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Jim & Cary Yanny’s Guide to Diving in the Maldives: Part 5

Jim and Cary Yanny

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Part 5: Emperor Voyager

Jim and Cary report on their trip to visit various resorts and liveaboards in the Maldives. In Part 5, they enjoy a week’s safari aboard Emperor Voyager to end their two week tour of the Islands…But we have a sneaky suspicion that they’ll be back next week with a special bonus instalment on another liveaboard. Watch this space!

After a wonderful week of island-hopping, on Saturday morning we sadly said goodbye to Vilamendhoo Island Resort and joined the seaplane for a short flight to Male knowing that further delights were in store; our four friends were arriving that morning on the direct British Airways flight from Gatwick and we would all be going on a week-long safari together.

Once we got to Male Airport we met the Emperor Maldives Rep, Alim, outside the arrivals hall. Our friends’ flight landed on time and Alim showed us to a nearby café where we waited and ate breakfast while he collected the rest of his guests. Once everyone was there, we proceeded on foot to the waiting Dhoni, just 50 metres from the airport, got aboard and cast off to transfer to our waiting liveaboard. Within a few minutes we’d arrived at Emperor Voyager where we were greeted with warm smiles, cold towels and welcome drinks as luggage was sorted out, dive gear sent to the dive Dhoni and personal bags sent to cabins.

It’s always an interesting moment seeing your liveaboard for real for the first time and not just from pictures; it’s a mix of excitement and trepidation. Having just spent a week in upscale island resorts, we realised that we’d have to temper our expectations about what to expect from a boat but at the same time we hoped Emperor Voyager would not disappoint us as far as liveaboard standards go. (We’ve been on some great liveaboards, including Emperor Red Sea, Aggressor and fancy Indonesian vessels, so our bar is set high!)

At first sight, the salon of Emperor Voyager did not blow us away. It looked roomy and the pub-style bar in the corner was a nice touch but the décor certainly isn’t glitzy. Not that glitzy is what we look for, of course, but let’s just say that cosmetically the first impression of her was nothing special. It also isn’t air-conditioned and, as were sat still at anchor in Male Harbour, it felt a bit sticky. However, we were assured that once we set sail the breeze would clear the air out and things would get much more pleasant (which turned out to be the case).

It was time for our welcome briefing so we were ushered to sit down and relax on one of the sofas. Instantly I heard the same comment from many guests, “Ooh, these are comfy”. The briefing was given by our Emperor hosts for the week, Eva and Patrick, an instructor couple from the Czech Republic and Belgium. It was a comprehensive boat briefing on a par with any of the previous ones we’ve had on other liveaboards, focusing on safety and explaining our daily programme in detail. As they talked, maps and safety points were displayed on a large plasma screen on the salon wall, which really helped to add to the clarity.

After the welcome briefing, we were shown to our cabin. At this point our impression of Emperor Voyager altered significantly. The last liveaboard we’d been on was in the Red Sea and cabins on Egyptian boats are, well, “cosy”. However, Emperor Voyager is Maldivian-built and this makes an enormous difference to comfort. “Why?”, I hear you ask. Because they’re wider and this is really felt most in the cabins. The first sign of that difference was the full-size double bed! It was high up with a thick mattress and loads of storage space underneath. Furthermore, there was a full-size wardrobe in the cabin. The bed was simply but tastefully furnished with crisp white sheets and a duvet. We found the mattress to be extremely comfortable.

Our ensuite bathroom was significantly larger than any we’d previously experienced and it all worked; hot water on demand, a loo that flushed each time without any hassle, a large glass basin with mixer taps, towels and bathrobes provided. (If you’ve ever been on a liveaboard you’ll understand why I am mentioning these points; they’re just not to be taken for granted).

Oh yes, it was air-conditioned and it worked perfectly. As someone who doesn’t like sticky heat, I was now relieved and smiling. Happy days!

Meals were served in Emperor Voyager’s outdoor dining room on the upper deck with the exception of one dinner, a wonderful beach BBQ on an island. All meals were buffet-style and included at least two carb dishes (rice, potato, pasta), a meat dish (no pork) and a curry, plus one mixed vegetable dish and a delicious salad. We had a full house of twenty guests and it was noticeable that everyone was very satisfied with the food quality and no one ever went hungry. In fact, the opposite – we all ate far too much and found ourselves yearning for the next dive, so we could burn some calories. “Point me into a current, please!”

Special dietary requirements were handled with ease and breakfast included a choice of fried, scrambled, poached eggs or an omelette (ordered the day before), plus beef sausages, cheese, fruit, juices, hash browns, cereals, toast with condiments and tea and coffee. Between dives unlimited tea and coffee plus biccies were also available in the salon.

A nice touch is that Emperor Maldives gave us individual plastic refillable water bottles, which we wrote our name on with a permanent marker and then used for the week, refilling them from the dispensers. Because we each had our bottle in the salon, it was a visual reminder that helped us to stay hydrated (essential in the tropics and especially when diving) whilst at the same time much more environmentally responsible than going through a mountain of disposable plastic bottles. Not to mention these name-drop water bottles are free souvenirs for us to take home. Kudos, Emperor.

Other than this, the boat offers decent speed WiFi (chargeable) but limited to emails and browsing, not big downloads/uploads. There are comfy beanbags in the salon and a large sundeck with sun beds and hammocks.

OK, let’s talk about the diving.

Obviously the main attractions of liveaboard diving are the convenience and variety of sites. We chose Emperor’s “Best of the Maldives” route, which was around Vaavu, Male and Ari Atolls. In terms of variety and quality of dive site it delivered in spades and we couldn’t have been more pleased with our dives even as a highly experienced (if I say so myself) group, containing a Course Director, two Master Instructors and an IDC Staff Instructor. Our main excitement stemmed from the regularity of big fish sightings – basically on every dive – from tuna, to trevally, barracuda, sharks (whale, black tip, white tip, reef) and manta, mobula (devil rays) and stingrays. Add to this morays, turtles, shoals of triggerfish, schools of snapper, reef fish galore; the list goes on. On some sites we also had lovely coral and also some critters, maybe not to compare with Egypt and Indonesia but then let’s not forget that this is in addition to all those big fish. Simply put, it was a week of some of the best diving we have ever enjoyed! It’s impossible to do it full justice in the space of a few lines but for a better idea please watch the daily videos posted on Facebook by our friend, Jan van der Horst, as a picture says a thousand words and yet, good as Jan’s videos are, nothing can come close to substituting for actually going there and getting underwater.

In terms of convenience I have to confess that this was my and Cary’s first trip to the Maldives and therefore also our first experience of Dhoni diving. (Our whole trip was put together for us by our our Maldives expert, Holly.) And, boy, do we love Dhoni diving! The dive deck is like a football field, each diver having his/her own station. After the dives you just leave your cylinder in the rack and it gets refilled for your next dive. There are hangers for wet suits and sweet water showers to wash out ears and get the salt off after each dive. Numbered towels were provided (and dried each night and replaced with a completely fresh set mid-week). The Dhoni was so wide, there was no slapping someone in the face when putting on fins. Basically it’s a whole day-boat, separate to your liveaboard, meaning that all the noise of compressors is kept far away from the main boat; it also means much more living space on the liveaboard. As diving goes, it’s a pretty luxurious way to do it. (Yes, our boat wasn’t special in this regard, as all Maldives liveaboards offer Dhoni diving, but I’m comparing it with other destinations, for those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of diving in the Maldives.)

Emperor Maldives provided us with three guides, which meant that our group of six were able to dive with our own guide, thereby not putting any compromise on our dive profile/plan – we were able to do our own thing on all dives, which we loved. Our Maldivian guide, Rauf, was one of the best we’ve ever had the pleasure of being guided by. He was experienced and very laid back BUT still communicative and gave excellent, comprehensive dive briefings. Remember that our group had a bit of experience in it, so we would have picked up any shortcomings without fail. No pressure, then! Rauf came through with flying colours, so much so that we’ve all agreed that we would request him on our next trip…which I suspect may be sooner than he thinks, poor chap!

I really could go on a lot more about our week on Emperor Voyager, but I won’t. Rather, let me attempt to just sum it up in a final paragraph.

We’ve seen a lot of fancy looking boats over the years but honestly a lot of them don’t work half as well as they look. Emperor Voyager is a decent looking boat, as you can see from my pictures. Is she the fanciest looking? No, but so what – this boat works! I’ve talked about “checking boxes” a lot in my report, well Emperor Voyager checks all the boxes that a reasonable diver should be looking for when choosing their liveaboard. After every morning dive we returned to a made-up cabin with clothes folded, bathroom re-stocked, bins emptied. The food was perfect. The diving organisation was perfect. The price was good value. What more do you need on a liveaboard? All boxes checked and, a few short days after saying goodbye to those fabulous island resorts, we’d already remembered why serious divers go on liveaboards.

OK, just one more (very short) paragraph about Voyager! Kindly indulge me.

Two words keep coming into my heads about how to describe this boat. The first word is “Ronseal”. The other is “consistent”. Emperor Voyager delivered a consistent service, which is one of the most important things we look for – not one good meal, followed by a bad one, or a good dive organisation followed by a mess, or a clean room and then a dirty bathroom the next day. It doesn’t try to do too much, preferring to stick with what it knows and does oh so well. (OK, well actually it did throw in a couple of fabulous extras, such as the beach BBQ and the incredible manta night snorkelling off the back platform…the cherries on top.) Add to this the special ambiance that only a liveaboard full of divers can provide and you simply can’t do better. If you love your diving and haven’t been to the Maldives, then I urge you to start making your plans to go. Though the options are endless, you really don’t need to look any further than Emperor Voyager for your first trip.

So that’s it for our reports on the Maldives. We’ll be back there soon, of that I’m sure. I’ve added some general information to round things off:

Emperor Maldives has the largest dive liveaboard fleet in the Maldives, with a boat to suit every budget, from Emperor Atoll (with just 12 berths, she’s perfect for private groups and families) all the way up to the gorgeous, hotel-standard Emperor Serenity. With facilities such as Jacuzzis and extras including massage services, snorkelling trips and island visits, there really is a boat for everyone, including non-divers (and it’s a value-for-money way to see the Maldives, compared to an island resort). They have guaranteed sailings every Saturday and Sunday, meaning that you can enjoy a spectacular liveaboard holiday in the Maldives in just one week. Single travellers can cabin-share to avoid pricey single supplements. There’s a choice of routes, from the excellent Best of Maldives to routes for more experienced divers (100+ dives) such as Deep South & Southern Sharks or South Central 7 Atolls, where one has a greater likelihood of spotting the larger shark species such as silky, tiger, hammerhead.

The Maldives has two seasons; from December to April is the drier season, but it’s basically a year-round dive destination. If you need further details, just ask us.

Cary and I opted not to take the direct flight, as we wanted to experience a transit stop (it’s also cheaper than the direct BA flight), so we went with Etihad, transiting in Abu Dhabi. We found the airline excellent, especially the A380 from London to Abu Dhabi, with good food and service and interactive entertainment system. Abu Dhabi Airport has affordable transit lounges to make the wait that bit more comfortable. There are plenty of flight options from the UK to the Maldives, including Emirates (via Dubai), Qatar Airways (via Doha) and Sri Lankan (via Colombo). This means you can fly from regional airports around the UK.

Given the amazing diving, wonderful hotels and liveaboards and easy and relatively affordable flight access, the Maldives is the perfect dive destination. Do yourself a favour – go!

Thanks for reading our reports. Until we explore the next destination…

Jim and Cary own and run UK-based tour operator Diverse Travel. To find out more about the Maldivian itineraries that Diverse Travel offer, visit www.diversetravel.co.uk/maldives.

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Scuba Bucket List Maldives Vlog – Fuvamulah: Island of Sharks

Scuba Bucket List

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First in a three part vlog from Jake Davies (JDScuba) & Giovana Braia on their recent trip to the Maldives…

With countries opening their borders after almost two years of lockdown it was time to head to a destination which we had high on our list for a few years which was the Maldives. Whilst planning the trip we wanted to make sure we got to experience the Maldives, from its local islands to one of the many resorts that can be found around the archipelago. Whilst also ticking off the many shark and ray species that can be seen. 

There was one island in particular that we wanted to visit, an island that’s become more and more popular over the last couple of years and that is the incredible island of Fuvamlulah. However, it wasn’t long after arriving into the Maldives that we realised that the bag that had the underwater housing and some dive kit hadn’t got on the flight in Dubai. Not the start we had expected but we weren’t going to let this ruin the incredible trip that we had planned. 

Situated in the deep south of the archipelago, skipping over the equator is Fuvamulah Island,  an hour and a half flight from Male airport. The island offers one of the most unique shark encounters in the Maldives: diving with Tiger Sharks. The number of Tiger Sharks found around Fuvamulah has made the island an ever increasing important area for these sharks. Around the island the water drops off to hundreds of meters, where the water can upwell from the depths bringing cold nutrient rich water to the surface. This provides for even more exciting encounters that can occur within the blue and around the plateau cleaning station with species such as Thresher Sharks, Great and Scalloped Hammerheads, Oceanic Mantas and Whale Sharks. Tiger Sharks are guaranteed at the island, whether they are seen out in the blue or at the famous ‘Tiger Zoo’ which is located at the mouth of the harbour. 

We booked our diving and accommodation with Fuvamulah Dive School, as part of the ‘one day look‘ package. As part of the package, they organise the flights, transportation whilst on the island and a place to stay at the Fuvamulah Inn which is only a 5 min journey to the dive centre situated at the island’s harbour. 

We had two days diving booked where there were three dives a day which included a dive at ‘Tiger Zoo’ each day. This dive was planned for the end of the day as the  sharks follow the fishers out when they head out in the morning and then follow them back where they then stay around for the offcuts. 

Heading out on the first day of diving we went out to the plateau to take a look at the cleaning station in case any Threshers were around as well as the possibility of some pelagics. Jumping into the 29 degree water was definitely a change from the colder waters off the Welsh coast and the visibility was incredible. We headed down, taking the time to keep an eye out for any shadows in the blue, before reaching the plateau. A few small White-tip Reef Sharks were seen patrolling the ledges along with a large female Tiger Shark cruising below in the depths. After 40mins and no sign of Threshers it was time to head back, where the 6m safety stop was accompanied by another large female Tiger but sadly no pelagics. 

Following a surface interval we then headed to the next site, just a short steam out of the harbour to where the beach drops off to depth creating an almost wall-like dive. The dive provided plenty of coral including some huge fan coral at the deeper depths. The large amount of coral also provides for some encounters with Hawksbill Turtles. 

For the last dive of the day we went to the famous Tiger Zoo. Swimming over to the shallow ledge, we set up in a line whilst the dive school divers hid fish offcuts around the site to bring in the Tiger Sharks. In position, holding on as there was a swell running, we saw a glimpse of the the first Tiger Shark emerging from the distance. The Tigers found in the area are mainly large female sharks, growing over 4m in length and in some cases over 5m. As they came close it was incredible to look at these amazing Apex predators in their eyes and how graceful they glide past. In total, five sharks appeared, providing some close up encounters. During the second day and another visit at Tiger Zoo, a total of seven sharks were encountered, all providing the same close up curious experience. During the the dives the Fuvamulah Dive school team were incredibly professional and ensured that the dives were carried out in a safe and enjoyable manner. 

Surfacing after Tiger Zoo saw the end of the two days diving at Fuvamulah – two incredible and unforgettable days of diving where encounters in the blue alongside those at Tiger Zoo will never be forgotten. It’s a diving location that’s definitely recommended but also a spot that should be continuously monitored to better understand the population of the many species that are found around the island. Fuvamulah surely is the ‘Island of Sharks’. 

A 2am start beckoned for the beginning of our next journey, a flight back north to Male airport to then head to Dhigurah for a few days to explore another local island, this time on the lookout for Whale Sharks. Whilst also continuing to hope that our missing suitcase would finally arrive with us.


Watch more videos and subscribe to Scuba Bucket List on YouTube.

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Back with a bang!! (Part 2 of 2)

Sean Chinn

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Sean Chinn reports from The Maldives…

Hopefully you have read part 1 of my “Back with a bang” blog series – reading about how epic day 1 of diving back in the Maldives with The Scuba Place onboard Sachika really was. If you haven’t then check it out HERE. You may now be thinking how can the rest of the week compete with that kind of adrenalin-fuelled awesomeness of day 1. Thankfully for me and the rest of the group the week continued to deliver some truly memorable moments underwater with amazing marine life interactions. Life onboard the boat also added to what was one of the best dive trips of my life.

Manta ray passes overhead at Camel Rock cleaning station

MANTAstic adventures continued in day 2 as we enjoyed another memorable encounter with one of the oceans most graceful animals. Dive 2 saw us at ‘Camel Rock’ dive site, a stunning cleaning station full of colourful fish waiting for their client to glide in. The current was slight but still required the group to get close to the sand and wait in hope for a manta to turn up. As I waited I noticed a nice space on the sand behind the cleaning station, sheltered from the current it was a more peaceful place to wait and then my movements were rewarded massively. As it happened I moved to the perfect location where the manta would first enter the cleaning station and I screamed with delight to alert the others. 20 minutes were then spent with this beauty as it spent time hovering getting cleaned and then circled the group and back in to the station numerous times. One of the best feelings is when a manta hovers directly above you allowing a special connection between species.

The next couple of dives allowed me to shoot some macro for the first time in two years. I was a little rusty and unlike parts of South East Asia, The Maldives is not full of unique macro subjects. However, there’s still plenty to get the practice in and enjoy looking deep into the reefs. A leaf scorpion fish was the highlight of the macro subjects, although a sneaky black cheek moray eel that was initially hiding came out and gave me a little nip as I hovered taking photos of the leaf scorpion fish. Luckily it only gives a graze but I think it was time to move along and look elsewhere.

Leaf scorpionfish taken at Kuda Rah Thila dive site

After a couple of macro adventures it was now time to go BIG and it doesn’t get much bigger than the biggest fish in the ocean. We were off to find whale sharks and it wasn’t long before we were on what felt like a navy mission snorkel. All lined up on the edge of the Dhoni ready to “Dive, Dive, Dive.” I was a little nervous plummeting into the water with all my camera gear in hand but that was alleviated once I saw the whale shark coming as the mayhem began. A free-for-all of snorkelers competing for the whale sharks attention. After three visits to the Maldives it was my first time seeing one here, albeit in crazy circumstances to start with. It was slightly humorous seeing flailing arms and legs swinging wildly trying to keep up with this beautiful beast gently swimming along. Thankfully everyone respected the distance and the whale shark didn’t seem too bothered by all the attention and stayed around as we got back on the boat to kit up and dive.

Swimmers try to keep up with a whale shark at Maamigili Beru dive site

The dive itself was incredible. We dropped in front of the whale shark and watched it pass and swim off into the distance. The reef then delivered some great encounters with a hawksbill turtle in initially. Then some male whitetip reef sharks persistently pursuing a female in their attempt to mate with her. They continued to circle close by and I was really hoping to capture some amazing behaviour but the female wasn’t in the mood this time around and gave them the run around before disappearing.

A sleeping nurse shark and scorpionfish added to the unique life on the dive but it was the safety stop that will stay with me forever. My greatest ever safety stop as I asked dive guide Big Ali to blow bubble rings and pose for a photo he was suddenly photo bombed by a whale shark. Yes! As I looked at the display composing the shot of Ali I couldn’t believe my eyes as a big shadow passed behind him. I screamed in delight (I do this often underwater) as I swam towards Ali to get his attention to the shark before proceeding to take some photos and enjoy what felt like a solitary moment with the shark after the madness at the start of the dive with the first whale shark.

I really could keep delving deep into my explanations of each dive on this trip as they all delivered incredible moments but I should start to condense it a little now before I take too much space. Grey reef sharks would become the stars of the show towards the end of the week as I finally was able to get some nice shots of them after two previous trips not delivering. Better visibility and close passes meant I could really work on my grey reef shark portfolio and was ecstatic with the interactions, especially at one of my favourite dive sites of the trip – ‘Fish Head’. We watched as they patrolled the outer edges of the reef with the occasional burst as they hunted. The mass of fish life including beautiful schooling bannerfish added a splash of colour to the scene for two incredible dives there.

Grey reef shark makes a close pass at Fish Head dive site

We were also super lucky to introduce a new manta ID to The Manta Trust with our visitor at Fesdhoo Lagoon on the night. With the light at the back of the boat attracting the plankton we had to wait until around 10.30pm for its arrival. I was pretty much the last person left waiting at the back of the boat with one guest coming back up from his room to check. As we were speaking I caught a white ghostly figure in the corner of my eye. It was a little deeper than previous years but I knew straight away what it was as I shouted MANTAAAA!! I quickly got my camera and snorkelling gear on and spent the next couple of hours with this new beauty. I called out to get others to let everyone else know it was here and suddenly the whole boat was at the back of the boat or in the water to marvel at the beauty as it barrel rolled at the back of the boat. Fairplay to dive guide Little Ali also, as he offered to take people diving even at 11.30pm. I decided to stay snorkelling but some had fun diving as well.

Every dive was amazing with truly wonderful moments to talk about. Maiya Thila night dive was again incredible. Marbled rays were an ever present on the dive hunting along with whitetip reef sharks, moray eels, giant trevally and octopus. Hawksbill turtle were a hit on a number of dives with not a care in the world as they swam within inches of you and on one occasion one even lay on my leg as I was photographing an octopus. Charismatic and charming they were there to the end and delivered the best moments on the very last dive. Time spent on deserted islands also added to the charm of this trip with a beach BBQ under the stars providing a welcome escape from the boat in paradise. The dancing on the beach almost as good as the final nights party onboard, but the less said about that the better.

A stunning desert island where guests were able to enjoy some free time away from diving

Our parting gift underwater was snorkelling at the famous “Fish Tank” dive site. Unfortunately due to our flight time the next day we were unable to dive but those familiar with the site will know it’s easily accessible by snorkel. With stingrays visiting knee deep water around the tuna factory. It was mayhem!! The current was ripping and suddenly hoards of snorkelers entered the water not familiar with currents. It was a crazy 45 minutes in the water with an array of stingrays and people but it didn’t take away from what a spectacular week we had and I always look at it as an adventure. I’m looking forward to the day I’ll be back onboard Sachika in the Maldives as I’ll be back for sure!!

Dive guide Big Ali with a hawksbill turtle at Kuda Vattaru dive site


Sean’s trip was organised by The Scuba Place. For more information and to book call 020 3515 9955, email reservations@thescubaplace.co.uk or visit www.thescubaplace.co.uk.

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