My wife and I were on the Turks & Caicos Explorer II from 11/27/10 through 12/4/10. This was our first liveaboard experience, but it will probably be our last one. I thought that the boat was nicely designed and functionally laid out. We stayed in State Room #2. The cabin was large enough for storage with a desk, beds were comfortable to sleep in, and the ensuite bathroom was adequate. The service from the crew while on board was good in serving meals and servicing our room. The highlight of the trip was the chef Stan. His meals were wonderful.
The diving started out very good, but by the end of the week, I thought the diving was mediocre at best because of the poor visibility, In addition, the in water service of the divemasters left a lot to be desired. The crew was hindered halfway through the trip by a divemaster becoming bent and having to leave the boat because of needing to be treated by a decompression chamber. We lost one dive because of transporting the divemaster to port and no substitute divemaster replaced the person. So there were between 2 and 3 dives everyday that no divemaster was in the water with a group of 21 divers. I counted a total of 6 dives without a divemaster in the water.
Two things bother me about this. First, we were already down one divemaster from a full crew. From my research, the Turks & Caicos Explorer II normally staff 3 divemasters in their crew of 7. Our boat was full with 21 divers and has been booked for approximately one year. Yet, they scheduled one divemaster for vacation during our week and the following week they only had 7 divers booked. It does not make sense that they understaffed the boat from the very beginning. The second thing was that they had no back-up plan if there was a problem and they lost a divemaster. The Captain indicated that there was no one available to replace the bent divemaster so it was his decision to not have the only remaining divemaster in the water for all the dives. Captain Ken indicated that it was because he was concerned about the divemaster’s safety. What about safety of the 21 divers on their boat? Also, we completed the week with a crew of 5, not 7. So we could not have gotten the service that we paid for.
On the flight home I met a lady on our plane that was on the Turks & Caicos Aggressor for the week. She indicated they had a full crew of 7 with 5 divemasters. She was shocked when I indicated that we had 6 dives with no one in the water with us. She was very pleased with the service she received on the Aggressor ship and indicated that she paid a discounted fare of $1,800 for the week. We paid $2,430 per person for our suite.
The visibility clearly declined over the course of our week of diving from Northwest Point to West Caicos with the worse visibility as French Cay. We were also disappointed in the lack of abundance of sealife that was probably influenced by the poor visibility. But, based upon what we were told before the trip, then repeatedly by the Captain and divemasters during the trip, we do not feel that the trip lived up to the expectations that were set. I was very excited in the beginning seeing numerous reef sharks, nurse sharks, and other sealife with decent visibility on the first few dives. The Captain and divemasters repeatedly said, “You have not seen anything yet, it keeps getting better and better”. It is interesting that we only made 3 dives on the 2 “signature dive sites” of French Cay (Double D and G Spot) because the conditions were so bad and lack of things to see and did 5 dives on non-marquee site (Rock ‘n Roll). As I reviewed my pictures for the week, it is interesting that each day and dive as the week progressed I took fewer pictures because of the poor visibility and the reduction in number of things to see and take pictures of.
I also was disappointed in the attitude of the Captain, not only for his lack of concern about losing a divemaster, but on his attitude towards other things. I enjoy a Captain being a good story teller, but Captain Ken needs to show better judgment about telling stories about his excessive drinking and diving on his own time, especially when the rule on the Explorer fleet is once you drink alcohol, no more diving that day. In another conversation that I had with Captain Ken, he stated that people have died on his ships while on dive trips. He did not indicate the number or the specific circumstances, just that people had died. I asked him about this and he said that is was not his problem that he was not responsible, the people through equipment failure, panic, or getting lost resulted in their death. He did not indicate any remorse or responsibility that these deaths took place on his watch, that the people who died were the ones responsible. Captain Ken’s lack of sensitivity or concern disturbs me. I indicated to him that my values respect human life and that all of us should be concerned whenever another human being loses their life. Captain Ken made no comment regarding my statement.
The printed expectations about tipping indicate that a 10-15% gratuity is expected for the services rendered by the staff. Most of the meals, except for breakfast are served buffet style. At breakfast, the purser asks what you want from the predetermined cook to order menu, and then brings it to your place setting where you have brought your silverware. I was never once asked for a refill of a drink I was having. It was all self-service. In diving, we set-up our dive gear on our tanks one time and then the captain or staff refilled our tanks in place. They did not do anything to service our dive gear. When it came time to dive, they took our cameras and gave them to us after we entered the water. Occasionally, they helped us put on our BCD. At the end of a dive, they took our camera, and put them in the camera tank. They also held onto our fins until we came out of the water and then gave them to us. Between our dives, they filled our tanks and did a consistent job on nitrox blend and pressure.
• There are no hair dryers in room. In this day and age of airline baggage weight restrictions, hair dryers in rooms would help.
• There are no wireless internet connections on the boat once you leave the dock.
• There is no recycling onboard to protect the environment. I think most divers would appreciate this.
• The dock location is inconvenient to restaurants, shopping, etc. They provide transportation on Friday for dinner, but it was a 15 minute drive. Also, their dock was only accessible at high tide.
• The swinging of the boat 180 degrees on the mooring line takes some time to get used and made the boat often difficult to find, especially at night and with the poor visibility.
In closing, there were things my wife and I liked about our first experience on an Explorer ship, but the negatives relating to the understaffed boat, no back-up plan, concern for our safety, and attitude of the Captain clearly over weigh them and we cannot recommend the Turks & Caicos Explorer II. We do not believe that we got what we paid for or expected.