Monday, July 17, 2017

Dive The Maldives - June/July 2018

Cathy and I are planning a dive trip to the Maldives in June/July 2018.  Many people claim that the Maldives offers the best diving in the world and we are anxious to discover if that is true.

For the geographically challenged, the Maldives is a country made up entirely of atolls in the Indian Ocean.  Straight line distance from Sarasota to the Maldives is 9,730 miles.

This will be our second Asian dive trip of 2018 and want you to know about the details. We also want to encourage you to come along on your own.  Like our Philippines trip in February 2018, this is NOT a Sarasota Scuba Club official trip – just information about an opportunity to dive a spectacular area and do so relatively cheaply. 

We will be diving from the MV Emperor Voyager a 30-meter (100 foot) live aboard moored in Male, Maldives harbor.  

The M/V Emperor Voyager has 4 decks including a sun deck

Diving is done from a smaller dinghy (their word not mine) on which all your dive gear is stowed throughout the trip. Divers are assigned one tank for the week and it is refilled after each dive

The Voyager has 10 rooms on 3 decks for 20 divers. 7 of the rooms have two double beds and 3 have one Queen.  We set sail from Male on June 30, 2018, and disembark on July 7. 

Deck Plan for the M/V Emperor Voyager

Cost is 1,579.00 per person for the Upper Deck rooms and 1,479.00 for the Lower Deck. Both prices include Nitrox. Currently the Euro and the US Dollar are almost exactly on par.

Lower deck rooms have a porthole and are $100 cheaper than upper deck rooms with large windows.  We are paying the extra $100 for a view!

Diving will occur at and around 6 different atolls in the Maldives where the targets are Hammerhead Sharks (one dive especially for them) Whale Sharks, Manta Rays, Gray Reef Sharks, and a super abundance of reef fishes.

Traveling among these islands will be tough duty

Our itinerary, entirely dependent on the Captain's discretion and weather, of course, includes the following locations:

Rasdhoo Atoll - Hammerhead shark diving, beautiful reef fishes with pelagics.

North Ari Atoll - Gray Reef Sharks, Night dive.  Multiple Manta Ray cleaning stations.

South Ari Atoll - Whale Sharks.  Underwater pinnacles

South Male Atoll - Gray Reef Sharks, Eagle Rays, Other Pelagics.  Wreck dive.

Vaavu Atoll - Beautiful channels with soft corals.  Night dive with Nurse Sharks

North Male Atoll - Underwater pinnacles.

Chill out at the bar after a long day of diving

Main dining area

Lounge on the Main Deck

If you are interested make your own reservations through Lisa at (  Price includes up to 17 dives (including 2 night dives), value added tax, onboard accommodation, transfers/pickups from airport, tanks, weights, belts, dive master services, all meals, free Nitrox.  Not included are: flights, dive equipment, alcohol, soft drinks, juices, WiFi (an additional 22 Euro for the week), crew gratuities and 15 liter tanks.

The cheapest airfare we have found is on Qatar Airways from Miami via Doha, Qatar, for $950.00 US roundtrip.   Purchase your tickets and select your seats at

Qatar is regularly ranked as the number 1 airline in the world for in-flight service

As Jimmy Buffett once sang about Paris, "Its a mighty long airplane ride" and its even longer to Qatar. However these coach seats on their Boeing 777 make it look much more desirable than the cattle car feel of coach in most US airlines

Qatar Airways allows a free stopover in Doha, Qatar on the Arabian Peninsula.  The Poseidon Dive Center at the Doha Hilton offers day trips (shore dives) to the nearby Persian Gulf.  We are considering a 2-tank dive there simply because nobody we know has ever dived in the Persian Gulf. Who knows what lies underneath the surface there that will be interesting to see.

For the geographically-challenged, Qatar is an oil-rich country sitting on tiny thumb-like peninsula in the Persian Gulf. Among other things, Qatar is home to the Al Jazeera news channel - the only source of news I seek out for coverage of world events.

Again, this is not a sanctioned Sarasota Scuba Club trip...we aren't offering to lead a trip or are we offering to make your reservations for you.  We are only providing information on an affordable dive trip to a spectacular part of the world and we hope we see you on the Emperor Voyager when she pulls out of Male harbor next June!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Reef Divers - Cayman Brac Deserves an A+

Cathy and I spent a week diving with Reef Divers - Cayman Brac and if there is a grade higher than A+ they deserve that grade. That evaluation is especially true for Divemasters Elle and Stu who are highly informative, very patient and make each dive an adventure.

Reef Divers offers "Valet Diving" and we are now sold on it. To avoid insurance liability from having people stumble around on the deck of the boat in fins while wearing heavy and bulky dive gear, with Valet Diving each diver sits on the stern, puts on their own fins, and then the Divemasters bring your gear to you and put it on for you. At the end of the dive, simply sit down, and the gear is removed and instantly switched over to your next tank.

The 42 foot dive boat we were on, the Coral Sister, was quite spacious and easily accommodated up to 20 divers without everyone running into each other. Onboard snacks and plenty of fresh drinking water added to the pleasurable experience.

Before each dive either Stu or Elle gave extremely detailed briefings of the dive site including drawing intricate maps of the subsurface topography with an indication of the depths to be encountered. Any potential hazards, especially on the wreck dive, were explained in intricate detail during the briefings and we were also given an indication of the species of fishes and invertebrates we could potentially see were described.

One Divemaster led each dive pointing out interesting creatures and using underwater sign language to describe the coral ecosystem being viewed. It was as if each dive was another lesson in Marine Biology 101. The divemaster stayed with us for about 30 minutes then returned to the dive boat to prepare for our eventual return. This was so helpful in allowing us to explore on our own and (for me) practice underwater navigation skills. At the conclusion of each dive we were debriefed onboard before moving on to the next dive site.

We purchased a 17-dive package of which Cathy took part in 15 dives and I participated in 13. The dive shop offers optional (for an additional fee) night dives on Tuesday and Thursday nights if a minimum of 8 divers sign up.

Reef Divers has four boats and 3 of them were in active use during our stay. Reef Divers is a PADI shop that also offers various certification classes but we didn't participate in any of them.

I especially enjoyed diving with Stu, the transplanted Brit, on July 4, and reminding him of the historical significance of that day to both of our countries! We enjoyed ourselves tremendously with Reef Divers and imagine that you will should you choose to dive with them

 Exterior of the dive shop

 A large and efficient gear drying room

 A well-stocked dive shop

 All of the requisite "Been There Done That" clothing can be found in the dive shop

 The dock can handle 4-42 foot dive boats

Expect to see many Brown Booby while at sea. They seem to have learned that passing boats flush Atlantic Flyingfish and the birds pluck the fish out of the air

The Nassau Grouper at Cayman Brac are uncommonly docile and curious, and seem to enjoy being petted!

A Week At The Cayman Brac Beach Resort

We stayed at the Cayman Brac Reef Resort during July 1 - 8, 2017 not only as our honeymoon but also as part of a SCUBA diving package. Other than one incident on the night of our arrival (for which the resort manager apologized profusely to everyone staying there that night) our experience with this resort was perfect and we would return in a heartbeat.

 Room 121 was the left most room on the first floor

 A large, comfortable, king bed

Plenty of storage and a work area for downloading dive videos onto our computer.  We never turned on the television

Large and well-equipped restroom and shower

Our room (#121) was closest to the beach but, unfortunately, had no direct view of the nearby ocean. However because we were diving most of the time, an ocean view room wasn't really needed. The room was spacious with plenty of space for storage. The king bed was comfortable and the restroom large enough to play rugby in. In room amenities included a television (that we never watched), a small refrigerator, and a 2-cup coffee maker. WiFi is available throughout the resort and the signal was quite strong.

Our package was all-inclusive with three meals a day in the resort restaurant. Everything is served buffet-style with two or three main entree options for lunch and dinner. Breakfast was also buffet-style with an optional omelet station. The food was bountiful and quite tasty. Because absolutely everything consumed on the island (except the falling coconuts) has to be shipped in from Grand Cayman, food on the island is very expensive making the all-inclusive option at the restaurant a great value.

Brown Booby (it's name has nothing to do with breasts) is a common seabird on Cayman Brac and it wasn't unusual to see adults and sub-adults flying over the resort property

The resort has a supply of fat-tire bicycles that can be checked out and used to pedal around the island and tennis players will enjoy the one on-site tennis court. Birdwatchers are in luck because West Indian Whistling-Duck, one of the rarest birds in the West Indies, is easily found on the adjacent Westerly Ponds. One evening a local wildlife rescue group released 16 baby Loggerhead Sea Turtles that had been removed from a nest after the young were able to dig themselves out. It was great fun watching the two-day old turtles scurry to the ocean just before sunset.

The bar is well-stocked with local and imported beer (make sure you try at least one Ironshore Bock), various wines, and also hard liquor. Don't expect any of the mixes (grapefruit juice, etc) to be fresh - that won't happen on The Brac. Our favorite bartender, Nils, was a baseball fan so he made certain that one of the two televisions in the bar was always broadcasting a game. 

Adjacent to the bar was a large pool whose maximum depth is 5 feet making it more of a wading than swimming pool. This was a perfect place to chill with your favorite adult beverage after a day of diving. Entertainment options at the resort are limited but they all center around the pool (the debacle on Saturday night was not very entertaining although it occurred by the pool). Wednesday night was trivia night, Thursday night was the highly entertaining triple elimination crab race (we chose crab #22 who came in dead last), and on Friday night we were treated to an excellent island barbecue. The latter consisted of either beef (which I don't eat), grilled shrimp, and Jamaican jerk chicken that was so tasty I told the chef it was better than any Jamaican jerk chicken I've ever had in Jamaica!

The weekly crab race is one of the entertainment highlights at the resort.  Our crab (#22) apparently blew out an antennae and couldn't find his way to the finish line

One final, gorgeous, Cayman Brac sunrise before our reluctant departure

The Cayman Brac Reef Resort is definitely for an older crowd and it certainly caters to divers so if you are looking to party hearty, plan on staying on Grand Cayman. However if you are looking for an ultra-laid-back island experience where as Bachman Turner Overdrive said in their song "I love to work at nothing all day" then you simply cannot find a better place on Cayman Brac than this resort.

Cayman Airways Ridiculous Connecting Baggage Policy

Cayman Airways arrived on Cayman Brac (only 30 minutes late) with us on board but with our dive gear still in Grand Cayman.  The reason why still has me slapping my forehead

My first flight on Cayman Airways was from Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos Islands to Miami on February 25, 1985. I have flown the airline several other times but always on flights to Grand Cayman - never before have I checked baggage that required a connection in GCM.  It wasn't until my most recent trip with the airline, that I discovered the airline's ridiculous and highly inefficient connecting baggage policy.  I'm now less likely than ever to fly this airline again if I have to make a connection!

Cathy and I flew from Tampa to Cayman Brac, via Grand Cayman on July 1, 2017 and returned in the reverse order on July 8. We were upgraded to Business Class on both jet sections of the itinerary (TPA-GCM and GCM-TPA). The service on board the planes was wonderful. However the ridiculous experience with checked luggage in both directions has left a sour taste in our mouths regarding Cayman and the potential for flying them again.

On July 1 in the Tampa airport nobody at the Cayman Airways check in counter mentioned that despite our bags being checked through to Cayman Brac there would be a need to reclaim them in Grand Cayman and re-check them to Cayman Brac.

On July 1 in Tampa nobody from Cayman Airways at Gate 88 mentioned to any of your passengers that if they were making connections in Grand Cayman they were required to reclaim them in Grand Cayman and recheck them to their final destination. 

On July 1 while in flight on KX 201, none of the in-flight crew mentioned to any passenger that upon arrival in Grand Cayman we were required to re-claim our checked luggage and re-check it to our final destination.

On July 1, nobody on the plane mentioned to passengers disembarked that we were required to re-claim our checked bags in Grand Cayman and re-check them to our final destination.

On July 1, it was not until SEVEN MINUTES BEFORE SCHEDULED DEPARTURE TIME for our flight to Cayman that anyone said anything on the intercom in the departure area that "if you are traveling from Tampa to Cayman Brac or Roatan and checked baggage you need to re-claim it and re-check it at the check in counter."

SERIOUSLY!! Cayman Airways waited until SEVEN MINUTES before departure to tell us this. At least it wasn't just Cayman Brac passengers who were caught off guard because they did the same thing to passengers connecting to Roatan.

With this knowledge we returned to the baggage area, raced to the check in counter where we had to jump in front of other passengers so we could re-check our luggage, then go back through the madhouse of security before we could board. Luckily the flight was 20 minutes late boarding otherwise we would have been stuck in Grand Cayman .

On arrival in Cayman Brac we learned that none of the luggage we had just re-checked in Grand Cayman made it on the plane with us! We were told our luggage was too heavy and would be arriving on a later flight. It finally did - the next morning! It is simply wonderful that Cayman Airways allows 2 free bags each weighing 55 pounds. However if all that extra weight precludes the bags flying on the same plane with the passenger what is the advantage of allowing the extra weight?

This was totally unacceptable and unlike any experience with luggage I've ever had with a West Indian airline. Even Bahamasair, the world's largest unscheduled airline, doesn't create a debacle out of connecting baggage like you do.

On July 8 at check-in at Cayman Brac I had to ask the gate agent if it was necessary to re-claim our luggage in Grand Cayman and re-check it to Tampa despite the luggage being checked through to Tampa and I was told yes. Nobody at the check in counter thought to tell passengers about this inconvenience. So on arrival in Grand Cayman we had to do the same ridiculous process all over again despite not having to clear Cayman Islands Customs.

The debacle arriving in Grand Cayman makes us less than enthusiastic about ever taking another Cayman Airways flight that requires a connection. Secondly, why is it that with luggage tags that clearly show a connection, including a little orange tag that says "Connection" can't Cayman Airways take the luggage to our connecting plane saving us the time-consuming task of standing in line, again, to hand you luggage containing tags showing the bags are checked to our final destination? Then to top it off, after re-checking the bags we stood in line in the searing heat as what seemed like 400 other passengers from other airlines waited endlessly for entrance to the security area were there is ONE metal detector to service all those passengers!

I have been traveling in the West Indies since 1984 and have seen some pretty ridiculous things in those 34 years. However I must admit that the way Cayman Airways deals with connecting luggage and the requirement to re-claim and re-check it, has to rank as the most ridiculous waste of my time and energy I've experienced on any of the 73 islands in the islands that I've visited.

Despite the royal treatment my wife and I received as part of the Honeymoon Special, and despite the airline's marketing slogan of being "Cayman Kind", I promise you it will be a long time, if ever, before we fly Cayman again because of their ridiculous connecting baggage handling policy.