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Jim & Cary Yanny’s Guide to Diving in the Maldives: Part 6



Part 6: Emperor Orion

In the final part of their fantastic series on Diving in the Maldives, Jim and Cary report on a week’s safari aboard Emperor Orion. Here’s first-hand proof of why these island’s are a diver’s dream…

We had recently visited the Maldives on a work trip in November 2016 when we inspected four island resorts, all six liveaboards in the Emperor Maldives fleet and spent a week enjoying their ‘Best of the Maldives’ safari on Emperor Voyager. Our little group enjoyed it so much that we agreed to take our next ‘time out’ holiday in the Maldives. We wanted to try a different route and settled on the ‘South Central Atolls’ on board Emperor Orion.

We’d had a short inspection of Emperor Orion in November when she was at the end of a safari but it was enough time to get an impression of her. She was a good bit larger than Emperor Voyager but not as contemporary and that little 5-minute viewing had not blown us away, however it was the lure of the diving in the central atolls and the excellent reputation of guide, Russ Cheetham, that convinced us.

In November we flew from London Heathrow via Abu Dhabi with Etihad. Etihad’s service was excellent and the ticket price was good value so we opted for the same airline. This time the boat wasn’t in Male, it was in Kandhdhoo.

Obviously adding the domestic flight increases the holiday cost and also means it takes that bit longer to get to your boat. Our group of seven keen divers felt this was a price worth paying to get away from the crowds and to dive a different underwater. (And be aware; domestic flights have a lower baggage allowance than most international flights. For example, the allowance on our flight was 20kg hold + 5kg cabin baggage.)*

Arriving at Kandhdhoo on our twin-prop ‘puddle hopper’ was a great moment; the sun was setting with a beautiful orange hue and the island looked idyllic. The airport itself was small, so grabbing our luggage and heading out took a matter of moments and right outside the door were our friendly Emperor guides, Chico and Mary. A few steps away was our dive dhoni for the short transfer to our liveaboard moored just a couple of hundred metres off the jetty and here we were greeted by Russ and Shaqeel who would be our group’s guide, plus the rest of the boat’s substantial crew.

Getting back on board Emperor Orion we got a really good first impression. The air-conditioned salon/dining room was immaculate and the tables were already set for dinner. Emperor Maldives’ reusable personal water bottles were handed out and a thorough welcome briefing was given by Russ, while our bags were moved into our cabins by the crew (nice touch.)

One of the main features of Emperor Maldives’ boats is that they are very wide. They’re locally built, with the hull shape suited to Maldivian sea conditions. Our cabin on Emperor Voyager in November was big enough to include a large double bed and big bathroom; Emperor Orion is noticeably larger and our cabin was literally the size of a small hotel room, which is extremely rare to find on a liveaboard. Two people can easily walk about the cabin, there was loads of wardrobe and shelf space, a huge bathroom with shower, toilet like at home, fancy washbasin and even a dressing table with large mirror and hairdryer.

Over the years we’ve come to expect that a liveaboard equals less comfort than a hotel and it’s been a pay-off we’ve happily accepted because it meant getting us to ‘where the good diving is’. On Emperor Orion (and even more on Emperor Maldives’ flagship, Emperor Serenity) there’s no longer that need to compromise between getting good diving and comfort levels. This boat was truly a floating hotel for divers in every sense of the word. Emperor Orion’s size alone means that the facilities included a large air-conditioned dining room, spa, upper deck with outdoor bar and Jacuzzi and a huge sundeck at the top of the boat with sunbeds and double mattresses to lounge on. Let’s not forget the dive dhoni too, with bags of room for kitting-up and where kit is stored.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with other liveaboards, I’m just saying that there’s no doubt that extra comfort, services and facilities DID make a big difference. Sitting in the Jacuzzi with a cold one, telling jokes at the end of a good day’s diving was so much fun. We also appreciated the excellent spa service provided by Emperor Orion’s professional resident therapist, Alex.

To summarise, Emperor Orion was brilliant. Russ gave excellent, comprehensive dive briefings, dives were organised in the safe and professional manner we’d expect from an Emperor-run boat with all details covered down to logging every Nitrox fill (Nitrox is free!). The food was delicious and plentiful. The cabins were immaculate and made up after we returned from each morning dive. There was literally not one complaint about the boat, which in my experience is very rare on a dive liveaboard.

Finally, I want to report on the main reason we went back to the Maldives – the DIVING!

The South Central Atolls description is what attracted us. It promises beautiful pinnacles, grey reef sharks, eagle rays, a wreck, channels with pelagics, mantas, hammerheads, whale shark, dolphins and a night dive with nurse sharks. Also its relative remoteness and that all divers would be experienced (min. 100 dives to join). Your question is, “Did Emperor deliver all that?” Well, “no”. We didn’t dive the wreck nor did we see any hammerheads (not for want of trying). You see, like any good liveaboard operator, Emperor Maldives adjusts itineraries in ‘real time’ according to the actual conditions in order to deliver the best dive experience they can.

Therefore, this means that the actual route is sometimes slightly different to the advertised route. For example, during our week we visited four atolls, not seven, so we missed the wreck. As for missing the hammerheads, they took us to the hammerhead dive site but alas, they were not to be seen. I can’t complain about that, it’s just nature – nothing can be guaranteed, which is what makes it so exciting when you’re in the right place at the right time. For me, so long as the dive operator is seen to be trying to deliver you can’t ask for more than that and this was certainly the case with the Emperor Orion crew.

Having said that, in the interest of objectivity I must add that my friends and I are quite spoilt when it comes to diving. Our whole group have dived extensively around the world over the years and been privileged enough to enjoy some amazing times underwater. So our bar is set very high when it comes to expectations and it takes quite a lot to wow us these days. Keep in mind that it’s not possible to have a top-drawer dive each time and manage your expectations in order to be fair to the dive operator.

So what did we see underwater? Well, everything else Emperor had promised! We had some incredible dives, as anyone who has dived the Maldives would understand. Any one of our experiences is enough to call it a memorable holiday: we sat on the sandy bottom next to a small pinnacle and watched as two large manta glided in to be cleaned, each coming within a foot of our bubbles.

We snorkelled at night just off our boat’s platform with two massive whale sharks while three dolphins careered between them and us. We watched around twenty five nurse sharks woven into one spiral of bodies in a mating dance during our twilight/night dive at the famous Alamata Jetty.

On our last morning, in a noticeably stronger current, we hooked into the reef and watched while over twenty large grey reefs did a continuous circuit just feet from our viewing gallery, in awe at how they were able to head into such a current without visibly moving a muscle. And who was sat right in the middle of this group of impressive predators? A baby eagle ray, no more than a foot from wing tip to wing tip and as cute as can be.

If I had to pick one stand-out moment this was it. I’m always blown away by how underwater animals allow us human invaders to, well, just be. The sharks came so close, looked us right in the eye and swam on by. As for that tiny eagle ray, I can only describe my feelings as one of the most special moments I’ve had in my life, where I witness the pure innocence and lack of malice that only animals and baby humans can have. I know this all sounds pretty cheesy – but it’s the truth. At the end of the day, it’s why I dive, because animals and nature are simply amazing.

I can happily report that Underwater Maldives delivered in droves once again. It was a brilliant holiday, made all the better by the pampering we received topside. Guess what? We’re going back next year on Emperor Orion for a repeat of the ‘Best of the Maldives’ safari. The Maldives is like a bus – up to last year I’d been waiting to get there my whole life and now three trips have come along all at once! And we will keep catching those buses for a long time to come.

Jim and Cary own and run UK-based tour operator Diverse Travel. To find out more about the Maldivian itineraries that Diverse Travel offer, visit


* We strongly recommend having travel insurance (on all holidays). If our international flight had been delayed there was a possibility of missing our connection. We didn’t.. but if we had missed the flight for any reason the domestic airline would not have offered us a refund and we would have had to arrange and pay for a new booking, subject to availability. Therefore travel insurance is essential, especially on more complex itineraries with multiple flights.

A few moons ago, Jim was General Manager of Emperor Divers Red Sea, where Cary was Senior Instructor. Later they moved to Indonesia to establish and run award-winning dive centre and resort, Eco Divers, before returning to the UK to launch Diverse Travel. Cary also runs a photographic business and is the Photo Pro, often leading photographic trips to exotic destinations, most recently to South Africa and Mozambique. Jim and Cary’s driving passion is to deliver the best personalised travel service available. That same philosophy shines through Diverse Travel and sees clients return again and again to book their next holiday.


Palaemon Divers shortlisted for top Business Award



North West-based Dive Centre, Palaemon Divers, has been shortlisted for Leisure and Tourism Start Up of the Year with Start Up Awards 2023.

Palaemon Divers is delighted to be named a finalist in the Awards which celebrate Start Up Businesses and what they have brought to the economy within three years of their launch.

Palaemon Divers was started by Leanne Clowes in the midst of COVID lockdowns. Leanne walked out of her well paid corporate sales job with no savings after a redundancy in a previous role and spending the majority of the year before COVID to follow the dream! After the redundancy and COVID, life struck just a little differently and the pull to become a full-time dive instructor became impossible to ignore!

So with that… notice was handed in, no savings, nothing physical to start being a full time dive instructor other than personal kit at the time – oh and the fact, Leanne was actually an Assistant Instructor at the time and hadn’t attended the instruction exam at that point as there had been none going on through COVID obviously!

However, the first Instructor Exam that was happening out of COVID was booked onto – no pressure at all with no full time job, no money as a back up, mortgage and bills to pay…

Leanne started freelancing as an instructor in the North West using various outdoor locations for training, and the business snowballed and quickly gained its first physical dive centre in January 2022 along with finding their own private in-water training facility at Princes Dock in Liverpool. Since then, 100s of new people from Liverpool and further afield have been introduced to the amazing sport of scuba, and experienced the abundant life under the surface of the dock itself.

In a time of no travel to outside your area or abroad, Palaemon Divers found something new and exciting to introduce the city of Liverpool to those who spend five days a week in the office looking down at the dock and not really being able to appreciate what the dock actually means to Liverpool!

It became apparent during 2022, that although Liverpool was fantastic, more growth was on the cards which came in the form of a second location, Palaemon Divers – Warrington. The second dive centre is an ex micro brewery in Warrington with a central location close to the M6, M62 and M56, spread over two floors which includes a classroom, workshop, compressor and a floor dedicated to retail.

The efforts in building this business have not gone unnoticed with the shortlist for Startup Awards, and also another shortlist which will be announced in the next month.

For more, email or visit: 

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Gear Reviews

Gear Review: Quilted Polar Hat from Otter Watersports (Watch Video)



In a video shot exclusively for, Jeff Goodman reviews the Quilted Polar Hat from leading drysuit manufacturer Otter Watersports.

For more information, visit

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Jump on board the latest addition to the Emperor fleet and enjoy diving the famous sites of the Red Sea with this fantastic special offer. Great value for money and perfect for small groups of buddies. Price NOW from just £1195 per person based on sharing a twin cabin/room including: Flights from Gatwick to Hurghada with 23kgs baggage 7 nights in shared cabin 3 meals a day, soft drinks, red wine with dinner 6 days’ diving, guide, 12ltr tank & weights, Marine Park fees and port departure fees Free Nitrox Booking deadline: Subject to availability – limited flight seats at this price. Alternative departure airports available at a supplement. Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email More Less

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