Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Diving Away in Margaritaville at Anthony's Key Resort, Roatan, Honduras

The entrance sign along the main road from the airport is difficult to miss.

We visited Anthony's Key Dive Resort during May 13-20, 2017, as a college graduation gift for Cathy's son Bristol. Despite the rave reviews Anthony's receives from many travelers I was not that impressed with the quality of the diving or with several aspects of the resort. First, however, the positives.

After emerging from Customs and Immigration in the tiny Roatan airport you are met by several representatives of Anthony's Key who transport your luggage in an open truck, and transport you in an air-conditioned bus, for about 15 minutes to the resort.  Luggage is then transported for you via the water taxi from the mainland to the key where the cabanas are located.  Check in is swift and the orientation is simple.  During orientation you learn which boat you are assigned to and who your dive master will be.  Cathy had dived here a couple times before and asked specifically for John Carter as our dive master. You should ask for him as well.   All your dive equipment is kept in lockers next to the dock so you don't have to lug it all over creation between dives or at the end of the day.  The dive shop is managed in a highly efficient way by Kevin and his associates who will take care of your every need.  Just ask.  Our cabana (#46) (with a shared balcony) offered superb views of the Caribbean and especially sunsets.  Another excellent amenity of the resort is the on-site medical office staffed by 3 bilingual physicians and a hyperbaric chamber (divers know the importance of one of these).

AKR offers stand up paddle boarding and kayaks (for free) as part of your package and one day they transport visitors to the south side of Roatan to Maya Key (that you fly over a few inches below you on final approach to the airport) for a shore lunch.  Thursday night is "Island Fiesta" night complete with a Spanish-speaking duo that sang Bob Marley and Peter Tosh songs in perfect Jamaican, mon.  The highlight of the Island Fiesta was the exciting Hermit Crab Races.  I studied the available crabs and chose one based on its apparent strength and endurance.  It came in dead last.  

Another facility of the resort is the well-stocked gift shop where, despite extremely high prices on virtually everything on the shelves, you can buy all sorts of t-shirts and other clothing to add to your "been there, done that" collection.

Staff of Anthony's Key are all bilingual which, unfortunately, most American's can't say about themselves.  I speak Spanish at a level slightly better than "survival" level and was impressed by how every Honduran I met at the resort would reply in crisp English whenever I asked for anything in Spanish.

The view of Anthony's Key from the top of nearby Carambola Mountain.  Our cabana was at the left-most tip of the island.

Now for the mediocre part of the trip.  I'm a retired wildlife biologist so I view natural communities differently than most other people view them.  Through the eyes of a wildlife biologist I was not that impressed with the diving on Roatan. Granted because of a medical restriction I was only able to make 4 dives (including one night dive) but on those four dives I was disappointed by the low diversity of reef fish compared to other West Indian islands like Bonaire or Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. Visibility was great - up to 100 feet at times but there was very little to see in that clear water.  The same cannot be said for beautiful Bonaire, and I long to return there - sooner rather than later.

Another frustration is that Anthony's Key offers (for an additional $100 plus tax) a 3-hour "shark dive" where participants are transported to the south side of the island to view Caribbean Reef Sharks.  I'm vehemently opposed to "chumming" or feeding sharks just to draw them into view.  My opposition comes from the very real fact that artificial feeding alters the normal behavior patterns of the sharks and makes them partially dependent on humans for food.  During the shark dive (which I did not participate in) people saw somewhere between 16 and 20 sharks, many of them just feet away.  Great video was captured but it was in a totally artificial situation. I would much prefer to have a random encounter with a shark or not see one at all rather than participate in an activity that alters the natural behavior of wild creatures.

Now for the negatives.

Anthony's Key puts great emphasis on tipping its employees. At the check in desk there is list of "Tipping Policies" with a suggestion of whom to tip and how much.  There is also a link on the AKR app informing visitors about whom to tip and how much.  I prefer to tip people based on the performance of the task they completed for me.  And I prefer to tip according to what I think is appropriate.  I do not like being told by management whom to tip and how much.  Tipping the front desk staff? Seriously? I will not tip them and I did not. Perhaps if Anthony's Key offered its employees a living wage (not that difficult in Honduras) they wouldn't have to pressure guests to cough up extra to tip everyone who walks down a path or opens a door for you.

Second negative is the food.  Actually the food in the restaurant was quite tasty and I recommend the Honduran breakfast which I tried every morning.  My concern is the variety of options.  Other than breakfast you are offered 2 options for entrees at lunch and at dinner. One is a fish dish and the other is either chicken, pork, or beef.  There is also a veggie option.  Thus at any given meal if you don't like the two main options you are sunk until the next meal.  Also the food is portioned out for you like in a restaurant and served accordingly.  It is not a buffet like arrangement. For one meal we asked if a second entree could be ordered and were told no.   Granted this process reduces the amount of wasted food and most importantly for AKR management, it reduces costs. However for guests it also reduces options for your meals and after 3 or 4 dives in a day you're usually famished.

The final concern is health. During our orientation we were not informed about the problem of Norovirus at the resort. In fact the only mention of it was a half-sheet of white paper sitting under the two bottles of purified water in our rooms. During our stay I know of several people who became violently ill and who missed almost all of the diving because of severe gastrointestinal distress.  I had a similar issue for 4 of the 7 days there.  On my final day I visited the clinic where they handed out some anti-diarrheal medicine that was like Imodium on steroids.  I told the person in the clinic what I needed and she said, as she gave me the pills, "There is something going around the resort."  No kidding!  It would have been nice to know about it especially since they knew about it.  Related to health was the super abundance of biting sand flies.  Cathy's back and legs looked like she had a case of the measles after two days of walking across the sand from our cabana to the water taxi.  Other people were similarly affected by these biting insects.  A bottle of "cactus juice" to help ease the itching was available in the gift shop for an extortionate $18.00!  Granted the sand flies are a seasonal annoyance but they are there and if you are the least bit allergic to their multiple bites you'll wind up with welts all over every exposed area of skin.

The closest I have come to the ultimate dive location is beautiful Bonaire in the Dutch Caribbean, and our friends at Toucan Diving and the Plaza Resort Bonaire.  I'd return there in a nanosecond.  From what I saw and experienced I would not return to Anthony's Key to dive. There are too many other dive locations in the Caribbean that have greater biodiversity.  As I keep searching for the ultimate dive location I will remember that, for me, Roatan and Anthony's Key, are not it.  

I sincerely hope your experience will be more biologically fruitful and positive.

1 comment:

  1. I work for a dive travel agency and I could have told you about all those items. Roatan is over-fished and fishlife is almost non-existent, and the sand fleas are a big issue. Consider talking to a travel professional (it doesn't cost any more to book through a wholesaler - we offer the same BOGO at AKR) for your next trip (if it is not Bonaire - that you are familiar with). That's what we're here for. On the other hand, the Buy One Get One deal is extremely cheap (usually under $1000 pp when averaged) so it's hard to get all meals, 3 boat dives per day with unlimited shore diving, water-front accommodations, transfers, etc. for that price in Tortola or Bonaire.