Apologies to Bogdan for this long overdue review. My experience with Utila Cays Diving in March 2014 was born from a gap in time between jobs and I was looking for a specific type of adventure... I've wanted to get open water certified as long as I could remember, but wanted a boutique experience, and wanted to feel comfortable with the dive outfit, people, and the environment as I would be taking this step as a solo traveler. I couldn't have made a better decision than Utila Cays Diving. I wish I could give this rating 6-stars.
Getting to Utila, and to the Cays, takes effort, which is also why the end result ends up bring so spectacular. I travelled from New York, through Houston, to Roatan via jet, then from Roatan to Utila via single engine Cessna (just me and the pilot... which was a killer experience in itself), then water taxi from Utila Town to UCD out on the Cays.
I was lucky enough to join up with two couples from New Mexico with UCD as their destination (Josh, Dana, James, and Tauna), not realizing I would end up making dive friends for life the week I was there. The secret of UCD is that even though it take a little extra effort to get to the Cays, that's the cover charge for the special magic of the location and dive outfit. Also making friends with the Carpenters and the Isenhours helped make the week even greater. We had a great meal together at Chez Lola, and I really enjoyed hanging out with them that week.
The accommodations at Hotel Kayla (now being renamed Utila Cays Inn) are basic, no frills, and provide EXACTLY what you need to focus on the water, the diving, and relaxation in what turns out to be paradise. My days were spent in the water in the morning, in the hammock reading in the afternoon (or swimming right off the end of the dock). It was one of the best vacations I have ever had hands down.
Bogdan is the ultra accommodating host/MC, understanding that personal service and delivering a great customer experience is what sets his dive shop head and shoulders above the rest. Need anything? Just ask and he will do whatever needed to help make your request a reality. Joining UCD for a weekend or week (or longer) really means getting introduced and joining a family. He helped plan my 3 days of instruction, with the classroom/theory part of the learning, with the perfect dive instructor for me. Bogdan also is great about helping offer ideas for afternoon and nighttime activities outside of diving. I enjoyed traversing Utila Town, having brunch at Munchies, and spending lazy afternoons at Neptune's drinking cold Salva Vida's and jumping off the end of the dock into the beautiful blue green water.
Phil Smith was my personal dive instructor for the 3 days I needed to complete my certification with UCD. Bogdan could not have picked a better instructor, or person for that matter, for me. Phil and I got along beautifully, and my experience with him was so good, I can't wait to take my girlfriend down to UCD to receive her open water certification from Phil as I did. Phil is knowledgeable, was patient with me (I'm not really a great swimmer, let alone had never breathed or done much of anything underwater), and was the perfect partner to get me through my cert quickly and safe. By the end of my cert I felt like a new person, having just discovered this sport and underwater universe waiting for me to explore it.
Also got to spend some time with Phil and his wife Brenda out of the water, getting to know them, hanging out at Neptune's (a must visit), and enjoying the paradise of Utila. Phil even gave me a tour of the home he's building on the ocean, that will hopefully be completed soon (... hope it's going well, Phil!). Phil and Brenda are great people that I can't say enough positive things about, and hope I get to spend time with again.
The rest of the dive crew is top notch at UCD. The dive masters that were on the boat with me, Rafa and Mike, are knowledgable, great people, and fantastic dive masters. After I was certified, I dove once with Rafa, and it was the best dive of my trip (green moray encounter, and an eagle ray!). I also can't say enough about Edgar the dive captain... what a great person and excellent captain. One day toward the end of our trip we wanted to have a divers dinner, and Edgar offered to grab us some fresh catch from the local fish market. He filleted the catch (9 pounds of fresh tuns), and marinated it for us, as a favor. The dinner was amazing and Edgar gave us a very kind gesture. What a guy!
Phil and UCD are the reasons I will return to Utila and to UCD to dive for hopefully as long as UCD & Bogdan are in existence! I feel like even though I've only been the one time, that I am part of a UCD dive "family" now, and I couldn't be happier about that.
My ONLY reservation about giving this review is that selfishly I don't want too many people to find out about UCD and Utila as the quaintness and charm are what make this experience incredibly special.
I find myself daydreaming pretty much daily about going back, I long for that perfect 82 degree crystal clear water, and can't wait to reunite with old friends back on the pier to head out to dive early in the morning. Can't wait for more Utila adventures with UCD!
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