a blue fish and a rainbow fish in cozumel, mexico

Disclaimer: I received my SSI Advanced Open Water Course, as well as 3 days of fun dives, from ScubaTony in exchange for my honest review. As always, all opinions are my own.

With warm waters, absolutely amazing marine life and coral formations, and a boat load of dive schools–not to mention its easy access from the US–Cozumel is a super popular spot to get dive certified. I took my Open Water Course in Cozumel just over a year ago, and when I was looking at where to do my SSI Advanced Open Water certification, I knew almost immediately that I wanted to return to Cozumel.

But what dive shop to choose?? While I did love diving with the shop I went with the first time around, I wanted to try something a little different this time. So after a pretty serious research session, I settled on ScubaTony, a small dive operation with a focus on instruction and providing a level of service that no one else on the island does.

And I absolutely loved every minute of it.

What especially drew me to ScubaTony, though, was the fact that they offered SSI courses in addition to PADI ones. Which, if you’re looking to save a bit of money, can be a great choice!

Here’s a complete review of my SSI Advanced Open Water Course with ScubaTony in Cozumel, Mexico!

PADI Advanced Open Water vs. SSI Advanced Adventurer

Instead of the traditional PADI Advanced Open Water Course, I took the SSI Advanced Adventurer (often still referred to as advanced open water), the SSI equivalent.

If you’ve done a little bit of research into dive courses, you’ll likely know that the leading dive education courses are PADI ones. They’re definitely a name brand in the scuba world, and you probably haven’t even considered taking a course by a different organization.

But what actually is the difference between SSI and PADI? Honestly? Not much.

Both PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) and SSI (Scuba Schools International) courses follow standards set by WRSTC (Word Recreational Scuba Training Council). This means that both will teach you everything you need to know, and the actual content of the courses differs very little.

The certifications are interchangeable. There’s no need to worry that a PADI shop won’t accept your SSI certification or an SSI shop won’t accept your PADI certification.

One of the big differences between PADI and SSI, though, is the price. With PADI, you have to pay extra for the online training, but with SSI it’s free-making a big difference!

For example, when I dove with ScubaTony, an SSI advanced open water course cost $450, while one with PADI cost $560. That’s a difference of being able to afford an extra day of fun diving or not!

Additionally, SSI allows instructors to add additional information and skills if they feel that it’s necessary or improves the quality of the course, which means your course will feel a lot less like a textbook, which I really enjoyed!

Planning on going diving soon? You’ll need good travel insurance which includes recreational scuba diving on its activities list. I use & recommend World Nomads.


For your Advanced Adventurer course with SSI, you must complete 5 of the following adventure dives:

  • Boat Dive
  • Deep Dive
  • Dry Suit Dive
  • EAN Nitrox Dive
  • Navigation Dive
  • Night and Limited Visibility Dive
  • Perfect Buoyancy Dive
  • Photo and Video Dive
  • Scooter-DPV Dive
  • Search and Recovery Dive
  • Waves, Tides, and Currents Dive
  • Wreck Dive

All of these adventure dives are meant to make you a more confident and skilled diver, which is the whole purpose of the advanced open water course.

For my course with ScubaTony, we did these 5 dives:

  • Perfect Buoyancy
  • Deep Dive
  • Drift Dive (Waves, Tides, and Currents)
  • Navigation Dive
  • Underwater Naturalist Dive

Here’s how they went!

Perfect Buoyancy Dive

Note: I didn’t take my camera underwater during the course for obvious reasons–I wanted to focus on learning. So instead I’m embedding Instagram photos from the dive sites I dove!

I arrived for the first dive of my SSI Advanced Open Water course at 7:30 in the morning at Tikila Beach Bar–one of the most popular shore diving spots in Cozumel.

Once there, I checked in with my instructor, Israel, tried on my rental gear, signed my waiver, and was briefed about how the course would go.

The first dive of the course would be the Perfect Buoyancy Dive, which I was super excited about as this is a skill that I’ve been wanting to perfect. For the on land portion, we talked about how much weight I’d been using while diving (12 pounds) and if this was the right amount of weight.

Israel suspected that 12 pounds was probably about 2 pounds too much for me, but that in the pretty strong currents of Cozumel, it was good to have a bit of extra weight.

We also talked about controlling your buoyancy with your breath, and then Israel briefed me on how the dive would go and the skills we would practice.

Then, it was into the water for the dive! Thanks to a bunch of cruise ships that came in that morning, the waves from the shore were pretty rough, making entry and visibility not the greatest in the world.

Still, we soldiered on and were able to complete the perfect buoyancy dive, messing around with my weights until we found the perfect amount (10 pounds, but 12 for strong currents), seeing how my breath changed my buoyancy, and, of course, checking out the marine life in the area.

Getting back onto land was a trial and a half, so we decided that we would move to a different location for the next 2 dives of the day. Which is exactly when we found out that the ports had been closed for the day #rip

Thankfully, it was my first day of a whole week in Cozumel, so it was no problem to push the other two dives back a day and make the course three days instead of two. And the next day, we were off on the boat for two more dives!

Deep Dive

The next morning, it was an early start at the Cozumel Marina (7:15 am, to be exact) for two boat dives as a part of my SSI Advanced Open Water course. I was treated to coffee and granola bars (super welcome, as I was too early for breakfast at my hostel) before climbing on the boat and heading to pick up divers who were staying at hotels in ScubaTony’s pickup zone.

Once we were all on the boat and suited up, we made the quick ride over to our first dive site of the day: Palancar Caves.

Palancar Caves is home to some absolutely WILD coral formations, and was the perfect spot for us to do my deep dive!

As an Open Water diver, you’re only certified to go down to 18 meters (60 feet), but as an Advanced Open Water diver, you get certified to go down to 30 meters (100 feet), so a deep dive is a required part of the course.

While we were still up above the surface, Israel briefed me on how deep we would go and what to expect on the dive. We also reviewed what happens when you go deeper and things you need to remember to do, like equalizing.

He also asked me what I thought would happen to an egg at depth. I made a wild guess (that it would crack), and Israel told me we’d find out at the bottom.

Then, it was a roll-back entry into the ocean and down we went!

Once we were at our deepest depth for the dive (80 feet), Israel took the egg out of the bag and cracked it (so nope, it didn’t crack automatically, like I guessed). And what happened next was pretty freaking magical.

What was it, though? Well, I guess you’ll just have to do a deep dive to find out 😉

Drift Dive

After a one hour surface interval, our second dive of the day was at Paso del Cedral, one of the most popular dive sits in Cozumel, for a drift dive!

Cozumel is famous for its plethora drift diving opportunities (diving where the current is so strong you don’t have to work and just go along with it), so a drift adventure dive for my SSI Advanced Open Water course was a no-brainer here.

While up on the boat, we talked about how to figure out which was the current is going, as well as what to do if you get taken away by the current and can’t find your dive buddy (1 minute search & then ascend), and how to best minimize the drift by staying close to the coral formations.

Once off the boat, I had to look down and determine where the current was moving before we descended for a pretty ripping drift dive. I definitely got a lot of practice!

We also saw some pretty freaking amazing marine life on this dive, including turtles, a nurse shark, and moray eels!

Navigation Dive

If there was one dive I was super nervous about, it was the navigation dive. I remember when I had to use a compass quickly during my open water course and completely failed at it.

Thankfully, Israel sensed my nerves and we did plenty of on-land practice before we even got onto the boat. We also talked more about which way the current typically moves, and he assured me that, because the current is so strong in Cozumel, it wasn’t a big deal if I got pushed a little bit off course.

During the dive briefing, Israel explained what I would have to do, and it turned out to be almost laughably simple:

  1. Swim 10 fin kicks towards 270°, turn around, and swim back to where I started
  2. Find the reef (at approximately 270°, but I could also see it with my eyes)

So that definitely took the stress out of the whole thing!

After I completed my two tasks, I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the dive. So honestly, I had nothing to worry about!

Underwater Naturalist Dive

For the second dive of the day and the last dive of my SSI Advanced Open Water course, we chose to go with the Underwater Naturalist Dive. And if I had to choose a favorite dive from the course, this would be it!

Before we got in the water, we talked all about the different kinds of marine life you can find in Cozumel, including the ever famous Nurse Sharks, turtles, and moray eels, as well as some of the common fish.

What I loved the most, though, was what Israel had to say about coral and the environment. As divers, he said, it’s our job to be ambassadors for the ocean. Since most people will never go down there, they don’t see what’s happening with their own eyes. We have to be the ones to tell them about it.

During the dive, he pointed out the differences between healthy, sick, and dead coral, and it was pretty sobering to see the difference. When I thought about it later, I also realized just how much of a difference I was seeing between when I dove in Cozumel a year ago and then.

Coral all around the world is sick and dying, and we need to do something about it.

Of course, there was a fun part to the dive as well, as Israel indulged in one of his favorite diving pastimes-finding teeny tiny things! We found so many cool little things that I NEVER would have noticed had he not pointed them out.

While a shark or a turtle is pretty easy to spot, spotting these little guys was a harder job, and therefore that much more rewarding!

Once I surfaced on that final dive, I was a certified Advanced Open Water scuba diver!

Diving with ScubaTony

In the end, I was so glad I chose to get my SSI Advanced Open Water certification with ScubaTony. My instructor, Israel, was so friendly and knowledgable, and the gear and service levels were off the charts. I became a much more confident diver over the course of my course with them, and I’m so thankful for it all!

I also dove with ScubaTony for 3 days of fun dives, and was similarly pleased with just how great they were! Here’s a more detailed overview of what diving with ScubaTony in Cozumel, Mexico is like.

The Guides

a scuba diver diving in front of a ship wreck
Wreck diving with Manu

If there’s one thing I could talk about endlessly when it comes to my time diving with ScubaTony, it would be the guides.

My instructor for my SSI Advanced Open Water course, Israel, was so fun, friendly, and knowledgable, and he made me feel so comfortable throughout the entire course. Manu, who I did several fun dives with, was the adventurer of the group, but still always made sure everyone was comfortable and confident. I also dove with Marc once, who gave me the most detailed dive briefing I’ve ever received.

If you get a little nervous before diving, or just appreciate a confident and caring dive master, then you will absolutely love the guides at ScubaTony!

The Equipment

View this post on Instagram

All of our rental gear are Aqualung. New and in great shape.

A post shared by ScubaTony (@scubatonycozumel) on

I was absolutely blown away by the quality of the rental equiptment that ScubaTony provided. It was all Aqualung gear which was either almost new or had been clearly well taken care of, which I appreciated so much.

They also carried integrated weight BCDs and women’s wetsuits, both of which made my dive SO much more comfortable!

The Boat

the Chiquilla Bonita boat on my SSI Advanced Open Water course with ScubaTony in Cozumel, Mexico

I dove off of both the Chiquilla Bonita and Atila with ScubaTony, both of which are small dive boats with just the things you need: places to store your gear, a ledge to roll off of, and a captain–Papo–who made us laugh and provided the snacks.

And that’s it for my review of the SSI Advanced Open Water course with ScubaTony! Stay tuned for a complete guide to scuba diving in Cozumel, coming soon 🙂

Planning on going diving soon? You’ll need good travel insurance which includes recreational scuba diving on its activities list. I use & recommend World Nomads.

Pin it for later

Ready to move beyond beginner status and get your advanced open water certification? Doing your SSI advanced open water course with ScubaTony and scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico is the best way to go! Click through to find out more and read my full review of the course. #scubadive #scubadiving #travel #mexico #girlsthatscuba


Addie Gray is a recent college grad and a passionate solo female traveler. Having traveled to more than 20 countries, she now shares her knowledge on budget travel, solo female travel, and travel photography.

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