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My Epcot DiveQuest Experience
by Cindy Welch
Walt Disney World - no where else is there a resort destination that offers so many different activity options for guests? Odds are, if there's something you want to do, it's offered at Disney. Often times we spend the majority of our time in the parks, rarely stepping outside the box to sample the numerous recreational offerings.
After years of traveling to Walt Disney World on a yearly basis, I decided last year that since the opportunity to SCUBA dive was available at The Living Seas (now known as The Seas With Nemo And Friends), I needed to learn to dive. How could I possibly pass up an opportunity like that!? Since you must be Open Water certified to dive at Epcot, the quest began to become a diver. Since certification, my passion has quickly become diving - and mixing Disney with diving is perfect! My husband and daughter quickly followed suit, so that they could also dive at Walt Disney World.
Certification card in hand, we met the DiveQuest welcome team just outside of the park gates at the Guest Relations office. Our dive tour was scheduled at 5:30, and we met up at approximately 5:15. Our welcoming team gathered up all our certification cards, took t-shirt sizes, BCD sizes, and bootie sizes. After the formalities were over, off we went to the backstage areas!
The DiveQuest tour isn't just diving. There is an extensive tour of the backstage areas of The Seas prior to the actual dive .We were given a brief tour of the pavilion's exterior, including the filtration systems in place for the nearly 6 million gallons of water in the tank, as well as the marine life quarantine facility. From there, we were taken inside, where we toured some research areas, saw the kitchen for food prep (they are served the same quality meats and vegetables that Disney guests are!), and were given information about the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund and how it affects conservation efforts around the world. From the offices and research/care facilities, we were given a tour of the backstage areas for manatee housing and dolphin housing, where we learned about the actual residents themselves. Right now The Seas is housing 4 adolescent male dolphins and rehabilitating two Manatees. They briefed us on the different aquatic species that we would see in the actual aquarium itself - how many sharks there are and what species, the turtles, stingrays, the Goliath Grouper, and even the dolphins themselves - and why they are not allowed to cohabitate with the rest of the aquatic population. (They're bad, bad boys you are NOT allowed to play Frisbee with the stingrays!)
The tour portion of DiveQuest was, in my opinion, quite enjoyable and educational. We concluded in their 'education room', a very nice, comfortable room adorned with nautical décor, comfortable wicker furniture, and topped off with a big screen TV It was there that we signed waivers and were briefed on the dive "rules" - don't get within so many feet of the dolphin barriers, no touch rules, when we have to quit the dive, etc. We were ready! Almost.
When our tour was over, we were shown to our respective locker rooms, given a key to a locker, and given a few minutes to change. They had our wetsuits and booties in a Disney laundry bag marked with our name, and they sized our wetsuits perfectly! The participants in DiveQuest are given a 3mm 'shorty' wetsuit to dive in. Given the 79* temperature, it was plenty of exposure protection. Like pink elephants, we were paraded through the Seas pavilion, in front of all the guests. Into an inconspicuous door we entered, and climbed the spiral staircase to where the dive platform was located at the surface of the tank. What a sight to behold - the whole enormous tank, right there in front of us, ready for us to get in and get wet!! The only piece of equipment of their own that divers are allowed to bring are masks, and since the three of us were comfortable with our own masks, and guaranteed that they don't leak (divers will be all too familiar with masks that don't fit right), we opted to bring ours. Understandably, Disney does not want to risk contamination of their tank.
On the dive platform, the crew had assembled all of our gear, and had it set up waiting for us. They called us by name, one by one, in the order that they had our gear set out. We donned the weight-integrated BCD and our fins, checked our regulators and inflator hoses, and were ready to GO! We were buddied up, had a short surface swim to the buoy placed out in the tank, descended at the buoy to start our in-tank tour. We had two Divemasters and a video crew diving with us, as the dive is all filmed and available on a DVD for purchase. We followed a Divemaster as she led us on the official tour portion of the dive - through some of the coral structures, and past the camera multiple times, where one just can't resist a smile and a wave! And yes, you most certainly CAN smile with a regulator in your mouth! We played with some old cannonballs from Pirates of the Caribbean, which lie at the bottom of the tank near the Coral Reef restaurant. After the 'tour' portion of the dive was over, we had about a half an hour to go and do as we pleased. My buddy and I split our time up between going from observation window to window, smiling for numerous cameras and making lots of kids (and adults) smile, then going off to look at the marine life, and drooling over a pair of mammoth margaritas a couple had at the Coral Reef restaurant. I got up close and personal with the largest of the sharks, a couple turtles and the Goliath Grouper (ugly one, he is ). I swam through schools of hundreds of fish. It was an amazing experience, as the sheer amount of marine life in the tank is amazing.
Way too soon
after the dive started, we heard the sound of our Divemaster banging two
rocks together - our signal that the dive was over. I glanced once again
at my pressure gauge - I had lots of air left, it couldn't be over! Alas,
it was, and we ascended to the surface, doffed our gear and headed back
to the locker rooms. The locker rooms are of course, Disney standards
- complete with showers, shampoo, conditioner, and body wash! After ridding
ourselves of salt water residue, we returned our used wetsuits and boots
to the supplied containers, and headed back to the education room where
we logged our dive, viewed our video, got our T-shirt, and had the opportunity
to purchase the video (which we did). All in all, DiveQuest was an amazing
experience - not only for any diver, but especially for family group of
Disney-addict divers. Although a bit on the pricey side ($140.00, but
discounts for DVC, Annual Passholder, AAA members and AmEx cardholders
are available) it was worth every penny, in my opinion. I've now dove
. and can't wait to do it again!