Epcot, Disney World, Orlando, FL

One of the best dives possible. :-)

At Epcot, part of Disney World in Orlando, FL, they have a 203 foot diameter tank with 5.7 million gallons of clear, pure water, and 3000+ animals. Twice a day they add a dozen more animals, and this year I was lucky enough to be one of them.

They do two dives a day, 12 people (not counting staff) per dive. I got in to the 4:30 pm dive, the other option being 5:30 pm. I was to meet up with the rest of the group and the guide at 4:15 at the Guest Relations desk outside Epcot. Park Admission is not required for the dive itself.

I got there a tad early, and met up with a couple other guys. The group slowly built up to 9 or 10 and the guides came out to get our information (names, c-card numbers, t-shirt and shoe size). While they were taking all that, the rest of the group showed up. About 4 of them had done this before, the rest of us didn't really know what to expect.

We went in through a side gate, and around the back side of the Living Seas exhibit, where we would be diving. We stopped right next to some very smelly trash cans to regroup before crossing a parking lot into the back of The Living Seas. They took us in and showed us a short movie about what we were going to do. They were also getting the gear ready for us and laid out so we could just walk into it. We watched the movie and were shown to the locker rooms.

We got changed into shortie wetsuits and booties, and were escorted through the public area of the Living Seas aquarium, probably to build interest in what we were doing with the public. They told us that as soon as we were where we could be seen, we were, for all intents and purposes, Disney Divers. So we trapsed through the aquarium on to a staircase that led up to the top of it. The stair case was also some kind of air conditioning vent, which I figured we'd really appreciate after the dive.

They did have the gear lined up pretty well, and after another short intro to the dive master and his explaination of what we were going to do, we got suited up. The water was at 79 or 80 degrees F (depending on who you asked :-), which was a little chilly at first but you got used to it fast. The idea was that we were to swim out to a bouy maybe 30 feet from the ledge we were on and all descend together. Then the divemaster (John) would lead us to an underwater diving bell structure (with air) where we would climb in, take our masks and regs off, and wave at the camera. Then get fixed up again and swim out. After we'd all done that, he would lead us past the windows into the public area, then turn us loose to do whatever.

I was a little worried about the descent, with my tendency to hyperventelate. I didn't, though, the descent was fine. We all swam over to the bell, and that's when I started to breathe fast. I kept it mostly under control, and almost lost it, but after a minute I was fine. I'd started to signal "out of air" to the DM, but didn't get the sign out before I calmed down and was fine again. He watched me for a bit, because something was wrong, but then I flashed OK and we went on. I gotta dive more, I think that's the whole thing. I'm just not used to being underwater.

Anyway, we went into the bell. I banged both sides of it, being Mr. Graceful, but not badly, and the video later showed that I wasn't the only one. I waved and went on. I was the second person in, so we had a few minutes after that to gather, and the DM was having us try to toss heavy rocks at a barbell. It wasn't as easy as you'd think. I hit the barbell once out of I think three tries. Rocks travel differently underwater, it takes a little getting used to.

After that, he led all of us through a pass-through, a little hole in the reef we could fit through. I banged it, too. :-) This is a man-made reef, and I didn't kill anything, I just wasn't very graceful. Again. Then he turned us loose to do whatever.

It's a lot of fun waving at little kids through the glass. Most of them get all excited and wave back. A couple of them made faces and such, but that just made ME laugh. People would line up to get their picture taken next to a real diver, which was fun for all of us. I doubt any of the pictures came out, since with a flash the glass would reflect it, and without it it was too dark, but it's worth a shot, I guess. :-) It was a lot of fun.

I also swam around with the fish. Two giant turtles, a couple of sharks, and 3000 other creatures in there. It was really great. The tank is huge, and very clear. There was one area we were supposed to stay away from, a grate between us and some dolphins. The dolphins used to be in with the other fish, but they liked to play games like "grab the fish, let it go, grab the fish, let it go" and "spin the turtle", so they had to separate them. And they were afraid they dolphins would get territorial if we got too close to their area, so they asked us to stay 10 feet back. It wasn't a problem.

A few minutes before the dive ended, I spotted my wife and son through the window. We waved and she took pictures. Not long after that came the signal to get out, so up I went.

We showered and got dressed, then they showed us the video of the dive (which was available on DVD for a slight extra charge :-). That was about it, it was a blast and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Maybe next time we go my son will be certified and we can both go. That's something to look forward to.

If I can get screen caps from the video I'll put some up. The first time I tried it it didn't work, I'm not sure why. I'll figure it out.

The Dive Quest Logo is from www.epcotdivequest.com

Next: back to the first dive, Lake Tahoe, NV

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