Diving Blue Grotto in Florida

Florida, Scuba Diving, USA
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I started my dive education at the nearby Devil’s Den. My instructor told me about Blue Grotto, which is literally just down the street from Devil’s Den, but I haven’t had many chances to go diving recently. My last dive was off the coast of Pompano Beach. I tried to get on another dive at the beginning of 2020 but the water was just too choppy and no boats were going out. We all know what happened just a few weeks later, the crazy thing called a pandemic. There was no diving at all for me in 2020 and I was eager to get back into the water. 

As a work trip to Southern Florida came up, I called up my dive buddy who is also my instructor to see if he wants to go diving. Our first trip was to Alexander Springs, a small freshwater spring outside of Altoona, FL.

We decided to head to Blue Grotto the next weekend. I took Friday off so we can drive there before the weekend days and hoped that the place wouldn’t be overcrowded. The overcrowding concerns were fewer Covid-related as they were related to diving with fewer people at this confined site.

Getting there

Blue Grotto is located in Williston, FL. A small town in central Florida is about two hours from the Orlando International Airport and five hours from the Miami International Airport. It is quite a drive if you are planning to get there from out of state. 

I recommend you to stay overnight either on-site or in a hotel nearby. You can rent a room or cabin at Blue Grotto if you desire. Alternatively, you can camp on-site as well. They allow tent and RV camping. Prices and photos of the rooms and cabins are available online.

Some of the rental cabins.

Compared to Alexander Springs, Blue Grotto, as well as Devil’s Den, are privately owned. Therefore the fees are a bit higher but you get your money’s worth here. The Diving Fee here is almost $45 USD. Once you arrive stop somewhere and register at the office – the first building on your right. You need to fill out a quick form and watch a safety video before you can get geared up. We got there just a few minutes after 9 a.m. on a Friday morning. At this time quite a few people were here already.

Preparations and Dive Planning

After checking in at the office, you can pull up to one of the many pavilions which are not reserved and park right next to or behind them. You can unload your gear and set it up right there. It is a short walk from any of the pavilions to the dock to enter Blue Grotto.

Some of the many pavilions at Blue Grotto

Blue Grotto Dive Resort also offers a well-stocked rental store as well as air and nitrox fills. This is one of the advantages here, you can rent the whole set up right here and don’t have to bring anything or just get your tank and fills here. We brought our own gear including two full tanks per person. We used one of the two benches under the pavilion to get our gear ready.

Rental Shop with an Air and Nitrox fill station

If you want you can also set up your gear right at the deck. Please keep in mind to put your gear out of the way and to secure your cylinders with the provided straps if you leave them standing upright.

Blue Grotto’s water temperature 72°F (22°C) year-round and a full-length exposure suite is recommended. The bathhouse features besides restrooms also hot showers and a place to change before and after your dive.

Blue Grotto

All you need to enter Blue Grotto is an Open Water Diver certification. This was also my current certification during my visit to Blue Grotto. This dive site can be separated into three areas

  1. Open Water Basin
  2. Upper Cavern
  3. Lower Cavern
Courtesy of divebluegrotto.com

As Open Water Diver you are certified to dive to a depth of around 60 ft. However, Blue Grotto goes down to about 100 feet, and therefore I recommend being Advanced Open Water or even better Cavern certified.

We decided to not go deeper than Peace Rock, as I was officially not certified for it and it also gets very dark and we didn’t bring flashlights. If you want you can also hire an onsite divemaster for guided tours. Most people seem to just dive in buddy pairs or are here anyway with an instructor to get certified.

The Dive

From the pavilions, you can take either the stairs down to the deck or you use the ramp, which takes a bit longer to get down. Gear up and walk out onto the floating deck. You can enter the waters either via the stairs or do a giant stride. Remember the water is pretty cool here and I would recommend you for your first dive to take the stairs to get slowly acclimated to the temperature, even with your exposure suit. Be considerate of others and don’t block the stairs or the area in front of the dock where people will do the giant stride entrance. Swim away and don your fins and get ready for your dive.

We went down to one of the three platforms in the Open Water Basin and enjoyed the views as well all the fish swimming around us. From here we started our descent to Peace Rock, following the counter-clockwise swimming direction as mentioned in the orientation video. On the way down, we stopped by the air bell. This is one of the unique features here at Blue Grotto. The air bell is located in a depth of about 30 ft. A compressor pumps fresh air into the bell and you can hang out and have a quick chat. Be aware of the echo inside the bell. Talking to each other feels like yelling. 

With a gentle push, we were back underwater and continued our descent down to peace rock. We cruised around for a little bit and then back up towards the platforms. From peace rock, you have a good view of the whole upper cavern and still can see daylight. Be aware that this is an overhead environment and don’t hit your head if you get too close. I tried to avoid getting too close to the ground and disturbing the silt. It’s very easily disturbed and can ruin the sight for everyone as I would find out towards the end of my second dive.

We did a few rounds as I just wanted to get more comfortable with my buoyancy and diving in general. A few other divers were with us in the water but we all kept our space from each other. As we did our safety stop before surfacing, the most famous resident of the site came over and paid us a visit – Virgil, the turtle. I didn’t notice her first as I was watching my dive computer and the time remaining before I could surface. All of a sudden I noticed Virgil coming up to us and she had a particular interest in me, maybe it was because of my camera. You know, girls and cameras. 😉 This was actually amazing as I could get some great photos of her. In the beginning, I was worried that I wouldn’t even get a good look at her not to mention having a chance to get such close-up shots. Virgil headed back to the surface for some fresh air and so did we. 

The stairs make it super easy to get out of the water. It’s amazing how heavy the gear is. You feel weightless underwater and all of a sudden you have to lug this heavy equipment around again on the surface. We walked up to the deck and found a spot at the far corner for us. We took our empty tanks and exchanged them for a set of full ones, which we had in the car upstairs. The walk is really not that bad. After a good surface interval of about an hour, where we chatted with other fellow divers, we were ready again to go on our last dive for today.

This time I decided to do a giant stride off the floating dock rather than using the stairs. I got in and was waiting for my buddy to make his stride into the water. We started our descent and stopped again at the second platform. This time there were already quite a few more divers in the water and more followed us. Therefore we started our rounds around Peace Rock again and did a few rounds. While we did that, the place got fuller and fuller with divers. Some of them were still students and a while later a group of divers landed at the silty bottom and stirred the silt up. It was so bad that the visibility dropped down quite a bit but it was almost at the end of our second dive. 

During our safety stop, a swarm of fish surrounded us as well Virgil paid us another visit. This time shorter than before. While we waited for our countdown timer to count down to 0 during our safety stop, I took a bunch of photos and videos.

We slowly surfaced and walked with our gear to the pavilion to disassemble everything and load it up into the car. Right as we took our gear apart at the pavilion it started raining lightly for a few minutes.

 

Dive one of the Day

 

Dive two of the Day

Post Dive and other Amenities

After packing up everything I took a few photos with my DSLR. The bathhouse is great to take a warm shower after the dive and change back into your street clothes. If you are not certified in any way to go diving, you can even get diving classes here. Many instructors come here as well to use the pool for skill practice and then the grotto for their first dives. The pool needs to be rented except if you are an overnight guest at the Blue Grotto Dive Resort. Also, this is primarily a diving site and they don’t allow swimmers or snorkelers in the grotto.

Bathhouse with Bathrooms and Showers

For prolonged surface intervals, you can use the BBQ pit or buy some snacks and beverages at the dive shop if you didn’t bring your own. For some reason, diving makes me always hungry. There is no need to sign out when you are ready to leave but don’t forget to stop by at the office to collect your Blue Grotto decal for your dive log book.

Blue Grotto Cave

Besides the well-known cavern area of Blue Grotto, which I dove in, there is also an actual cave at Blue Grotto. Access is roped off and you have to be cave-certified for this dive. You can do the cave dive only with a qualified guide. For more info check this website. The cave extends back under the parking lot and the pavilions where you gear up.

Courtesy of BlueGrottoCave.com

Conclusion

I really love this place and I had so much fun here. To be honest, I am a beginner diver and I am pretty much happy every time I can go diving. No matter how spectacular the site is or not. I just want to go diving. 

Overall this place is awesome. It’s well organized and very clean. The only thing which surprised me was that the soap dispenser in the men’s room was out of soap and nobody filled it back up at least until 2 p.m. Right now, with the pandemic still raging through the country, soap shouldn’t be an issue anywhere. Well now if we want to talk masks, I have to say most guests had a face covering on when they signed in at the office and got to their pavilions. Unfortunately, the lady working in the office wasn’t a big face mask fan and didn’t wear it. But after that, I mostly saw nobody with a mask. Understandable as you have to get in your gear and once you get down to the floating dock you can’t just leave your face covering right there. Also, scuba diving is the ultimate social distance experience. Even if you get close to each other, everyone has their own air supply.

Is it worth visiting? Hell yeah! If you can visit here and go for a diver or two, it’s absolutely worth it. 

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