Face it. Some trips, you just luck into! That was the case with my liveaboard on the Raja Ampat Aggressor. For many, Raja Ampat is the Holy Grail of dive destinations. And when you’re the Holy Grail, that also means mucho dinero – or as they say in Indonesia – terlalu mahal! So, imagine my absolute glee when I get an email from my new friends at Bluewater Dive Travel advertising a sale! Normally, a good liveaboard in Raja is going to set you back about $4-$5,000. I thought Raja Ampat would remain a dream for some time to come. And then I saw the price for the 10-day trip: $2,700. Almost half off! I could squeeze that out of American Express.
That’s still a lot of money, but I could not pass it up and I snatched a spot immediately (and asked Halef’s forgiveness a little later)! Next up would be the cost of getting to Indonesia. I knew the ticket was going to be well over $1,000. Fortunately, I subscribe to just about every travel deal mailing list on the Internets. I hoped to find a deal. A few weeks went by. Nothing. Then a couple of months. Still nothing. I decided to cash in some of my Delta SkyMiles and go for free. Normally, that runs about 120,000 SkyMiles, but getting lucky again, I scored the trip for just 80,000. Not only that, but the flight was handled by my favorite airline, Delta’s partner, Korean Air!
But then you have to get from Jakarta to Sorong. I’ve written a separate post about that here.
Arriving at the Raja Ampat Aggressor
The Raja Ampat Yacht can accommodate about 16 passengers. It is one of the newest in the Aggressor fleet, and I think this might have been its second or third trip. When you first arrive at the boat, you are greeted by super friendly, professionally-outfitted staff and are offered a tropical fruit drink as a welcome. When everyone was settled, Michal, the trip leader, gave us an overview of the boat and explained what we could expect for the next ten days together. By the way, Michal is from Poland. He spoke Indonesian fluently. I was impressed.
And another stroke of luck, since there were only 8 of us going on this trip, we all got our own cabins! Not that we would spend much time in them, but they were very well-appointed – everything from the sheets to the towels was monogrammed with the Aggressor logo. The beds were very comfortable and there was plenty of room in each cabin for two people to sleep and live comfortably. Each room had its own television. If you wanted to, you could plug in a thumb drive and watch your favorite movies. They even had movies on board if you wanted to borrow them. To my knowledge, not one person turned on a television the entire trip. I certainly did not. I couldn’t imagine why I would want to.
Like the room itself, the restroom areas were kept immaculately clean and functional. Everything was cleaned daily and everything you needed was there.
Common areas on the Raja Ampat Aggressor
The common areas were where I thought the Raja Ampat Aggressor really shined. From the living room/dining room to the upper deck. Everything was comfortable and very up to date. Most of us thought the common areas were great places to relax after a day of diving or even in between.
I should pause to note that it was easy to love these areas even more, because there was a cooler full of beer and soft drinks that were all complimentary for the entire trip. There was only one rule:
Your first drink = your last dive.
Obviously, a smart rule. No one broke it. Ever.
It was also where, on the first day, we all got to know each other pretty well. In fact, I’m still friends and in touch with a few of the people I met on the Aggressor. Even though I might not see many of them ever again, I do consider them friends. And that includes the boat staff. The diving was amazing, but the social aspect of the trip was equally important to me.
There was food available all the time
The Aggressor has one of the most important items that I need on a trip like this – an excellent coffee machine. From espresso to cappuccino, to just plain old regular coffee, they bought an expensive machine and it got a lot of use! Snacks were available 24/7. When you expected meals to be ready, they were ready. When you returned from your afternoon dive, specially prepared snacks – usually something typically Indonesian – were waiting for you on the dive deck. There was always something to eat! In the morning, bagels, bread, and pastries seemed to be set out for you even if you thought it wasn’t possible anyone was up before you!
What about Vegetarian Food?
I felt like I had a bit of a tough time communicating exactly what a vegetarian eats to the kitchen staff. While the other guests ate dishes that could have been served in 5-Star restaurants, I was served what amounted to Indonesian street food. It’s not that the meals weren’t good, mind you. They were. It’s just that they were basically the same for me, always. After much pressing by Michal, towards the end of the trip, the chef started to prepare amazing vegetarian meals for me. And they were fantastic. I knew he could do it!
For what it’s worth, the CEO of the Aggressor Fleet wrote me and assured me that this was a glitch on the radar and nothing like this will ever happen again. They’ll get a chance to prove it. I booked an Aggressor trip in the Turks and Caicos for August, 2017.
Here is the part you’ve been waiting for – the diving. Let me just tell you this: Everything everyone has ever told you about diving in Raja Ampat is true. It’s incredible. So much so that I am almost disappointed when I go diving anywhere else now. I’ve become a dive snob because of Raja Ampat. But it’s not just because it’s Raja Ampat. I have to say with 100% honesty that the dive guides on the Raja Ampat Aggressor were some of the best, most informed dive masters I’ve ever had the pleasure of diving with. They knew where everything was. Everything. If there was a pygmy seahorse down there, they seemed to know exactly where it was going to be. Want to find a walking shark late at night? Have no fear. They knew exactly where they were.
I honestly believe we saw twice as much as anyone else because these guys knew exactly where to go. In other words, you rarely had to spend all your time searching.
The Raja Ampat Aggressor has two zodiacs that can accommodate 8 divers each in full gear. That means you can get to any dive site with ease. Because you’re in Indonesia where the heat is constantly beating down on you, the staff works hard to make sure you get to the dive site as quickly as possible. No waiting around – you have to be ready. No one wants sunstroke in the middle of nowhere, right?
Nudibranchs: I’m a nudibranch fan, and if you are, too, then Raja Ampat is an absolute must. It’s the most biodiverse marine area on the planet and nudis are everywhere. Of the 34 dives I did, I don’t think there was a single dive where we didn’t see several. If you love nudis, you’ll love it here!
Walking Sharks (Epaulette sharks): These sharks aren’t found anywhere else in the world – only here and in a few aquariums. They are insanely cute because they walk on their fins. But they only come out at night, so you have to do the night dives, which are offered every night! And the Raja Ampat Aggressor crew knows where to find them!
Mantas: There’s no question, mantas are on every diver’s list, and Raja Ampat has more than its share. They seemed to be more plentiful in the northern part of Raja Ampat, where the krill was most abundant.
Bait fish: This is where I was most blown away. I have seen bait balls before, but I have never in my life seen anything like this. I’m serious. Even thinking about the experience of literally being surrounded by millions and millions of fish is giving me goosebumps while I write. Just look at this. Wouldn’t seeing this make the trip worth it?
So, would I do Raja Ampat again?
If I could afford it, I would do the Raja Ampat Aggressor every week. It’s just that good – even despite my issues with the food. From Michal, the trip leader, to our guides, the housekeeping staff, and the crew, the level of service was outstanding. The care that was taken with everything was obvious.
Bottom line: If you can afford it, go. If you cannot, then do like I did, sign up for every travel deal web site you can. Hopefully something will come along. And yeah, if you get the chance, check out the Raja Ampat Aggressor. They’ve been in Raja Ampat for over a year now, so I am sure they’ve got all the minor kinks worked out and the trip will be even better than the fantastic trip we had!
Your daily routine on the Raja Ampat Aggressor
The Aggressor offers 4 dives per day, so the itinerary is absolutely packed!
- Eat a light breakfast
- Eat a full breakfast (made to order)
- Lunch (buffet style)
- Dinner (a few courses)
- Dive (there is always a night dive)
A few more pictures before you go!
I can’t end this post without noting how much this trip changed my underwater photography. I would like to personally thank Michal Wronski for patiently teaching me several things I didn’t know. It was a photography course that brought my underwater pics to the next level and made me passionate about it. He taught me so much that, as soon as I got home, I bought the exact same setup that he had. I’m impulsive like that, but it was totally worth it. I think I got some great photos on this trip! As far as diving certifications go, with the exception of my Rescue Diver course, my Underwater Photography course was the one that was the most worth taking!
The Raja Ampat Aggressor is completely set up for you if you’re a photographer. There is plenty of room on the camera table, they have a nice Mac with a very large screen where you can edit your photos, and there are charging stations everywhere. You won’t have any issues with your setup. They’re ready for you!
Thanks to the Raja Ampat Aggressor for a trip I will always remember, to Michal Wronski for being a great boat leader, Bluewater Travel for getting it all set up for me, and to the divemasters and boat crew for making everything work!
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