Train Locally or When On Vacation?
Do I take my training here locally, and make my check-out dives in the murky cold water, or take my course while I'm on vacation somewhere warm? One friend told me that I could actually complete my classroom and pool training here, and do my open-water work someplace nice (read: warm). They're all encouraging me to take my training locally because they say I won't really be qualified to dive around here if I only have warm-water experience. Any advice?
The decision should be driven largely by your diving plans after certification. If you plan to dive only in warm, tropical water, then there's no downside to taking your training in that environment. In that case, you might consider the “referral” option described by your friends — classroom and pool training locally and open water elsewhere. However, if there's any possibility that local diving might be in your future, then you certainly want to get local training. Most divers consider the transition from cold-water diving to warm-water diving easier than the reverse. Indeed, the better visibility and lack of need for a thick exposure suit does make the transition into open water easier. Yet, some divers find that the benign conditions of a quarry, though cold, are better than dealing with salt water, and the possibly heavy seas and currents. There's really no “right” decision; it's a matter of circumstance and choice.
Your dilemma does raise an important issue: While you will get the same certification card regardless of where you train, that doesn't mean that you'll be qualified to dive anywhere. This means that, no matter where your open-water training takes place, you absolutely must get a proper orientation anytime you plan to dive in a new environment. To me, a proper orientation means a dive under the supervision of a professional. You can accomplish this either by taking a specialty diving course, or arranging for a dive professional to orient and supervise you during your initial experiences.