Maldives on the MV Orion, January 2013
Trip Report Maldives on the MV Orion
January 20-27, 2013
Pictures are at: https://picasaweb.google.com/1097400...vesJanuary2013
My dive-buddy husband and I have been diving for 12 years and have over 850 dives. We are not young (76 & 66). We’ve been to most Caribbean locations and several in Asia/Micronesia: Palau (twice), Yap, Truk Lagoon, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines (three times).
This was our first trip to the Maldives. Laura at Ultimate Dive Travel arranged the trip for us. As usual, she did a fantastic job.
Weather in January was great; we had rain at night a couple of times, and one of our longer cruises between atolls was a bit rough.
The Maldives is an island nation in the Indian Ocean not too far from the southwest coast of the Indian subcontinent. The nation is 100% Muslim, but tourism is extremely important to their economy and we felt very welcome. The word “atoll” is from the Maldivian language and is the only Maldivian word to have found its way into the English dictionary (Atlas of the Maldives, 5th ed., p. 9). The Maldives is made up of 25 geographical atoll formations, spread out over about 540 miles and crossing the equator. Since an atoll is “a ring-shaped coral reef or a string of closely spaced small coral islands, enclosing or nearly enclosing a shallow lagoon (dictionary.com), there are literally hundreds of dive sites.
Getting to the Maldives is a long trip. We flew from Phoenix, AZ to Los Angeles, and then took Emirates Air from Los Angeles to Dubai (nearly 16 hours). From Dubai, the Maldives is a four-hour flight. We landed at the Malé, Maldives airport at 8:20 a.m. and were met by an MV Orion representative who took us to an open air restaurant to wait for our flight to Kadhdhoo (an airport on one of the atolls south of Malé where we would board the Orion.
The MV Orion is billed as a luxury live-a-board and I would agree that it is. The standard room that we were in was larger than the typical live-a-board and very comfortable. Shampoo, shower gel, hand soap, and hairdryer are provided. There was a retractable clothesline in the bathroom – very handy. There were also drying racks on the upper deck. There is Wi-Fi in the public areas but sometimes when cruising the reception was very weak. More important than the actual boat is the crew. And the Orion crew was excellent!
Our typical day on the Orion get up at 6 a.m. put on a swimsuit and cover-up; go to the 6:30 a.m. dive briefing (toast and coffee were available); dive; return, change clothes (again into a swimsuit and cover-up); eat breakfast (full breakfast buffet with eggs or omelets cooked to order – and baked beans?); lounge about until the 10:30 a.m. dive briefing; dive; return, change clothes (again into a swimsuit and cover-up); eat lunch (a hot buffet lunch); lounge about (nap or read or sit on the sundeck) until the 2:30 dive briefing; dive; return, shower, change clothes for dinner; hang out in the public areas sipping a class of wine (they had some good fairly inexpensive wines for Asia-$29-30 a bottle); eat dinner (buffet with good selection). Chat with other guests for a short time – and then to bed as diving wears us out. Food was good and plentiful. I particularly loved the local bananas. They are small and much sweeter than the ones that are imported to the US.
There were 16 passengers, all divers – from Great Britain, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Japan, The Netherlands, Italy, and the United States. We were divided into four dive groups. All of our diving was done from the dhoni. The dhoni was a good-sized boat, set-up well for diving. Even with 16 passengers, 4 dive masters, and the dhoni crew we did not feel crowded. Our gear was left on the dhoni all week. Exit and entry to/from the boats was easy and the crew was very helpful with gear. Boats offered plenty of shade and towels. There was fresh coconut to chew on after each dive. We had baskets for fins, masks, etc. that fit under our seat – very convenient. There was a nice area for hanging wetsuits. Two huge dip tanks, one for cameras and one for wetsuits, etc. were available. There was also a shower at the back. The crew cleaned our gear and set it out to dry after the last dive.
We had Enrico as our dive master. I cannot say enough good things about him and his regard for our safety. We did three dives a day with a fourth night dive on one day. While I preferred the four dives a day routine when I was a younger diver, I find that three a day is about it for me now. In fact, we did not do the one night dive that was offered.
Water temperature was 82°. Visibility was generally 60-70 feet. Deepest dive was 110 feet and shallowest was 53 feet. In general the diving here was deeper than we typically do – 7 of 15 dives were deeper than 90 feet. We usually hang above the group when the diving is deeper than 80 feet (air consumption, watching our time to deco, older divers being more conservative). However, in the Maldives the currents are so crazy that we had to stay with the dive master at all times. We started out our trip near Laama Atoll; the checkout dive at a small thila (pinnacle) was okay. On our second dive at Fushi Kandu, the currents were the strongest that we have ever experienced. Other divers who had been to the Galapagos said this current was the worst they had been in. We reef hooked at 113 feet, but didn’t see much. We were back at the surface in 26 minutes. My SAC (surface air consumption rate) is typically .30-.34, for this dive it was .70. While we did not complain, other stronger and younger divers did. By dinner time, the dive director, Mario, had checked with all divers concerning an itinerary change. Everyone agreed and we headed north. Very accommodating! Thank you, MV Orion! What did we miss by not staying south? I’m not sure, but probably hammerhead sharks. We did one dive searching for hammerheads in Thaa Atoll, but didn’t find any.
The rest of our dives were done at Thaa, Meemu, South Ari, and North Ari Atolls. Of course, we continued to have quite a bit of current on most dives, all the diving was drift diving; but these currents were manageable for most of us (more like Palau’s Blue Corner or Peleliu). We reef hooked a couple of more times and enjoyed the diving very much. Our dive at Rangali Madivaru (South Ari Atoll) was incredible. We went to see the Giant Mantas, five showed up. They were very entertaining, gliding over our heads and interacting with one another almost as if dancing. Then we heard “ping, ping, ping” from a dive master. We turned around to see a whale shark swimming slowly through the channel right at our level (about 60 feet). Some in our group had seen a whale shark the day before at Maamigili Beyru (South Ari) while snorkeling; but this was my first!
Other than the Mantas and whale shark, the most amazing thing about Maldives diving in my opinion, was the huge schools of fish. In other locations, a large school might be 30 or so fish, in the Maldives, there would be hundreds. Beautiful!
Our trip was Sunday to Sunday. On Saturday, after two dives at North Ari Atoll, we headed for Malé where we would catch our flights on Sunday. We arrived in Malé late in the afternoon and were offered a walking tour of the city. Most of the people in the Maldives live in the city and it was quite modern. Our guide indicated that apartments were small so Maldivians tend to spend a lot of time outdoors. The evening was lovely and there were many families with lots of young children playing in the parks and squares.
On Sunday morning, transfer from the Orion to the airport went smoothly. It was a long way to travel and a long trip home, but definitely worth it.
Thanks for the report and pictures. I'm sure that's as close as I will ever get to the Maldives. It sounds like you didn't consider it among your favorite trips. Why not?
Joel, no not our favorite, but in the top 10 - we prefer more colorful coral, less current (e.g. Palau, Chuk, Philippines, Indonesia).
Wow, Susana, you've really stepped up from our Pensacola day trips in "L.A." on the Sea Scout. Very nice report and best wishes.