Main Menu
Join Undercurrent on Facebook

The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975 | |
For Divers since 1975
The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
"Best of the Web: scuba tips no other
source dares to publish" -- Forbes
X
 

Dive Review of Atlantis Azores in
Philippines/Tubbataha

Atlantis Azores, Apr, 2013,

by Jeanne Reeder, MO, US (Contributor Contributor 16 reports with 19 Helpful votes). Report 7138 has 1 Helpful vote.

No photos available at this time

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

Accommodations 5 stars Food 5 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity N/A
Dive Operation 5 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ N/A
Beginners 1 stars
Advanced 5 stars
Comments Organization ruled as late afternoon we headed toward the liveaboard trip to Tubbataha Marine Park. Atlantis resort staff facilitated our airport check-in in Manila. We were met after the one hour flight to Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan, and escorted to an air conditioned VIP room with bottled water and packaged chocolate chip cookies. Upon arrival at the Azores via their two hard-rubber tenders, we were served our beverage of choice in the comfortable lounge adjacent to the dining room. For the next hour we were informed about the Tubbataha Marine Park by park staff. Azores Captain Randy Wright provided an introduction to the boat, diving, and the staff. DVD’s helped make the presentations interesting, but I was getting mighty hungry!

We got underway immediately after the briefings for the overnight 10-12 hour, 92 mile motor to Tubbataha, in the Sulu Sea, near the heart of the coral triangle. Trips are only made March to early June because of the typhoons, high seas, strong currents and surges the rest of the year. Azores is a 107’ foot vessel, very stable, and the crossing was smooth. There are 8 stateroom accommodations for 16 passengers. Two of the rooms are above decks and more spacious. I shared my tiny room which allowed my new acquaintance and I to pass only in one spot. A slightly larger room across the hall only held one person who also paid for a single ‘willing to share.’ We eyed it with increasing envy as the days passed. Our room was scrupulously clean, carpeted even on the walls, mattress firm and sheets and towels soft. There was an abundance of fresh potable water and no warnings to conserve, which is unusual on liveaboards. Most of us made use of the lounge area to watch movies or Capt. Randy’s streaming undersea life photos or to make use of the excellent array of Identification sources.

Five dives per day and plenty of food were offered, at a typical schedule for liveaboards: 06:00 continental breakfast available, 07:00 dive 1, full breakfast, 09:30 dive 2, snack, 11:30 dive 3, lunch, 15:30 dive 4, snack, 18:00 dive 5-dusk, dinner. There was not a night dive because of the strong variable currents and safety issues being so far from land. Azores used to provide EPIRBS, but they were deemed unreliable due to frequent flooding. They are on the tenders and the mother boat, as are oxygen and a first aid kit. Warm towels with our stateroom # were available after every dive. A nice touch was having two crew members greeting us as we climbed the ladder from the tender and reboarded after a dive, with a ‘welcome back.’

Tubbataha is the remnant of a sunken volcanic seamount. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, the 240,000 acres are overseen by Marine Rangers. Walking about 100 yards in shallow water, we visited their small igloo-like structure. Most of us bought t-shirts to support their efforts.

Sunny days, relatively calm seas (downright glassy two days), and strong currents which would suddenly appear, were the order of the 7 night dive trip. We dived the North and South Atolls as well as Jessie Beazley Reef. The area where the USS Guardian mine sweep vessel was hung up on the reef and damaged a large area was off limits for diving. But in fact, it was in an area seldom, if ever, dived. I was relieved that it had been dismantled and carted off before my arrival, as the noise of the work on her would have been unpleasant. A few days later a 120’ steel-hulled Taiwanese fishing vessel got hung up nearby, damaged more reef, and was floated off by the Philippines Coast Guard. No fishermen these, but smugglers of rare pangolins, treasured by the Chinese for medical cures. Capt. Randy indicated that traversing the area was tricky as the GPS coordinates on maps were 6-9 degrees off. Of course neither vessel had any right to be there in the first place!

Maximum time 60 minutes; all dives were as a group including surfacing; all ascend when anyone got 750 psi; if lost from group search for 1 minute, then surface; don’t dive below 110’, probably because of the many nitrox divers on board and our long distance to a chamber. And if the rules weren’t followed, the diver was told. This proved challenging for our dive master with his 7 divers who varied in experience and style of diving from go-with-the-current to slow and thorough looking for critter and fish possibilities. I was in the last category, particularly because my buddy had a camera and lingered long at shootings.

Because of the currents and remoteness, my dive buddy and I stayed within sight of each other. We did this very well during dive 2 the first day at Washing Machine. It was a beautiful site with many fish -- about 10 white tip, gray, and reef sharks, hunting eels, a couple species of puffers, box fish, trigger fish, and gorgeous sea fans of many colors -- lots to photograph and investigate. The current picked up, visibility was lowered, and Ed and I were separated from our group. We headed up to the top of the reef where we saw bubbles in the distance. When we got there by doing a hand-over-hand on the reef top, it was the other group from our boat. We surfaced with them, but had to wait until our boat picked us up. My buddy got a no-nonsense lecture about the importance of staying with the group and the one minute rule. We have dived in similar circumstances before, but adhering to the buddy-rule had always been sufficient until now. Diving as a group rankled a bit, but happily a partial solution was found: our dive guide Ambo slowed down and kept an eye behind him, and we speeded up a little. One of the days when Captain Randy was photographing, he offered to stay behind so we could lag and dive our preferred pace.

At each location there were from 1 to 4 other boats moored, inevitable with the short season. I never saw the other divers, but sometimes the noise from the boats motoring was unpleasant. There were 8 crew plus the Captain. Two of the dive guides were regulars; the third was a substitute, but he was excellent at leading a dive and pointing out diversity – far better than the dive guide, Ambo, on my tender. But this interloper chose not to dive a day or two, thus the regular guides did not get a break from the 5 dives per day. Why? He had a pimple on his forehead. Make sense? Of course not. Ambo was full of teasing and showing off, to the extent of his falling down in the tender on the way to a dive site because of his antics.

All diving was on reef walls with dramatically steep drop-offs. Some had shelves large enough to penetrate. Much of the time the dives could be finished at the top of very active fish reefs for the safety stop. Visibility was mostly very good, at least 75 - 100’, but varied. The variation within most dives was impressive, from Sharks to Pygmy Seahorses and Nudibranch. There were plenty of Titan Triggerfish, but the Clown Triggerfish were in very large numbers. No whale sharks or mantas, but I had heard of the wide variation of species seen week-to-week, and was not disappointed. The colors of the corals did not seem as vivid as in Papua New Guinea or Raja Ampat, nor the nudi’s so flamboyantly beautiful…but it was right up there in its offerings. Some dives were merely ‘very pretty’ and others downright awesome.

The largest fish I saw was a Spotted Eagle Ray at Mayalan shortly after entry. Several sharks milled around. Pygmy Seahorses stood out very clearly against the pink of their sea fan. My favorite nudi at that site was the orange and dark green coloration on a 4” Kubaryana Nembrotha. Multiple turtles abounded at every site.

The view was stunning at Stag Horn on the South Atoll, with schools of various fish cascading over the reef onto the wall like waterfalls. Big schools away from the wall included Tuna and Jacks. An adult and both an older and younger juvenile (½ inch orange circle in shape) Star Puffers delighted me. There were several different Boxfish: Striped, Large Nose, the blue headed Spotted, a female Whitley’s, and the beautiful blues on the Shortnose. Wall Street was a delightful dive with zillions of colorful Anthias, a wall bursting with colorful corals including orange (with pink coral crab) and red Dendronephyta. There was a large Map Puffer who I am certain was pregnant resting on a shelf. Sharks circled twenty feet below. A sub-adult Sailfin Snapper was another favorite of mine on this dive. Among a plethora of fish at Lighthouse Point there was a school of Big Nose Unicorn fish in their dark phase. Nearby at Delsan Wreck, a striking 18” Crocodile Flathead blended in well among the sand and rubble.

On the last day, two dives were offered off the tiny island of Jessie Beazley. On the very active wall dives there was a variety of fish such as Parrotfish, Bannerfish, Butterflyfish, Striped Surgeon, and Rabbitfish, plus schools of Barracuda, Scad, Big-eye Jacks. I could easily find refuge from the moderate current in overhangs/indentions which were quite large. From behind a large sea fan, I was watching the divers in front of me enjoying a white tip, when it suddenly diverted and headed straight toward me, veering off about two feet away -- an exhilarating eye-to-eye encounter. When I got to the top of the reef at 26’, it was time to fly as the current picked up speed. Unfortunately, such was not allowed.

The cuisine was first rate! Chef Xtian is only 24 years of age but has been cooking since 16. The food was not only well prepared, but artfully presented and tastily spiced. Each night a different country was featured, such as Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Philippines, American, and Japanese. Menu’s are chef’s choice and differ from week to week. For breakfast there was always a platter of fresh fruit, tender pancakes and or french toast, heaping platter of crispy bacon, and eggs prepared to order. Lunches were served family style and included four plates of entrees, such as rice stuffed grouper, and always fruit and plenty of veggies. A crew member presented the printed evening menu at this time, from which we chose our entrees, or a combination. One evening the main courses included crispy bagnet with adobo rice, seafood kare-kare with pineapple and shrimp paste and fried rice, chicken with eggplant insallata, and stir fried vegetables. Xtian was always eager to please and was happy to honor requests. Desserts were great both at lunch and dinner, such as several versions of chocolate cake, apple pie, and banana split with three big scoops of ice cream. I usually lose weight on dive trips, but not this time! Choice of a good quality wine was complimentary and served by staff. There were also beer, rum and sodas for no charge. Fresh baked cookies and three kinds of juices were always available. Snacks between dives were varied and plentiful. After the dusk/night dive, we were met with hot chocolate laced with rum.

At the end of the trip a video was offered for $30, mostly of the divers and sea fans. For $20 a video of outstandingly beautiful shots of sea creatures and fish typically spotted aboard the Azores at the various sites they travel throughout the year in the Philippines.

United Airlines to Manila via Tokyo, $1300. Transfer between Manila and Puerto Princesa, Palawan, on Cebu Pacific, $290. (This was arranged by Atlantis Azores, which gave us total baggage weight of 66 lbs.) 7 nights = $3740, plus Nitrox, $140; Marine Park Fees, $90. Two nights in Manila – minimalist La Corona @ $78 plus breakfast; elegant Dusit Thani, $200. There was high security around Dusit Thani due to kidnappings of foreigners. Top-notch travel agent: Katie, www.reefrainforest.com









Websites Atlantis Azores   

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 501-1000 dives
Where else diving Raja Ampat, Papua New Guinea, Japan, Solomon Islands, Palau, Sudan, Turkey, Cozumel, Belize, Roatan, Turks & Caicos, Saba, St. Kitts, Statia, Cayman Brac, Bonaire, Curacao
Closest Airport Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny, windy Seas calm, surge
Water Temp 82-84°F / 28-29°C Wetsuit Thickness 5
Water Visibility 75-100 Ft/ 23-30 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile no
Enforced diving restrictions Maximum time 60 minutes; all dives were as a group including surfacing; all ascend when anyone got 750 psi; if lost from group search for 1 minute, then surface; don’t dive below 110’, probably because of the many nitrox divers on board and our long distance to a chamber.
Liveaboard? yes Nitrox Available? yes

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas None
Dolphins Schools Whale Sharks None
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 4 stars Tropical Fish 5 stars
Small Critters 5 stars Large Fish 4 stars
Large Pelagics 1 stars

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

Subject Matter 5 stars Boat Facilities 5 stars
Overall rating for UWP's 5 stars Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments On the dive deck there was a large area for cameras, an air-hose, and lint-free towels.
Was this report helpful to you?
Report currently has 1 Helpful vote

Subscriber's Comments

By Robert S Kuhnin IL, US at Sep 16, 2013 23:04 EST  
Great report - Thanks much !!
Leave a comment (Subscribers only -- 200 words max)
Subscribers can comment here
 

Subscribe Now
Subscribers can post comments, ask the reviewer questions, as well as getting immediate and complete access to ALL 455 dive reviews of Philippines and all other dive destinations. Complete access to all issues and Chapbooks is also included.

 
Featured Links from Our Sponsors
Interested in becoming a sponsor?
Reef & Rainforest, Let our experience be your guide -- Reef and Rainforest
Reef & Rainforest
is an agency for travelers that scuba dive. We specialize in planning scuba diving adventures to the Philippines.
Island Dreams Travel
Island Dreams Travel
Island Dreams specializes in dive travel to the Philippines. We've dived there ourselves, and stand ready to customize your Philippines scuba diving adventure.

Want to assemble your own collection of Philippines reports in one place?
Use the Mini Chapbook Facility to create your personalized collection.

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.

Undercurrent Home


Get more dive info like these and other important scuba updates sent monthly to your email.
And a FREE Recent Issue of Undercurrent

Free Undercurrent Issue
Get a free
monthly email and
a sample issue!


Find in  

| Home | Online Members Area | My Account | Login | Join |
| Travel Index | Dive Resort & Liveaboard Reviews | Featured Reports | Recent Issues | Back Issues |
| Dive Gear Index | Health/Safety Index | Environment & Misc. Index | Seasonal Planner | Blogs | Free Articles | Book Picks | News |
| Special Offers | RSS | FAQ | About Us | Contact Us | Links |

Copyright © 1996-2020 Undercurrent (www.undercurrent.org)
3020 Bridgeway, Ste 102, Sausalito, Ca 94965
All rights reserved.

Page computed and displayed in 0.96 seconds