Over the years, I have come into contact with many vendors of merchandise and services in the Scuba industry. This page is a summary of my experiences with them including the good, the bad, and the ugly.
One of the best dive operations that I ever had the pleasure of experiencing was at Baskin' in the Sun on Tortola. After checking in the first day, all of our gear was set up, cleaned, stored, and prepared for use by the crew. The boat was well run and organized. Each dive was preceded by a briefing and lead by a competent dive guide. This is definitely the way to run a dive operation.
Del Mar Aquatics, of Cozumel, Mexico, runs a very good dive boat. They typically send three people out on the boat. A dive guide leads the dives in the water, this leaves a Captain and crew member on the boat. While the conditions at Cozumel, mainly drift diving, may dictate some of this, they still do it very well. The one thing they need to work on is their office procedures and paperwork. While on vacation, nobody wants a hassle, no matter how small it may be.
At the other end of the spectrum, in my humble opinion, was the dive operation at Captain Don's Habitat on Bonaire. Not only were their briefings lacking in information, but they only sent one person out on the boat. Thus, when this dive guide went in the water, there was no one left on the boat for emergencies.
Admittedly, dive vacations are for diving, not hanging out in the room. The general consequence of this is that hotels that cater to divers tend to be somewhat rustic. A good exception to this is Bonaire's Sand Dollar Condominiums. This quality of the rooms is very good. And, most importantly for divers, the Green Parrot restaurant is both convenient and good.
Another well done hotel is the Sunset House on Grand Cayman. This is the prototypical example of a diver's hotel. "Run by divers, for divers" as their slogan goes holds true to form. With ease of access to the water and the surfside bar (with food), all the essentials are close at hand.
A slight change of pace can be found at La Ceiba in Cozumel, Mexico. A high rise building on the Western shore of the island provides a good view of the incessant stream of cruise ships. The on-site dive operator, Del Mar Aquatics, is an added attraction (good briefings and excellent guides -- just carefully inspect any rental gear).
The first dive store that I used was Scuba Network in New York City. Scuba Network is a chain of dive stores in the Northeast and Florida. There are two stores in Manhattan and one store in Brooklyn. A good selection of equipment with knowledgeable sales staff (almost all of whom are dive instructors). The salespeople do go in for the tough sell.
Another good store in New York City is Pan Aqua Diving. This store is not part of a chain, but it does have a good selection of equipment. Again, the salespeople are usually dive instructors and are extremely knowledgeable. Possibly due to a smaller volume than the Scuba Network chain, the prices at Pan Aqua are higher.
Another store at which I have purchased dive gear in New York is called Adorama. This store differs from the others in that most of the salespeople are not divers themselves and it is not exclusive to diving (I think they also sell Tennis gear). This causes a small amount of unfamiliarity with some equipment. The prices, however, are the best in the city.
The last New York dive store that I have used (though not for some time) is Paragon sporting goods. In contrast to Scuba Network and Pan Aqua, Paragon is a large store with many departments. Scuba diving is only a small part of the store and, as a result, their selections and prices suffer.
One of the first major pieces of equipment that I purchased for myself were my regulators. I purchased a Mares MR-12 first stage, Navy second stage (as my primary), and a Beta second stage (as an octopus -- spare). All of these have served me very well. With annual maintenance, this performance should continue.
After diving for a while, I came to the conclusion that a lot of divers do -- you can dive safer with a computer. So, the next big purchase I made was an Orca Marathon dive computer manufactured by Orca Dive Computers. Using a dive computer allows a diver to dive deeper and longer and still dive safer!!! I like this model because it has large numbers with a very easily read interface. It is also one of the cheapest computers on the market.
Another important lesson learned in diving is redundancy. When your life is on the line, make sure you have backup equipment. To backup my dive computer, I purchased a Citizen dive watch. This watch tracks my depth and time. Though it doesn't perform the complex nitrogen absorption calculations that a dive computer does, it is still an essential piece of backup equipment.
Just recently, I purchased a new Mares Titanium Abyss regulator. This regulator received good reviews and good scores in comparisons done by dive magazines. One of the features that I was looking for in a new regulator was two high pressure ports. My plan is to install a standard submersible pressure gauge and dept gauge onto one on the high pressure ports. The second will be used for an as of yet un-purchased wireless air integrated dive computer. I will keep you posted on this situation as it develops.