Kitng - Bluewater Dive Travel



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Reviews (4)

Crystal Blue Resort


In April 2014, I attended my first under water photography workshop at Crystal Blue Resort CBR, hosted by Blue Water Photo. I am extremely impressed by the efficiency, professionalism, and detail planning by Blue Water Photo and Dive Travel. I am also equally pleased by the hospitality and friendliness from all the staff (house and dive/boat) at CBR.

The dive operation: The typical day includes 4 dives/day, 2 in the morning, 1 in late afternoon, and 1 at dusk or night. Diving is never more than 4 guests per boat, plus local dive master and occasionally UWP pro (either Scot Gietler, Mike Bartick, or Brent Durand). Most often the boat is staffed with 3 other members (1 captain and 2 assistants), so there's always plenty of assistance on board. During the 10 days of diving, I only have to handle my dive gears twice: out of the dive bag on day 1 and packing on day 10. Nitrox is available for the entire trip for extra small fee (about USD 2.5 per tank), and highly recommended due to the high volume of diving to be done. The water fronting CBR is a Marine Protected Park, all the dive sites are easily accessible, and most of them are with 15-20 minutes boat ride distance. Although the few sites closer to Anilao town are usually popular and crowded with other dive resorts guests and local divers. Fortunately, CBR manager Mike Bartick always accommodates guests' dive requests and UWP learning needs, distribution of dive sites and dive traffic is meticulously planned out every morning.

UWP: The day starts out with photo-review after the 6:30am breakfast. Photos from the previous day diving are projected on a 60in LCD screen and gently critiqued by the pros. This is always the fun parts when divers interject with witty comments. As the workshop progresses, the quality and techniques of photos clearly show sign of hope and improvement (which means that we are absorbing something, be it the good teaching or nitrogen). Then comes the first 2 dives and UWP practices start at around 8am, as the 3 pros rotate between our six boats, that comes out to be hand-on teaching UW every other day. The local dive masters are extremely catering and knowledgeable, and try their hardest to find the critters as requested. Once a critter is ID UW, he patiently waits and assists the photographer to take pic. I never once felt rushed by my DM at all.

After the 2 morning dives, it's time to return to CBR for nice lunch and photo-download. Each day from 1:30p to 2:30p, the hour is designated as lecture time, scheduled with different topics mixed in reinforcement of previous introduced ideas and techniques. These topics include basic of macro-, Wide-angle-photography, shooting with model, lighting, Lightroom software, critters behaviors, etc. Just when one expects to sneak in an afternoon siesta, it's time to return to the boat for another 2 dives and more UWP. I definitely need a vacation after this workshop, LOL!

Marine Life: As I mentioned earlier, the dive sites are plenty and nearby. Almost anyone who has dove in Lembeh Strait enjoys muck diving and finding jewels-like critters in the black dirty bottom. In Anilao, there're the good muck diving in Coconut points and Secret garden. On the top of this A-list is the Anilao Pier. Less than 100 feet from Anilao town, next to the bar and basketball court, lies the silty muddy bottom of Anilao Pier. On any given night, 6-10 coconut octopus, Matote (single blue ringed) octopus, and mimic octopus surface and greet the divers at the same time. You can literally have a photo session with your own octopus and not be crowded or waited on by an impatient dive buddy. Up above the diver's head in middle of water column, other cephalopods (be a squid or cuttlefish) are always eagerly to show off their iridescent skins.

Anilao dive sites are filled with wonderful surprises. I never find a dive site too plain or too dull. There's pymie seahorse at 25 meters at Kirby's, orangutan at Bethleham, hairy squat lobster at Twin Rock's, yellow hairy fox fish at Matu, Harlequin shrimps at Cavan Cove...the list goes on and on. My advise for future guests is to present a list of critters to the DM and you'll never get disappointed.

As for wide angle, the dive sites Kirby’s, Twin Rock's, Sombrero, Layag Layag (wreck), are ideal for the creative landscape style UW images. Don't be fool by the calm looking sea surface at most dive sites, I experience kick-butt strong current outside of Mainit Point. At Kirby's, there's the surprise addition of down-current which pushes three of us right in the middle of sea between Maricaban and Sombrero Islands while we try our best to stay at 20 feet during our safety stop. Having dove in Palau Blue Corner, Galapagos Darwin and Wolf Island, I still think that a safety sausage is a SAFE diver's good friend.

CBR is built on a hill side of bay area, the layout is multi-level with dive deck/platforms on the water front, where all the dive gears are stored and located. One level above is the camera room, humidity and temperature are controlled by AC 24/7, designed to house 20 booths which guarantees each diver hers/his own work-space. It is well lit, clean, and safe; and is locked up after 11pm with security is on site at night. Above camera room is the open-air dining room and lounging area/library. A few steps away locates the office and the parking level. All the guest rooms are located above this level.

One thing worths mentioning is the hilly landscape of CBR, many guest-rooms are situated on the upper part of the property (requires two-three sets of stairs, depends on the location of rooms). That means a lot of stair-climbing to do everyday between meals, divings, and lectures. For the travelers with weaker knees or joint problems, be sure to ask for the rooms closer to the dinning rooms or office. Half star is taken away here.

The rooms are clean, AC works great, the rooms located on the top have a good view of sunset and beautiful bay. I always return from the morning dives and find my room clean and tidy-up, the bed-sheets and spreads are changed every other day. In my opinion, it is a little over-done, which could be changed every 4-5 days instead of every other day.

The jacuzzi is not working during our stay, another half star is taken away.

Foods: All buffet style, including variety of foods: Chicken satay, lumpia, grill tuna, shrimps, pork chops, steaks, banana breads, fresh homemade yogurts, etc. So many choices and so delicious. Dessert are to die for. Fresh fruits come with every meals. Filipino grade A mango…oh la la, the best in the world. The cooks and staff cater special diet needs upon requests.

Last but not least: Blue Water Photo operation - six stars out of 5. I realize that this part of the review needs to go under a different topic, but since they are related, I am going to briefly mention it. The staff is extremely professional, knowledgable, helpful, and cheerful. This includes the pre-trip arrangement and communication.

So, diving in Anilao might not be in as much limelight as diving in Lembeh Strait, Papua New Guinea, Raja Ampat... But for the variety of macro marine life, underwater landscapes and topography, dive sites, logistics of traveling (only one to two international flights to Manila), diving in Anilao and CBR definitely gives me the best value for the amount of dollar spent!

Visited on 04/2014 - Submitted on 05/21/2014
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Galapagos Aggressor III Liveaboard


Dive guides are exceptionally outstanding, very knowledgeable and professional. They take care of the needs of every single one diver in the group, including the one who has special needs. Even when we were out on excursion on the second to last day, they had special arrangement for the pangga and bus just for that one diver. Choice of food was diverse and fantastic, not boring at all. It's the best liveaboard I have been on so far.

Visited on 10/2012 - Submitted on 04/09/2014
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Sam's Tours Palau


To do land based on Palau, my impression was that choices were limited. There're a few specially catered the Japanese speaking divers, and there's one who frequently by ones who don't adhere to rules of diving, such as no drinking and diving. So Sam's Tours was an obvious choice at that time.

I was impressed by the efficiency and friendliness of the staff at the office, the two Philippinos ladies knew me by my first name and dive preference. The dive operation was a lot busier than I's used to in Hawaii and Guam, and the mixture of divers on each dive boat was interesting, which added to the fun part of diving. My Palauan dive guides and boat captions were fun and extremely knowledgeable and helpful. On day 2 of diving, the divers on our boat splited up in 2 half after the first 2 dives, since 4 of us wanted to dive the German Channel again and the other four wanted to dive the Chandeliar cave. The staff really did a good job tried to cater our needs as best as they could.

We got a box lunch everyday, which included fish, some greens, and carb. It's fine, since you can't be too picky in the middle of the ocean, when the weather is about 80-90 degree. The scenery, dive sites, and people made up for everything that's lacking. At the end of the day, they brought all of your dive gears up to the washing area, and you were responsible to cleaning and storing everything in the dive lockers. There's never any problem with things getting stolen or missing at the dive lockers.

There's a photography section, although the knowledge and help there was very minimum. So Sam's tours was more like a causal diving place than doing or learning serious underwater photography.

One major drawback for me is the choice of dive sites, which is extremely limited. I traveled during the week of Thanksgiving, so they were pretty busy and full. I chose to dive 5 days 3-4 dives per day, since the dive sites were few, on my second to last day, I started diving the same site over again. I only wished they could go up further north for the divers who don't mind to pay extra gas fee. So maybe I need to do a liveaboard if I want to dive in Palau again.

Visited on 11/2012 - Submitted on 04/09/2014
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Volivoli Beach Resort


Diving in Volivoli means away from the crowd, major cities, and bull sharks diving in Bela Lagoon. Volivoli is located about 2-hour bus ride from Nadi International Airport, in a town called Rakiraki, at the northern tip of Viti Levu. All the diving are done in the Vatu-I-Ra Channel, translated as "Rocks under Water". Diving here is no less than expected: magnificent, vibrant, robust hard and soft corals on the reef walls, bommies, and slopes. Schooling of barracudas, jacks, trevallies, fusiliers, surgeon fish, etc are everywhere. Scallop hammerheads, reef sharks, and manta rays are residents in the channel. For underwater photographers, there are also plenty of macro opportunities: blue ribbon nudis, hairy ghost pipefish, winged pipefish, Saron shrimps, orangutans, decorated crabs, etc.

If you think that great frigate birds, shear waters, and masked boobies are only found on Galapagos Islands or the Northwestern Hawaiian Island Marine Reserve, think again. The nesting sites for these birds are on the bird island, right in between the major dive sites of Ra Divers. Ra Divers makes surface interval stop on this island for surprise land visit. For the bird enthusiasts, inquire ahead so you can bring an extra camera for topside photos (instead of rising to flood your UW camera or getting sands and dirts on O-rings).

The Ra divers who are part of Volivoli resort are a bunch of nice DM and captain, although some of the DM are better than the others. They can definitely use a little more training and dive gears supports. I do not recommend this place to novice or newly certified divers, for two reasons: 1. The remote location from the closest hospital and decompression chamber; 2. The potential strong currents within the channel, especially during big tidal change. So buyers beware.

Another drawback at Ra Divers is for the underwater photography. When we were there in September, there was not a separate rinse tank for camera gears or table/bench to set down the camera after the boat dives Eventually we solved this problem: first rinse off our dive gears and body, then walk a 100 yards distance to the swimming pool where the housing/camera could be totally submerged for a good cleaning and manipulation of button. It's definitely inconvenient! Good news is that a brand new dive shop with camera stations was under construction adjacent to the existing dive shed, and the projected finishing date was around Christmas of 2014!

Volivoli is run and owned by the Darling family, who are real darlings and nicest people. The father and sons team was present on site everyday and were very receptive to any feedbacks and suggestions. The Fijian staff was amazing and friendly. When people try their best to remember every single guest's name, room number, and their meal preference, even though they might not see the guests ever again in a million years, that tells a lot to me!

This was my land based dive trip preceding the Fiji Siren liveaboard 7-day dive trip, which the Darling family is the partial owner. I highly recommend spending some time at Volivoli before the Fiji Siren, or even just doing the land base trip alone. Fiji Islands are very diverse and rich in term of culture and history of Pacific Islands. There are many surprising facts and stories of this mixed of Melanesian and Polynesian people. Whether you are the minimalist in activity or enthusiast of cultural exchange, Fiji Islands has it all.

Visited on 09/2014 - Submitted on 10/17/2014
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