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First a few little warnings -this has grown into a big production - SORRY. Those of you who are constrained by school holidays may find it a tad annoying to find how the other half live.  Some of you may wish to shew your wife and/or loved one this article as a way of holidaying whilst keeping every one very happy.

Since the dragonets at home grew too big to want to go on holiday with their parents, Frances - my first wife - and I have had two holidays per year.  Typically we select dates, which are clear of school and US holidays, book the approx time of work and about 6 or 8 weeks before, start to look at offers, Teletext and T'internet to see what deals are available.

In this case, Frances found on Teletext, a Kuoni deal - 13 nights in Beaches Sandy Bay Hotel in Negril Jamaica.  This was rather more expensive than we have paid in the past - but there again, a much higher standard of hotel and flight.  For £1059 each it included scheduled Air Jamaica flights from Manchester, Beaches ultra all-inclusive - all you can eat, drink ( including champagne, premium brand drinks )  all entertainment and water sports - including scuba diving - even for uncertified divers.  

I made a point of insisting on the booking form that the "any special requirements" question had "Scuba diving a major reason for selecting this holiday" completed.  I also trawled the web and printed off the dive information and schedule for the Beaches hotels and local dive site descriptions.  As events turned out, these steps were most useful and I would suggest you do the same whenever possible.

When I contacted Air Jamaica to check baggage allowance - we were allowed ( even in the cheap seats ) two bags each - up to a size limit but unlimited weight, ON TOP OF WHICH, full sets of scuba gear - including tanks if required.  WHAT AN ALLOWANCE  !!!.  In fact, we only took my scuba gear ( less weights, tank , suit ) and Frances' snorkel gear but could have taken shit-loads more.

A couple of weeks before the departure, we got a letter form Kuoni saying our booked hotel was closed for refurbishment and so we could be accommodated at the nearby Beaches Negril hotel - which was even higher standard  - at no extra cost - and was one we would have been diving from anyway.  Of course this was not refused.

I know you will be bored by now, but the flight out was excellent - the Airbus had seats 2/4/2 across rather than the usual 3/4/3, so we had more room and enough legroom to allow foot rests.  The flites included free drinks, earphones, decent meals and fashion show by the hostesses and exercise sesions.  The plane was half empty - most of the middle seats ended up with one person lying across the four and sleeping.

When we arrived in Montego Bay airport in Jamaica, the Kuoni reps in Arrivals weren’t expecting us, but they put us in a coach for the hotel - who again weren’t expecting us but let us in anyway.  In fact it took us a few days before we managed to convince Kuoni's staff in Jamaica we existed - but this wasn’t an issue and didn’t affect the holiday.

As for the hotel - I couldn’t praise it too highly, luxury buffet meals as well as a-la-carte restaurants ( all-included ) as much premium drink and cocktails as you wanted, good standard of entertainment, white sands, blue seas - paradise.  Just to emphasise this, imagine crispy bacon, smoked salmon, bagels and tropical fruit for breckie, pigging out on seafood or steak ( no bread, or spuds or veg ) for other meals. Yet lots of other stuff for those who wanted stodge or sweets.  The staff in the hotel was wonderful - so genuine and friendly despite Beaches' no-tipping rule.

When it came to check-out day, Air Jamaica set up a check-in desk at the hotel, we gave them our luggage in the morning and received our boarding cards there and then, but we held back one bag each and kept our room till we left the hotel at 4.30, when we went to the airport and straight through security into Departures - only seeing our luggage back in the UK.

So, what about the diving you must be wondering by now ?  Well you may appreciate, our holidays always include diving, Frances will do a few to humour me but all-inclusive hotels usually give her the chance to do her own thing if she doesn’t want to go diving as often as I may.  I fact, she can join in, with no embarrassment to other groups without feeling like intruding.

We went to the dive centre on the first day and were impressed - they were highly safety conscious and insist certified divers to do a pool check-out dive and shallow dive before they are allowed on the "deep" dives.  In our case, they made an exception ( me being an instructor and having dived in the last week ) and allowed me to book onto the deep dive the following day and Frances and I on the "shallow" dive which followed.  It transpired, that because it was low season they were only doing two dives per day - deep at 9.00 and shallow at 11.00.

( This is a major advantage of this type of holiday if you take non divers along - you can do two ( local ) dives in the morning and still have lunch and the rest of the day with your party. )

So the following day, I got up, donned my shorts, T-shirt, BDC, computer and watch, carried my regs,  boots, fins, mask and snorkel to the beach bar, where I picked up a drink, strolled to the dive hut to pick up weights and then onto the boat on the beach. What a life compared with the hassle of packing and preparation for a UK dive. This was the only time I didn’t set off with my dive boots on and, when I came to put them on, I found I had two different colour, left feet.  Although the crew/ staff didn’t say anything, they must have had serious doubts as to my competence.  ( In fact, I had a similar senior moment with Ben and John from YD last time in Capernwray when I took two left hand gloves, so I am beginning to have the same doubts ).

So, the first dive - wearing two left boots - was great - the location was Sands Club - less than 10 mins from launch - nice reef - saw large turtle, barracuda lots of 'normal' reef life.  Back to beach to meet Frances - who unbeknown to her had brought two right feet - so we managed to sort our feet out.  Second dive- The Arches - slightly shallower, nice overhangs and swim-throughs - very pretty.  What was weird was the way the fish in the overhangs orient to the ceilings and swim around upside down.

Unfortunately after the first day's dives, diving was cancelled for three days due to tropical storm Lili hitting the island - all we could do was eat and drink……………..

We did one dive - on the first day after the storm - Arches again, followed by three days where I/we did Shark Reef, Throne Room ( twice ) for the deep dives and Middle Shoal for the shallow dives.  The Throne Room was a cave where you could enter from the front or down a chimney from the rear - awesome.  The first dive there, we saw a nurse shark, huge green morays, lobsters, rays, snake eel etc.  So I asked to go back there the following day and took a video man.  Of course the second time wasn’t quite as good - but still looks great on the video.

For these three shallow dives we went to Middle Shoal which is where they take the people from the resort course, they were whooping and hollering how great it was - fish, coral, eels etc.  By the third trip we saw it as mainly dead coral with a few small fish - much the same way as Capernwray loses its impact after repeat dives and you have other locations to compare with.  From the staff's point of view  and for a first dive, the site was ideal, but I was determined this pattern wasn’t to be repeated for the rest of the holiday.

So I went to guest relations with my documentation - what I thought I had booked, and they arranged an interview with the Water Sports Manager who committed to two decent dives every day for the rest of my stay - even if it meant taking me out on my own.

So we/ I chose the dives we wanted - The Deep Plane ( a Cesna parked on the sea bed at 27m )  - our deepest dive, The Shallow Plane - ditto at a shallower depth ( unless they move it from site ot site to confuse us ) I showed Frances a huge crab and she nearly popped her eyes through the front of her mask - its pincers must have been over a foot long, we towed-in a broken down jet-skier on the way back. The Galleries - drift dive. Sands Club again - saw dolphins on way back to beach. Surprise Reef - probably the prettiest reef  - some fish we hadn’t seen elsewhere - triggerfish, large snapper.

On the last dive, at Surprise Reef, they took the resort course as well, I tried to insist we split into two groups - them and me with one of the staff but we made a compromise, the staff stayed with the students and I did my own thing.  In practice, I went in first and stayed in sight of the anchor till they got the students down and then they swam/ explored at/ near the reef edge and I did the same down the wall keeping them ( or their bubbles )  in sight at all times.  When they had to come up, I was signalled and ascended as well.  As they floated on the surface waiting of the boat, I did a safety stop, near the end of which one of their weight belts came whizzing past me.  Almost without thinking, I finned back down to retrieve the bugger.  By the time I had fastened it and slung it on my shoulder, one of the dive masters was alongside me checking I was OK.  So they must have been keeping some sort of eye on me, I was quite impressed.  Lifting my own 12 lbs plus about the same and establishing buoyancy on the surface was easy - imagine doing the same with UK weighting.

In all, I did 15 dives, Frances did seven ( even more than the Red Sea ).  

What was the diving like ? Perhaps for some, not as good as a dedicated dive holiday -  few thrills, but I can spend all day relatively shallow and was well satisfied just playing with banded shrimp and poking my head in holes lloking for lobster and eels - and more than compensated for in many other ways.

Would I go again ? Like a flash

Was it worth it ?  I reckon it was a four grand holiday for quarter price - and people paying full whack were well pleased.

We have provisionally booked two weeks off work starting around 7th January, I would kill to do it all again.

ps  - Beaches have a hurricane guarantee - if you are hit by a hurricane whilst there, you can have a free, identical holiday.  I understand Lili changed from official tropical storm to hurricane shortly after leaving Jamaica, so I am trying to get some meteorological authority to advise when this happened exactly - must be worth a try ?


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no dont say such things my other halfs looking on teletext ringing travel agents ect your going to cost me a fortune!!!!!!!!!!!!
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