When we look at websites and scuba diving forums a topic that rises from time to time is what is better staying at a dive resort or taking a liveaboard. The discussions can go on and on with both sides having their merits. One of the biggest draws for selecting a liveaboard is the ability to dive different destinations, one against is that a non-diver might feel out of place or even bored. Those that are for dive resorts often point out the better selection of dive sites and the activities other than diving. A key issue with non-divers being involved.
While I have a number of dive “buddies” and people I know around the dive centers, none of them are what I would consider a close friend. None that I would want to go away with for a week long vacation. None of my close friends nor family are divers. While I enjoy liveaboards, when I travel with a friend it is not an option.
Before I became a certified diver, My preferred vacation was on a cruise ship. I had started to become certified a number of times but something had always come up to interfere with completing a class. I had done a number of pool dives, however, my first dive in open water was on a discover dive from a cruise ship excursion. It was more than exciting, since it started off with a giant step from 4 meters above the water off a pier. A short review in the sandy bottom and we were off following the grooves of the nearby reef. Since being certified, I have taken a number of cruises, all but one included diving.
As you look at possible destination for your dive vacation and look at destinations that are visited by cruise ships they are often the same. If you are looking for a dive vacation that balances the diving with other activities, then a cruise ship might be the best option for you.
Why A Cruise Ship
The first point you should consider is what are the advantages of a cruise ship over a land resort. Many people get a type of sticker shock when they see the price of a cruise, however, once you see what is included and compare that to a resort, the cruise starts to look as the better deal. You will see a range of different prices even on the same ship sailing the same date. Like a resort’s rooms, a cruise ship has different types of staterooms or cabins. There are four basic types of staterooms: Interior, Ocean View, Balcony and Suites. Even within the types there are different prices based on location. Within the same type, the lower you are in the ship the less the cabin cost. Stateroom are designed for efficiency, and while they might seem smaller than an average hotel room they are well laid out and surprisingly comfortable. I have been on over 30 cruises and only 5 were not an lowest price interior stateroom. Except for some extra benefits for some suites, everything onboard is the same regardless of the category stateroom you have.
Most of the items onboard the cruise ship is included in your fare. That includes all your meals, shows, workout classes, pool time and a host of other activities. The meals are wonderful and includes opportunities to eat around the clock on most ships. Most ships have the formal dining room where waiters will serve you five course meals, and a self served buffet with casual sitting. The days of formal wear for dinner is much more relaxed and if you do not want to dress up on a formal night the buffets are available. The buffets are not like the cheap all you can eat or cafetiere style food, they are the same dishes served in the dining rooms plus often things like burgers, fried chicken and pizza.
There are things that cost extra, such as the shore excursions, alcoholic drinks, some non-alcoholic drinks, gambling, spa services and upscale dining. The shore excursions are tours organized by the cruise lines with tour companies. Guest are picked up at the ship for their activities of the day. My last cruise was a four day cruise. I had arrange my dives direct so that was not charged on board. My total onboard charges was $18 for a couple of drinks. The cost of a cruise is often less than $100 per day per person. The sooner you book the lower the cost, and repeat cruisers are often given additional discounts.
When you are considering a cruise vacation with diving, look at it initially the same you would a resort vacation. Where do you want to dive and then match that with different cruise lines. Most seven day cruises stop at four ports of calls some even five. Most of these ports will also be known as dive destinations. Some ships sailing to the Bahamas call on private islands. Shallow shore dives are often available on the islands. Some of the cruise ships are offering Scuba Diver Certifications onboard. The confined water sessions are done in a pool and the two open water dives at one of the ports. None of the cruise lines currently offer open water diver, but it would not surprise me if that does not happen soon.
Shore Excursion or Book Direct?
The other question that comes up frequently is whether you should book a shore excursion with the cruise line or use the internet while you are planning and book direct with a dive center. After my early experience, I was 100% for booking direct with the dive center. Divers and snorkelers were taken out together on large boats with 50 or more people aboard. However, the cruise lines learned quickly that divers would not accept that. While tourist will accept a full bus visiting a ruin, divers do not want large groups of snorkelers nearby or even divers for that matter. Today the trend is for the cruise ships to use a well established and respected dive center to take care of the diver.
Nassau has seven cruise lines that visit the island each week, together they have seventeen ships. Most of the ships use Stuart’s Cove as their dive operator. This is one of the most respected dive centers in the Caribbean. The cost of the cruise lines shore excursion is around $179 for a two tank dive. On Stuart’s cove website they show the pick up times from the seventeen different cruise ships, with a note that passengers on three lines that they are contracted with need to book with the cruise line. The passengers on the other cruise ships that can book direct and pay $139.
The cruise lines seldom say who they contract the dive services with, but it is fairly simple to find out in most cases. The cruise ships website list the shore excursions they sell and have comments from past guest. Often the guest will mention the dive center. Once you know the dive center, you can research that center just like you would any vacation. If it is not to your liking, look for another.
One thing to consider before jumping to the booking direct is the point that the passengers who are taking shore excursions are given priority on leaving the ship. In some ports, the ship uses tenders to get passengers ashore. These are smaller boats holding maybe 150 guest that shuttle guest ashore. It can take hours to clear the guest booked on shore excursions. So if you are at a tendered site, it might be best to book the ship’s shore excursion.
Cruise Ships an Attractive Alternative
I enjoyed each of the liveaboard vacations, I have taken and have two more locations on my bucket list that is only dived from liveaboards. However, to be completely frank with myself, I generally do not dive more than three days in a row. Taking a cruise and diving at the different ports makes more sense that taking a extra off gas day on a liveaboard with limited options of what to do. As you look towards your next vacation explore the options of a cruise ship.