[EDIT: 2015 – New management and owners have changed this shop significantly. Please always do recent research if you see my reviews are older – things change quickly on an island. My review only stands at the time of writing and the shop is no longer being run the same.]
When I first arrived on Roatan, Ocean Connections was a ‘bros-only’ dive shop – the owner refused to hire any female instructors or divemasters. The decidedly testosterone-laden vibe was bogged down further by a small, beat up dive boat, a dark little shop and some sub-par organization on the diving front. It was an adequate enough shop, but wasn’t a place I recommended to people.
Thankfully, the shop sold to a new owner two years ago. Enter my good friend Amanda, who was traveling through Central America, met a boy on Roatan and forgot to leave…. and started managing Ocean Connections. Perhaps ‘managing’ is not the correct word here. Maybe ‘turned a struggling dive shop into a sprawling, busy dive center which runs like a well-oiled machine and is offering a superb dive experience in West End and the only place on the island to offer the BOSS underwater scooter experience‘. Yeah. That’s more accurate.
A major staff change, serious boat upgrades (including purchasing the largest dive boat in West End for diving & the BOSS scooters…see my pics of the giant Princessa del Mar docking further down the post – this boat was designed by the owner and built right here on Roatan), huge shop renovations, fancy new Aqualung rental gear, a brand-new dock with a massive palapa (arguably the best dive shop dock in town and a great place for sunset beers – see photos near the end of this post) and Amanda and her team organizing things to a tee have transformed Ocean Connections into a fantastic dive shop that I’m happy to recommend to anyone. Speaking of happy, did you know they’re the only shop in West End advertising HAPPY staff? (Note to other dive shop owners/managers: um, happy staff is kind of important. FYI.)
I had spent plenty of time dropping by Ocean Connections to say hi to Amanda and Sarah every time I walked by the shop, but hadn’t been diving there since all of the changes. Despite a gray and cloudy day, I headed down to OC carrying all my gear to get a first-hand experience of the shop with a 2-tank dive. I found Amanda in her ‘office’….
… and was immediately relieved of the gear I was carrying by Breesha, who was going to be my divemaster for the day (and who has a Manx accent which I guessed correctly for bonus points, and may also be the most adorable human being ever). She took ALL my gear to the boat and set it up for me. ALL OF IT. When you hear of a shop offering ‘valet diving service’ on Roatan, it means that they take your BCD/reg/weights to the boat, set it up on a tank for you, switch it over between dives and break it down and rinse it at the end of the day. You have to take your own mask/fins/wetsuit to and from the boat and rinse them yourself. Not at OC… you don’t have to touch any of your gear until you’re ready to jump into the water, and at the end of the day you just walk off the boat and onto the beautiful deck, and relax while the staff takes care of everything.
We hopped into the boat with the experienced and friendly captain Jerrold at the helm and off we went – but what about the other divers? Breesha had two more divers gear set up on the boat. Were they late? Were we leaving without them?
Nope – OC offers concierge diving service, meaning they will come pick you up at whatever dock is closest to your hotel! No need to walk down to the shop, or take a taxi if you’re staying in West Bay… we cruised over to the Infinity Bay dock in West Bay where the other two divers were waiting and they jumped in carrying only their cameras – everything else was already set up and waiting on the boat for them. We headed to our first dive site, listened to a thorough briefing from Breesha, and then Jerrold helped us into our gear and into the water. Sometimes I can’t enjoy fun diving on my days off…as a dive instructor, I feel obligated to assist if divers are having trouble, whether I’m on the clock or not. However, Breesha was totally on top of things and in control, so I was able to relax and enjoy the dives. Thank you Breesha!!
Here’s a video from our dive at Butcher’s Bank, which clocked in at a whopping hour and six minutes (the dive, not the video!):
After this dive, we got out and did it all over again at the second site. I have no video of this because immediately upon descent on the second dive my GoPro decided to be awesome and flood. I went back up and gave it to Captain Jerrold, who kindly opened it up and tried to dry it out for me. (Thankfully it ended up being fine!) I went back down and we had an amazing second dive – Breesha pointed out turtles, squid and all kinds of other reef creatures that came out to see us. After another 60+ minute dive, we dropped the other divers back off at their dock, headed back to the dive shop and I stepped off the boat carrying only my GoPro while Breesha and Jerrold broke down all the gear, rinsed it and hung it up to dry. Such a luxury for someone who schleps other people’s gear around all day 🙂 I discovered that I had finally bitten through my mouthpiece on my regulator and I bought a new one from the Trident diving accessories that OC sells. I walked back out to the deck and asked one of the BOSS boys for a blade so I could change it out. Instead, my reg was whisked away and returned to me five minutes later with the new mouthpiece neatly in place. Amazing service from the boys – and we know each other outside of OC, so they knew I wasn’t even a regular ‘guest’, and still went out of their way to assist any way they could.
I had the opportunity back at the dock to see the giant Princessa del Mar come in from the BOSS tour – this is truly a sight to see. Over thirty cruise shippers arrive at the shop in the morning via bus from the cruise ship dock, are taken out on the boat for 30 minutes in the scooters and 30 minutes-1 hour of snorkeling (the group alternates half and half at a time so everyone gets a chance to do both, or guests can choose to only do one, or even just hang out on the boat), are brought back to the dock and dropped off and walk straight back onto the bus and back to the ship, like clockwork. I overheard one of the guests telling Amanda as he walked back to the bus, “I can’t believe you guys have only been doing this tour for a year – it was so organized and well-run that I thought it had been going on for years”. What a compliment!! Amanda has a completely separate crew that run the BOSS tours, which is different from the dive team. They have 4-5 people in the water with the scooters (one leading and 2-3 corralling people so they stay together, plus Sarah doing the underwater photos), a snorkel guide in the water with the snorkelers, and the boat captain supervising.
What I loved seeing that was besides the lovely Sarah, the entire crew running the BOSS operation are local guys who are being trained up to divemasters by OC (they are already rescue divers, which is the requirement to lead the BOSS tours). I really feel like dive shops owe it to Roatan to provide opportunities for locals to earn a living in the diving industry here, whether it’s in the shop as administrative staff, boat captains or divemasters. Amanda’s entire dive shop crew are all islanders besides her, Sarah, Breesha and the head instructor Jonathan. This is not common here and I applaud OC for it.
I have so many great things to say about the dive center that OC has become over the last couple years. It’s been such a positive change and is only getting better. They have recently purchased the building next door and are planning to expand even more – with a proper office for Amanda (she is excited about this) as well as a classroom and lockers for diving guests. I can’t wait to see how this shop continues to grow and develop as a first-rate dive center in West End!
Things you need to know:
- check out their website, Facebook, Twitter, and all the fabulous reviews on TripAdvisor
- located in West End – the big yellow building next to the Blue Marlin
- make a reservation: call (from North America 713-370-2450, or from here 9901-3646) or email them at email@example.com
- prices vary depending on what you’re doing – check out pricing here
- remember to tip your divemaster and boat captain in lempira or new/good condition USD – read my guidelines for tipping on Roatan
- there are options for ‘Stay & Dive’ packages with accommodations at the lower and higher end of budgets… check out SeaBreeze Inn and Cocolobo (I have stayed at both, and highly recommend both these hotels), and ask OC for more information if you’re interested in an accommodation + diving package
- let them know Rika sent you 🙂
Rika’s Rating: kickass shop, go here!
Many thanks to Amanda and the entire Ocean Connections team for hosting me during my two dives, providing me with coffee and jokes, and treating me like a first-class guest. Special thanks to the boys from the BOSS team for the boat washdown show! As always, my opinions in my reviews are my own, no matter who is taking care of the bill.
Rika - Cubicle Throwdown says
Thanks! It's actually not quite what you think – the VIP experience is a LOT more work on the back end for DMs and instructors (that's who is hauling, setting up and changing over all this gear!) and often the higher price tag begets higher-end divers who can be pretty demanding to 'get their money's worth' out of a higher priced dive. I've been at all kinds of shops here on Roatan, from the absolute highest-end fancy-pants shop on the island with chocolate on the boat and boat coats for the divers, right down to basic shops that have gear falling apart… and to be honest, I almost always make better tips at lower-end shops. I think a lot of rich people are rich because they are smart and hang onto their money 🙂
Réal Fortin says
Great review. I think giving the VIP experience consistently would also make it a great place to DM or instruct for. I'm sure it would make for a lot more satisfied clients and happy divers, which would make the work more enjoyable even if it means more work. I'm hoping it would also translate into better tips.
Thanks, Amanda. 🙂 Congrats on turning that prime diving location into what it should be!
Rika - Cubicle Throwdown says
You're welcome, it is well-deserved 🙂 And yep, when I don't like something I generally say so haha… or you'll notice on other reviews I have suggestions or things I didn't love… none for OC! Kudos!
AWalk on the Run says
Thank you so much for this awesome review, Rika! I really appreciate all the props, mostly because I know if you thought we were horrible you would say so 🙂 It carries a lot more weight knowing how honest you are! And Dmitri, J says hi!!
Rika - Cubicle Throwdown says
Hey Dmitri, glad you have been enjoying the posts, and I'm happy you had a good time at OC before but it is even better now!! The boy is him indeed, I try to keep people's names off my blog as much as possible – you'll notice I never once revealed the name of where I worked or any of my coworkers, and that was on purpose because I feel like it's a bit of an invasion of privacy since so many people read my blog. But I will tell him you said hi 🙂
Rika - Cubicle Throwdown says
It was super fun and I can't wait for another one 🙂
Karyn @ Not Done Travelling says
This place sounds awesome! Well done to them for turning the business around.
Also, after several fairly big tantrums, I've processed my shell shock from our convo the other day and I've put up a post about it. Let me know what you think. 😀
Great post, as always.
I actually dove with them before Amanda joined. Was a great experience, but then again I'm a guy so it probably fit right in with the "decidedly testosterone-laden vibe" 🙂
Also, "…a boy on Roatan…" looks a like like Jonathan. Is he still on the island? If so, please give him my regards.
Dig your previous post too. Very sound advice for divers of any level of experience. Love your content!