disappointing guided tour

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Posted by Derek Strong on August 21, 2005 at 13:10:09:

This review for Scuba San Diego (www.scubasandiego.com at (619) 260-1880 in La Jolla Cove which also can be found at www.sandiegokayakadventure.com) hopefully will help you avoid a very bad dive experience, save you some money, and help minimize your vacation disappointments.

My wife and I, who have six dives under our belt (plus certification dives) chose to go on the La Jolla Kelp Forest dive with Scuba San Diego after being informed by a staff member who we talked to on the phone that the guides are familiar with all levels of experience including those who have had no dives other than their certification dives. We still consider ourselves beginners (although fully trained) but with this information, we felt confident that the guide would be supportive and help us when we needed it: I can not stress how wrong that belief was and I can not stress how much I would recommend finding a company other than San Diego Scuba to guide you.

On 19 August 2005, we met up with our Scuba San Diego guide Stephan and one other diver who had only four dives under his belt. When she heard this, my wife mentioned to him that he had the beginners group today and he responded that he always does. This further bolstered our confidence that he’d be supportive and help us and ensure that our initial confidence remained high From the very first, however, Stephan was not a happy person: grumpy and condescending; I don’t know, may be we just didn’t get his humor or something but I the overall impression that I had was that he was not enthused about taking us out and that we were intruding on his morning.

We figured ‘what the heck’ though, as long as he’s a good guide who really cares about his above water personality. Trouble is, much of the communication was above water. Our instructions included the all important “If you get separated, check around for seven seconds and if you don’t see anyone, surface and we’ll meet up.”

Well, after getting into the surf, visibility was very low at 5-10 feet. That was a little disappointing, but when we asked the guide about this he said that maybe it would clear up and maybe it wouldn’t. Half the fun of diving though is just being underwater anyway so off we went. Following instructions again, we followed the guide and the other diver who buddied up with the guide. My wife was having difficulty handling the waves so we asked if we could submerge a bit early. We swam out a bit further and submerged to get under the surge.

I was fine with the low visibility but my wife was a bit nervous about not being able to see the guide very easily. For some reason on our way out, Stephan and the other dive person surfaced twice . . . we stayed down for the first one and surfaced on the second one because we were not certain about what was happening.

After going out a fair bit, I turned to check on my wife and turned back and both the guide and the person ahead of us were no longer in sight. A swell had kicked up the sand and they were gone in the couple of seconds it took to check on my buddy. We followed instructions, doing two stationary circles to try to locate the guide and after being unable to do so, we surfaced: as instructed. Around thirty seconds later the guide surfaced and the first words out of his mouth were, “All right guys, I really hate surfacing three times before we’re even out there, it’s unacceptable and it’s giving me a headache.” He even said that we were shortening the other diver’s time underwater. No “Are you all right?” No “What is wrong?” Just straight into criticizing us for following his instructions and blaming us for all three surfacings when this was the first that had been our responsibility.

Initially on the way up I felt bad that we had to surface because it was inconvenient for the other divers but after this exchange I was angry and had absolutely no faith in him. I told him we lost sight and surfaced as we were told and that this was the first time that he had surfaced because of us. I can tell you though, our confidence in him by this time was gone: his poor surface demeanor above surface was just as poor below the surface and that is a dangerous place to be with a guide whom you no longer trust.

We submerged again, but by this time my wife, who was concerned about the visibility and what would happen if we lost the guide again and had to surface to face another angry tirade, wanted to call the dive. I had no qualms about surfacing to get away from Stephan so we signaled to him that we were returning, he gave the okay and we went back.

Once on shore, I waited a further 20-30 minutes by the gear to make sure that it was not stolen. When the guide and other diver returned, Stephan would not even look at me, I had to initiate contact and ask it was okay to leave the gear there. His only other words were “Yep, you guys okay?” I said “Yes, we’re fine, and left.”

I called to voice my complaints and sent an e-mail detailing almost word for word what I have written above. When I did speak to Rod Watkins, who runs the company, he seemed overly focused on our concerns about the low visibility and kept stressing that visibility was beyond the ability of the Company to control. Obviously, I agree with that and explained that our concerns were with how his guide handled the low visibility situation. It seems to me that the guide in this situation should recognized that it might be necessary to surface if part of the party becomes separated and not become angry at them for following his own instructions.

We tried unsuccessfully to get a partial refund to compensate for the poor quality of guiding which directly led to our ending our dive early, but Scuba San Diego felt that it was not their responsibility. Rod insisted that Stephan had four positive letters in his file this year (2005) alone, to which I responded ‘that may well be the case and maybe he just had a bad day.’ Rod’s rejoinder that ‘Maybe he did’ didn’t really help me at all. We paid our money to receive quality guiding, irrespective of the visibility.

This gets to the heart of why I am writing my first negative review ever. I’ve had bad hotel stays, bad tours, and the like before, but never anything like this. Hopefully our experience will help you to make your own decisions. When I informed Rod that I would be writing negative reviews of the dive, he said something along the lines of ‘Well, I guess that is your right to attack the good name of my company.’ The thing is though, from our perspective, there was nothing good about his Company. This review was not written out of any sense of vengeance or pettiness; it was written because if I had read something along these lines before I booked with Scuba San Diego, I probably would have looked elsewhere.

Many other people have probably experienced great dives with this company, but, unfortunatley we did not.

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