozumel. The IBERSTAR resort met all of my wife’s stipulations, and it has a DRESSEL DIVERS on site. Dressel Divers was highly recommended on the forum.
THE RESORT – IBEROSTAR COZUMEL
My wife and I had good impressions of the resort. It was relatively quiet, not many small kids, and I would guess about 30% of the customers were divers.
This wasn’t a typical hotel –a huge rectangle building situated next to a pool/beach. Instead, the resort gave me the feel of a “village” that consisted of about forty quaintly shaped ‘huts’ that each had eight rooms. Some of the ‘huts’ had fewer rooms, but most were eight. There are dozens of winding paths through the resort area. Our room was not on a main path. Finding our building was a bit tedious at times, as there were no direct routes.
Based upon comments I had seen in the forum, I asked for a room with an “8000” series room number. That proved to be a good idea, in my opinion. We ended up with room in the 8800 building, on the second floor. We were located a hundred steps from the pool area, and then a hundred more steps to the dive shop. Perfect. I like being on the second floor of our ‘hut’. I think the second floor affords a bit more privacy, and I don’t mind walking the steps. I would highly recommend to anyone wishing to stay at this resort to ask for a room in the 8000 series room numbers.
The room was ‘normal’ size, with a king bed, small closet, safe, stocked mini fridge, TV, etc. The bath had a walk in shower, stool, and one sink. Just as I expected, nothing more. My wife was OK with the accommodation – which is all that matters to me. As long as the plumbing works and there is a bed to sleep in, some sort of air conditioning so that I’m not sleeping covered in sweat, I’m fine.
The room has 115 volt, 60 hertz power just like here in the USA. But, I would recommend taking a $4 power strip from Menards if you want to plug in more than one or two things. There were only two plugs immediately available in the sleeping area, and two plugs in the bathroom. If you want to plug in a cell phone, and ipad, and a couple of camera battery chargers – you’ll need to plan ahead.
One ‘interesting’ item to note – everywhere on the Cozumel Island, every toilet (that I used) had signs to NOT dispose of any paper products into the toilet. Yep. The resort, toilets in the local restaurants, etc. It’s the first time I had ever seen something like this. I guess the Cozumel waste processing plant can’t handle the paper products in the sewage lines. So, yeah, every ‘major transaction’ had me disposing of paper in the trash can. That was a little weird at first. Luckily, there was little if any lingering smell, and the maids emptied the trash can every day. Didn’t seem very sanitary though.
Breakfast was in a dining hall near the entrance and registration lobby. There was a huge place to eat lunch near the pool. There was also a Mexican restaurant and an Asian restaurant. The lunch place turned into a steakhouse at night. You had to make reservations ahead of time to eat at the Mexican, Asian, or Steakhouse. Since we were staying five nights, we were allowed to make two or three reservations. The dining hall near the lobby had food for the nights you didn’t have reservations. I thought that was a little bit weird – having to make reservations for all of the restaurants, but I didn’t really care. I wasn’t there to eat. I was there to dive. Oh, there was also a ‘beach’ food tent where they were grilling food. The all-inclusive was ‘wasted’ on me, and my wife. We don’t drink a lot of alcohol. She might have had three beers each day. I may have had two beers all week. I drank a lot of Sprite and coke. More than I do at home. Likewise, we don’t ‘pig out’ at the food. I’d eat a plate of food, maybe go back for a salad or a small bowl of ice cream, and I’m done. But, the obvious convenience of all-inclusive is nice.
How was the food? It was exactly what I expected…..resort food. It wasn’t bland, it wasn’t spicey. It was OK to eat. I didn’t have anything I thought was exceptionally good or bad. Understand that I’m a ‘boring’ person when it comes to food. I don’t need or want fancy. I just want something in my belly. The wide selection of food was impressive.
The pool was huge, and divided up into three pool areas if I remember. I never got into the pool.
There was a Spa, exercise room, and a theatre area, and some other buildings in the resort as well. Every night there were performers who put on some sort of show at about 9pm. It was typical resort shows….. a little better than your average high school show, but not much. But, it was something to do, while winding down the day with a cold drink. The entertainers also spent the day on the beach and at the pool getting guests to participate in all sorts of activities. There was ping pong, archery, (air?) rifle shooting, horse shoes, throwing a football through a ring, and all sorts of silly games to keep kids and drunk guests busy and entertained. I participated in none of it.
No mosquitos. Nope. Not a one.
The beach area was full of lounge chairs, palm trees, and tables for your drinks. No complaints. The chairs did fill up, but there seemed to always be a chair available, and there was always an area of shade or sun to position the chair, as desired.
The beach is rough sand, and you can’t walk directly into the water from the beach into the water. There is hard coral-rock located all along the beach at the water’s edge. To get into the water, you need to walk out onto a pier and then enter the water using stairs from the pier. The water is waist deep. In the immediate the area around the pier stairs, you can stand around, splash and play. But, thirty feet out, it’s rocky, coral, and generally not good for your feet. In other words, this is not a nice sandy beach area like you would find in Daytona or Clearwater Florida. The water/beach area is nice for snorkeling and actual swimming. I spent more than an hour snorkeling in the beach area one day. I came across small sting rays, dozens of conch, small crabs, and lots of small fish hanging out around the rocky outcroppings. The farther away from the pier you get, the better the sea life gets. There are large schools of fish hanging out around the pier. They get protection from the pier, and people are tossing in an occasional piece of bread for them to eat.
My wife and I spent several hours walking north along the beach, and south. We walked maybe a mile in each direction, taking our time and enjoying the scenery. There is a beach bar (Alberto’s) located three minutes from the resort, north on the beach. We didn’t eat there, but I’m told it’s good. There are three Alberto’s locations on the island, so it can’t be too bad.
The resort staff – EXCELLENT.
Everyone on the staff was very happy and eager to cater to your every need or request. Some of the guests were tipping a $1 for a drink brought to them, most were not. I never once asked for a drink to be brought to me. It was far too easy to stop at a bar and just get whatever I wanted on the spot. Why wait for 10 minutes for somebody to bring it to me.
Would I stay at the resort again? Yes. It was nice.
Was it worth the price? Yes – But…. but only because Dressel Divers is located on site, and the resort had all of the requirements that my wife wanted. Otherwise, I think it was more than I would paid if I were traveling with my dive buddies. Mostly because I don’t take advantage of the majority of the “all inclusive” benefits. I would rather have a modified all-inclusive package that included only soft drinks, no alcohol, and one meal a day. I would be fine with a package like that. Everything else I could charge to my room if I wanted it.
GETTING AROUND TOWN
Here are my recommendations for getting around town: Whenever possible, take a taxi, and pay with pesos. It’s easier and cheaper than using United States cash.
1. Airport to Iberostar Resort: You will need to exit the airport and talk with one of the van drivers immediately outside the airport door. Don’t talk to any of the folks inside the airport – you may get scammed. Go out to the vans and tell the driver you want to go directly to Iberostar. It should cost $12 per person, or about 150 pesos per person. You can’t take a taxi directly from the airport to the resort unless you physically walk out of the airport, and then another hundred yards out to the main road to catch a taxi. If you do this, the taxi ride will cost exactly 400 pesos or about $21. The driver will load you and likely a few other people in his van. You’ll be the last to be dropped off, as Iberostar is the farthest resort south on the island. It’s about 25 or 30 minute drive.
2. Iberostar Resort to the Pier to Play De Carmen: Take a taxi from the resort. This will cost you exactly 270 pesos. This is about a 20 minute drive.
3. Iberostar Resort to the Airport: Take a taxi from the resort to the airport, it will cost exactly 400 pesos. Again, this is a 25-30 minute drive.
There are no meters in the taxi cabs. So, ask the hotel front desk how much it will cost to go from one location to another. Plan your route ahead of time, as the front desk for the prices, and take a piece of paper and write down the amounts. Only pay the cab driver this amount (or more if you wish). All is good. The cab drivers are happy with the “quoted amounts” from the hotel front desk.
Places to eat in town:
The Mission – Mexican food, authentic, very friendly staff, good food, I would eat here again. Located near the Ferry Pier to Playa de Carmen, a street or two south of the pier, and about one street east of the main drag.
The Choclotaria Isla Bella – as mentioned by others in this forum, outstandingly good chocolate. Well worth the five minute walk and hunting around to find the shop. It’s on the west side of the street. Located about one block north and one block east of the Ferry Pier to Playa De Carmen.
THE DIVING – DRESSEL DIVERS
Dressel Divers is located on site at Iberostar. The shop gets all sorts of good reviews, and they are well deserved.
Once I had flights and Iberostar resort reserved (I ended up booking everything through Expedia – a first for me – and I saved a few, but not a lot, of dollars verses booking individually) I began to peruse the Dressel Divers Cozumel website in detail.
I traded several emails with the Dressel online staff (who are located in the country of Spain, interestingly) to discuss the pros and cons of the various package deals they offer. I’ll give them a lot of credit on this…. I bet we traded at least six emails before I bought my dive package. I eventually booked the six 2-tank dive package, giving me a total of 12 individual dives. I planned to dive four dives per day, on Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday. I considered adding a night dive for Wednesday night, but my wife wanted to go into town and explore.
Paying ahead of time online, I saved 20%, for a total of $416 for 12 dives…. About $35 per dive. That included 32% NITROX, the hyperbaric chamber taxes and marine park taxes. That’s a very decent price in my book.
We arrived at the resort around 2pm on Monday. After getting checked in at the front desk, and getting a bite to eat near the pool I wandered over to the dive shop to let them know I would be diving the next three days, get checked in, etc. We couldn’t get into our room until about 3:30pm anyway.
I was quickly and warmly greeted by Baptiste (pronounced BAP-TEEEST) at the Dressel Divers desk. The shop area was relatively devoid of customers at this time of day. Within just a few minutes he had found my pre-paid information, we had all of the paperwork filled out, and he told me to show up the next morning at 0815am.
Tuesday, 0805am, I showed up. There were about forty divers in the area of the shop. Most folks already had their wetsuits on…. And I knew the boat rides were short due to listening to divers that previous night at dinner. So, I took a few minutes to get my wetsuit put on up to my waiste. Eventually, I noticed the dry-erase board and determined I was diving with a dive master named “Yli” with a group of about seven others. The area was a bustle of people – seemingly a lot of chaos – names being called – hands being shaken – good natured laughing. I waited until about 8:20, and then made my way up to the desk to ask…, “uh…. What is the procedure here? Is there a role call, or how does this work? Should I be on a boat?”
“Oh – you’re supposed to be on Aqua 2 boat. Grab your gear and head down the pier to your boat! They’re waiting on you”.
“OK – but nobody called my name or anything….”
“yeah – Get out to the boat!”
After that first dive, I figured out the system on the dry-erase board. The boat names were abbreviated in the corner, the divers names were listed under the dive master. Some of the dive masters would actively seek out all of the people in their group in the waiting area around the shop. Other dive masters did not. That explains why I never heard my name. My dive master that day wasn’t calling out names – she just assumed that everyone knew what was going on. After my initiation, I just looked at the board, figured out which boat I was on and who my dive master was. Then, when I saw the boat at the dock I headed to the boat to get aboard. Their systems works differently than any other place I’ve dived with. It appears to be a bit chaotic, but once you know the system, it actually works pretty well considering they were easily shuffling 60 to 80 divers each cycle.
I know there were at least four boats going out, full of divers, every launch cycle. One day, I think there were five boats, but one was carrying snorkelers… I think.
Once on the boat, I was told to grab a set of nitrox tanks on the aft end of the boat. No problem. It was easy to see they had grouped the divers together by skill level. Everyone in the back was on nitrox, and obviously had a few dives in the log book. One of the ladies sitting across from me, I had met the night before at the dining hall. I knew she had a few hundred dives. The front of the boat was outfitting with normal air tanks, not Nitrox, and the gleam of shiny new dive gear and/or the total outfitting in rental gear made it apparent these were lesser experienced divers or new divers. No worries – we were all new divers at one time or another. I was glad to see the Dressel had broken the groups out by experience level.
Even with about 14 divers on the boat, it didn’t feel like a cattle boat. Ours was a group of eight. A little big, I prefer four to six, but I’m not complaining… as long as I’m wet in warm sea water, I’m happy.
The dive master, Yli, gave us a quick brief. With boat rides that I new would be short, less than 10 minutes normally, there is little time to dilly-dally. Remember that I had gotten onto this first boat a few minutes behind the rest of the group – not knowing the procedure. So, I was a little bit behind the curve in getting my gear setup. But I was able to listen to Yli give her brief while I got weights (from the awesome boat crew), and got my equipment all setup.
A little side note about the Nitrox on the boat. I was able to get a hold of the analyzer on the boat and check my tanks. Both were pretty close to 32% Nitrox. On some dives they measured 34%, but the average was a solid 33%. On some dives, the crew and dive master were adamant that everyone fill out a clip board with tank serial numbers and percentages, and sign my name. On other dives, I never saw or filled out the clip board. I wondered about the calibration status of the analyzer (because I’m an engineer nerd) and how well the calibration would hold up under the use/abuse it gets on the boat. What did they do with that paperwork? They obviously weren’t religious about making us fill it out for every dive cycle. Why do it at all?
First Dive in Cozumel….
About a ten minute boat ride, and we’re at the dive site and ready to splash. I’m the 5th person in the water. Ok, let’s drop down. We plunge into a sand trench between two ABSOLUTLEY HUGE chunks of coral wall. Very cool. This topography is a lot different than most places I’ve been. Yeah, there are canyon walls in Belize, but this is different. Welcome to the Palancar! The best way I can describe it, imagine yourself on the main street of a large city. The street itself is the sandy floor, and the buildings on both sides of the street are huge reef areas that just keep going for ever.
We tuck in close behind the reef area to avoid being blown around by the current. Exploring the upper and mid wall, looking for all sorts of small stuff. Then, the dive master motions that were are going into the swim thru (she talked about this during the brief). I was expecting a six foot long tunnel. Nope! I follow her into a tunnel that is about 8 feet in diameter. We turn, twist, turn some more, up and down a bit, and after a solid six or eight minutes finally emerge from the swim thru. AWESOME. These reef heads are like swiss cheese – filled full of tunnels and openings large enough to invite you in for a long stay. All sorts of light coming in from the top and sides. Lots of exit points, and no risk of getting trapped or wedged into something dangerous. I remember a swim thru in Belize many years ago. It was tight and dark. These are large, open, filled with light and lots of critters. Very cool indeed.
We emerge from a tunnel, and enter another. Slowly working our way up the water column from about 60 feet to about 50 feet. Then, pop out of the tunnel and make our way over to and behind another huge coral head. For those of you who haven’t seen it, these coral heads are about the size of 6 two-story houses all bunched together. Yeah, imagine 6 two-story houses sitting on the ground, and then take your hands and push them all together. That’s a good representation of how big these coral features are.
So, we allow the current to blow us from one coral head to the next. These coral heads also remind me of giant rocks in a river, with a river bank off to the edge. We explore the next coral head and then tuck in behind it to get out of the current… and find a six foot long nurse shark hiding under a large overhang.
There are overhangs, more tunnels, small caverns, all sorts of cool places to explore. What’s that up ahead? There’s a Hawksbill turtle munching on something. He’s about three foot long. I swim right up to him with the GoPro. Wait… look over there, a lone eagle ray off about forty feet to the left, just slowly gliding by.
I’m keeping an eye on Yli. She has yellow fins and two safety sausages on her left side. There are at least two other groups of divers in the water with us. I’m careful to stay with my group (by keeping tabs on Yli) and not getting accidentally mixed up with another group. Our group members are fanned out over an area with a diameter of maybe 150 feet and can see them all clearly. Remember that group of newer divers on the boat. They pass around, over, and thru our group…. And move along forward of ours. Our group is nice a slow, exploring, not just flying over things.
We eventually move up to about 40 feet, and into the 35 foot range to extend our bottom time. The current is a little strong here on top of the reef heads, but we’re looking for smalls under the crevices and in holes. Occasionally there is a little ridge or cut-out that I can drop into to avoid some of the current. Otherwise, the current is blowing me along at a walking pace. I have to forcibly swim into the current to hold position and investigate small items. It would be nice if there was a hand-hold every once in a while to hang onto….so I could explore without having to swim into the current.
We hit about 54 minutes of bottom time and I notice two of the divers higher in the water, maybe around 20 feet. I’m still on the coral head at about 35 feet with 950psi. Ahh…they must be getting close to 700 PSI. Sure enough, about a minute later, Yli launches her safety sausage and hands it to one of the two divers. The rest of the group and I poke around until we hit 60 minutes. By this time I’m at about 700psi. We all head up and do a 3 minute stop with the current pushing us along at a nice clip. The 3 minute stop becomes a solid 5 minute stop and we all surface together.
Within a minute, there’s the boat. Yep, that’s our boat. We all climb aboard. The other divers at the front of the boat are already on board. I move my gear to the second tank during the boat ride back to the dock.
We get back to the dock for a ten minute turn around. The boat crew is pulling tanks and adding tanks, while I walk up to the bar and get a coke and talk to my wife for a minute. Then back to the boat.
I’m with the same group of people again, and we do a second dive. This second dive is a little more shallow, and a little flatter terrain, but just as nice. I see a lobster…but OMG, he’s gotta be at least four feet long from head to tail, and then another 12 inches long with those spiney things jutting out from his head. That is one friggin large lobstah! There’s a crab about the size of a bowling ball with huge claws. I see some of the largest File Fish I’ve ever seen. Schools of trunk fish. Schools! I’ve never seen them in a school before. This is definitely different than other places in the Caribbean. Similar, but different.
Not as much coral to hide behind on this second dive, and I do lot more swimming against the current than I wanted. Around 55 minutes, I hit 700 PSI and signal to Yli. She gives me her first safety sausage and I start up for a three minute stop. The two other guys join me. We finish the stop and surface together. There are boats EVERYWHERE. We are very careful when surfacing… because we can see boat hulls and props everywhere. We’re on the surface for about two minutes when a boat approaches. Yep, it’s our boat. How in the heck did he find us so easily? There are more than two dozen boats running around, hundreds of divers in the water. We all look the same… black wetsuits and masks. These boat crews are awesome! They pluck the three of us out of the water and then motor over to pick up the rest of the group that is just starting to surface about 200 yards away.
With everyone back on the boat, we had back to the pier and pull our gear off and bag it. Back to the dock, I get off, and head to the beach to find my wife and get some lunch. The water was a bit cold on those first two dives, and I’m a bit cold, I’ll admit. Colder than I want to be. I eat a light lunch – we’ve got an hour before the first afternoon dive. I eat lightly, get another coke or sprite, and then sit in the sun to warm up.
Back to the boat – I know which boat now, because I understand the dry erase board – for the afternoon dives. The afternoon dives are much the same. Palancar reef, swim thru tunnels, hiding from the current, or using the current when I wanted to. I’m having a great time. I was cold again after two afternoon dives. The water was about 75 degrees according to my computer.
The dives on Wednesday and Thursday were much the same as Tuesday. Palancar Reefs for the first dives, and then typically something a little more flat and shallow for the second dive. I dove with the same group all week, and really enjoyed it. I didn’t know any of them, but by the middle of the second day we were all talking and laughing and having a good time. I got to know the ‘diving style’ of several of the divers. There was a husband and wife who were all about taking hundreds of photos. I was shooting some GoPro video, but maybe only about 8 minutes per dive. There was another couple that also had a camera between them. Then there were the other four or five of us that stayed together, but were sort of doing our own thing, looking under ledges and into crevices. Our group was great, because we all subscribed to diving “slow” and enjoying the scenery, looking for the ‘smalls’. It was comical to see three other groups of divers pass by-thru-around ours during a dive.
Our group dove with dive masters: Yli, Rodrigo, Aaron, Edgar, and Jose at one time or another. Aaron commented that he thought we were a group that had dove together very often because we stayed together well and had similar dive styles. Nope – we all just met a day or so ago. We just blended very well – and I credit that to the Dressel ladies in the office that plan out the groups.
As I was cold toward the end of the dives on Tuesday, I brought and wore my “Shrek” hood on all subsequent dives. It is bright green, like Shrek, and made me very visible (along with my yellow fins). Everyone got a laugh out of the hood. Best of all, it kept me warm. From then on, I was fine in my 3mil full wetsuit. Here’s a link to the hood, scroll down the screen: http://www.terrapinwetsuits.com/shop/mini-hoods.html I see they now have “minion” hoods. That would be cool! Do I really need two hoods?
Summary of Dressel Divers:
1. Fantastic Dive Masters, all of them!
2. Once I understood their dry-erase board system, it was great.
3. Great customer service, online, booking the dives ahead of time and saving 20%
4. Fantastic boat crews, all of them! How they can find and pick up the divers so efficiently is so very impressive.
5. Fantastic folks in the Dressel Dive shop office!
6. Free nitrox
7. Great prices
8. The dive shop located closest to all of the Palancar dive sites, so boat rides were three to ten minutes long. If you dive with a shop farther north on the island, boat rides could be 20 to 30 minutes long.
9. Although I didn’t partake this time, they offer three night dives per week. Awesome!
1. Uhhh….. I’m having a difficult time thinking of anything to improve. Oh! They only had t-shirts and hats for sale. I collect decals and patches of dive operations. They had none.
2. My only comment is that I wish that they had explained their dry-erase board system to me when I first registered. It was no big deal, but it would have saved me ten minutes of ‘uncertainty’ on that first day where I almost missed my boat.
3. This is really nit-picky, but it would have been nice to have been able to stay on the same boat all day… so I didn’t have to take my gear off the boat between the morning and afternoon dives.
4. There is one wreck dive on Cozumel. I don’t see this wreck dive site in their normal boat schedule. It would likely be a 25 minute boat ride each way. It would have been nice to visit the wreck one time, however.
There are dozens of dive operators on Cozumel. Many of them get great ratings. All I can tell you is that I was absolutely 100% impressed with Dressel Divers and would dive with them again…. No question.
It will take me a while to find time to do some editing and such, but as I do, I’ll be posting some youtube links with short videos in this thread. When you see the guy in the green Shrek hood. That’s me!