How many different ways can I describe a bunch of incompetents?
All these good reviews... from novice and first time divers. No-one seems to know how good diving and live aboard diving can and should be - least of all the crew.
Short version: avoid kangaroo explorer. Probably best to avoid all outer reef trips.
It's not the worst experience, not a bad one, but wasn't _fun_. Not for the money I spent.
I spent 2.5 times as much ($800 vs $2000) diving with Deep Sea Divers for the same length of time (a 4 day long trip), and I felt I got my money's worth with DSD, but not with CDC. Even when some of my complaints apply to both, DSD's Taka northern reef trip was better value for money, in terms of fun and quality of staff. (Note: I can't compare with DSDs outer reef trip, the ocean quest, which I've heard to be similar to kangaroo explorer in ways)
Things which were good:
The dive sites - the GBR did not disappoint. This is not necessarily a CDC thing, but they did have some good options.
The rooms were quite decent. Clean sheets. Ensuites (even in the dorm type rooms). No complaints.
Good lookouts for the most part. (An often thankless job)
If you're learning to dive, CDC seems pretty good - instructors looking after you; seemed to be a good experience other divers were having.
Things which are bad, in no particular order:
Reefkist, their day boat and transport, has more passengers than seats. It also has no good location for bag storage. This is not good for people bringing their own gear. Or liking to just sit down.
Only 50 minute dives (not 60).
Only 30 minute night dives (not 45-60).
They don't keep anyone in the tender (small boat). For emergencies, there is a very long response time as someone who can use the boat is found.
(Dsd and pro dive are much better.)
There's no tank w/ regs in the water at depth during dives. If you're running low on air and have a reverse block, this is a problem. I know not everywhere does this, but for a ship apparently crazy about OHS and safety speeches, it seems to be all talk and no action.
There's a rope line only on the port side of the boat, not both.
For night dives, no back up lights, just glow sticks - seems a bit cheap. There are no tank lights used (like a small light/strobe attached to the tank to id divers/groups from behind). Not common, and it seems most places don't bother, which is a shame.
The admin on land seemed to be struggling. They didn’t know I was staying for four days, not three, so I was woken up from my nap while they sorted out their stuff - and then I had to redo my dive gear, and I wasn’t on any of the log sheets (BIG potential safety problem there!). It was sorted out, but it shouldn’t have happened.
A pair of couples had delayed their trip so they could get availability on two double rooms (being two couples). When they arrived, they were put into a single family room, and told there weren’t enough rooms of the type they had booked. They were - rightfully - pissed off. Screw ups like that can go a long way to making a less pleasurable holiday experience.
The stinger suits are all in varying states of wear and disrepair (lots of tears, holes, etc. Some are barely in one piece).
In 13 dives, only 2 site briefings actually talked about the site. Those two dive masters seemed competent. The rest did not, and had a rather poor hold of the English language - which would be fine elsewhere, but not in their position. They only parroted off safety. everyone used the same jokes, making it obvious they were not thinking, or funny, just newbies copying their instructor. When I noticed this, my confidence dropped.
I think I annoyed the captain at one point when I said a site was not good in the deep - it was brilliant above 18 meters, but dead below 20. Turns out that was common knowledge with the staff, but they hadn't told the guests. They pointed out shallow and deep areas, but didn't talk about life or the quality of the dive there.
On the site "360", they did talk about sharks in the east. But then were surprised when divers went there. The mind boggles.
They do basic briefing stuff at = every= briefing. Not just the first couple and then expect us, as certified divers and adults to have learned something at the previous briefings. But every. Single. Time. It was tedious, and wasted time. It was frustrating. Never did they shorten it. No wonder they were always running late.
They didn't always tell the site name - several people had to go out of their way to ask, and ended up being a guest to guest communication again. Log books were frustrating sometimes. It also seemed like not all staff knew where they/the boat was.
Oh, and as a note: banging a dive torch against the railing to explain the emergency call is a good way to mess up a dive torch. I don't recommend this practice.
While the staff attempted to repeat safety items (which is good), they never explained dive equipment storage (only snorkling gear). This helped make the dive deck messier and more cramped.
There were no staff to help passengers back onto the boat - some guests helped each other, but no staff picked up cameras and fins into the boat. Guests had to fling them onto the platform and hope they didn't fall into the water.
I'm glad I didn't bring my SLR, this boat would have been murder to it.
While lots of safety was parroted off, boat entry was not mentioned. Some basic things like "only one person takes off fins at a time", "only one person on/by the ladder at a time" were never instructed. There was never a staff to watch guests coming back onto the boat - If anyone slipped it would have been awful. They got lucky, I think. (Yes, there were lookouts, but they left the dive deck area after people got in the water.)
So many people with blisters from the closed heel fins, and only electrical tape to offer.
CDC could make a lot of extra money selling lycra and neoprene socks onboard, but that would be a viable business model, and they seem to be struggling with that.
I'm not sure how to properly express my disgust at their random rule creation and the staff's ignorance in the dining room. Or just in general.
Only 4 dives a day, when they run 5 sessions. Company policy, weird, but whatever. Just sounds cheap. To claim "OHS" or Queensland rules is bulls**t and the staff should know better. They want to reduce staff workload? Okay. But it's not a health issue.
No reverse profile dives... Firstly, this is basically not a real problem, but I understand with big groups erring on the side of caution. What I don't like is it being a enforced regulation, not a recommendation. It means that you will either dive in worse areas to make the crew happy with your numbers, or you lie to them. The best policy is to "dive the site". Or, for CDC to pick sites suitable for deep and shallow diving. By the by, yes, a lot of sites do have deep areas, but they are sandy wastelands, good for training or wasting air and bottom time.
No wet clothes in the dining room... That makes sense. No shirt? Okay... Weird, this is Australia, after all.
But shorts plus a bikini top? Nope, NO FOOD FOR YOU. OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY VIOLATION! You must cover either your belly or shoulders. Or you can't eat. I call bulls**t.
No boardies/trunks? Must wear shorts/pants over them? What? OHS? Again, I call bulls**t on the staff. No wet clothes, okay, sure, but that's not this.
Charging $15 per person, per dive for a guide, is a joke. This seems to be a Queensland thing, and is very strange. Increases dive sessions (surface swims), reduces time spent having fun (since you have to spend more time and effort learning a new site), and with only 50 min of dive time, it seems like they're trying to squeeze more money out of us under threat of a worse liveaboard experience. But, qld, not necessarily CDC - though CDC could do better instead of the minimum.
The food wasn't bad. The chef and his volunteer seemed to try their best with what they had, and... it wasn't bad. Very safe choices, generally.
There were only 50 plates for 75 people. What the hell.
There were 75 people on a boat to hold 40 plus crew. what the hell.
Dining room has seating for 26-30 people, when 70+ people are eating.
It's really quite small.
The mid deck area for getting changed and drying clothes is not an "area", but just a walkway - there is barely enough room for two people to pass. Okay, not much they can do about this, but it still isn't good.
Why isn't the roof over the dive deck changed from canvas into metal, and have a nice big area for snorklers to get ready? The cost would be relatively low, and the benefits huge.
The dive deck is positively cramped, but the real bottleneck is getting to the platform; because staff don't know any of the guests, they have to hunt for names (assuming that they're even written down, because this place makes mistakes like that. Mispellings are common. Randomly alternate between first and last names listed, so when you say who you are diving with, they can't find them. Insane.). They need to streamline this process, it slowed everything down, making a big line. Another idea, why not have two lines, one for divers, one for snorklers? Because they don't have enough staff to run a boat like this.
There were a couple of great friendly staff - Michael (dmt), joe, bryce, kazoo, the captain... The majority were overworked, stressed, and very much not people-people. People who start to make mistakes. When it comes to diving, that makes me nervous, esp when it's people apparently so inexperienced. (Aside: there WERE experienced staff around, and they did pick up on others mistakes, and made me very glad they were around. I wish I had their names to offer thanks, but staff rarely, if ever introduce themselves. Did I mention that? Was kind of weird. I got most names by listening to others.)
It was like they didn't want to be there, and they didn't make us want to be there. Depressing, almost.
The place is run like a joke. It reminds me of the first year of a business where they are still figuring out how to organise things, but it's not new.
They don't have baskets under tank stations, so gear floats around loosely. People take weights from random belts, because no one knows what is what. (And then they ran out of weights, slowing down our water entry while staff scrambled to find gear)
On the white board, they only write first names, not even just a last initial - so people get mixed up between the board and the dive log and the ship log. Amateurs.
Speaking of the board, why so sparse with information? Why not include diver certification? You could match unpaired divers at a glance then.
Despite talking to four different staff to try and make sure I'd be matched with similarly skilled divers - they never did. I wanted someone to take with me on a fluro dive, but they never matched me, I had to go around and try and find someone on my own - on the last night,I took one of the vollies out because the staff completely dropped the ball. Despite going through all the incoming divers' forms when we get onboard, they never bothered to check, or help. Useless.
On my last dive, I told them I needed a buddy.
Nothing was done. Get to the dive deck - still no buddy. At the last minute, I was thrown in with two very inexperienced divers. Lovely people, but this was what I was trying to avoid from day one. Another failure on the staff's part. Sure, I could go and meet everyone, and quiz them on their skill and experience, but the staff already know from the forms they read, and from the assessment dive. But why should they do their job? They seem to be there to churn divers through a machine, not offer a pleasurable holiday experience. (Okay, that was harsh. Some of the crew were great, but those crew that were great were not in direct customer relation roles).
What worries me the most was their equipment. This was flat out dangerous.
They have regs which read high - three, I found, and only one they would test and replace (but they let me dive on it once.)
I had a reg which showed 270 bar, and I thought, great, this place pushes the tank limits to give us more air, that's nice of them! (Since equipment is rated to 300 bar, it's strangely high, but I trust they know what they're doing). I told them 270, and they let me get into the water. This was a mistake. My gauge was reading 60 high.
270 bar instead of 210 means I would die before the safety stop at 50 bar. I didn't let them make me use that reg a second time. Why didn't they didn't think it was unusual? (everything was logged by them, so it was known).
Later, it was obvious every tank was getting filled to 190-200 bar. No problem, that's fine.
But when two gauges read 240? That means you die when you hit PADI low air limits (30 bar).
I noted this, and asked, on both occasions, for staff to please check and confirm the tank pressure - and they refused. I know this bit is buried in this novel, but this is serious. They refused to check - even just to make a hypochondriac guest feel more comfortable. Because they are pressed for time.Time is more important than lives, I guess.
Bring your own gear is my best advice. Better advice would be to avoid. Not because of dodgy gear - stuff fails, gets repaired all the time, not a big deal. Every shop has rental gear of varying age and quality. It was that they refused to test things that scared me.
The ship wide PA system is not ship wide. Maybe it's broken. Staff don't seem to be aware that it doesn't reach to the lower deck. Multiple announcements have been missed, only to be passed on by guest to guest. That's not right.
The fresh water on the ship is foul. There is cordial to make it more palatable, but this isn't right. This is my 5th live aboard, and the first time the water has tasted this awful. It's like everything on the ship is old and breaking down.
The nonslip carpet is torn in places (don't trip!). The paint is scratched and fading... It really needs some tlc.
I met a guy who has been back several times, and I asked him why. It turns out, he's only been with CDC and pro dive Cairns. I feel sorry for him.
It's like these trips prey on the ignorant. He just didn't know how good liveaboard diving trips could really be.
Oh, and Chloe (3?4? weeks in, and barely out of high school?), why was she anywhere near the boat? Epitomized the rote training and poor guest skills.
Some people, like Jen, I'd like to see when they're relaxed and at 100% - a good example of over worked and over tired.
When I heard she and a vollie got yelled at because a guest made them late, I was disappointed, but not surprised. Staff yelling at staff, especially when guests can see, is great for morale. Why was that vollie almost bought to tears? Just because of time. Not caring that it was a guest's "fault" - they were doing their job in making a good customer experience, and she was yelled at for it.
And when back on land, there's not enough buses to pick up everyone, and despite knowing numbers, and if who going where, everyone is stressed and staff aren't talking to guests, so we have to ask again and again, slowing things down further.
One of the selling points of this trip was the opportunity to do a week "free" (while working doing basic labour). It might help with the staffing issue at least! :-)