Aquariums are my jam. I love all kinds of ocean creatures but sharks have had a metaphorical (and thank God not literal) hold on me for years. I have always found these creatures fascinating. I have always feared them as well.
When I lived in Florida, minor shark attacks were a thing that happened just outside my balcony about twice a year. Usually an unsuspecting swimmer thrashed around or accidentally stepped on a resting shark and he/she donated a small portion of their skin/hand/foot to the shark’s mouth.
That said, I love a good shark week party as much as the next basic, white chick.
Up until recently, I had been in a community theater production of Puss in Boots (through Staged in Kuwait– amazing) and so my weekends were booked. I decided that as soon as the play was done I was gonna take a quick trip before the Winter holiday. I needed somewhere close, but new. Something somewhat adventurous but also partially relaxing. I thought about my vision board, nestled inside some box in a Florida storage facility and realized I finally had the means to check off two things: stay at an Atlantis resort and swim with sharks. Dubai had both. My Pinterest board that is devoted solely to this resort and its amenities could finally become my actual reality. Pinterest enthusiasts everywhere, rejoice!
Now, I have another upcoming post planned on the Atlantis Hotel itself.
In the interest of keeping things that a length long enough to express all the feels I had this past weekend while being short enough to ensure you don’t close the browser on me (shame on you) I decided to focus this post solely on the shark diving.
The Atlantis Resort in Dubai (United Arab Emirates) is known for its aquariums. When I browsed their website for aquatic adventures I was torn between two opportunities, the Shark Trek that is held in the water park aquarium and the assisted scuba dive that is held in the Lost Chambers Aquarium inside the hotel. I reached out to the Aquatic Adventures customer service via e-mail and they were not only extremely helpful but answered back within 24 hours. Great customer service is super hard to find and timely responses are important when you are trying to book said adventures between Guided Reading groups.
The advice given to me was that the Shark Trek was much shorter and didn’t have as many other creatures as the assisted dive. I also checked out youtube videos from past participants online that made it look ok, but not as immersive as I would have wanted. The assisted scuba dive, however, was longer, in a larger tank, there were more creatures in there alongside the sharks, and it could teach me skills I would need if I ever wanted to become a PADI certified scuba diver (I do). So I went with that one.
On the day of the actual assisted scuba dive there were two people who were supposed to go along with me (four was max) but because their flight wasn’t outside of the 12 hour window (you can not dive 12 hours after or before a flight) it ended up just being me.
We began with a safety briefing and diving basics. During this presentation I was 100% paying attention to the safety briefing (because I knew there would be a quiz) while simultaneously 100% paying attention to the fins circling above the water just over my instructor’s left shoulder (because they signaled impending doom). In Florida, if you see fins, you immediately EXIT the water. Now, upon seeing these fins, I was about to immediately ENTER the water. After taking a moment to question my sanity, I finished the training and like the goody two shoes that I am, I aced the quiz as well.
Following this briefing, I donned the wet suit that really highlited my commitment to carbohydrates and then we entered a shallow ledge in the water. I was hooked up to an air tank and weights and we practiced what to do if your goggles become filled with water (no longer see) and what to do if your mouthpiece gets water in it (die). Kidding. We did actually practice those things though, and I learned a few techniques in case these things did happen.
When we got in the water and he let my breathing settle for a couple minutes, that is when I started to panic a little. I could see sharks below but that didn’t bother me at all. I was more worried that I couldn’t get enough oxygen in my lungs and that surely I wouldn’t have enough air and I knew I should have prepared my will before I went on this trip. My diver gave the agreed upon, underwater symbol for “Calm the f*ck down” and to breathe in and out. I did that for a minute and then i gave the OK symbol (a lie) and we started our descent. Once I got off the ledge, my body started to realize that maybe it could rely on this metal tank strapped to my back to provide me with air. Either that or my inner mermaid instincts kicked in, but thirty seconds into it, I was TOTALLY FINE. I got so distracted by all the cool creatures around me that I basically forgot to be anxious. For me, that says a lot.
During the descent, you have to pop your ears every few feet and I was able to do that, no problem. At some point, we reached the bottom and I barely even realized we had gone so far down. Some of the giant fish were incredibly friendly. I was told not to touch them but that didn’t stop them from brushing up on me. We got to feed them little sea anenomes from underneath the rocks in the tank as well. The sting rays were all shapes and sizes and adorable as usual.
Then…the sharks. There were many of them and they came nearby but not too close. My instructor brought me to the bottom, underneath a cauldron-looking thing.
There were a group of sharks under there just hanging out. Two were in front of me and one was to my right side. I was three feet away from one of the sharks who was opening and closing his mouth to show me his teeth while he was straight chillin. It was as if to say “I have the capability of eating you, but luckily I feed regularly so you may continue to live and blog about me on your travel site.” Or maybe I’m giving him (her?) too much credit. Either way, we both kind of sat there and stared at each other for several minutes. It gave a literal definition to “looking fear in the face” and it became apparent that we had bonded, and thusly, I would not become brunch.
After that we swam around a bit more and eventually came back to the surface. My instructor gave me a shark’s tooth that they had collected from the bottom of the tank. I was happy to have it laying ON my hand rather than IN my hand.
The experience overall was spectacular. I gotta hand it to the Atlantis Diving Staff (especially you Manouj) the experience was seamless. There was a cheap go pro camera option that they offered, but I declined because I wanted to make sure I was truly in the moment. Plus, there was a photographer taking photos and I’m just the kind of chump to buy them afterwards. I also got a diving certificate from PADI and learned some of the basic skills that I will need when I register for a program to become a certified scuba diver without assistance (one day in the near future hopefully).
For now, I am glad to have a new stamp in the passport and one less fear in my head.