GillF - Bluewater Dive Travel

GillF

GillF

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Reviews (17)

Best Scuba Diving in Galapagos Islands

5
4
5
4

Where to start! The Galapagos has been at the top of my bucket list for years, so this trip was highly anticipated. From a marine-life perspective, it didn't disappoint, and we saw far more than I was expecting. However, visibility wasn't great so some sightings felt fleeting at best. At Wolf and Darwin, we saw plenty of individual hammerheads and a few small groups, however, they were shy and didn't come closer than 15m. The poor vis meant we didn't get to experience the huge schools that this area is famous for, however, I'm sure they were there just out of sight. We also saw a good number of big Galapagos sharks, and a couple of whitetip reef sharks.

One of the highlights was spotting a huge whale shark. It spent some time doubling back and did a big figure of 8 loop so that we got a really great view. On another dive we saw 3 Mola mola at a cleaning station and then a single Mola mola during our safety stop, but , again, visibility wasn't great so we only watched them for less than a minute before they disappeared.

I was really blown away by the abundance of life here. The reefs are alive and bustling, and the fish don't seem scared of divers. I've never seen so many turtles and moray eels!

Diving can be challenging, especially for inexperienced divers. Expect STRONG currents at some sites, where you duck behind a rock and hold on. There is also quite a bit of bluewater diving and safety stops, choppy surface conditions, and it can get cold. In December the lowest temperatures we recorded were 13C at Fernandina! But it's worth it to see the marine iguanas and Mola mola.

Galapagos is reasonably undeveloped but definitely caters to tourists. There are countless t-shirt and souvenir shops, and the tortoise reserve is interesting. If you have some extra time, I would suggest visiting some of the more outlying areas where the wildlife is exceptional.

Visited on 12/2022 - Submitted on 12/20/2022
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Pacific Master

5
5
3
3

I spent 11 nights on Pacific Master in January 2023 and felt like I got to know the boat, the crew, and the diving operation really well. The boat is more spacious than a lot of liveaboards I’ve been on. It sleeps up to 20 guests, although I imagine this would be a squeeze. We were 16 and it felt comfortable. The saloon area has plenty of space for everyone to dine together, as well as half a dozen sofas for relaxing. Guest cabins are either one deck below the saloon or one deck above on the upper deck. The upper deck cabins are larger, with a window and en suite bathroom. They have independent air conditioning units and a good amount of storage on shelves and under the beds. The lower cabins are smaller and they share toilet/shower facilities on the main dive deck. The cabins were very clean and comfortable and were serviced and cleaned daily. We had fresh towels several times during the trip and there was also a laundry service. The dive deck is excellent, one of the largest I’ve dived from. I was on a technical trip so there was a lot of equipment and extra cylinders, however, there was a place for everything and good storage facilities for all our extra kit. Diving was staggered to make sure the dive deck never got too busy, and there was a very slick process for getting us in and out of the water. I thought the crew onboard was excellent. The dive team consisted of 2 local guides and 2 western guides, however, the captain also guided some dives. The level of knowledge and experience was evident amongst the team. Help was always immediately at hand when kitting up and entering and exiting the water, and I felt that safety was a top priority. The only downside to the boat was the food. It is a challenge to get fresh vegetables in Chuck, however, the meals were very repetitive - basic salad, some kind of meat stew, canned vegetables, and ice cream for dessert. There was a lack of imagination and after 10 days of this, I was tempted to offer my services to the chef and cook up something myself!

Visited on 01/2023 - Submitted on 01/27/2023
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Truk Lagoon

5
4
3
3

Diving in Chuuk is a very unique experience. I wasn’t prepared for just how many wrecks there are and how huge they all are. Every wreck is different and has its own ecosystem of soft and hard corals and a great selection of macro. There is something for everyone here, and dives can easily be tailored to individual diver depth limits and wreck penetration experience. However, this is a very wreck-centric location, so don’t expect any big marine life and only a few medium-sized reef species. I would recommend buying a guidebook that gives a basic history of each wreck before you travel. There are guidebooks available in Truk but they are really expensive - around $90!! Having a book makes it really interesting to read about the wreck you are diving either before or after the dive, and to understand some of the histories of the area. Water temperatures are generally around 27-30C year round, with little current and generally great visibility. The weather can be unpredictable - there was a lot of rain when I visited, accompanied by windy squalls that chopped up the surface quite a lot. However, there are some very sheltered sites that can be utilized if the exposed wrecks are weathered out. I would recommend diving Truk from a liveaboard rather than a shore resort. The diving facilities are far superior and the accommodation and food is also better.

Visited on 01/2023 - Submitted on 01/27/2023
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Truk Blue Lagoon Resort

4
4
3
4

This is the only resort option for divers in Chuuck, and while it could never be classed as a high-end resort it does offer an escape from the slightly chaotic vibe on the rest of the island. The reception and restaurant area is very clean and in good condition, although this is the only area that WiFi is available. Rooms are chalet-style huts spread around the grounds.
There is an indoor restaurant and a bar down by the waterfront. I didn’t dive here, but the dive operation seems well-organized at first glance. This resort is a long way from luxury, but it is one of the only acceptable options on this very poor island.

Visited on 01/2023 - Submitted on 01/27/2023
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Truk Stop Hotel

3
2
3
3

Bearing in mind that Chuuk is a poor island with limited resources, Truk Stop offers one of the better accommodation options. The staff are friendly and helpful and there was someone waiting to meet us on arrival at the airport. The rooms are spacious and have good air conditioning, however, they did need a thorough clean. The rooms have en suite showers with hot water, a fridge, and a large drum of drinking water. However, this is far from a luxury resort so expectations need to be managed.

The restaurant serves buffet options throughout the day and I thought the food was great considering there is a lack of fresh produce on the island! Salad, several meat and fish options, and desert. There is also an outdoor dining area and bar. WiFi is available through out the hotel, however, you do need to swap between different networks as you move around. I didn’t dive with Truk Stop, but they have the reputation of being the best dive operator on the island. Remember that this is Micronesia, so everything is done on island time and in island style. So long as you arrive with a relaxed attitude and a good sense of humour you’ll enjoy it here.

Visited on 01/2023 - Submitted on 04/09/2023
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Emperor Superior

4
4
5
4

I booked Emperor Superior with high expectations as it is billed as one of the higher-end boats in the Red Sea. I would say my 7 nights on board were fine, but I certainly wasn’t wowed, and didn’t enjoy this trip nearly as much as some of the other Red Sea liveaboards I’ve spent time on.

The Good Bits:

Accommodation
We had an Upper Deck Double Cabin (the only one on board) and it was spacious and well appointed with a good amount of storage, although no hanging space. The en suite was large and the shower was also really big for a boat, but there were no shelves or storage facilities of any kind in the ensuite so our toiletries had to stay in a bag on the floor. The rest of the boat was in good condition, clean and well looked after. There was plenty of space in the saloon, although with 26 divers on board some people did have to stand or sit on the floor during briefings. There was also enough space for all guests to eat at the same time in the dining area.

Food and Staff
The food was tasty and plentiful - there were some really nice healthy options, soup each day, plenty of salads, and not too much seafood. The Desserts were also delicious. The catering staff and stewards were always helpful and courteous. The dive deck hands were very good - helpful and attentive at all times.

The Bad Bits:

Organization
There were quite a few changes to the schedule due to weather, and this was discussed with the guests each evening. However, there were times when things seemed very disorganized with little communication to the guests. This was especially the case at the end of the trip when we were delayed back into port.

Diving
The best sites on this itinerary are Tiran and Ras Mohammed. We spent 1 full day (4 dives) in Tiran but then only did 1 dive in Ras Mohammed. This was a big disappointment as some of the most exciting reef and wall dives are in this area and the marine life is excellent.

There were 26 divers onboard and 2 dive guides. This is what Emperor advertised, so no surprises, however, on many other Red Sea liveaboards there are fewer divers and 3 guides (1 cruise director and 2 guides). In addition to this, on almost all dives on this trip there was only 1 guide in the water. This meant that all but the least experienced divers were diving unguided the majority of the time.

Of all the boats I’ve been on, it is the staff that make or break a trip, and unfortunately, most of the staff on this trip were lacking any kind of personal touch. It really felt like we were just the next group on a conveyor belt of trips.

In Summary:
This wasn’t a terrible trip by any means, however, I have been on some great Red Sea liveaboards and this didn’t match up to previous experiences. I will definitely steer clear of such large boats in the future, as I feel the number of guests had a big impact on most of the negative issues we experienced. This maybe isn’t the best option for new divers or those looking for a highly personal experience.

Visited on 04/2023 - Submitted on 04/09/2023
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M/Y Almonda Liveaboard

5
4
5
5

The Almonda is a big boat by Red Sea liveaboard standards and can sleep a maximum of 24 guests. The cabins are some of the most spacious I have seen, with plenty of hanging space, cupboards, and storage under the beds. The dining room is on the lower level, off the dive deck, and the lounge area is one floor above. The indoor lounge has plenty of space for everyone to relax, and there is also a large, shaded outdoor seating area and bar directly above the dive deck. The top deck has sunbeds and a jacuzzi, but it was too hot to spend much time up there. We were 18 guests onboard for this trip, but even with a full compliment of 24 the boat wouldn’t feel crowded.

The Almonda is reasonably modern, and the dining area feels quite new. The lounge and cabins were a bit tired and could do with sprucing up. However, everything worked and was well-cleaned. All cabins had AC and a television, and guests were provided with bottled water, a cabin towel, and a dive poncho. The cabins were cleaned twice a day, and the towels changed part way through the week. There were charging points located under the seats in the lounge, and also on the dive deck. Free WiFi was available in the lounge area when the boat was within cell signal range - this was really only the first and last two days of the trip.

The dive deck was well fitted out and there was plenty of space for everyone and their kit. Nitrox was included free of charge. There was only one freshwater rinse tank for computers and cameras, however there were three camera tables, and an air gun for drying off cameras and computers. At the back of the dive deck there were 30+ cubby holes, each with a charging socket. More than enough for everyone onboard. Sockets are round 2-pin European style. The lower deck was also spacious, with two fresh water showers and two fresh water guns for rinsing off after the dive.

I was very impressed by the food onboard. Breakfast was a range of salads, meats, and cheeses, cereal and yogurt, toast, pancakes, and spreads, and Arabic cuisine such as falafel and beans. The chef also cooked eggs to order. Lunch and dinner were a choice of salads, at least two meat or fish options, fresh vegetables, and salad, rice, or potatoes. There were several ‘speciality’ meals such as steak night and seafood night, where the chef made sushi, prawn platters, and cooked a whole salmon. Desserts were normally a choice of fruit, and a couple of nights we had Arabic cakes or ice-cream. There was always a supply of snacks and fruit, and soft drinks and specialty coffee were freely available. After each dive we were handed a small glass of fruit juice.

As per Saudi law, there is no alcohol served onboard, and it is not permitted to bring your own.
This is the first season that the Almonda has been officially running as a liveaboard in Saudi, so the crew have been drawn from an existing pool of seasoned Egyptian liveaboard workers. This meant that everything ran very smoothly and I felt the staff were well rehearsed in their roles and duties onboard. The dive guides, especially, were very experienced and heavily involved in discovering new dive sites. They were excited to be part of something new and unique, and were constantly updating their briefings with new photos and presentations as they dived the sites more.

I would class this as a good mid-range boat - definitely not luxury, but one of the better boats I’ve been on.

The Diving

I dived the Farasan Banks itinerary which is run from February through to May. After that it gets too hot in the south so the boat moves north to dive a different itinerary. I thought the diving was fantastic - new dive sites are being discovered all the time, and the guides are actively exploring and discovering new areas to add to the itinerary. There is one other boat that was also running this itinerary, but we only crossed paths with them once during the entire trip.

Most sites are fringing reef, with a large plateau at 30-40m leading to a steep drop off. We tended to dive the more exposed end of the reef to give us the best chance of spotting pelagics. Most dives started with a swim out above the plateau to the drop-off, 20 minutes in the blue looking for big stuff, and then a slow swim back up to the reef for the final 20 minutes exploring the shallows. The water was warm - between 27 and 30 Celsius. At some sites we had light to medium current, but we generally drifted with it rather than having to swim against it. Entries and exits were a mix of zodiac diving or straight from the main boat, depending on the conditions and how close we could get to the reef.

We were briefed to expect schooling hammerheads, huge shoals of barracuda and tuna, and plenty of silky, whitetip, and grey reef sharks. However, the water temperature had warmed up to the point that the big stuff was much deeper than it had been several weeks before. The other group had one encounter with a group of around 30 scalloped hammerheads that circled them for 5 minutes, but we generally didn’t see as much pelagic life as in previous trips. The guides told me that the best time to dive was February through April when the water is around 25C. We did spot one or two lone hammerheads, a couple of eagle rays, and a mobula ray. But the best experience was a family of dolphins that hung out with us for 10 minutes during our safety stop.

I was most impressed by the condition of the coral reefs. I have never experienced such healthy corals and sponges. The entire reef is covered - no patches of rock or areas of dead or damaged coral. It’s pristine! And there are tons of small and medium fish life. The ecosystem seems to be in perfect balance - completely untouched. Swimming over the plateau areas we looked down on nesting trigger fish, reef sharks sleeping on sandy patches, small groups of juvenile barracuda and jack - the amount of life was exceptional.

Travel to Saudi

Saudi Arabia has a poor reputation in the west, however, I didn’t experience anything negative during my travel into and out of the country. The new international airport (Terminal 1) is very modern and well organised. The arrivals area has food and coffee outlets, a huge aquarium, and is only a short walk to the transport waiting area. Credit card and wireless payments are readily accepted. The Saudis I encountered spoke good English and were friendly and helpful.

I didn’t venture further than the airports on this trip, however, I met a lady on the boat who lives in Dubai and regularly travels throughout the Gulf States. She had just completed a road trip around Saudi with another female friend and the photos looked fantastic! She didn’t encounter any problems from a safety point of view, in fact she said she felt it was one of the safest Middle Eastern countries she has visited.

There is no requirement for non-Muslim ladies to wear a headscarf, in fact there were many without at the airport. Both men and women should cover their legs and shoulders when out in public - loose trousers and a t-shirt is perfectly acceptable. Once on the boat, it was no issue to wear standard liveaboard clothing - the crew are all Egyptian so quite comfortable with guests wearing shorts and vests, swimsuits, etc.

A word of warning - there is also an old terminal (Terminal 2) at Jeddah airport which is not nearly as nice as the new terminal. There are no facilities and it is crowded, disorganised, and I queued for a long time to get through immigration. This seems to be the terminal used for domestic arrivals and flights coming in from other nearby Middle Eastern countries and was predominantly pilgrim travelers. I recommend people avoid arriving here if possible.

Also, quite a few flights from Europe route through Cairo. There is a seasonal terminal in Cairo Airport, separate from the main international departures terminal (Terminal 3) that the Jeddah flights depart from. This isn’t noted on any of your paperwork or tickets. There is a shuttle to the seasonal terminal that departs from downstairs outside Terminal 3, or you can take a taxi for around $5. Again, this terminal is very old, disorganised, and with no facilities.

Visited on 05/2023 - Submitted on 05/28/2023
Read all M/Y Almonda Liveaboard Dive Liveaboard reviews

Saudi Arabia

5
4
5
5

I dived the Farasan Banks itinerary which is run from February through to May. After that it gets too hot in the south so the boat moves north to dive a different itinerary. I thought the diving was fantastic - new dive sites are being discovered all the time, and the guides are actively exploring and discovering new areas to add to the itinerary. There is one other boat that was also running this itinerary, but we only crossed paths with them once during the entire trip.

Most sites are fringing reef, with a large plateau at 30-40m leading to a steep drop off. We tended to dive the more exposed end of the reef to give us the best chance of spotting pelagics. Most dives started with a swim out above the plateau to the drop-off, 20 minutes in the blue looking for big stuff, and then a slow swim back up to the reef for the final 20 minutes exploring the shallows. The water was warm - between 27 and 30 Celsius. At some sites we had light to medium current, but we generally drifted with it rather than having to swim against it. Entries and exits were a mix of zodiac diving or straight from the main boat, depending on the conditions and how close we could get to the reef.

We were briefed to expect schooling hammerheads, huge shoals of barracuda and tuna, and plenty of silky, whitetip, and grey reef sharks. However, the water temperature had warmed up to the point that the big stuff was much deeper than it had been several weeks before. The other group had one encounter with a group of around 30 scalloped hammerheads that circled them for 5 minutes, but we generally didn’t see as much pelagic life as in previous trips. The guides told me that the best time to dive was February through April when the water is around 25C. We did spot one or two lone hammerheads, a couple of eagle rays, and a mobula ray. But the best experience was a family of dolphins that hung out with us for 10 minutes during our safety stop.

I was most impressed by the condition of the coral reefs. I have never experienced such healthy corals and sponges. The entire reef is covered - no patches of rock or areas of dead or damaged coral. It’s pristine! And there are tons of small and medium fish life. The ecosystem seems to be in perfect balance - completely untouched. Swimming over the plateau areas we looked down on nesting trigger fish, reef sharks sleeping on sandy patches, small groups of juvenile barracuda and jack - the amount of life was exceptional.

Saudi Arabia has a poor reputation in the west, however, I didn’t experience anything negative during my travel into and out of the country. The new international airport (Terminal 1) is very modern and well organised. The arrivals area has food and coffee outlets, a huge aquarium, and is only a short walk to the transport waiting area. Credit card and wireless payments are readily accepted. The Saudis I encountered spoke good English and were friendly and helpful.

I didn’t venture further than the airports on this trip, however, I met a lady on the boat who lives in Dubai and regularly travels throughout the Gulf States. She had just completed a road trip around Saudi with another female friend and the photos looked fantastic! She didn’t encounter any problems from a safety point of view, in fact she said she felt it was one of the safest Middle Eastern countries she has visited.

There is no requirement for non-Muslim ladies to wear a headscarf, in fact there were many without at the airport. Both men and women should cover their legs and shoulders when out in public - loose trousers and a t-shirt is perfectly acceptable. Once on the boat, it was no issue to wear standard liveaboard clothing - the crew are all Egyptian so quite comfortable with guests wearing shorts and vests, swimsuits, etc.

Visited on 05/2023 - Submitted on 05/28/2023
Read all Saudi Arabia Dive Travel reviews

Zanzibar, Tanzania & Kenya

4
4
3
3

I visited Zanzibar at the end of November 2023 and dived at Mnemba Island and Nungwi in the north and Paje in the south. The diving is from boats and is very relaxed and easy - shallow sites with minimal current and reasonable visibility. I would compare it to many Caribbean sites - pleasant, and with interesting marine life, but not extraordinary.

Diving is done on the outside of the reef so there aren't really any house reefs or inshore dive sites that you can explore on your own. The main downside is that the diving is very tidal so some resorts get round this by varying the dive time each day while in other resorts you board the boats straight from the resort jetty or are bussed to a nearby beach to walk down into the water.

I enjoyed the diving more in the north more than the south - there were some really great macro sights at Nungwi where we saw frogfish, leaf fish, plenty of mantis shrimps and a variety of nudis. Others, we saw plenty of small and medium-sized reef fish, octopus, a couple of small reef sharks, and some dolphins from the surface.

I would say Zanzibar is better as a beach and relax destination with some diving thrown in, rather than a go-to dive destination

Visited on 11/2023 - Submitted on 01/10/2024
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Sunshine Marine Lodge

5
5
3
4

Sunshine Marine Lodge is a gorgeous property nestled on the seafront at the north of Zanzibar Island. The lush gardens and tropical planting make for a peaceful and private retreat and it's easy to loose an hour wondering through the grounds.

The resort sits on a small cliff overlooking the ocean where the restaurant and infinity pool are in prime position with the best sea views. The rooms are spacious and tastefully decorated with traditional Tanzanian touches, but with all the modern amenities (air con, fans, tea/coffee faculties, international charging points, WiFi).

The resort restaurant serves a western-style menu but with local influences and the menu changes every day. Breakfasts were delicious, and accompanied by a buffet selection of pastries, fresh juice, and fruits.

The on site dive center is called Dive Point Zanzibar - I was very impressed with how well-organised they were and how well-managed the center seemed. They run 2-tank dives and courses each day using their own boats, and they also organise trips up to Nungwi in the north. The dive boats are spacious and fully shaded, with refreshments and snacks between dives.

I would highly recommend staying at Sunshine Marine Lodge, whether to relax or make use of the excellent dive facilities.

Visited on 11/2023 - Submitted on 01/10/2024
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