I have taken the DiveQuest tour at Epcot twice so far, with a third time scheduled for this December. This tour is for certified SCUBA divers, in The Seas with Nemo pavilion. The entire experience is 3 hours, including an actual dive time of 40 minutes in the tank. Here is my description and review of the tour, including some pictures and video.
Each tour is limited to 12 participants. It starts to the right of Guest Relations outside of Epcot, before the turnstiles. Admission to the park is included with the tour, so if you book one of the earlier ones, you can probably enjoy a couple hours inside Epcot after you’re done (note that any friends or family who want to watch your dive from the observation deck in The Seas must buy their own Epcot admission). To start your tour, a guide meets you outside Guest Relations, and leads you backstage. The guide will start off by collecting everyone’s SCUBA certification cards, and making note of what sized wetsuit and BC you’ll need. He also asks what color souvenir bag you’d like at the end of the tour.
Once all the information is collected, the guide leads everyone through backstage areas over to behind The Seas pavilion. (Unfortunately, as with all WDW tours, no pictures are allowed backstage, so I have none to show you). The guide shows the guests the water filtration system, or rather, the buildings that contain them. The system is so powerful that every drop of water can be filtered through the system in something ridiculous like 30 minutes.
Next you’re led up into the kitchen area, where all of the animals’ food is prepared. Most of the larger animals (manatees, dolphins, sharks, turtles) have specific food they’re given individually, and you’ll see their schedules on a white board just outside the kitchen. The food they’re given is human-quality; indeed, the guide told us that if the Garden Grill or Coral Reef restaurants runs out of something they have, like shrimp, they will occasionally raid the animals’ kitchen. The only thing their kitchen is missing that makes it different from a normal kitchen? Cooking implements.
Guests are then led back outside to a trailer affectionately known as “the beach”. Here they watch a brief video about the actual dive, and sign the waivers and releases. This is also an opportunity to ask the guide any questions you might have. One thing that is made very very clear is that you are not to touch the animals. If they touch you, that’s their call, but you’re not allowed to touch them.
Back into the building, guests are taken to the manatee backstage area. This is where the manatees can kind of hang out when they don’t feel like being on stage in view of the regular Epcot guests. Lots of information about the manatees is doled out, and everyone’s allowed to ask questions.
After the manatees, the guests are led to the locker rooms. Each guest is assigned to their own locker, with their names written on them. Inside the locker is a the wetsuit, booties, towel, and the souvenir bag. Everyone changes into their wetsuit. I should point out that the only things you’re allowed to bring with you, other than a swim suit, are a mask and wrist computer. No other personal dive equipment is allowed in the tank, so don’t even bother bringing it with you. All of our clothes and other personal items are stored in the lockers, and the locker keys are given to the guide for safe keeping.
Once everyone is changed, the guests are walked back up to the onstage area, up to the second level, where the observation room is. If your friends or family are here to watch you, you’ll walk right past them at this point. You go into the center cylindrical room, which contains a staircase up to the top of the tank. When everyone is up there, they’re first taken to the backstage dolphin area, where you’ll get very close (about a foot) from the tank where the dolphins who aren’t on stage hang out during the day. There are four dolphins total at Epcot, but only two are on stage at a time.
Finally, it’s time to get in the water. All of the sets of equipment – your BC with weights already in it, the tank, the regulator with a air gauge, your fins, and a mask (if you didn’t bring your own) – are all laid out side by side. The guide calls everyone’s name, in the order that their gear is lined up. Guests wade into waist-deep water and back up to their set of gear. Put on the fins, then slip into your BC, and you’re good to go. You surface swim or float out to a surface marker where the guide gets everyone together. He describes that the first part of the dive will be a guided tour – everyone descends, kneels down in a semi-circle, and once he’s gotten an “okay” from everyone, leads everyone around the tank, through a swim through, and over to a different part, where everyone kneels down at that big Hidden Mickey. At that point, the videographer will get a big group shot of everyone.
Once the group shot is complete, the guide gives the signs for “buddy up, bye-bye”. At that point, you and your buddy (which was assigned before you got in, if you didn’t sign up for the tour with someone) are supposed to explore the tank on your own, as a pair. However, both times I did the dive, my buddy and I never saw each other again after the “bye-bye” sign was given. It’s only a 25 foot dive, and there are 3 or 4 dive masters in the tank with you, so I didn’t ever feel unsafe.
One of the coolest parts of the dive is that you can swim up to the glass where the regular Epcot guests – including your family and friends – are looking into the tank. The videographer is also there, so he will get a shot of you scuba diving next to your air-surrounded friends. This is also an opportunity for your friends to get up-close pictures of you, like this one for example:
The entire dive is 40 minutes long, and after you get the “bye bye” sign, you can explore it at your leisure. The only real rules are 1) don’t touch the animals 2) stay at least 10 feet from the bars separating you from the dolphin area 3) surface if you get down to 500psi. If you are an air hog (as I am) and you get down to 500psi with 5 or more minutes left in the dive, they will actually swap your tank out with a new one and send you back down. This happened to me on the second time I did the dive. I surfaced when I got to 500, gave the “ok” sign so the Cast Members at the surface didn’t think there was a problem, and then swam back to the area where we entered. The closest analogy I can give to what happened next is a NASCAR pit stop. I backed myself up to where the gear had been laid out (so I was again in waist-deep water). The CM turned off my tank, had me purge my reg, disconnected the tank from my reg, removed the tank from the BC, got a new tank in its place, hooked it up to the BC and to the reg, and turned it on. It took all of 30 seconds from the time I got to the gear-load area to when I was allowed to go back down with a fresh supply of air. It was seriously amazing.
Within the tank are all kinds of fish, of course, but also some rays, sea turtles, and sharks. They’re all very used to humans invading their environment. In fact, the sharks are pretty well trained that if a human is kneeling down (and being calm, not waving arms around or flailing about), they’ll swim right on over and give you an upclose view. My first dive, I knelt down for a bit, and about 15 seconds later, a shark was so close that I could have touched his head (if I didn’t mind getting the dive ended immediately and tossed out of the park, of course). That was very cool. On the second dive, a sea turtle came so close to me that I had to lean backwards to avoid him hitting me with his flipper. I heard that another member of my first dive actually had a turtle ram right into his head.
When the forty minutes are up, the guide bangs two rocks together, which is the signal to return to the hidden Mickey. Everyone gathers back in another semi-circle on the bottom, as the guide makes sure we have everyone, then gives the signal for “go up”. All the divers return to the gear load area, and back up to the ledge where the CMs take the gear off you. As you get out of the water, they give everyone a towel to start drying yourself off. Once everyone’s out, everyone walks back down to the locker rooms. There are two bins there, one for used towels, one for your wetsuits. There are showers with soap, shampoo, and conditioner as well.
When everyone’s clean, dry, and changed, we’re walked up to a room with a TV and a whiteboard. The whiteboard has the statistics of our dive so that we can fill out our dive logs. They also have a stamp they’ll put on your log.
Finally, the video taken during your dive is playing on the tv in front of you. The video is available to purchase for $35. My first dive, I absolutely had to get it, because, seriously, how friggin cool?!
Yes, in this video, I’m the shmuck who wasn’t paying attention and swam head-first into the fake coral
Some of the pictures below are just screen shots of the above video, others are shots that were taken outside the tank by other members of our dive club and/or by my girlfriend. Really the only thing that I wish could change about this tour would be allowing us to bring our own under water cameras into the tank with us.
The regular cost for DiveQuest is $175. If you dive with a group who is able to front the entire cost for all 12 members at once, you can get a discounted rate, as low as $120 per person. If you are a certified diver and a Disney fan, this tour should be a no-brainer for you. If you’re not a certified diver, get certified. It’s worth it.