My wife, Karen and I (Joe) got scuba certified in the summer of 1999 at Heartland Scuba in Lincoln. The pool and classwork is pretty common sense stuff and we pretty much breezed right through. Karen wears contact lenses and that was a bit of a concern as you are required to remove your mask, so you can't open your eyes when your mask is off. Even so, she still did all her skills the first time. The instructors were really great and a had a plan to deal with contact wearers. Karen impressed the hell out of me and did pretty good for a girl (OW! She just hit me). Actually she did better than 80% of the group. (me too :-) )
To actually get your certification, you have to complete 4 dives in at least 15ft of water. These are the open water dives. Basically, this is just a chance to practice all the same stuff you do in the pool, but in an open water environment. We did ours in a sand pit near Kearney, NE. Visibility was 12 ft when we got in and quickly went to 5 ft after a couple of us kicked up the bottom of the lake, which by the way, was just over 15ft deep. we had to kneel on the bottom to do our skills.
Diving is right up Chris & my alley 'cause it is logical, common sense stuff and *can* be techie, if you get into it. Doesn't have to be though, so it's easy for anyone to do who can pay attention. It should be taken seriously though, if you screw up, you can die. Not unlike driving or eating Burger King too fast.
By the way, we were in class with some people who should not be in a boat, much less the watert. It was pathetic, and I hope, for their sake, they quit. 'cause if they actually got certified, and went diving, they are probably dead now.
I would recommend anyone getting certified, buy some gear --fins, mask, regulator and BC are important--and plan on finishing the open water dives at a resort somewhere. The water is warm, you can see, and it's actually like scuba diving. You see stuff, and have more fun than in a lake (although that was fun in its own way).
Cozumel is our favorite place to go-so far. We dive with Roberta's Eco-Dive Cozumel. Our favorite in Key Largo is Quiescence. Both shops are small with 6-diver boats. You get to pal around with the dive master and captain and they aren't jerks like they seem to be on the big boats. This is definitely the way to go diving!
BTW, If you really like being constantly barked at on great big boats full of foolish divers-- or perhaps are just looking for the SUCKIEST dive operator in the Florida Keys, use Captain Slate's Atlantis Dive Center in Key Largo.
We traveled to Cozumel in January 2003. This was Chris, Snider and my 5th, 1st and 4th trip to Cozumel. Things have changed a bit since the fall of '01. Roberta and Robert, the owners of Roberta's Eco-Dive Cozumel have expanded their operation. They now also operate Scuba Shack in the southern hotel zone and Village TanKah right across the street from Scuba Shack.
Tthe Village TanKah property manager hooked us up with a great deal on lodging and diving. The package deal with the room and diving saved us about $500 each over our normal lodging at Plaza Las Glorias. The pros to this set up are price and convience. Divers can store their gear in lockers right by the pier and wash tanks. Breakfast is provided and there are a couple of places for lunch close. The cons are it's a long walk to town--about 2 miles. We walked it twice, cabbed it for $4 otherwise.
We slept in a little longer, went to bed a little later, and dove a little more. The deal includes FREE shore diving right off the pier (100yrds to the end of the pier from our door). The shore diving was actually quite good. The 007 "Thunderball" airplane was to the south and the south end of the Villa Blanca Beach reef was to the north.
You should go... soon.