Getting to the Maldives from the United States is an endurance test. LAX to Taipai, Taiwan (14 hours). Taipai to Kuala Lumpur (4 hours). Eight-hour layover and then 4 hours to Male, Maldives, straddling the equator in the Indian Ocean. Overnight in Male and then transported via launch to the Eagle Ray. Fortunately, Malaysia Airlines booked us a room for the layover in KL. On the way back, the travel ante was upped via a leg to Sri Lanka. No worries. It was all worth it.
From the minute we stepped aboard the 100-foot length "motor yacht" Eagle Ray until the day and hour we exited, the service was impeccable, in fact unsurpassed. We have been on thirteen previous liveaboards and this one beats them all. The crew was absolutely fabulous, attentive but never obstreperous or overbearing. They seemed to intuit every need. The head divemaster is Achmed Manik (although he prefers to be called only "Manik."). He is a legend in the Maldives diving community. You can see his underwater photograph in Michael Friedel's Maldives: The Very Best Of Michael Friedel. Manik was a true wonder. Attentive, caring and absolutely dedicated to his job. Not just a job for him, but an adventure. Each dive was like the pursuit of the Holy Grail. He marveled at every event on the reefs and walls. His enthusiasm was genuine and contagious, not that enthusiasm needed to be encouraged. There was plenty of stimulus.
Marine life was in clouds. Pelagics of all types. Schools of Dolphins underwater, a Scalloped Hammerhead and Mantas. Some divers saw many. My family saw three. Napolean Wrasse were like dogs. Eels were so plentiful they ceased to be a commodity. Giant, Green Zebra, Spotted Morays; they were all present. Mating octopus too. The dive profiles are relatively severe: deep and long with curents on most dives. Some currents were intense (to say the least). Diving is divided amng pinnacles, reefs, inner and outer walls of the atols that dot the azure waters. We were on the nine night/ten day itinerary which brought us to many fabled sites.
The food onboard was seafood-heavy as might be expected but there was a sufficient variety to keep everybody happy. The dive guests included my wife and daughter and two friends from the US, a father/son combo from Australia, and four bon vivants from Holland. A more compatible group I have never experienced. Great people one and all.
In last year's Chapbbok some lost soul whined and complained about the Eagle Ray and crew. I don't know what boat or what "trip" (maybe I do) he was on but it certainly was not the one we experienced. "Abdullah" (the guy we booked the trip with directly) was so helpful it was unbelievable. We did a tour of Male which included an entry into the Grand Mosque for a peek. Had to wear a coverup on the legs and the woman their bodies but it was interesting. The Maldives is a "liberal" Muslim country, i.e., the woman can elect to wear a burka or not. Some do and some don't without penalty.
After the Whaleshark foray, the crew transported us to a beautiful Robinson Crusoe island for a night-time beach BBQ and there sand-sculpted a mini-whaleshark. Marvelous!
The cabins were the largest and best I've ever seen: spacious, A/C, wood and teak, queen beds in the two-party cabins. The salon was elegant. All diving is off a "dhoni," a large tender that follows the mother boat around. It's like diving off a big boat.
The diving was outstanding. We made all twenty-four dives offered. There was only one night dive and the average was three dives per day but at the level of intensity, depths, and currents encountered, that's about all you could do. No one complained. As Al Hornsby, the editor of the now-defunct Skin Diver magazine, told us while on Sipadan in 2001, the Maldives is the place that has it all and represents the best compromise for those wishig to see it all: corals, fish life, big animals, macro stuff. Everything. For me, there was no compromise involved. This may all sound like hype but believe me, it's all true. This was quite a trip and a beautiful underwater adventure. We're going back.