Squeeze into your wetsuit, slip on your flippers and strap on your mask – we’re going under…
It says a lot when one of the best life lessons you can learn is sung by a calypso-loving cartoon hermit crab. But Sebastian in The Little Mermaid might just be right. The Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI) estimates that it has issued 23 million certificates in more than 200 countries since the company was founded in 1967, and it issues around one million new PADI certificates around the world each year. So perhaps it is much “better down where it’s wetter” under the sea, as the little guy warbles.
An increasing number of those new certificates are handed over in Dubai, as tourists and residents alike look to explore the UAE’s coastal waters. If you want to join the growing ranks of scuba divers, these organisations will help you get qualified.
Al Boom Diving Probably Dubai’s best-known dive centre, it has a dedicated training facility and shop on Al Wasl Road, as well as outposts at several well-known hotels and even The Dubai Mall. In total, Al Boom offers more than 35 different courses ranging from in-pool taster sessions to divemaster courses if you want to turn a hobby into a profession. The centre also sells kit from many of the sport’s best-known brands and offers regularly scheduled boat trips, snorkelling excursions and more. Courses from Dhs150. Open Sun-Thu 10am-8pm, Fri-Sat 8am-6pm. The Aqua Centre, Al Wasl Road, www.alboomdiving.com (04 342 2993).
Desert Sports Diving Club This group makes things very clear – it’s not a holiday company, dive business or tour provider of any kind. Nor is it affiliated with any particular manufacturer or hotel. What it is, however, is an informal but well-organised diving community that arranges regular trips to both the east and west coasts of the UAE. Dhs100 (annual membership fee). Currently without a permanent location, the group can be contacted at www.desertsportsdivingclub.net.
There is very little you can’t do at Atlantis The Palm. Its dive centre offers everything from kids’ courses to full-blown PADI qualification. While it does offer dive trips through a third party (Al Boom) the real attraction here is diving at Dolphin Bay or Atlantis Aquarium. Price on request. Daily 9am-6pm. Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah, www.atlantisthepalm.com (04 426 3000).
Divers Down UAE This small and friendly centre has an outpost on the Palm Jumeirah as well as at Miramar Al Aqah Beach Resort in Fujairah. Courses are available from beginner to advanced. Those on their own will be paired up with other guests or a guide can be hired to go under with you, on either coast. Courses from Dhs275. Daily 8am-6pm. Shoreline Apartments, Palm Jumeirah, www.diversdownuae.com (055 988 8687).
Emirates Diving Association You won’t have been diving long before you start using expressions like “scuba is more than a hobby, it is a way of life”. For such enthusiasts, this is a must-see organisation. Not technically a dive centre or tour company, it’s a hub for the nation’s diving community and offers news and information – often of the environmental kind – to members. Dhs100 (annual membership). Sun-Thu 8am-4pm. Heritage and Diving Village, Bur Dubai, www.emiratesdiving.com (04 393 9390).
This one is for PADI-certified divers looking for a new challenge, or keen swimmers who don’t like the idea of being encumbered by all that equipment. Courses accredited to the sport’s governing body, AIDA (yes, there is more to it than just holding your breath), are offered, and there are pool and open water sessions every month. Courses from Dhs800. www.freedivinguae.com (050 613 0486).
Pavilion Dive Centre Jumeirah Beach Hotel’s on-site centre is as slick and professional as you’d imagine of the chain. Despite calling itself the UAE’s “only PADI five-star career development centre”, the emphasis is on the fun of diving. More than 30 courses are offered, including lessons for beginners and kids, as well as National Geographic-recognised skills. Instructors speak several languages, making learning even easier. Courses from Dhs200. Sun-Mon 8am-6pm, Tue-Thu 8am-10pm, Fri-Sat 8am-6pm. Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Jumeirah Beach Road, www.thepaviliondivecentre.com (04 406 8828).
Prodive Middle East This progressive centre is now operating out of JA Jebel Ali Golf Resort and has a fun approach to the sport. Dozens of trips and courses are offered and the operators have a keen environmental eye as well as a blog that discusses issues facing sub aqua enthusiasts in the UAE. Its focus is on the Dubai coast. No east coast trips are offered. Dhs400. Daily, times vary. JA Jebel Ali Golf Resort, Jebel Ali, www.prodiveme.com, (04 399 5711). Other location: Pinnacle Building, Al Barsha, near Ibis Hotel.
Scubatec Diving Center This shop sells and repairs equipment and provides east and west coast boat hire, depending on availability. Not quite as slick as the larger centres for newcomers, more experienced divers may appreciate its rustic approach and unquestionable knowledge and experience in local waters. Courses are limited to a handful, but we’re impressed that it offers dives in all seven emirates, which some better-known centres don’t. Price available on request. Sat-Thu 9am-7.30pm. Behind Sana Fashion, Karama, www.scubatecdiving.com (04 334 8988).
The Dive Centre
This organisation has a strong community feel. Its friendly vibe means residents can drop in at any time to find out more about the dozens of courses offered by the experienced staff. As well as trips to the many fish-packed sites of the east coast – it has a dive centre at Sandy Beach Hotel in Fujairah – the centre also takes boats to the wrecks off the coast of Dubai. Courses from Dhs300. Daily 7.30am-7pm. Dubai International Marine Club, Dubai Marina, www.thedivecentre.ae (055 998 5806).