Hello? Is this Anne Marie? Hi! This is Kristin!
Yes I am looking forward to going out with you on the boat.
We will be doing Discovery Scuba right?
I am a first timer…I am a little nervous. Oh, so we will go over things in the morning.
There will be someone to watch the girls?
Oh great! They will love having their own snorkeling instructor. Perfect. See you then.
I was talking to Anne Marie McNeil, co-owner of Avadon Divers. Her voice was the welcoming calm that I was looking for. I was a first time diver and anxiety about learning how to do it, from breathing to the gear, overwhelmed me. Her easy clear tone set me at ease and put me in the right frame of mind to complete a day of Discovery Scuba.
Discovery Scuba is an introduction day – a primer that can be used as a way to see if scuba is right for you – a stepping stone for PADI open water certification. Guests are outfitted with wetsuits, scuba gear and basic instruction that allows them to get in the water and being to explore. Small ratios of students to instructors ensure the support that is vital to beginners.
Avadon’s reputation preceded our trip to Belize. Our friend, Sharon Sacher Andrews of Sittee River told us, “I always go with Avadon in Placencia. They have what I need for support and a great boat and staff.”
I had the chance to speak with Anne-Marie about Avadon after our successful day trip. Mark and I had our first taste of diving on the barrier reef: our girls tried out their gear and adjusted to the salty blue of the ocean.
Kristin; How did Avadon begin? Was it a partnership with you and your brother Phillip?
Anne Marie: Avadon began as a dream both Phillip and I had back in 2004, to open a dive shop somewhere in the Caribbean. I was in Jamaica then,and Phillip was in New York State. I surfed the web looking for the ideal spot before I realize that Belize was right under my nose. The biggest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere and only 500 miles or so to the west of Jamaica. Yes, it was formed as a partnership between myself and Phillip and remains as such. I moved from Jamaica to Turks & Caicos first in 2004 after deciding on Belize for a 2-year position at a large hotel dive shop. I moved to Belize in 2006 to start a new assignment on board a live-aboard dive boat – the Sun Dancer II. I stayed on board with Sun Dancer until near the end of 2008, just before Avadon Divers was ready to open its doors on 1 Jan 2009.
Anne Marie: Our business philosophy is very simple. Phillip and I both enjoy diving very much. We’ve had the opportunity to work with some world class dive operations in the Caribbean. We took the best of what those operations offered in dive services, and incorporated that into our service. We believe in constant improvement and development of our product, always keeping the comfort and safety of our clients in mind.
As the visitor flow to Placencia increases in the coming years, we would like to grow the business through adding other boats. And, in that way offer 2 different dive locations in a day, and night dives routinely. We are working on increasing our product offering in our pro shop, making sure our inventory has a full line of scuba gear and accessories for sale.
We achieved the BTB Award of Tour Operator Of The Year through applying our business philosophy to every service we offer our guests, from the first communication by phone or e-mail, through the supply of helpful informational support leading up to their trip to Belize, their snorkel, dive, or land adventure experience with us, to our follow-up after departure with each client. The dedication of our crew to this philosophy is, without a doubt, an integral part of achieving such accolades.
Anne Marie: We were lucky enough to find dedicated people who love their work as much as we do. We pay our dive professionals more than most dive operations in Belize because we wanted to attract the best, and keep the best. Also, by working with them side by side and maintaining an “open door” policy, we have provided a relaxed, fun and structured environment where we work together like a cohesive unit.
Side Note – Anne Marie and Phillip’s staff have won the annual Lionfish Hunt on the Placencia Peninsula. The invasive species is rounded up using slingshot style tridents. The have fun fishing for them then turning them into stew or ceviche.
Anne Marie: Phillip and I grew up with the ocean in our front yard in Jamaica always dreaming of what it would be like to put on scuba gear and go diving as we’d watch some of the first Jacques Cousteau programs on TV. Phillip learned to dive while working in a famous resort along the Jamaican North Coast at the age of 18. He later trained and worked in the merchant marine, and as a commercial diver in Louisiana.
I did not get certified until later in life when I started working at the large all-inclusive resorts on the north coast of Jamaica over 17 years ago. During that time, I became a Scuba Instructor and operations manager for all water sports and scuba diving there. Following that, I spent time working in Turks and Caicos before moving to Belize and taking a position as part of the crew and management team for Peter Hughes Diving’s Sundancer II, a live-aboard dive yacht. I spent two and a half years working on that vessel before opening the doors of Avadon Divers together with Phillip in January of 2009.
The Avadon Divers sign is seen easily on the road on the Placencia penninsula. A mermaid (that looks a lot like Anne Marie), graces the sign. The shop is situated on the lagoon side of the town and boats come directly to the shop.
Kristin Fuhrmann Simmons