I met some great people during my liveaboard in Australia. When saying our goodbyes we jokingly said “Let’s dive the Maldives next year!” Well, it wasn’t a joke for two of us, and 11 months later Colin and I found ourselves aboard a giant, luxurious boat in Maldives. Overall the diving wasn’t as impressive as Australia or New Zealand. In fact, Maldives is way down on my list of favorite places to dive. However, the boat, people, and gorgeous atolls made this a very memorable trip.
ScubaSpa and Yang
While traveling through Australia Colin met someone who worked for ScubaSpa. After a bit of research the choice was a no-brainer because ScupaSpa had 5-star reviews across the board. The cost was $4,457.60 USD for 2 people in the lowest room available. At first it seemed like a lot of money, but after 7 days on board Scubaspa Yang I realized just how decent the price was. Yang had a spa, gym, full bar, two sunbathing levels, and a Jacuzzi on the rooftop. The service was impeccable and the food delicious. Top it off with 14 dives and the pricetag of $2228.80 per person was totally worth it!
The Unexpected Bad
Since there’s little to complain about let me get the bad stuff out of the way. Although I wasn’t super impressed by the diving in Maldives that doesn’t mean it was awful. It was very 50/50. I could have sat out half the dives without regret, and the other half were memorable enough. Three of the dives were flat-out amazing. Perhaps Maldives wasn’t the best destination for me personally because I am more of a macro diver. I love taking my flashlight and looking in all the nooks and crannies for small, unexpected things. Maldives is known for the “big stuff” like whale sharks and mantas.
The whole purpose of my Maldives trip was to see a whale shark (we’ll get to that later). With the plethora of glowing reviews for Maldives, I had assumed the diving would be fantastic, whale shark or no. Instead it was regretfully lame. While on the lookout for mantas and whale sharks we mostly swam over nondescript areas. I’ll admit there was one reef dive which was pretty remarkable. It also happened to be my 100th dive! No, I didn’t dive naked because I actually forgot it was my 100th dive until the next day. Bummer!
Another thing I didn’t particularly enjoy about diving Maldives was how deep the dives were. Every dive, except two, was 30m (100ft). Deep dives are not a problem, but doing 3 dives a day to 30m for a week is exhausting. The dive guide explained that up until a few years ago the dive sites were not so deep. Then after a particularly bad monsoon season everything moved to deeper water. Obviously this is nobody’s fault but a few shallow dives would have been refreshing.
The Delightful Good
If you dive for the big stuff then Maldives is a must. Mantas, whale sharks, bat rays, grey-tipped reef sharks, white-tipped reef sharks, and nurse sharks are commonplace. I have never seen so many sharks on so many dives. And this was during off-season! Apparently it was “nothing compared to high-season,” but the amount of sharks was still impressive.
Another wonderful experience in Maldives had nothing to do with the diving itself, but with the dive crew. Big shout-out to them for making the diving memorable, even if I wasn’t particularly impressed. They were great at keeping us excited and entertained. Everyone felt like family by the end of the trip because of the many silly moments we had together.
-I want to highlight a few dives that stick out in my mind for both good and bad reasons-
Our first dive! It started pretty slow with so-so reefs and a sandy bottom. Halfway through we parked ourselves on the sand and our dive guide pointed to a rock. We waited patiently until 3 giant mantas came gliding by. They floated gracefully through the air, coming within 5 feet of us. It was beautiful to see and an exciting first dive.
Today was whale shark day. We cruised up and down “the most popular place in Maldives to see whale sharks.” After 30 minutes the skipper spotted one! Suddenly there were boats everywhere and we jumped in the water with at least 80 other people. The excitement was almost too much to handle and unfortunately the whale shark escaped us. The manager of Yang changed our dive schedule and we spent the next day and a half hunting for a whale shark, but with no luck. My dive guide said “The last time we didn’t see a whale shark was 7 months ago.” I was so bummed. This was the whole reason I had come to Maldives.
I got very suspicious when the guides didn’t tell us anything during our pre-dive. Normally they told us exactly what to expect. This time it was just “Stay together, and don’t touch anything.” The moment we descended my dive buddy frantically pointed behind me. I turned around and saw a huge nurse shark. “What a stroke of luck!” I thought. Then I realized this was the whole point of the dive. Suddenly we were surrounded by nurse sharks. One of them even came and snuggled with me (seriously she was right up against me). The nurse sharks were like giant puppies. Big, playful puppies with lots of teeth. Awesome dive!
We hooked onto the edge of the reef and stared into the depths. Several White and Gray-tipped reef sharks swam by. Then a bat ray, followed by more sharks, and another bat ray. That’s all this dive was. Shark, shark, shark, ray, shark, shark, ray, shark, shark, shark.
The Food and Service
Of course I have to dedicate an entire paragraph to food and service. The bartending side of me requires it. Even thinking about the food makes me want to go back. “Pre-dive” munchies were tea, coffee, and cookies. Breakfast was the usual continental fare, but the hot station would have a daily surprise like Eggs Benedict or waffles. Lunch had three hot food options, but surprisingly the best part of lunch was the fresh fare. Two big, beautiful salads and an exotic fruit plate. I never knew eating fresh veggies in the middle of the ocean could feel so good.
Dinner was always ridiculous. There were typically 3-5 meat options, fresh salads, a fruit plate, and dessert. I won’t go into detail about the service because it was impeccable. There was also a vegetarian on board who commended the chef on spoiling her for choice. She was impressed with amount of veggie options available. Everything was perfect for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike.
One of my favorite parts of the ScubaSpa trip were the atolls. Maldives consists of 1,200 islands surrounded by perfectly light blue water. Just imagine a picture-perfect island with powder-white sand, palm trees, and tropical flowers. Every time we went ashore I was in a daydream.
Happy Hour Island
The first time we went ashore was on a tiny deserted island for happy hour. The Yang staff spoiled us with a pop-up bar, Tiki torches, and beanbag chairs. We did handstands in the sand and sipped our cocktails as the sun went down. One of my favorite things about Maldives was the incredibly soft sunset colors. When it was time to go I wanted to hide so they would leave me behind.
My ear was giving me trouble so I sat out the evening dive. The staff was setting up for dinner on a nearby island and I conned them into letting me go early. I strolled up and down the island while laughing at the goofy crabs walking sideways on the beach. When everyone else arrived we played a few rounds of volleyball before settling down for dinner. The sunset was once again gorgeous. Dinner was a delicious choice of ribs, fresh-caught fish, and lamb. Of course there was also wine.
I was excited to have the dive guides take us around a local island. We walked by cute little houses surrounded by exotic fruit trees until we reached “downtown.” Downtown consisted of a cafe and three souvenir shops. We watched the sunset and played on a swing hanging over the ocean. It was a wonderful, mellow evening.
Spending seven days on a 50 meter yacht was luxury. I’ll start below and work my way up. The bottom floor had the lowest-level rooms. I stayed in one of these and let me tell you it was top-notch. The expensive suites must have been awesome. The rooms had powerful AC, internet, plenty of storage, and en-suite bathrooms.
The second floor was where the action happened. The nicest rooms were on this level, along with the kitchen, dining room, and bar. The dining room was beautiful and the bar fully stocked with comfortable seating. Every evening after dinner the staff would put on dance music and the party would commence.
The third floor had a gym, spa rooms, spa deck, and a sun deck. Whether you desired a massage or manicure, the third floor was the place to get pampered. The spa deck was my favorite spot to hang out because it was quiet and had the most comfortable chairs. I did not use the gym but the people who did said it had all the basics they needed.
The rooftop had a giant sundeck with a Jacuzzi. Take out your bucket list and write down “drink on top of a yacht, in a Jacuzzi, looking out over the Maldives.” Seriously, this is one of those things you don’t realize you need to do until you do it. During that moment I knew I was one of the luckiest people in the world.
Interested in Diving Maldives?
I went during off season because Maldives is expensive. The total cost of a flight, liveaboard, and resort can be shocking. Since I splurged on the liveaboard I went super cheap on accommodation. If you’re on a budget I’d recommend staying at an Airbnb in Hulhumale. If you’re not sure how to set that up read some tips here.
If you decide to stay on Hulhumale or Male everything is cheap. Food and transportation cost very little. If you stay at a resort it gets expensive. Most resorts don’t even cover the cost of getting to the resort! That being said, I can’t give much advice on the subject since I did not stay in one. The only advice I can give is what I was told – 3 days is more than enough time if you’re by yourself. Boredom kicks in and seeing all the newly-engaged couples is depressing when you’re alone.
Booking the Liveaboard
If ScubaSpa sounds like the liveaboard for you there is one thing I must admit – the booking process was painful. For us, responses were slow and answers were confusing. When it came time to pay ScubaSpa required a wire transfer in USD to a bank in Poland. This came across as shady, but thankfully it all worked out. We emailed ScubaSpa directly for our reservation, but I’m hoping the process is better if you book differently.
Another gentleman on board also had a strange experience booking with ScubaSpa, and he booked through liveaboard.com. After paying he received an invoice that simply said to meet at the airport at 2pm. He expected a detailed confirmation closer to the date but never got one. He had no idea what to expect when 2 o’clock rolled around. So as much as I love ScubaSpa, the process leading up to the trip needs some work.
When to do What
Seven days of diving is exhausting. If you spend time in Maldives in addition to the dive trip be sure to relax after the liveaboard, not before. Some people on Yang regretted their decision to stay at a resort before the dive trip. The last thing they wanted to do after a week of diving was fly home. But whatever you decide, please be safe and don’t fly within 24 hours of your last dive. It’s not worth the risk, even if you have to sit it out.
Maldives is on many a diver’s bucket list. Even though I did not find the diving as spectacular as I’d hoped, that does not mean I didn’t enjoy myself. The people I met and the ridiculously high quality of service on Yang made it the trip of a lifetime.