The Casual Runner

CASUAL ADVENTURER: Diving in Disney

The What: DiveQuest, Diving in Disney at Epcot’s The Seas With Nemo & Friends Pavilion
The Where: Walt Disney World Resort, Florida
The When: Weekly, Tuesday thru Saturday, 2 evening sessions

Casual Runners know that while running is a part of our lives, it is not our entire lives. Better yet, as Casual Running allows us to be healthier and live more active lifestyles, it allows us to experience new and wonderful adventures. In this special series, we will look at fun Casual Adventurers that our Team takes on when we are away from our training, even if its only for a day or two!  Check out other installments in this series by clicking here.

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The Setup

As you may recall, Candace recently earned her scuba diving certification and we spent a fun weekend diving in Rainbow River (Florida). Her real motivation however was to scuba dive inside Walt Disney World. That’s right, we’ve runDisney, now she wanted to DIVE DISNEY.

Epcot DiveQuest is a behind-the-scenes tour that allows guests to scuba dive on-stage at Epcot, inside the second largest saltwater aquarium in the world. We booked our dive as a celebration for finishing the 2015 Wine & Dine Half Marathon, sort of our own version of our year of running Disney.

The Scene of the Adventure

Guests meet outside of Epcot at the guest relations booth. Cast members greet you and take down your pertinent details for your gear (sizes, weight, etc.).  As Disney provides all of the gear you need (you can bring your own mask if you prefer) I found it interesting that they only asked my shoe size, but never asked me my weight or size for my dive weights or my wetsuit (more on that in a moment). Guests are advised to meet 15 minutes prior to the start of the tour. When we did so, we were the last to arrive in what seemed like a large group – which would actually turn out to be too large for my liking.

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The dive profile pretty much doesn’t change regardless of when you take the plunge.

You then proceed to a backstage tour of the Living Seas Pavilion, before proceeding to a pre-dive briefing room where you learn the dive profile and Disney rules for behaving on stage, and fill out some paperwork (thanks lawyers!). Disney provides nice (and very clean!) locker rooms for you to change into your gear, and showers (with soap, shampoo, towels, and hair dryers for after you complete the dive).

Adventuring the Adventure 

Our DiveQuest was not off the to best start. As I experienced this tour twice before, I could tell that having a group of 15 guests was way too big – it was literally double the size of my two previous tours. We met our cast member guides, who seemed friendly enough, but the lead guide was, well, to be honest, terrible. He gave the worst Disney backstage tour I have experienced. This should be an opportunity to learn about the history and the complex engineering that goes into the Seas Pavilion (did you know that the coral is actually fake? And there are very good scientific reasons for this). However, he completely omitted all of the interesting educational and historical information, and instead tried to be “cool” and funny, when he was neither. I’m sorry, but this is not a cheap tour and mailing it in on the educational aspect of the behind-the-scenes component makes it much less worthwhile. Not to mention that, after a few minutes, he just got annoying.

IMG_4031Further, while we were in the dolphin room, the guide inexplicably got on his soapbox and lectured us to how we should never – EVER! – swim with dolphins because they could kill you (his words, not mine). The irony was lost on the guide as he was doing so while standing in front of an advertisement for Disney’s Dolphins in Depth tour where guests get in the water with dolphins. Needless to say, we were not impressed by this, as Disney speak would classify it, “bad show.”

Once finished with the pre-dive briefing, we went to the locker rooms to change into our gear. Each of us was assigned a locker where cast members had placed our wetsuits, booties, towels, and a key so we could lock up our personal items. I was confused because the wetsuit I was given said “XXXL.” Now, insults aside, I am not a small guy, but I know I wear a large, not an XXXL, and I was worried this wouldn’t fit. I put it on and it did fit…sort of? The wetsuit was weirdly sized and stretched out, which made for an uncomfortable fit.  The other guests remarked to similarly bad fitting suits and one had a torn zipper and another had a hole in the area that was supposed to cover his butt.  This would be a theme as, overall, the equipment was certainly in the worst condition of the three times I have done this tour. Hopefully they will upgrade the equipment soon, especially for the price of the tour.

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Unfortunately not everyone read these warnings.

Unexpected hilarity. One guest (who claimed to be an experienced diver) put his wetsuit on backwards, with the zipper in the front, and couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working for him.  Another guest helped him out. But this must happen often enough that Disney has helpful signs on the walls (which this guest obviously didn’t see) for properly donning a wetsuit.

Before you enter the tank, they parade you on stage in front of the park guests. Now, this is not a problem for me, but I can see how some guests may find this uncomfortable as you are wearing a wetsuit, and some divers are more modest than others. The advantage of this is that it does build up a little excitement for the guests who will begin to gather along the windows of the aquarium to catch a view of the divers.

Cast members set up our BCDs, regulators, and tanks for us and they were there waiting for us. The BCDs are weight integrated and the weights were already set for us as well.  Now, while I appreciate this, I am extremely OCD about my gear (hey, it is what keeps you alive under water, so cut me some slack). I felt rushed getting into the water, and when I did, I discovered that someone left my purge valve wide open and I was extremely over-weighted (I am guessing by at least 5-10 pounds). Again, no one asked me for my weight, so it is not surprising that they mis-figured. I aborted the dive and went back, tore apart the gear and reset it myself before resuming the dive.

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Swimming over the ride tunnel for Finding Nemo – you know it as the EAC!

Adventure Awaits!

Now, I am done with the bad stuff (mostly), because, once I got my gear situation straightened out (except for the wetsuit which bothered me the entire dive), the dive itself was AMAZING! I have been fortunate enough to go scuba diving all over the world, and this is definitely one of my favorite dives. The water is crystal clear, the sea life is abundant and filled with a tremendous selection of species, and it is fun to swim among the intricate coral formations. However, the best part about this dive is exploring the many facets of the aquarium (including the Finding Nemo ride/attraction) AND playing with all of the humans in the human tank!

There are two primary areas where you will interact with guests on the other side of the Plexiglas. On the far side of the tank at the bottom are the windows of the Coral Reef restaurant. Here you get to interact with guests who are enjoying their dinners (or having meltdowns after spending way too much time in the park). Its funny how watching guest meltdowns is much more entertaining when you can see but not hear them! Strangely, no one offered to share their meals despite my obvious sign language requests for them to do so.

The upper level windows are where you interact with the park guests who are inside the main part of the Pavilion. This is where you will have your family and friends meet to watch you dive. This is precisely what we did: Jennifer, Jake, and our good friend Jessie all gathered to meet us. We had a blast waiving to, interacting with, and even posing for pictures with them through the windows.

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This is the real Disney magic of DiveQuest.

Unexpected Magic. You have never experienced anything like seeing a little kid’s face light up when you, a scuba diver, focus in on him or her. We exchanged waves, fist bumps, and Candace even managed to get into some pretty competitive games of rock, paper, scissors with park guests. It is a truly great scuba diving experience.

Now, for the downside. Remember how I said that the tour group was too big? Yeah, it was. With 15 guests plus dive masters and a videographer, there were too many people on this dive. The men’s locker room was crowded and the overcrowded feeling/problem continued even when navigating around the huge tank. Having done this dive before and feeling quite comfortable with the dive site, I chose to go off on my own (bringing my dive buddy Candace with me) rather than staying with the group after the third time someone banged into me (one even kicked me in the face with his fin as he clearly had no idea what he was doing – yes, this was the same guy who put his wetsuit on backwards).

Wrapping it Up

Despite the above negative reviews, I loved the dive itself. The problems I experienced (bad tour guide, too crowded, poor gear) were a-typical as I did not experience any of those problems on my two previously Dive Quest tours. During those experiences, the tour was definitely worth the high cost, but I cannot say the same for this tour.

IMG_4033I have been asked whether it is a good idea to include this tour as a part of a runDisney weekend.  I see no reason not to. With zero current in the water, this is the easiest dive you will ever experience and should have no adverse affects on your legs in terms of running.  Also, the dive itself is limited to a half hour and is not particularly deep, so you don’t have to worry about impacting your cardio conditioning. So I would say go ahead and enhance your runDisney weekend with this tour – provided they address the above-mentioned deficiencies.

Quick tip. Once your are done with the dive, the tour is effectively over. If you are impatient like me, you may not like waiting for the entire group to finish showering and changing, and then going upstairs to watch the dive video. To me this is valuable park touring time.  It is OK to inform the guide that you want to leave, and then just leave. We bought our video (with our Annual Pass discount!) and left.

Even though this tour does not require theme park admission, once you are done you are free to go about the rest of your day at Epcot. We exited the pavilion through the main guest area and met up with our friends to enjoy our evening at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, all capped off by a fabulous presentation of Illuminations.

Check out other installments in our Casual Adventurer Series by clicking here.

Enjoy the freedom of going wherever your feet, imagination, & determination take you!

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Enjoy the freedom of going wherever your feet, imagination, & determination take you!

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