Oh, those floating mega-hotels! Cruise ships of the 21st century have created a whole new way of seeing those very special travel destinations near and surrounded by the ocean. Although cruise ships now visit many popular dive destinations, serious divers often, however, turn their nose up at these ready-made, mass-marketed floating vacation packages—even if the buffets are fantastic.

But many of us will be traveling on cruise ships this summer with loved ones that may not be as committed to diving as we are. What are we to do? It is possible to have a cruise ship vacation with wonderful, satisfying diving experiences—you just need to do a bit of homework in advance.

Many cruise lines do have diving excursions available at an add-on cost. While most of these are good, they are often also set-up in a pre-packaged, mass-marketed fashion. You need to find out from a knowledgeable source at the cruise line just what kind of diving they offer. What is the group size? What kind of diving will be done (experience level, locations, etc.)? Unfortunately, cruise ship dive excursions usually crowd a large number of people on to the excursion boat and then have to cater to the lowest common denominator—not always the satisfactory alternative for the serious, more experienced diver.

Advanced planning will pay off greatly in the long run in getting away from the crowd and having a more satisfying diving experience.

Research your diving service provider much as you would if you were going to the destination on your own without the cruise ship. Local resort operators that specialize in catering to divers are your best bet. Not only will they provide you with the diving transportation, guide service, and gear, there is also the possibility of beach diving from their resort, food services, or just lounging along a more private shoreline. And there is a good chance they will have activities for your non-diving family members.

Using e-mail, correspond with reputable dive operators of this nature to see if they will serve you as a cruise ship passenger. Ask if they will pick you up and drop you off back at the cruise ship dock and in a timely matter. You will need to know your cruise’s arrival and departure times at the port in question. While cruise ships will hold up the departure of the ship for one of their own excursions, they will not if you are on your own. It is absolutely essential that your diving service provider understands this.

Other questions to ask would be: What equipment is provided? Is food included? What dive sites will be visited? What is a typical boat load? And what will be the skill level of diving?

Will you save money over the cruise line’s pre-packaged excursions? Most likely, but the savings will not be dramatic. Your biggest benefit will be diving with a smaller group.

One of the most difficult planning decisions will be whether or not to bring your own gear (obviously not tanks and weights, but what about BC, regulator, etc.?). Cruise ship cabins can be notoriously small and the heads with showers equally tiny. Rinsing, hanging out and storing dive gear can be a logistical nightmare. If you will be diving for about half the days of the cruise, and the cruise is a week or longer, then it may be worth your while to bring your own gear. You can then develop a system of rinsing and storage in your small living space. If less than a week, and you’ll be diving only a couple of times or less, rent the big gear instead.

Do your homework and advanced planning and your cruise with your family/loved one will be fun for them (with you), and you will get in some fun diving as well.