In general, I wouldn’t recommend paying $195 for a pizza or a sub sandwich, although Tower Pizza in Key Largo does have good food. In this case, however, thanks to a friend who bid on “Lunch at Jules” at a charity auction, I finally experienced the three-hour session offered at Jules Undersea Lodge. (http://www.jul.com). The single drawback to the wonderful diving we have in Key Largo is there is essentially no shore diving because the water is too shallow. (Yes, I know there are a few spots, but not like in places such as Hawaii and St Croix.) This makes it especially difficult for training when the weather keeps boats from going out. On those days, everyone who can’t wait for the weather to clear heads to the lagoon at Jules.
The lagoon is not large, but it has the distinction of being home to the underwater habitat (two actually) that was moved from the original location in the Caribbean. The two-bedroom habitat with a kitchen/dining/living room was of course designed for research to prove the viability of living underwater for extended periods of time. And while researchers do still use the habitat, it’s available for recreational options from three hours to overnight. It’s something I wanted to try, but since Hubby has to spend lots of training time with students in Jules, he wasn’t especially keen on the idea. Having now done it once, I’m not saying I would go again just to go, but it’s definitely the sort of thing I would do in the same manner that I take visitors to South Beach.
Okay, enough intro – I’ll describe the way it works. First, the staff is terrific in making sure you are comfortable and taken care of. (If you have your own equipment, you can subtract the rental fee. In this situation, my friend didn’t have equipment and I didn’t want to mess with hauling and cleaning my own gear.) You either have to be a certified diver or you can sign up for the one-day Discover Scuba – type class and that is a separate fee. Since both of us were certified, we arrived to what was a very quiet day and filled out the initial paperwork, to include our choice for lunch. There is a hot shower on the grounds and a hot shower in the habitat and they provide towels, shampoo, conditioner. I treated it like I would being on a dive boat and wasn’t going to bother with that part, but it is available. I did have a pair of shorts and t-shirt along just in case. You leave your shoes at the dock and anything else you take gets very carefully wrapped and placed into a watertight box. They are especially careful with your phones and any other electronic item you’re carrying.
There are steps that lead down into the water, so you simply sit on the step to gear up then launch into the water. Your Operation Specialist for the day will either enter the water with you, take you over to the habitat to orient you or you can do as we did and go for a dive of X-minutes (in our case about 30), then meet the staff member at the habitat. The lagoon is chockfull of items like old cannon, a second, smaller habitat, and is only about 25 feet deep. The visibility is not particularly good due to several factors, however, there were plenty of fish and a nice crab. Nurse sharks will occasionally cruise through, too.
When we finished the dive, we made our way back to the habitat, swam underneath and came up into the “moon pool” as our guy was patiently waiting to remove our gear and give the orientation. This is like the foyer. The two bedrooms are to the right, the shower and marine head are straight ahead and the public area is to the left. Yes, there are portholes in the bedrooms and public area. Benches wrap around and there are two tables. The small fridge is packed with water and sodas, a little basket hold packs of snacks, there is a sink, microwave, TV with DVD player, some books, decks of cards, and a couple of board games. My friend opted to take a quick shower and then we settled in to pass the time until our same guy returned around noon with our piping hot lunch brought to us in a watertight container. When the staff called a while later to give us our “ten minute warning”, it hardly seemed like three hours had passed. We repacked our belongings and our guy secured them before we slipped back into our gear for the short swim to the dock to end our adventure.