Our big trip for 2007 was Roatan. Roatan is one of the Bay Islands of Honduras off the Caribbean coast of Central America. We had talked to many people about the different resorts on Roatan and while there are many options and plenty of nice places, the word was that if you wanted the best you went to Anthony's Key Resort (AKR).
AKR is located on the north shore of the island toward the western tip. They have 2 smaller islands just off shore from the main part of the resort. The larger island, Anthony's Key, has about 40 small bungalows on it. Bailey's Key is next to it and home to the dolphin encounter. The dining area, front desk, gift shop and dive shop are just across from both Keys on the mainland. (Yes I know it is still an island but we'll refer to that as the mainland to avoid confusion with the two smaller islands.) There are also about 12 rooms on the mainland near the dining area. There is a water taxi ferrying guests back and forth all day long. One of the guys running the taxi, Ernie, said he has made up to 70 runs back and forth over the course of a busy day. Ernie is an Atlanta Braves fan and is hoping to move up to being a captain on one of the bigger dive boats. Jim led a Dive Utah group to AKR about 3 years ago and had said that the rooms on the key were the best. (We saw one of the crew members from another boat wearing Jim's trip t-shirt). Each room looks out over the water and had a shaded deck with hammocks on them. You can choose either with or without air conditioning. There are some small beaches from which you could shore dive or launch a sea kayak. There were some lounge chairs set up as well but most people relaxed by the small pool located in the middle of the key. They had a bar and small grill by the pool.
On the mainland by the waters edge was a boardwalk/dock area that the dive boats tied up to. AKR has about 4 smaller boats (12 or so people) and 2 bigger boats (our group of 20 fit comfortably on one). Along the dock was the gear room where we could rinse and store our equipment. (They recommended we take our computers back to our rooms.) Next to that was the compressor room (3 huge compressors, makes ours look like bike pumps!), dive shop, snack shop, photo shop and Nitrox station. On the wall outside the dive shop were chalkboards for each of the boats that showed the dive sites you were visiting each day where you would sign up for the dives. We were scheduled for the "Barracuda" with Divemaster Wendell and Captain Kinley. We had 3 dives a day scheduled, 2 in the morning and 1 after lunch. We had night dives on Tuesday and Thursday. Most days we would come back to the dock between the first 2 dives.
After coming over on the water taxi you could turn right and go down along the dock as described or cross the entry road and go up the stairs to the front desk and dining area. There is a bar there next to the dining area and seating for either that over looks the top of the trees and out to the 2 keys and ocean beyond that. The view reminded me of the view from the dining area in Fiji.
Speaking of Fiji, after the 10 hours it took to get there last year, getting to Roatan was a breeze. Less then 3 hours to Houston and then less then 3 hours straight into Roatan. Normally the excitement starts when we get to the destination. Luckily one of our instructors from the shop gave us some before we left. John called me about 2 weeks before we left and said that he and his wife were still waiting for their passports. At the start of 2007, the government decided everyone needs a passport, even for Mexico and Canada. Needless to say, the normal one month turn around time is up to three months. John had turned his in with plenty of time or so he thought. Two weeks before we left, we figured out a few options in case they didn't show up but John had been assured that his passports would arrive in time. Fast forward to 2 days before we are supposed to leave and still no sign of passports. Luckily John has a good friend in Utah Senator Orin Hatch. (Once again proving it's not what you know.) By Friday afternoon, 18 hours before we leave, the Senator's office tracks down the passports in San Francisco. They'll be here by Saturday morning. We remain in contact knowing it will be a very close thing. One half hour before the plane leaves, I get a call from John, he's at the airport FedEx office and they have just gotten the passports off the plane. Luckily John had just certified one of the Continental agents at the airport and she got him through check in and security and on the plane just in minutes before we left. All's well that ends well.
One of the things that stands out about AKR is the service. After we got through customs one of their people meet us, took our luggage claim checks and all we had to do was point out our bags and they were taken from there. We didn't see them again until we got to our rooms and they were sitting on the porch.
It was about a 15 minute ride to the resort where we got checked in and given a little orientation for the week. They took our passports and itineraries and put them in a safe so we wouldn't have to worry about keeping them in a safe place. Plus with Continental (and I think Delta), they run out to the airport the day before we leave and get out boarding passes printed out. They also had lock boxes for each room behind the front desk to leave your wallets and money. It was convenient because you could charge everything to your room. We got checked into our rooms soon afterwards and got to enjoy the first of many wonderful meals.
The food was first rate. Breakfast was buffet style with eggs, bacon, sausage etc. You could also order French Toast, pancakes or eggs any you like them. They had yogurts, hot and cold cereal and pastries out as well. Lunch was usually light with sandwiches, burgers and the like. Dinners were great. You had a choice of soup or salad and then 2 entrees. The soups were very light and very tasty. I'm not a big soup guy but these were great. Most evenings we would get soup AND salad as well as both entrees as not to miss out on anything. My favorite meals were the fish but everything we ate was delicious. Perry, our main waiter, kept our glasses filled with a great lemon/lime-aide that they served.
That gives you a pretty good idea of the resort, let's get into some of the stories. The dives were very good. We had a special guest on the trip. Sterling and Christine, two of our die hard regulars brought along newly certified 11 year old son, Preston. Since Tee was sidelined by a viral infection and not allowed to dive, Preston became my buddy. He did a great job. I was a little worried at first that he was so intent on his gauges that he was missing out on seeing anything on the dives. 10 and 11 year old certified divers should dive with a parent, divemaster or instructor and keep their max depth to 40 feet. Having said that, Preston was not going to go one inch below 40, I know I tried to get him deeper! For the first few dives, I stayed right next to Preston to make sure he was comfortable and I would be able to respond to any problems. Preston was a very alert diver and kept his gauges in his hand the whole time, one eye on the gauges and one eye on his wrist computer. On one dive we were hanging out on the top of the wall right at 40 feet when Wendell, the divemaster, pointed out something in the rocks. I tried to get Preston to go check it out but Wendell was about 5 feet deeper then we were and Preston was not going. By the end of the week he did venture a little deeper when the conditions permitted. He was a great buddy and I'll dive with him again anytime.
On Tuesday after our first dive, all the boats went around to the back side of the island for dives 2 and 3. The plan was for lunch ashore at another little island AKR owned. They had a dolphin area there just like at the main resort plus a pool, beach and of course, a gift shop. I think cruise ships can bring people here on the other days. The beach was great. It was nice to lay in 5 inches of bath tub warm water and soak in the sun. We had burgers off the BBQ for lunch. It was a nice addition to the trip.
AKR's other big thing are the dolphins. They have a few in a large pen area on Bailey's Key and at the little island I just mentioned. You could pay extra and either snorkel with them, dive with them or take part in a little training program and become a trainer for a day. They also show them off to the tourists once a day and have them perform their tricks. I didn't do the dolphin dive since Tee wasn't diving but next time back we definitely will. Everyone who did it had a great time and it was well worth the extra money. Just having them near by was fun. It was pretty cool to look over to Bailey's Key every once in a while and see dolphins jumping completely out of the water. Dolphins were a major theme we used for our trip logo which we put on the trip t-shirts, luggage tags and log books. (Some of the goodies we give out when we travel.)
Thursday was a great day. We had to be on the dive boat an hour early because we were headed to the other side of the island to dive Mary's Place. This is the signature dive for Roatan. It consists of a point that drops off from about 40 feet to 100 feet and has 3 cracks that cross the point that you can swim through. The cracks are incredible. Tons of life on the walls. In fact that used to be the name of the site, Mary's Crack. That night was island BBQ night. The kitchen was transported over to Anthony's Key and we had a big rib BBQ, plus the obligatory limbo contest, rum punches and hermit crab race. No my crab didn't win but they weren't testing for performance enhancing drugs. Some of those crabs looked a little too ripped. They also had a couple who juggled fire sticks and flaming pots. Nice to know there are other options if this dive thing doesn't pan out for me.
The dives were all good but some of my favorites besides Mary's Place included two different wrecks and Spooky Channel. Spooky Channel was a site just east of the resort. It looks really great from the air, in fact another resort uses it in their ads. It is a channel, about 40 feet deep with rock sides that narrow in some places to where they almost touch. There wasn't much in the way of fish life and the vis was/t that great but there were tons of little side alleys, overhangs and cool places to explore. This is definitely a place I would love to come back and explore with a divemaster leading me around. We dove 2 wrecks, the Odyssey and the Aquilla. They are both freighters that are sitting about 100-110 feet on the sand. Both have been beat up a little from hurricanes. The Odyssey is sitting a little bit lopsided so as you swim through it, it is a bit distorting since your mind wants everything to be straight up and down and it can make you a little dizzy. Both wrecks had some fun halls to explore in the stern. On the Aquilla as I was swimming along, I discovered a spare air just sitting there on the bottom of the wreck in an open area. It obviously came from our group and since I was the last person to be in this area I picked it up. I knew 2 people in our group who were diving with them and quickly found the right person. The look on his eyes inside his mask when I pointed at the bottle, then him and he realized he had dropped it was priceless. I won't mention any names but you know who you are and you owe me!!
So far, Anthony's Key ranks up there as the nicest place we have stayed. It had everything we look for in a resort. A great in-house dive operator, nice grounds, great food and incredible service. We will most certainly being going back here again.
Let's go diving!