Philippines: Diving and Relaxing on a Live-Aboard Ship
A family cruise adventure in the South China Sea
By Michelle Lamb
I discovered a way to get back to my diving, and at the same time, enjoy a family vacation. The answer? A liveaboard boat cruising in the warm waters of the South China Sea.
The Hans Christian Andersen (HCA) liveaboard in the Philippines is the answer to your adventure travel wish and includes some vacation laziness. Divers and snorkelers of all ages enjoy a week of sailing to pristine beaches, untouched reefs, and WWII wrecks in the clear and warm South China Sea.
My family of four boards the HCA on a sunny and breezy December Saturday afternoon from Batangas, a two hour drive south of Manila. We soon become a party of 32, greeted by a crew of 26, and set sail into the proverbial sunset while being served tropical drinks.
Although not a luxury cruise, with such a low passenger to crew ratio, the service is always kind and immediate. By week’s end, we know everyone on board.
Every morning we are given a schedule and explanation of the day’s excursions and scheduled dive times. My husband and I sign up for the 11 dives offered that week, five of which are wreck dives.
Our children, ages four and ten, either join us on the dive boat and snorkel while waiting for us to surface, play on a nearby island beach, or amuse themselves in the HCA TV/game room area—called the Mermaid Salon.
The HCA has several routes; we chose the Northern Route bringing us to Coron Bay, a WWII wreck diving cemetery, and Apo Reef Natural Reserve, the world’s second-largest contiguous coral reef system—all featuring world-class diving sites.
One of the more interesting wrecks is the Akitsushima, a Japanese seaplane carrier.
After diving, the Nanshin Maru, a unique surface interval is spent exploring a cave on Black Island. While the wrecks support beautiful corals and huge schools of fish, Apo Reef presents us with white-tipped reef sharks and turtles.
Our first stop is the white sand laced Pandan Island. Every day the ship anchors near equally stunning islands for snorkeling or quiet beach time.
Most of the beaches are deserted other than a simple palm frond hut or two. We are brought from the HCA to shore with three different chase boats.
After a guided snorkel and our own discovery time, a gourmet lunch is brought from the HCA to the beach. The food is fresh and delicious every meal without exception. Usually, there is a choice of meat and fish or seafood, tropical fruits, homemade bread, rice and various vegetables.
One night we even have a pig roast on the beach, complete with the crew singing after dinner and of course, more tropical drinks.
The crew serves dinner early to our children, so my husband and I can enjoy happy hour and an adult dinner. This is our chance to get to know the other passengers better.
The grandparents of one family did the cruise two years earlier and liked it so much, they brought the rest of their family on a second voyage—nine in all.
The ship’s owner is Danish, so passengers are largely Scandinavian and range from retired professionals, couples with and without children, and solo travelers exploring Asia.
We really hit it off with our fellow divers and plan to meet next year for another dive trip.
The non-beach excursions gave us a slice of rural Philippine life. We visited three different islands, mostly inhabited by fishermen and farmers.
Riding in a Sidecar
In Sablayan, Mindoro, much to our children’s delight, we rode in the sidecar of motor-tricycles to a local history museum and market.
In Culion, a former leper colony, we visited the former hospital, now a museum. And lastly, Panlaitan, purely a fishing village, we visited the local school and a few of the villagers’ homes.
The HCA provided my family with enough choices to feel like we’ve had a week of adventure travel combined with relaxing excursions and a bonus of forming life-long friendships. For booking your adventure cruise, see www.hcacruise.com.
Michelle Lamb writes from Guam, has also lived in Europe and the mainland U.S.A. Read more about her adventures at www.michellesfamilytravel.com