I’m a fairly inexperienced diver with only 16 dives. With the Great Barrier Reef only a stones throw away from Cairns, Australia, it’d be a shame to come all this way and not see it.
With the option of a day trip or a live aboard, I decided to go with the live aboard option because it provided a better value. The novelty of the experience was something that also enticed me.
THE BETTER VALUE
The itinerary for the live aboard outlined a timetable for 11 dives. All meals, accommodations, and equipment were included in the price. If you amortize the cost of the entire dive trip over the number of dives, it worked out to less than $70 a dive(assuming quad occupancy, yes, I’m one frugal traveler).
Contrast this cost to a typical dive trip in the States where it could costs about $50-$60 per dive with equipment rental. So by paying slightly more money to get accommodations and food, one can quickly realize the value of a live aboard drive trip. The all-inclusive price of a dive trip does not include alcohol or soft drinks purchased on the dive ship. From my experience, all that was extra that could be paid as you go or put on a “tab” and settled when you depart.
THE MIXED EXPERIENCE
I found a Deep Sea Divers Den while I was in Cairns though a booking agent and went with them. I found the experience mixed because I had certain expectations that I should have asked about.
On the day of departure, all live aboard divers, day trip divers, and snorkels were put on the same boat and driven to the same spot along the reef. It’s not hard to imagine that getting ready to dive was a bit of hassle with the number of people aboard. I had the expectation that I was going to be departing on the live aboard with other live aboard divers. However, this was not the case, which was the start of my disappointment.
The boat I departed on was a day trip boat. On this boat, all divers would get two dives in – one before lunch and one after. After lunch, the day trip boat would meet up with the live aboard boat and all live aboard divers would be transferred. This logistical detail was apparent when I arrived on the boat and asked a crew member.
There was an additional up charge for $15 AUD per dive if I decided to go with an instructor led dive as a guide. I was disappointed about this. All my previous dives were instructor led and I had the same expectations, but I should have asked instead of assumed.
Divers who chose not to go with a guide was paired up with a buddy. To me this poses somewhat of a risk.
Although, everyone who holds a PADI certification should be at the same skill level, but because of where and how they were taught their skills brings about questionable abilities. I think that someone that was taught in a structured classroom and pool session has better understanding than someone that was taught the classroom material in a crash course front of the boat type meeting.
I didn’t want to be paired up with someone that was essentially giving a certification simply because they paid their course fee.
I paid for the guide the first time to get familiar with the currents(if there were any) and the reef.
Additionally, this gave me an opportunity to see other divers in action and determine would had adequate or comprisable skills as me and pair myself up with that person.
For instance, if I saw someone on my first instructor led dive making “rolling down the windows” motion to maintain buoyancy, that clearly meant that person had no control and was wasting a lot of unnecessary air.
Aside from this, the crew on the live aboard were great. They were accommodating in every way to answer questions and ensured that our equipment was in working order. That much I really liked about it.
Additional the other divers on the boat were also pleasant. No one was a “debbie downer” or complained out in the public.
GOTTA LOVE IT
Departure day started with an early morning pick-up and transfer to the day boat with two dives – one before lunch and one after.
After the transfer to the live aboard, there were two more dives. One in the late afternoon and a night dive.
The following day started with the first dive at 6:30am, followed up by breakfast and then two dives, which were separated by an hour and half surface interval.
Lunchtime was around 12:30p. Then the next dive was the late afternoon dive at 4p. After dinner, the scheduled night dive was from 7p to 8p followed up by dessert.
After a full day of diving and eating, an early bed time is in order just to be up for the first dive at 6:30a.
All the dives are optional, but skipping out on the dive is a shame to travel all this way to simply skip out on it. Also at the same time, if you skip out on it, it turns out be an expensive boat ride.
I did skip out on one of the night dive and two the dives during the day. It was simply too much for me.
Even thinking about it and writing about it makes me feel exhausted.
A few cool aspect of the dive boat is viewing the sunset at sea. Star gazing is pretty amazing too. Due to the lack of light pollution from being about 65km out from land, the stars are that much brighter.
There are dive shops that over 5-day/4-night live aboard trips, but for me that would just be too much. I found the 3-day and 2-night trip to be sufficient given that fact that I skipped out on some of the dives.
There are 2-day/1-night trips that would have been better suited for a novice diver like myself. This would have still provided the experience of a live aboard trip, but wouldn’t have a full days worth of dives.
I hope my experience helps other folks to plan their trip for the better.
Here’s some random pics from the boat: