Florida News Years 2019 Dive-cation of Amazing Awesomeness! - Planning & Particulars

  • Updated: December 26, 2018
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

Florida News Years 2019 Dive-cation of Amazing Awesomeness!
December 26th 2018 to January 2nd 2019

This trip was yet another last minute -ish see what we can manage with what we got sort of trip. I knew I was spending Christmas in Colorado Springs with my parents and I knew I wanted to do something significant for New Years. Initially Jen and I toyed with running back out to Arizona and building a trip around a that technical route we'd failed on last year but the more we talked about it (and the more Kristen talked about her trip to Thailand which involved diving and had been the trigger for me getting my cert) we kept coming back to diving.

We briefly considered just running around SoCal trying to get in as many dives as we could but that didn't seem suitably epic enough for a New Years trip. So we started looking for diving destinations with limited travel time that we could make work within a reasonable (for diving) budget.

We settled on Florida which I'd never been to and Jen had only ever been there as a child. I could use airline points for the flights and we could camp instead of staying in hotels to save money. And then of course we proceeded to jam in as many activity as we possibly could in the time had which kind of left the whole affordable aspect in the dust.

But hey, it was an epic new year trip!

This article is kind of a catch all for details about how we did the trip and lessons learned. For the activities themselves you can find the individual articles linked here or under the tag New Years 2019

In the end I ended up getting in 15 dives including 1 freshwater drift dive, two freshwater cavern dives, two night dives, three deep wreck dives, and a bunch of recreational reef dives. Not bad considering I was at 9 dives total when we left!

Traveling With Dive Gear

My dive gear is still very new and this would be my first time traveling with it. On the advice of friends I took everything so I'd just need to rent tanks and weights once I was out there. Conveniently when I jammed everything except my dive computer and reg into an old suitcase it fit and came in at 42-44 -ish pounds. Since we'd be flying Southwest and they give you 2 free checked bags weighing up to 50 lbs that worked for the flight out.

Granted that was with my wetsuit being mostly dry and by the end of the trip everything was pretty damp. I'd neglected to pack my luggage scale on the trip which would have been useful but I had thought ahead enough to bring an a duffel as my second piece of checked luggage that was far underweighted (22 lbs) which meant we could transfer gear over and be comfortably under the limit.

That left us with how to deal with moving a large amount of soaking wet gear around in a rental car.

My solution was to run to a Walmart and buy two large bins for around $10 a piece. That allowed us to just throw things into them and not have to worry about water leaking out of a mesh diving bag. We even carried them on boats for easy transport.

This ended up working so well and I've actually missed these bins since we got home since sadly we had to leave them behind.

Time of Year & Weather

We lucked out on the weather. Some friends were out in the same area the week before and I was hearing they had rain and bad conditions for most of their trip. We had some rough swells which apparently aren't too unusual for the area but all of our planned dives were able to happen except for the very last day due to some diving related ear complications.

Water temperature was 72 around Crystal River and 77 down at the Keys. We had varying advice as far as what thickness of wetsuit we'd want to be diving in but after getting chilled wearing a 3 mm rental wetsuit during the manatee snorkel we spent the rest of the time happily wearing our 7 mms. This did provoke the occasional comment from the locals but we were also able to stay in the water for 6 50 minute dives while others wearing rash guards were bailing out early after 2. (And for the record Jen runs cold and I tend to run warm)


We went into this looking to do something "reasonably" affordable though that kind of went out the window a bit once we were committed.

We had to have a rental car because of the distances involved between activities. We brought some of our own food and a camp stove so we didn't have to always eat out though we did end up doing a fair amount of that.

Avoiding hotels and resorts was our big attempt at cost savings. We're perfectly happy to camp (assuming we have access to hot showers after the dive) but the options here were a bit limited. The nicer campgrounds (like John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park) were either booked up or closed due to hurricane damage so we were stuck staying at RV Campgrounds for $40-$50 a night. Granted I don't think we were ever at one of the campgrounds during the daylight since our days were so full but it's still a bummer to be sleeping out on a patch of dirt surrounded by people smoking, RVs, and other annoyances.

Having said that Cody's RV Park near Crystal River was amazing and staying there actually added to the trip.

So all told what did it cost? The rental car, campgrounds, dive shops, and rentals all came to about $2,500 for two people (ouch). In addition the flights were "free" because I had airline points and we probably spent another $500 between food and tips for the dive crews. So call it $3k + flights.

Have I mentioned diving is expensive?

Things We Should Have Done Differently

I'm pretty damn happy with what all we got up to.  Looking back I might have changed some of the reef dives to wreck dives (I particularly really want to dive the Oriskany) and maybe done at least one more excursion to the Vandenberg but that's with the benefit of having done all the dives that I did.

The reef dives in the Keys were all around 25-35 ft with reasonably warm water which let me work through some of the underwater breathing related issues that had me really concerned up to that point. So again I can't really regret any of our days.

Probably the worst part of the entire trip was the boat rides to and from the dive sites. At Looe Key we did 6 dives across 3 seperate boat trips each of which was 30-45 minutes each way on rough seas. The first was fun but by the end of the day we were dreading another long ride being bounced around the deck.

I'm not sure how much we could have done about that though since most of the dive shops run morning and afternoon boats for 2 dives each and I didn't want to *only* do 2 dives on a particular day.

Also while we could have improved the camping options if we'd planned ahead a little more we both agreed in retrospect sprinkling in an AirBnB or hotel every few days would have been nice. I'm perfectly happy sleeping in the dirt and often would prefer that to my own bed but the humidity left things a bit swampy and the dry sheets the last night were luxurious.

Also the ear issues Jen (and to a lesser extent I) had could quite possible have been avoided. From what we've learned since just rinsing our ears out post dive with vinegar and rubbing alcohol could have prevented some of the discomfort we went through.

Overall this is one of the better trips I've ever done and I'm already kicking around plans to go back at some point. For the immediate future we have several other destinations we'd like to visit but someday soon I'll be back!

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