Scuba diving liveaboard boats come in all different styles and sizes. There are ones which focus on luxury, and others are more basic but they charge lower rates. Some boats take as many as 30 guests, and others less than ten. For these things, it's not easy to make a clear distinction between boats, because there are so many things to consider. However, there is one factor in which Similan Island diving liveaboard boats can easily be put into one of two groups. This is whether the boat has 'scheduled' trips or 'flexible' trips. Almost every Similan liveaboard is one or the other.
What is the difference between scheduled and flexible boats?
The difference between these boats is the way that the trips are run, not the actual boats.
Scheduled liveaboards leave and return at set times, and these times & dates normally can’t be changed. They sail from the harbour with everyone on board, and the same people stay on the boat for the whole trip until it returns a few days later.
Flexible boats stay out at sea for several months. You can join on any day, and stay as long as you choose. The team transfer you from the mainland by speedboat in the morning of your first day, and back in the afternoon on your final day.
Things like the equipment, staff, food, cabins and the actual boats are the same. On all of them local transfers, meals, drinking water, tea, coffee, snacks & fruit are all included in the price.
How does it affect me?
The flexible schedule means that you can choose exactly which day you start and finish your liveaboard diving cruise in Thailand. Just like booking a flight or a hotel, you can choose any day of the season as long as there’s space.
Scheduled trips are fixed for a date and time to leave and return. You need to arrange your flights, hotels and any other travel plans to fit in with the liveaboard’s itinerary. It’s not fair for the other guests to delay departure or come back early.
The benefits of flexible trips
The benefits of a flexible diving liveaboard in Thailand are obvious. Not only can you choose on which day your dive cruise starts, you can choose how long it is.
Start on a day you choose: The fact that you can choose which day you start your trip makes a massive difference to many people. This especially applies to people who are looking for the best deal on flights and hotels, and they can fit the liveaboard trip in around other plans.
Choose how long you stay: Overnight trips (2 days / 1 night) are our most popular trip length in recent seasons. Not everyone likes to sleep on a boat, and the thought of three, four or even more nights on board can be quite daunting. Many of our guests are happy to spend one night on the boat and enjoy six great dives. The 3 day / 2 night trips give you ten dives. Due to the cost of fuel and the low speed of large boats, the scheduled trips need to be longer than flexible trips. Therefore, if you just want to spend one night on a diving boat, you need to choose flexible trip. For two-night trips, there are a couple of boats offering scheduled trips in addition to flexible boats.
The benefits of scheduled trips
Scheduled trips are better for a few reasons, and these included people, cabin facilities, travelling & more.
These trips are more personal & relaxed, because the people on board remain the same. On flexible trips the guests and dive staff are constantly changing. But on a scheduled trip, everyone who starts the trip stays on board until the end. You get into a rhythm or routine regarding dive groups, who likes to sit where during mealtimes, and who’s staying in the cabin next to you. Also, flexible trips usually have day-trip guests who join on the morning speedboat then leave in the afternoon. Scheduled trips do not.
Some boats with scheduled trips also have private bathrooms. The flexible overnight diving liveaboard boats tend to only have communal shared bathrooms. There are a few reasons why it’s like this, but the effect to the guests is that only boats with scheduled trips have private bathrooms. Not all of them do, but some. Lapat is a flexible boat that has two double cabins with private bathroom, but this is a special case.
Some people don’t like travelling by speedboat. The scheduled trips usually leave in the late afternoon or evening and the boats sail smoothly across the sea into the night. There’s no need to rush for a morning departure and then go on a speedboat. On a scheduled trip you can enjoy dinner and maybe some drinks while getting to know other guests.
You also get an extra night’s accommodation and food if you join a scheduled trip that leaves in the evening. The flexible trips sail from Khao Lak in the morning, meaning that you need to be in a hotel and pay for dinner the night before you start diving. On a scheduled liveaboard diving trip that leaves in the evening, you get that meal and a night’s accommodation included.
Guests staying in Phuket can join boats that leave in the evening, but not boats that leave in the morning. Many of our guests want to come directly from Phuket Airport, Rassada Pier, Patong or even from Krabi. This is only possible if the boat leaves in the evening. Otherwise, you need to stay in Khao Lak for one night before joining a Similan dive trip.
How can I tell if a boat has flexible or scheduled trips?
Most of the boats on our pages only have scheduled trips, and you can see in each boat’s ‘Schedule & Prices’ page. A boat that has one departure every few days is a scheduled liveaboard boat. But boats which have two or more departures every day are flexible. The reason that they show several trips per day is because some people stay longer than others. We need to separate the trips to show different prices and itineraries. For the 2018-19 season our flexible liveaboard boats are MV Nemo 1, MV Lapat, & MV Similan Quest. With the exception of a couple of boats that have ‘hybrid itineraries’, all of our other boats run regular, scheduled trips.
Liveaboards with flexible itineraries as of 2018
The hybrid itineraries are on boats that run scheduled trips, but sometimes a few guests leave or join during the cruise. These boats are MV Oktavia, MV Bavaria & MY Genesis 1.
Liveaboards with hybrid itineraries as of 2018
MV Oktavia’s trips are normally 5 days & 5 nights, but at the beginning and end of the season they’re 4 days & 4 nights. But you may notice that we also offer shorter trips on Oktavia. These are 2 days / 2 nights and 3 days / 2 nights. Oktavia’s 2D / 2N trips are the first 48 hours of the 5 day & night itinerary. You join with everyone else, but after diving for two days, you are returned to the mainland by speedboat. For Oktavia’s 3D / 2N trips you join the boat in the morning of the third day. The team transfer you by speedboat out to Oktavia in the morning, and you stay aboard until the end of the scheduled trip, returning on the main boat.
Oktavia’s hybrid trips are not always available, because ideally they prefer to fill the boat with the same guests for 5 days & nights.
MV Bavaria works in a similar way to Oktavia, and like Oktavia the shorter trips are not available during peak periods. Bavaria has 6 day / 6 night trips, and its hybrid trips are 3 days / 3 nights & 4 days / 3 nights. In the same way as Oktavia, you can join the first half of the trip and come back by speedboat, or go out by speedboat for the second half of the trip.
MY Genesis only runs scheduled trips which are 3 days & 2 nights, leaving Khao Lak in the morning and returning late in the afternoon. However, we have included Genesis in our list of boats that have hybrid itineraries because on Genesis you can choose to combine two trips and receive a discount. Therefore, a 6 day / 5 night trip on Genesis is actually two shorter trips combined, and therefore the other guests will change from one half to the next.
Where they dive
All of our liveaboard trips dive at different dive sites during each cruise. Some will stay at one dive site for two dives, but usually each dive is somewhere new. A lot of people think that flexible liveaboard diving boats stay in one place all the time, but this is not true. Both scheduled and flexible itineraries visit different dive sites. Some locations, such as Richelieu Rock, can be dived two or three times on the same day without boredom or repetition. Also, Koh Bon is worth staying at because sometimes Manta Rays come and go during the day.
Scheduled itineraries always start at a dive site that is not too challenging. This enables the tour leader and Divemasters to assess the guests in the water. Some people may need some adjustments after the first dive, or groups may need to be changed a bit. Therefore the first dive of a scheduled liveaboard trip is known as a ‘check dive.’ It’s also important to ensure that everyone feels comfortable, as some may be on their first liveaboard diving trip. Usually the final day will be at dive sites nearer to shore, such as Boonsung Wreck. This allows for the captain to get back into harbour and everyone can return to their hotel before dinner.
Our flexible diving liveaboard boats all follow a weekly schedule. One each day of the week they’re located at a particular location, but not moored up at the same place. They only repeat the best dive sites. Normally they visit four different dive sites on each day. It’s impossible to have a ‘check dive’ for everyone on flexible itineraries. This is because some people’s first dive of their trip may not be the first dive of others in their group. The teams work very hard to ensure that everyone’s depth limit and expectations are taken into account. They do an excellent job!
What trip is best for me?
This question is impossible to answer, because everyone has different needs, preferences and limitations. For people who are on a fixed schedule or who don’t want to spend more than one or two nights on a boat, the flexible trips are better. These are our most-popular Similan diving liveaboard trips. They give you the opportunity to watch the sun set over the sea while you enjoy dinner or a beer. And you can wake up very early and be diving before the day trip diving boats arrive. They’re also very good value.
However, if you have more time and you can arrange your holiday around your liveaboard cruise, then a scheduled itinerary is probably better. On these you usually get a night dive, you stay with the same group of divers all the time, and you usually get an extra night’s accommodation included. Also, with one group of people staying together from start to finish, friendships are made more easily.
So, now you know the differences between Similan liveaboard diving trips, it’s now time to see which boat and trip will best fit your next scuba diving holiday in Thailand. Feel free to do a search on any of our pages. You can simply enter your earliest start and latest finish dates, then press ‘find a trip.’ If the list of results is too long, you can filter the results to only include things which you want, for example a particular dive site, trip length or budget level. Or just contact us and tell us your needs and preferences. Normally, we like to know what's most important to you and what's flexible. Things like start & end dates, trip length, boat size & facilities, cabin type (shared bunk, twin bunk or double-bed) & facilities, and budget. And with that information we can help you choose from a shortlist of our ideas. So, what are you waiting for?