Perfect waters of the Maldives
As I mentioned in my main review of the Conrad Maldives, one of the big reasons why you come out to the Maldives is to take advantage of the world-class diving that they have here, the abundance of marine life and crystal clear waters. In this post, I hope to answer some questions that people have about some of the main water activities you'll be looking at when you get to the Conrad Maldives.
Service and quality
Honestly it's ridiculous how GOOD the service here is in the Maldives. I can't say I'm a pro diver at this point as I've only done diving in Australia (Cairns), Thailand and Palau but out of all those experiences, the level of attention to service was incredible. Here are a bunch of examples of what made me so impressed with SubAqua and the team:
- When you sign up to do dives with SubAqua, you first go through a very thorough orientation dive which to my surprise came free. More on that below.
- During your stay at the Conrad Maldives, you get assigned a box which will hold all of your rental gear. And every time you go on a dive, your box will be right where it needs to be on the boat.
- After each dive the crew will come around with a platter of fruit and will offer to make you either coffee or tea which come in these spill proof mugs.
- Boat crew will always assist you in moving the tank in the middle of the boat to the bench and also help you put your BCD on. The vice versa is true when you finish your dive, they will help you take off the BCD and place all the gear back in the middle of the boat.
- Diving guides will always do a full rundown of the dive site prior to arrival. This includes special hand signals they'll use to identify certain fish and will also demo the dive itinerary on an illustrated map of the dive site.
- Diving guides will do the equipment set up prior to you coming on board and will also do a pre-check of all your equipment including making sure the tank valve is open (you still have to do your own buddy check of course).
- Diving guides with the help of the boat crew will also do the tank changeover after your first dive.
- They will do their best to put you into a group that is at your level. This way you're not stuck with beginners if you're a more advanced diver.
- One of boat crew always comes around with anti-fog spray prior to the dive (so really there's no need to bring any).
- All of the rental gear provided is all in really good and clean condition. No rips. No smells. Nice!
- And overall, everyone is just extremely courteous, friendly and helpful. My girlfriend was feeling a bit seasick for one of our guides and they had all the pills and wrist straps ready.
The boats in the Maldives are known as dhoni's they are literally designed and inspired by traditional Maldivian boats. They're so traditional in fact that there is no steering wheel. The captain of the ship basically uses his leg to shift the wooden rudder behind him from left to right to change directions which I thought was incredible. These are also the same boats that are used to ferry folks between the big island and the small island except larger, fitted with a washroom, shower heads for rinsing and an entire sunbathing second deck. This second deck is essentially a huge mattress as it's covered with thick cushion and surrounded by this angled back support if you want to sit against the side.
In Australia (Cairns) and in Thailand (Phuket) we had large industrial double level boats with the lower deck dedicated for diving equipment and an aft (rear) section designed for dive entry but there was something very mechanical and claustrophobic about it all. In Palau, we had small speedboats retrofitted for diving and although they were fast, there wasn't any areas to relax or any space to walk around. With the dhonis of the Maldives, it was just a much more comfortable experience that exuded luxury while at the same time felt very homely and traditional due to the design of the boat.
The SubAqua dive center is located on the main island about 2 minutes walk from Atoll Market. The facility themselves is quite large with a changing area with benches, a cleaning area and the main office itself.
The main office is completely friendly and approachable with usually one staff on hand behind one of the desks. Here, you can pick up your free snorkelling rentals, book the orientation dive, ask dive related questions and buy SubAqua merchandise. The booking of actual dives and the Whaleshark Excursion is actually done just outside of the building and i'll get into that a little later on.
After we arrived, one of the first things we did was sign up for our orientation dive. The dive center and their staff were super easy to deal with. We let them know when we wanted to do the orientation dive, filled out a few forms about our diving experience and sizing info (for our rental gear) and that was pretty much it. They said we'd get a confirmation about the orientation dive in our mailbox and indeed we received a small notice that same night.
We booked our orientation dive for 11am and were greeted by our dive instructor for the day, Bee. I was impressed with how organized they were because they already had our boxes ready and lined up in the changing area to the left of the dive center.
We tested out our rental gear which all worked out except I put on my wetsuit on in reverse because I was used to the zipper being on my back when in fact these wet suits have the zippers in the front. All suited up, the next thing was a little bit of a skills test where she watched us take our BCD and regulators from the box and assemble it with the tank. We definitely didn't feel any pressure though because she would correct us along the way if we made mistakes. It definitely wasn't a pass or fail kind of scenario.
Once we were comfortable with the gear, another staff member grabbed all of our gear on a wheelbarrow and moved all our gear to the beach. Meanwhile, Bee gave us a bit of a lowdown of what we were going to be doing on the dive and what we might expect to see.
We then walked over to the beach. We would be entering the water right to the left of Sunset Grill. By the time we got there, our gear was already placed on the wooden dock heading out to Sunset Grill. We suited up and did a walking entry from the beach.
The one additional skills test we had to do was a partial mask flood which I always get nervous about. Luckily we did a refresher back home so we were somewhat more well-versed in what to expect. That went off without a hitch for the both of us and then we continued exploring the lagoon. The dive itself wasn't as bad as I thought it'd be. There's still an abundance of fish in that area of the lagoon. The most exciting thing we did get to see was this upside down jellyfish, the only jellyfish in fact we saw during our entire trip to the Maldives.
The entire dive was about 24 minutes so it really wasn't that long and we only got down to a depth of 9.6m.
Once we got out of the water, we got back on the beach, took off our BCDs and tank an left them on the beach for retrieval by the staff (they really didn't want us to move as much as a finger eh?) and walked back to the dive center. From there, it was just a matter of taking our wetsuits off, getting debriefed with Bee and then writing our log books.
I loved how the sign up process worked here. Aside from booking the orientation dive, the rest of the dives and even the whaleshark excursion bookings were done just outside the dive center outdoors. Right outside of the entrance is a table with information placed in wooden frames on the next day's dive locations and sign up sheet. At anytime during the day, you can show up to the dive center and put your name down on the sign up sheet to indicate you want to go. For morning dives you needed to have your name on the sheet latest 6PM the day before and for the afternoon dives I think up to noon the same day was okay. I loved it because you could just show up and write your name down at anytime and you also knew exactly who else was going to be on the dive. Eventually I recognized a bunch of the names on the list because I dove with them on previous days. Signup sheets are also available for special dives that are requested like the night dive we wanted to do.
Dive sites are typically on some sort of rotation so you really don't have your pick of where you want to dive. Typically sites like Manta Point will come up often for both morning and afternoon dives but all the other sites I saw posted every day we were there were not repeated.
2 tank morning dives
The morning dives started at 8:45AM and so we would always wake up early to grab breakfast at around 7:45AM and bring all of our gear with us. Once done, we'd simply walk over to the dock area (same area as where the ferry dock is on the big island). The two tank dives typically end at around noon time so you still have a good amount of time in the afternoon to hang out either in your villa or on the beach.
The advantage of doing a two tank dive is that you get an opportunity to check out further dive sites. On our first two tank dive, it took us roughly an hour to get to Bulhalhohi Corner.
I won't go into details about the dive sites themselves but for sure I would say that Manta Point was the highlight of all of them. That's not to say the other sites weren't good but if you're a fan of big fish and Mantas, Manta Point just can't be beat. The other spots I got to dive had a lot of interesting coral, overhangs, caves and walls but I was slightly disappointed I wasn't lucky enough to see any other big fish. I did however discover a bunch of smaller things like the nudibranches.
1 tank afternoon dive
I only did one afternoon dive which has a pickup at 2:45PM and brings you back to the resort around 4:30PM which allows you to sleep in if you want and brings you back early enough to be able to still take advantage of Vilu Happy Hour :).
Our visibility for this dive was a little poor because a storm was literally over us but that made things a little interesting because it turned into a half night dive.
The disadvantage of the afternoon dive is that because it's only one tank, the sites they pick are usually going to be the ones very close to the resort.
One of the things I was really excited about doing for this trip was the night dive. We made a request for the dive when we first signed up for our orientation dive and I thought it'd be iffy in terms of whether it would be a go or not but the diving crew said that even if it was only the two of us, they'd still do it for us. In the end, there ended up being 5 or 6 of us signed up.
This dive for us needed to be an adventure course because neither of us had the Advanced Open Water Diver certification. As a result, we had to show up about an hour earlier that day to get a mini pre-dive brief from Bee on the skills required during a night dive and what to expect.
Night diving is totally different from daytime diving because for one you need to have a torch (flashlight) with you at all times. I found that it was a bit strange that I had to use my left hand to hold and aim the torch the entire time I was down there. Once it gets pitch black down there, your torch is the only way to investigate and find things of interest. Skills wise you also have to be careful because hand signals don't quite work the same way. Instead you have to use the torch to create a shadow of your hand signal on your chest. When you call for a safety stop, instead of using your right 3 fingers pointing up on your left palm, your fingers point directly up into the torch.
Marine life wise, it was really interesting to see a majority of the fish in sleep mode. Normally fish are swimming about but at night, most of the fish had found their own little nook to lie in. For most fish, all I could see was their tail sticking out of the hole they had decided to bunk in for the night. We also got to see a sleeping turtle under an alcove which was neat. And of course the night dives brings out all the things you don't see in the day like lobsters and octopus which we saw quite a few of.
Overall, an experience not to be missed if you're wanting to do a different kind of dive and at the end of it, we also completed one part of the Advanced Open Water Diver certification. Note that the certification you get from doing a Night Dive with SubAqua is actually with SSI and not PADI. This is due to the fact that SSI is less stringent on upfront book training which is why we were able to have a quick 30 minute pep talk with Bee prior to doing the night dive instead of going through a half day course.
Heading into the Maldives, I was a bit confused about the costs and how things add up so I hope that this can clear up the air on how it all works.
The diving price list is a little confusing in that you're not really sure how it all adds up since there aren't any bundles per say. Everything is put together a-la-carte.
I think the best way to explain the pricing is via our own bill examples.
I did a total of 5 normal dives and 1 night dive. I rented the wet suit, regulator and BCD.
- Each dive is $65. If I had done 6 dives or more, the dives would have cost $60 each instead.
- Guided night dive costs $10
- Afternoon and night single tank dives boat costs are $20 each
- Two tank dive boat costs are $30
- Night dive course cost $100
- 4 days of equipment rental at their individual prices. If I had done 6 days of diving or more, they would have charged me the weekly rate instead. Note that they don't charge based on how long the equipment is sitting in the numbered box (they do actually reserve the gear for you during your entire stay at the Conrad Maldives) but rather how many days of dives you actually use the equipment.
The total price came out to $778.14 which was hefty and I suppose we could've saved money on not doing a night dive but…when in the Maldives right?
Chantelle did a total of 3 normal dives and 1 night dive. She rented the wet suit, regulator and BCD, dive computer and torch.
- Each dive is $65.
- Guided night dive costs $10
- Afternoon and night single tank dives boat costs are $20 each
- The one and only two tank dive she did cost $30 for the boat
- Night dive course cost $100
- Because she was renting pretty much everything, the cost of the complete set was cheaper than a-la-carte so they charged her $35 per day across 3 days.
- Torch was an extra cost for that one night dive at $10
- She also bought a t-shirt
Her total came out to $629.64 which was slightly less than my costs mainly because she did one less two tank dive.
Tips and Tricks
- Get at least open water certified back at home or on another vacation before going to the Maldives.
- If you want to do more diving long term, I'd recommend picking up your own mask and diving computer. Those were my first two diving purchases. The mask because you can ensure proper fit and comfort every time you dive. The dive computer because the rentals are usually beat up and having your own dive computer is nice to keep track of all the dives you've ever done and just for easy of navigation because dive computers are pretty complicated I find.
- Don't forget to pack your dive log and certification card.
- If you want to get rid of all your diving jitters due to lack of practice, I'd recommend finding a local shop to do a refresher course. That way you'll feel relaxed and confident by the time you get to the Maldives. At the same time though, I have to say that the orientation dive that they do at SubAqua is in itself a good refresher. Bee was able to answer any questions we had. If you want to save some money, you've dived a bunch in the past but just haven't done it in the past few years, the orientation dive is totally enough.
- Bring sunscreen if you plan on sunbathing on the top deck.
- Do a little planning with your dives. You won't be diving on your first and last days but every day in between is fair game. With those days, figure out how many two tank or single tank dives you want to do, if you want to request any special dives, which day do you want to dedicate to the Whaleshark Snorkelling Excursion and which days do you want to take off.
Check out the prices for the Conrad Maldives for when you want to go.
For more information, head over to my Insider's Review of the Conrad Maldives article.