We did a standard week-long liveaboard diving trip on the Emperor Explorer liveaboard during Christmas break, 2019. This is the largest liveaboard boat that we have been on: a 40m steel hull. It's very comfortable, with fairly large cabins with a double bed plus another single bed that was handy to spread out the camera and other gear, and very spacious en suite. The trip is called the best of Maldives , and our itinerary started from Male, moved west to North Ari, and then sailed south along the west edge of the Ari atolls to South Ari; then we turned East and spent some time in Vaavu atoll, before turning North again, through South Male and finally arriving back at Male. The boat is very comfortable, with four decks including a sundeck, and even an jacuzzi at the stern (which I think was never used on the trip, since the diving schedule was pretty filled). Since there are a load of dive boats doing these popular spots, Explorer uses Sri Lanka time, with the first dive each day at 6:30am, to beat the traffic. The strategy works. The crew are excellent, and the diving, and other activities were coordinated by (I think Spanish) director, Gabriel and Maria. Since there are over twenty divers (I think twentyone in our trip), they run a failry regimented routine. The boat makes 22 dives: four dives each day (6:30am, 10:30am, 2:30am and either a sunset of night dive) and two on the last day. Since diving starts early on the first day I think I'll plan to reach Maldives a bit early on the day before next time: this time we settled into our cabin past midnight, and had to wake up at 6am for the check-out dive.
The food on the boat was really excellent; excellent selection of fresh fruits with each meal, vegetables and several meat and seafood dishes and all were well prepared. The beach BBQ had great salads togehter with several types of grilled dishes. There was also a very large Christmas day dinner and celebration although I thought the other meals were a lot more tasty than the Christmas one. Surprisingly (and happily), wine/beer at dinner time are included with the trip cost. I guess this is easily the most comfortable (room and food) liveaboard we have been on.
The boat made 22 dives, out of which we did 21 (skipped the first night dive). Most day dives were in fairly strong currents, and visibility was basically ~15m, with water temperature fairly comfortable at around 28 or 29 deg. Some people dived in shorty/rash-guards. Our diving group had seven divers, and (except one dive), we were guided either by Gabriel, or Ali. Strong currents and large groups means that the boat runs a stricter regime: each diver must carry a sausage (and each group must use them on the safety stop); also, reef hooks. Due to the conditions, I rarely stopped for any photos by myself, most photos were done while hooked in to the reef at the edge of some channel. All dives were nitrox (which I would suggest is a must, for this type of diving -- most dives we were deeper than 20m for prolonged periods). Gabriel, Maria, Ali and in general, the dive guides are all extremely conscious about not damaging the reef, and they enforce these guidelines much better than other boats, I think. It's great to see their enthusiasm! If we return to Maldives, Explorer would easily be my top choice.
Here is a list of the dives we made
Day 1: Male Fish Factory, Rashdoo Madivaru, Kuramathi channel, (skipped night dive) Madivaru Beyru
Day 2: (N Ari) Madivaru channel, Maavaru, (S Ari) Moofushi, Dheega thila
Day 3: (S Ari) Moofushi, Rangali, Dhidhoo, Noo giri
Day 4: (N Ari) 7th heaven thila, Lucky rock, (Vaavu) Maafusaru Kandu, Ayya thila
Day 5: (Vaavu) Devana Kandu, Miyaru kandu, Alimatha circus, Alimatha
Day 6: (S Male) Kuda giri, (N Male) Lankan reef
About the photos
Gear: Sony Nex7 with stock 18-55 lens with (unused in this trip) Subsea +10 macro wet lens; Sea & Sea YS-01 or Inon Z220 strobe in slave. Canon G1x Mark 2 in Canon housing; AdventureX 1200 lumen video light. If you'd like the originals of any of these images, email me.