Never before has a subject caused such spirited conversation among divers: a land-based versus a liveaboard dive vacation. Supporters of each have debated this issue again and again. Arguments for each are strong and make sense.
Liveaboard dive vacations offer fantastic diving to remote, exotic locals. Land-based vacations are the perfect way to combine diving with inland sightseeing while gaining educational insight about the country being visited. Some say land based vacations are the diver's best choice while others say that a liveaboard trip is the only way to go.
Let's review some considerations that should be addressed when planning a dive vacation focusing on advantages and disadvantages of land versus sea. The question which really needs to be answered is "What's best for you?".
Diver know thy self. As mentioned in our previous articles of the Travelling Diver, different people have different expectations of what a dive vacation should be. When planning your vacation, it is important to thoroughly examine your own unique situation. Things you need to consider are your level of dive experience, your personal likes and dislikes, travel experience, and your travelling companion, if applicable.
Your level of dive experience should be an important factor in your vacation selection regardless of whether it is a land based or liveaboard trip. Are you a novice with just a few dives under your belt or are you an old salt with ten years of dive experience looking for big fish and even bigger thrills? Your vacation selection should properly match your qualifications.
Some folks will prefer a trip which comes with an "escape" clause. This means a vacation which provides the freedom to do what you want when you want. With any land-based operation, whether it accommodates sixteen or 160, there will be a defined boat diving schedule. The only way around this is if you happen to be the only guest registered for diving during your stay. In this case, the schedule may be flexible to accommodate your personal preferences. Being realistic, aside from the diving, you can arrange your trip where the remainder of the decisions are left to you. These decisions may include: where, when, and what you eat; choosing topside activities; opportunities for sightseeing; and the nightlife you wish to experience. If you like a variety of options in all of these categories, you'll be much happier at a large resort at a somewhat commercially developed destination. Remember, with a small group on a liveaboard or when staying at an intimate resort in a remote location, schedules sometimes dictate when and what you will eat along with restricted day and evening activities. Of course this may be exactly what you are looking for; just diving and relaxing wilh no decisions to make. If you want to stay active, there's always the dive cruise ship which supposedly combines the best of both worlds. If you are considering this route, make sure you understand exactly how often you will be given the opportunity to dive and how the schedules and logistics are planned. Define exactly what you want to do on your vacation, then match your desires accordingly.
If you are considering a liveaboard, you will need to evaluate your personality, and be honest! Are you a tolerant person who gets along easily with all types of people? There aren't many places to hide or ways to avoid a conflicting personality 200 miles out at sea. It would be a shame to have your entire vacation ruined by a single person who was having a great time just being himself.
If you are travelling alone and you have a special interest, you should make some inquiries before you go. For example, a photographer should ask about the nature of a liveaboard trip before signing on. There can be nothing more frustrating than planning a week of photography only to find that the remaining nineteen on board are hunters. On the other hand, for some individuals, a liveaboard is the perfect choice because it enables them to join in easily with a small group who share the same interests. A camaraderie usually develops on board which is less likely to occur at a large resort where an individual can get lost in the crowd. If travelling with a non-diving companion, a land-based trip will most likely suit you best. Those not interested in diving will enjoy the freedom of shopping, sightseeing, and participating in the local color and flavor of the destination. Land should also be your choice if children will accompanying you since the confines of a boat are too limiting for the activities of kids. In addition, consider the welfare of the other passengers. Is it fair to confine them with your kids?
Some divers may not be able to travel by sea for the simple reason of sea sickness. Sure, there are medications and for some, this is all that is needed. For others, no medication is strong enough, no dive site worth that miserable feeling for an eight day/seven night high seas adventure. Some people may be fine to participate on a boat travelling in calm seas while other locales may need to be avoided. It bothers me to hear that the world's best dive sites are accessible only by boat. For someone prone to seasickness, this news can surely burst their BCD. The analogy that I make to this statement is that of the instructor who tells his students to help each other with gear. This same instructor then casually puts his gear on over his head, without the assistance of anyone. Students see this and think "Gee, I'm not that strong, I don't think I'll ever be able to do that, so I guess I'll never be the diver he is". Statements regarding the world's best dive selections are all relative because people have different interests. A photographer doesn't care how big and meaty a fish is, he just wants the photo. A hunter may not be interested in diving tropical reefs if all he can do is look.
"Attention Divers!! New liveaboard offering unlimited diving plans to set sail in the Windward Isles this Spring."
There are many reasons why you may want to choose a liveaboard dive vacation over a land based operation. One is that often times, the boat is anchored at a particular dive site for the entire day. It can be extremely satisfying to be able to dive a particular site at different times during the day, and at different depths. This allows you to observe the ever-changing marine ecosystem. The behavior pattern and activities of fish and corals along with their presence or disappearance can be depend ent on the time of day. The freedom of choosing your own time to dive is also pleasant. Land-based boats have obvious restrictions of fuel and time while liveaboard operations provide opportunities to dive sites that would otherwise never be explored. Areas such as the Sea of Cortez, the Galapagos Islands, and Australia's Coral Sea are examples.
DO NOT choose a liveaboard dive vacation purely on the advertisement of "Unlimited Diving" Boats have to travel at some point daily to find safe anchorages and to get from one site to another. DON'T choose a liveaboard purely because the boat has promised to travel to a particular dive site. Political and environmental con iderations, along with diver safety are the utmost concern to the skipper, and these factors all will dictate where the boat goes and where you will dive. Many land-based resorts offer two boats daily, and unlimited shore diving. This can provide the diveaholic with just as much diving and some times more! In either scenario, a dive travel specialist should be able to thoroughly explain exactly what "unlimited" means.
Divers, know thy boat. Today's modern liveaboard fleet can resemble a floating hotel, providing luxurious accommodations, gourmet cuisine, and excellent logistics for diving. It is probably best to stick with an established operation unless you are willing to take your changes. You don't want to get caught on a converted tug, where the numberone consideration is not water conditions, but the engine's oil puddle and the rusty anchor that seems to be in everyone's way.
What type of accommodations are provided'! Will you have your own stateroom, or will you be sharing a room with others? If you are travelling with a group of four people, then a quad could be perfect. However, if your party consists of two and your roommate' s name is Jason who has a strange infatuation for hockey masks, you may not be a happy camper for the entire trip. Now that you are in your cabin, you may find no toilet or shower. You find it is down below and will be shared by eight people. These points should be considered prior to your selection, then you will need to decide for yourself if these things are acceptable. Not all liveaboards have quad accommodations or shared toilets. Some provide spacious, private stateroom with a main saloon characteristic of a quaint and charming hotel.
Make sure you know the product and make sure that it matches your likes, not dislikes. If you are an individual diver and you wish to go on a liveaboard, perhaps you should consider taking a friend along. You will be assured that at least one other person on board shares your interests.
One last aspect of land-based operations needs to be addressed. Island resorts provide opportunities for cultural exchanges that may be missed if you spend all of your time on a boat. I always recommend to liveaboard enthusiasts ... if you can afford the extra time and money, spend it meeting the people and learning about their culture and way of life. You'll come away with a much fuller experience. A couple who took their vacation on a liveaboard in Fiji remarked on the spectacular diving but added that one key ingredient was missing ... the Fijian people. They had taken a land based trip there some years earlier, and it wasn't until they compared the two trips that they realized how much cultural exchange can add to a diving adventure.
So what's the bottom line? You work hard, you deserve a vacation, and you want to get the most for your money. Start by making a list of the things you enjoy and what you would like to do on your vacation. Then go shopping. Start by calling a dive travel specialist, their advice is FREE. Planning a vacation can be great fun. After your planning pays off, you'll have memories to last a lifetime.
Dennis & Karen Sabo
Dennis and Karen Sabo, both certified scuba instructors, have over 21 years of dive travel experience and are accomplished underwater photographers. Their work has been featured in Dive Training, Dive Travel, Discover Diving, and Scuba Times magazines, and the book Best Dives in the Caribbean.