Our kids (12 and 11) did the PADI online course before our vacation (a total of about 12 hours online that we did over about 3 weekends - a little tedious frankly) and also in our hometown, the pool work (about 6 hours Saturday and 10 hours Sunday - all one weekend but we only did that because of exigent circumances - luckily, the instructor was great and the kids were into it so they did this enthusiastically). Our instructor sent our info to the Akumal Dive Shop and we also brought copies of our referral with us. Christmas week is their busiest week so I was glad I had paper copies of our referral info. Akumal Dive Shop worked great for us. It was a little chaotic at first because they were trying to take so many people out but each day we were there, they gave us a big locker for all our stuff. We had our own wetsuits and fins/masks/snorkels. The instructor was worried that our kids masks were too big and they gave us smaller masks to use.
The boats are open and fit about 8 people comfortably. We went with a few more :0 I think that was to accommodate us though because we wanted to dive with the kids. (we had our dive cards already). There were about 6 or so students and my husband and me plus an instructor, a dive master and a boat captain. All spoke some English, the instructor spoke plenty clearly to make his point to the students and then dive master spoke English very well. We were completely comfortable that we could communicate in an emergency (although I have also studied Spanish for a couple of years but, in a panic, not sure I could pull up what I need).
The instructor took the students (some adults, some younger people) through putting their gear together and explained the skills they would practice. It was still very rough out but the boat ride wasn't long and it was a gorgeous sunny (windy) day. The wind made the visibility less lovely than it would have been on other days but we still saw beautiful corals and fish and other creatures. Lobsters, huge turtles, grouper, oh my! We did two dives with a short break on land in between - there was enough time to grab a drink or snack from your locker but probably not enough to go try to find food elsewhere. They gave you water on the boat. Each dive, the students put together their equipment with supervision and practiced what to test on their own equipment and how to help their buddy test.
After diving, the men and bigger boys carried the equipment from the boat back to the Dive Center. There, we all disassembled our equipment and dunked it in the freshwater bath and then could take warm showers and change.
We went to lunch then at Lol Ha. This was great - lots of choices. We didn't make all our menu choices well. The pizza with four cheeses was not as expected - probably should have gone for the "American" pizza but the corona with lime and the grouper that I ordered were great! We sat right on the beach edge and the people watching on Akumal Bay is fun. There were lots of people on this beach and snorkel tours constantly going in a line in their snorkel vests into the water. Again, I don't think a snorkel tour is necessary for anyone who is a confident swimmer and understands how to snorkel (i.e. not to touch anything). We never wore life vests to snorkel and no one bothered us about it. We were exhausted by the time it was evening and glad to have a comfy condo with a nice living area to return to. We had brought several DVDs for family movie night and this was perfect. I wish we had brought more because we were pretty much spent each evening and it was nice to just read or watch a DVD. There were TVs with satellite in the condo but of course it was all in Spanish. Not bad for sports but not great for anything else. Actually, our condo had about 20 DVDs but they were all just a little old for our crowd (but it would have been great for teenagers and adults).
The next day we had our second set of two certification dives. Would have rather broken it up but because Christmas week is so busy, it was just too hard to schedule that way. We had the same crew and the same group of students plus one more Dad who was already certified. Again, it was rough in the boat but again no problem and a short trip. These dives were "drift dives" in that the boat dropped you all, you grouped up, a line went down from a buoy and the students descended down the line and those of us certified did free ascents. We only went down about 40 feet. Again, lots of good underwater viewing. Rays, porcupine fish, french angelfish, oh my! Because these were certification dives for most of the group, there was skills testing throughout - like buddy breathing, getting neutral buoyancy, etc. - but still we were on the reef and seeing interesting fish the whole time. At the end (longer in later dives as the students got better at breathing more calmly), the instructor would release a flag up to the surface and when we surfaced, the boat would be there.
After two dives, the students pics were taken and we received their temporary dive papers. Within a week or two, we received the permanent PADI cards in the mail at home. We really had a great experience with this certification. I would highly recommend. We felt taken care of and the people who worked there were very pleasant to us the whole time. Later in the week, we went on a dive "for fun" and had a little emergency. More on that later :)