We recently had a chance to go scuba diving in Gulf Shores, Alabama, with Down Under Dive Shop. We came away genuinely impressed with their commitment to safety and professionalism. That was the gist of our TripAdvisor review, but this article is our full trip review to help you decide if diving in Alabama is for you.
Our Down Under Dive Shop Review
Let’s start our review at the beginning, from inside the Down Under Dive Shop. They’re a full-service shop offering complete scuba gear, rentals, and classes. They even set up dive trips to Florida and liveaboards, including the Aggressor Fleet and one of our favorites, All Star Liveaboards.
Their gear store has at least one of anything you might need, emphasizing spearfishing. Their rental gear is older but in decent repair. They also ensure a full rental checkout is completed before you leave the store. There’s a classroom in the back for classes but no on-site pool. With their gear discounts, availability of advanced classes, and ongoing travel, Down Under Dive Shop is doing a great job building a community of divers from everybody who gets certified there.
The Down Under Dive Boat
The shop’s dive boat, ubiquitously named the ‘Down Under,’ is custom 46′ Newton Dive Special powered by twin 375 hp turbo diesel engines. She’s fast enough to make it 26 miles out to the mighty Oriskany or a local offshore site and back in time for an afternoon inshore dive.
The boat was well equipped for day trips, with a waterline dive platform, two dive ladders, and enough fresh water for showers after your last dive. They had emergency oxygen and above and beyond the required safety equipment and brought fresh drinking water and snacks.
We were comfortable on the Down Under and enjoyed pulling under the beautiful Perdido Pass Bridge on the upper deck seating. With 72 tank holders on the boat, we had plenty of room to spread out and gear up. You wouldn’t confuse the Down Under for a luxury liveaboard, but it was bigger, faster, and smoother than your standard six-pack boat.
The Boat Crew
Bert Valle (AKA The Crazy Cuban) has been Down Under’s captain since January 2010. With over a decade of experience, he knows the intricacies of Gulf Shore’s dive sites. He also runs a tight ship with an emphasis on safety. Bert’s safety briefing was serious and on-point, and you better remember your C-Card, or you’re not diving.
Under Bert’s tutelage, the Down Under’s DMs were competent without arrogance. There wasn’t an in-water DM, but they did an excellent job laying out route lines on fairly complex dive sites and watching for divers from the deck. As a bonus, they did a thorough gear washing while we were en route back to the harbor.
The SanRoc Cay Marina
The Down Under dive boat launches out of the SanRoc Cay Marina, which is good and bad. On the bright side, there’s plenty of underground parking right by the boat, especially at 7:30 in the morning. However, it was tricky for us to find the first time. You’ll see the Steamer Restaurant and a sign directing you to the underground parking as soon as you pull into the marina. You have to trust the instructions and pull into the parking garage because you will not get a visual of the boat from your car.
The SanRoc Cay Marina is the closest commercial marina to Perdido Pass, but it’s 10 miles from the dive shop. You should arrive at your morning dive by 7:30, so you must pick up your rental gear and tanks the day before for a morning dive. This setup requires logistic considerations like arriving before the store closes (usually 5:00) and having a vehicle that can carry all the gear you need. Also, it would be handy to have a way to lock it up in your car at night, or you’ll be humping gear in and out of your hotel room. Also, you need to be absolutely sure you’re kitted up for diving when you arrive at the boat because there’s no way to get to the shop if you’ve forgotten anything.
Diving in Gulf Shores / Orange Beach
It seems like we’ve talked about every aspect of diving in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach except the diving itself. Down Under Dive Shop generally runs a two-tank dive trip in the morning and a one-tank, in-shore dive in the afternoon. There are a lot of charter options available, including:
- Inshore – (Two dives, 12-mile range, Depths 40′ to 80′)
- Offshore – (Two dives, 16-mile range, Depths 30′ to 100′)
- Lulu – (Two dives, 20-mile range, Depths 59’’ to 114’’)
- New Venture – (Two dives, 20+ mile range, Depths up to 120′)
- USS Oriskany – (Two dives, 26+ mile range, Depths 90′ to 130′)
The water gets clearer the farther out you go, and the diving gets more advanced. We did an offshore dive on bridge spans and chose to dive on nitrox because of the range and depth. There was a surface current on our first dive, so we had to hold tight to the dive line. There was very little visibility at the thermocline, but it opened up to 60′ once we got down to the site. There was plenty of life on the spans, including a bull shark sighting. The water was plenty warm when we were diving in late August, but we still appreciated a full body covering because of jellyfish, especially around the thermocline.
The diving was good for the Gulf, partly because of how far offshore the Down Under goes, but that made it a little challenging too. We suggest calling the dive shop ((251) 968-DIVE) and having an honest conversation about your comfort level and recent experience so they can get you on the right charter. This also gives them a chance to schedule nitrox classes or refresher dives if you want/need them.
Final Thoughts on Diving Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
Gulf Shores might not be a destination dive location in and of itself, but it is an amazing beach vacation with 32 miles of white sand beaches. When you’re not diving, you can go for a bike ride, kayak the backbays, and find many other adventurous things to do. It’s a romantic destination, too, if you need to sweeten the pot for your dive partner or make up for an o-dark thirty dive start. You’ll also find delicious food and unique places to stay, like The Lodge at Gulf State Park or a swanky beach condo. It’s a dive vacation that your non-diving companions will enjoy just as much as you do.
Gulf Shores is a fabulous drive and dive destination 3 hours from New Orleans, 5 1/2 hours from Atlanta, and 7 hours from Nashville (that means you can dive the last day of your trip without the worry of no-fly limits). It’s also a perfect location for a hybrid beach and dive trip for people who love their shore time. The Down Under Dive Shop does a great job servicing these customers with dedicated professionals in both their shop and boat. Every diver coming to Gulf Shores should give Down Under Dive Shop a call and see if they can get on a charter while they’re in town!
Disclosure: A big thank you to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism and Down Under Dive Shop for hosting us! For more Gulf Shores and Orange Beach travel inspiration, check out their Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts. For some underwater inspo check out Down Under Dive Shop’s Instagram and Facebook accounts
As always, the views and opinions expressed are entirely our own, and we only recommend brands and destinations that we 100% stand behind.
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