This is a tricky question. We all like to ‘get what we pay for’ but when we spend a lot of money on a scuba diving liveaboard diving cruise, we also want to feel special. Therefore, it’s almost impossible to find the perfect balance for everyone. A flexible personal service is great if you are the one who the team are adapting to help. But if you are inconvenienced due to the team helping someone else, it may seem unfair. Also, when you pay a large amount of money for a scuba diving liveaboard cruise, do you want to feel part of a factory, like a piece of the machine, or do you want to feel like part of a family or team? All of our scuba liveaboard operators are very experienced, and all of them have their own policies, procedures and standards. Some have online reputations better than others and for different reasons, but it’s important to understand what to expect, and what is expected of you as a diving guest.
It’s impossible to say which nationality of dive centre is better organised or more flexible than others, and this is the same for the size of the dive centre. For example, some of our largest and smallest dive centres are among the best organised and from countries including Thailand and Switzerland. Also dive centres have their own reasons for wanting to be as organised as possible.
- The most organised of our Similan Islands scuba diving liveaboard operators are generally Nemo, Manta Queen, Genesis, and several others who run mid-range and luxury liveaboard trips. The mid-range and luxury teams need to be well organised for two reasons. These are that their guests pay more and therefore expect more, and that they actually don’t have dive centre retail stores for guests to come and try on the equipment. Nemo is a small dive centre, owned and run by an experienced Swiss team. Manta Queen need to be organised because they have 7 liveaboard boats, and Genesis is mainly run by Germans.
- The advantages of diving with well-organised liveaboards should be clear. There are no or very few hidden surprises or changes and everything running like clockwork ensures safe and enjoyable diving cruises. People don’t like to be kept waiting, they want to eat when they’re hungry and they want to have up to four dives per day spread out evenly so that they can be safe and avoid tiredness. When you pay for and plan a scuba liveaboard you want to know what to expect and get what you have been promised. Also, a fixed itinerary means that it can be printed or published and everyone knows what will happen at what time without questions having to be asked all the time.
- However, when you have paid so much money for a once-in-a-lifetime scuba diving cruise you don’t want to feel like a soldier who is told what to do at what time of every day. You want to feel like a person who has a name and needs. A trip that is perfectly organised is difficult to make you feel different or special. You’re not a number or a robot. You’re an individual. For the larger dive centres who ‘process’ many divers every day, the chances are that you won’t be remembered as much as by a smaller family-run dive centre.
- In our opinion, the Nemo team have the best balance of perfect organisation and a friendly family-run service. Yes, they’re very strict about guests being on time for pick up and for divers studying the theory properly (link to the blog about this) but this is for very good reasons. The company is owned and run by a highly-experienced couple who run a flexible liveaboard with the best organisation but still a very personal service.
What makes a scuba liveaboard cruise well organised?
Your scuba diving liveaboard trip starts and ends with a land transfer. This may be from around Khao Lak or Phuket. A well-organised transfer is much more difficult to achieve than most people would think. Local traffic isn’t a problem in Khao Lak, but the resort areas of Phuket are made up of narrow streets, and used by all kinds of road users. Therefore delays are common, and when guests are looking for a van that they have never seen and the van driver is looking for foreigners he has never met, it’s understandable that the process is prone to problems. The better dive centres provide clear instructions for pickup times and meeting places, and some even give the driver’s mobile telephone number. Due to cost, nearly all transfers are shared with other guests on the same trip.
Rental Diving Equipment
Most divers rent some diving equipment during our Similan liveaboard cruises. A well-organised diving centre will prepare the equipment in the correct sizes, prior to your arrival. However, different brands have their own idea of what a Small, Medium or Large should be, so it’s important to visit the dive centre to fit the items first. The larger liveaboard boats store most equipment on board, and ensure that everyone tries everything on before departure in the evening.
A well-organised trip is when the groups of divers are not only pre-planned, but also checked each day of the cruise. The Cruise Leader is responsible for assessing the diving skills & air consumption rate for each guest. It’s not uncommon for divers who have very few dives to already be more relaxed, better on air, and have better buoyancy control than divers with lots more experience. Therefore, it’s important to assess what kind of diver each person is to ensure that the other members of each diving group aren’t inconvenienced. Ideally, every diver of each group is at a similar level of proficiency and air consumption.
Each trip has a planned itinerary, and these are normally followed as strictly as possible. After just a few trips, this itinerary is easy enough for the team to remember and follow. However, the better dive centres and cruise leaders are able to quickly and easily modify an itinerary at short notice. The changes may be for a number of reasons, including weather, sea conditions, special marine life sightings or crowded dive sites.
Something that most airline passengers comment on is the food served during a flight. This is also the same for our Similan liveaboard diving guests. The food is included in the price, but still needs to be tasty, plentiful and cater for every guest’s dietary needs. Nearly all of the dive centres provide buffet-style meals, but it’s important for the kitchen staff to know in advance how many people are vegetarians, and if anyone has any special dietary needs or allergies.
Some of our Similan diving guests choose to take part in a diving course during their liveaboard trip, and a few make the decision after boarding the boat. Ideally, pre-booking your diving course is better, but a well-prepared team are able to provide most popular scuba diving courses at short notice, and in a range of the more-popular languages.
But Being Flexible Has Advantages
However, it’s important to remember that nearly all of our guests are on a vacation, and they want to relax and often make last-minute decisions for what to do at any given time. If the itinerary is totally organised it is likely to be rigid and less personal. While some people want everything to be well organised, a more-flexible approach isn’t always a bad thing.
Delays: Nobody likes delays, but they happen more often than many would imagine. Some are unavoidable, while others are often due to forgetfulness. A flight delay is quite stressful, and can mess up a person’s whole itinerary. People on holiday like to relax and may wake up in their hotel later than normal, or forget to do or collect something important. Imagine that if your flight is delayed, you would hope for some flexibility and patience from those people who are waiting for you at the other end. And imagine if you forgot to collect your mask, or diver cert card or another important item personal to you. You would be grateful to whoever was able to wait for you or drive you back to correct your error. Therefore, if you are not delayed but others on your trip are delayed, it’s nice to ‘put yourself in their shoes’ and be patient. Therefore, some of our dive centres are more flexible than others regarding delays.
Last-minute decisions: Imagine if you had no idea about the availability of a diving course until you were on the boat. It would be great to take that diving course and you want to decide at the last minute. A more flexible cruise would enable you to make that decision and take the course. This could cause a slight delay or a change in the planned diver groups, itinerary or dive sites.
In summary, all of our dive centres try their very best to be well organised. They plan the transfers, prepare equipment & food, provide staff & diving equipment, and they strive to ensure that everyone enjoys a safe trip. The information that agents and their own guests provide them is important to enable them to do this. However, due to the nature of humans on vacation, there are always last-minute changes, delays or questions. Maybe a guest didn’t do a refresher dive prior to departure as they had promised to, or maybe a diver upgraded their certification and now they want to be in a different dive group. Flight delays, miscommunication and traffic can cause things to happen later than planned. There are so many factors that cause even the best-prepared trips to suffer from changes and delays. Also, a little flexibility and patience are important to ensure that everyone feels special on their Similan liveaboard diving cruise.