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Dive Review of Ark Royal Dive Yacht and Spa in

Ark Royal Dive Yacht and Spa, Aug, 2011,

by John Sommerer, MD, US (Contributor Contributor 15 reports with 7 Helpful votes). Report 6840.

No photos available at this time

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 1 stars Food 2 stars
Service and Attitude 3 stars Environmental Sensitivity 2 stars
Dive Operation 2 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 1 stars
Beginners 2 stars
Advanced 4 stars
Comments We had never been to the Maldives, but on learning about Hanifaru Bay, arranged this trip, on this boat, specifically for that experience. Big mistake. The Hanifaru Bay experience publicized through National Geographic, with massive numbers of mantas and multiple whale sharks, is apparently very rare, and the area is totally oversubscribed. Literally dozens of dive boats were anchored all the time in the surrounding waters. More recently, they are apparently trying to limit numbers, but I think it's a big risk to go there. The nearby dive sites are pretty awful, compared to others in the Maldives, so if Hanifaru doesn't pan out, you will have a pretty limited experience, after a long and expensive trip. We actually had one remarkable, multi-hour whale shark encounter, plus a few mantas in formation, at Hanifaru Bay, but only due to a sharp-eyed crew member spotting the shark coming in, and getting us in the water at the right place, way before the other yachts caught on. We later had multiple whale sharks at the South end of Ari Atoll, where the overall diving was much more interesting, so Hanifaru just wasn't worth it for us.

The other factor that led to this being one of our least favorite dive trips of all time, was the boat itself, and the shenanigans that the local operator and their US representative were up to. We booked the trip through Reef and Rainforest, with whom we've been pretty satisfied. Although the bad experience was not primarily their fault, they did make a mistake in not noting a bait-and-switch perpetrated by the local operator and their US representative (Ultimate Dive Travel). For this, they offered a generous discount on a future trip, which we accepted. The majority of the divers on the boat, also very dissatisfied with their experience, booked through Ultimate Dive Travel, and accepted a future free trip on the Ark Royal's new sister boat, the Maldives Princess. (That group had actually booked the Princess, and found out on arrival that they were going on the Ark Royal instead. One of them, arriving early, had been out to the Princess, to find that it wasn't close to being finished.) Allegedly, we too could have availed ourselves of this offer instead, but we wanted nothing to do with the local operator, or Ultimate, ever again. For the record, after our experience, Reef and Rainforest removed both the Ark Royal and Maldives Princess from their website, and will not process bookings for them any more.

So, what was so bad about the Ark Royal? First and foremost, it was not as advertised. The boat was relatively new, but most of the systems were degrading rapidly. When we arrived on board, the cruise director told us, "we are not ready to go, and there's nothing we can do about it." They had no provisions, no fuel, and they needed to fix a lot of equipment. There were welders, and sundry workers on board all day; food and fuel finally arrived, and we got under way the next morning. The rooms were dirty, many leaked, and more smelt like diesel fuel, to the point where they were making people sick. The food was mediocre at best. The dive guides (one Maldivian, one Spanish) were OK, as was the cruise director. The "Spa" in the boat's name is just plain fiction. There was a room where massages were supposed to be given, but there was no masseur aboard, and the room was full of gear and stores. Not even a massage table.
The Dive Dhoni, which the Ark Royal web page brags about, was a disaster. The wood seats were mostly broken, the "fresh water showers" consisted of a garden hose at the back end that rarely produced any water at all. The decks were slippery with oil. The nitrox compressor failed on the second day, so we dove with air the rest of the time (which was a major limitation, as many sites were fairly deep). FInally, the Dhoni itself had difficulty starting. On our departure morning, they couldn't get it started, and wouldn't summon a water taxi. They seemed perfectly happy to have us miss our flight. Finally, my wife succeeded in flagging down a passing fishing boat to take us to the airport!

I had no direct contact with Ultimate DIve Travel, so will not pass on hearsay about their lack of responsiveness and bad attitude. I will personally attest, however to the fact that their web page changed between when we left and when we returned, apparently to hide the availability issues with the two boats used by the local operator. To be specific, earlier entries were changed to correspond to what actually happened, not what was sold to their customers. I note also that Ultimate Dive Travel no longer advertises the Ark Royal, though they do book the Maldives Princess. Caveat emptor!

About the Maldives themselves: odd place. The government actively discourages contact between visitors and locals, except through enclave resorts. We visited a small town on a northern atoll, and although the atmosphere was not actively hostile, it was far from warm. This was before the coup that displaced their internationally respected President Mohammed Nasheed, so I can't imaging things have gotten better. As for the diving, the pelagics are certainly there, along with a large number of fish, but the impact of the early 1990's coral bleaching are still profoundly obvious. Most of the dive briefings began "all the coral on top is dead," and we were frequently encouraged to go into caves and overhangs to find live coral.

So for those of you who want to see the Maldives before they go under due to climate change, personally, I'd think twice (or for the price, DIVE twice somewhere where the coral is still great).
Websites Ark Royal Dive Yacht and Spa   

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 501-1000 dives
Where else diving Carribean, Galapagos, Costa Rica, Revillagigedos, Rapanui, Micronesia, Polynesia, Melanisia Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand
Closest Airport Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny, rainy Seas calm, currents, no currents
Water Temp 80-82°F / 27-28°C Wetsuit Thickness 3
Water Visibility 15-80 Ft/ 5-24 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions [Unspecified]
Liveaboard? yes Nitrox Available? no

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas 1 or 2
Dolphins None Whale Sharks > 2
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 1 stars Tropical Fish 4 stars
Small Critters 1 stars Large Fish 3 stars
Large Pelagics 4 stars

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter 4 stars Boat Facilities 2 stars
Overall rating for UWP's 3 stars Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments Limited space on the boat. Not a big problem this trip, since many people did not have cameras.
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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