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Scuba Diving from a Cruise Ship

January 27, 2017 by Charles W. Davis

Diving from a Cruise Ship

cruise ship scuba diving

Cruise ship Scuba diving

A Cruise vacation might not be seen as an option for a diving vacation, however, it can be. Millions of people each year spend their vacations on a cruise ship. Once considered a vacation for the rich or elderly, the cruise ships now see passengers in every age group and in many economic groups. Some ships are small with only a hundred passengers or even less. Many of the new cruise ships have well over 5,000 guest on-board. Warm weather destinations are some of the most favorite cruise destinations, however, you will see sailing to Alaska, the Baltic Sea and even to the Antarctic.

While a cruise ship might not be the first thing comes to mind when planning a dive vacation, you might not want to dismiss it straight out. If you are looking to dive three or four dives a day every day of your vacation, then a cruise will not fit your plans. However, if you are looking for a dive vacation that balances diving with other activities or need to take into consideration the needs of traveling companions that are not divers, a cruise may be a good choice.

scuba diving holidays at sea

Sports Bar on Norwegian Getaway

If you have never taken a cruise, here are a few basics. A cruise ship can be compared to a full board resort. The cruise fare will include your stateroom and many of the on board activities. Your meals are included as are some beverages during meals. You generally will have a few options of where you want to eat. There will be one or more fine dining restaurants and one or more causal restaurants or buffets. Some cruise ships offer specialty dining at a small surcharge. Some the larger cruise ships will have over a dozen different places you can eat a mixture of included and at an additional cost. Each evening you will find in your stateroom a newsletter showing all the activities the following day including the opening and closing times of different venues. In the evening, expect to find a number of shows and other nightlife offerings. On the days you are in a port, the newsletter will list information about the port including the times you can leave the ship and when you must be back on board.

A typical cruise is a week long and will have four or five ports of call, the remaining days will be at sea. Depending on the cruise you select, you may find that diving is possible at each port of call. Most of the Caribbean best diving destinations are also visited by cruise ships, as are Mexico’s Pacific coast, parts of the Mediterranean, Australia and ports in Asia. A recent cruise gave me the opportunity to dive in Honduras, Belize, Costa Maya Mexico and Cancun. I left from Florida so arriving a few days early gave me the possibility of some dives before the cruise. That trip brings my total to 12 dive destinations and 40 dives while taking a cruise.

Shore Excursions and Port Calls

When we talk of a “Port Call” or “Ports of Call”, we are simply talking about a stop the ship makes on their itinerary where you can get off the ship. You will also see the terms “Pier” and “Tender” applied to the port calls. When a cruise ship is at a port that is “Pier”, guest can walk on and off the ship. The term “Tender” means that the cruise ship anchors in deep water and a smaller boat called a tender transports

cruise ship scuba diving destinations

Norwegian Sky in Nassau

passengers to the shore. The tendering process adds to the time it takes to get off the ship. The term “Shore Excursion” is used by the cruise industry to mean a tour activity off the ship. The cruise lines arranges with local tour operators tours that can be offered to the guest on board the ship. These are sold on board and before the cruise on the cruise line’s website. A debate you often hear from experienced cruises is whether to book a cruise lines offered shore excursion or do it yourself. Both those for and against using the cruise line suggested tours have merit. On the positive side, the tours are aligned with the ships arrival and departure times. While a cruise line will clearly state the tours are by independent tour operators, if the tour is late returning to the ship the cruise line will know and insure that the passengers are not left behind. On the negative side, cruise ship sold shore excursions are often a cattle boat activity. Hundreds of passengers get off the ship, file onto buses that travel to the tour’s destination. At the tour stop, passengers file off the bus, follow a tour guide with a little flag, then back on the bus to the next destination. Also, cruise ship lines are in business to make a profit, so there is a mark up added in to cover the cruise line’s cost and a profit margin.

These concerns can also be raised concerning scuba diving as a shore excursion. I have dived using the ships shore excursion as well as arranging my own. Years ago, scuba divers and snorkelers were often grouped together and fifty or more people may arrive at a dive site at the same time. Today, the trend is to keep them separate and the cruise lines deals directly with dive operators not tour operators who sub contract. The cruise lines generally do not announce who operates their tours, however, with the power of the internet the identity does not stay secret. In most cases, the cruise lines are working with a leading dive operator in each port.

Shore Excursions or Self Booked?

Whether you should book a shore excursion from the cruise line or do it yourself is not an easy answer. The first point should be, are you comfortable with who the dive operator is. While the cruise lines do not list the operators, if you look at reviews of the shore excursions you will often see the name of the tour operator. From there you can look at reviews for that company. You can also see, how much a cruise line marks up a trip. A two tank boat dive with no equipment in Nassau by the cruise line is $179, while booking direct with the company it is $150 ($139 plus 7.9% tax). In this case, the company does provide a pick up at the cruise terminal for direct bookings, however, that is not always the case.

plan ahead and save on cruise diving

plan ahead and save

If you are considering making a reservation direct with a dive operator, there are a number of items to carefully consider. First and foremost is the times. Your cruise itinerary will show you the date and time you will be in port and the departure time. Look closely at those times, some cruise lines show the local time while others show “ship” time. Some cruise lines will move the clock forward or back during the cruise to reflect the local time where they are. Others keep the time based on the ships departure port. Ship time could be one or even two hours different then the local time. You also need to take into consideration getting off the boat. Take as an example a dive boat that leaves at 8:30 am. If your cruise is schedule to arrive at 8:00am you might be thinking of making a reservation. That might not be enough time. When the ship announces you can depart the ship, there may be hundreds already in line waiting. As you get off the ship, your ship board ID is scanned. While that will only take a handful of seconds, it adds up if hundreds are in front of you. Additionally, the passengers departing on a ship’s shore excursion will have priority over those going off on their own. If the port is one that uses a tendering you need to also consider the time it takes to get ashore. However, if your ship has a late departure, you might be able to do an afternoon dive. In those cases, you are not rushed to meet up with short deadline.

A second item, will be the meet up with the dive operator. Consider how will you get to the dive operator if doing it on your own and the cost. Some operators will provide pick up at the pier while others will not. Also, make sure about the pick up point. I recently made a direct reservation with a dive operator with a pick up point at the cruise terminal. Unfortunately for me, the cruise terminal where the pick up point was at was not the same cruise terminal I arrived at. I had to take a taxi to get there.

While boat diving is the most frequent option, look to see if shore diving is possible. I have had some great shore dives. This gives you the freedom to dive on your own schedule, and often at very good rates.

While at the DEMA show in November, I asked a number of dive operators, that were located in ports that have cruise ships, their views. The response was mixed. Those that have contracts with the cruise lines prefer you book with the cruise line. There reasoning is that the time schedule is already tried and proven. They also stated that the transportation requirement is easier to organize. Those who do not have a contract gave me a more mixed response. A few have developed their business hoping to get divers from the cruise ships on their dive boats. They provide flexibility in their dive schedules to allow for the later departures that might be needed. These shops often offer smaller boats for a personal experience and arrange to meet at the pier. Some other dive shops stated they prefer not to get cruise ship divers. They are concern with late arrivals and the uncertainty of the divers qualifications.

Royal Caribbean Offers Diving Lessons.

In years past, many of the cruise lines offered on board diving programs. Princess Cruises had their New Wave program which they ended around 2008, NCL had their Dive In program which they phased out. They still use the title but it only shore excursions. Disney and Carnival have also closed their programs. They all still offer shore excursions so you can still dive from the ships of those cruise lines.

scuba dive in the Bahamas

RCCL Grandeur Of the Seas in Nassau

Recently, Royal Caribbean Cruise line has once again fully embraced scuba diving. The cruise lines now offers PADI Open Water Certification on 10 of their ships. These ships visit a total of 14 different dive destinations. Open Water Diver students sign up for the course prior to the cruise. While at home they complete the knowledge segment using the PADI Touch app or PADI eLearning® online. On board the instructors verify the satisfactory completion of the knowledge segment and start the confined water elements of the training. They do this in one of the swimming pools aboard. The students complete the four open water dives at two different destinations. Besides the Open Water Diver training, Royal Caribbean also does a “Try Dive” program. This is a training session using a swimming pool on the ship. The dive instructors on the Royal Caribbean ships also conduct “Discover Scuba Diving” programs. Those divers who have not had a dive in a while can do the “PADI Reactivate Program” as well. These 10 ships also have a PADI 5 Star Dive Center on board.

Where Do You Want to Dive?

The diver who has a non diving partner or family members may find it easier to suggest a cruise vacation over a dive resort. For the diver a cruise offers the ability to experience more than one destination. Cruises can also be a better value, since so much is included. You owe it to yourself to look into it before your next trip.

Church Book Cover

December 21, 2016 by Charles W. Davis
Churches of Pampanga Philiippines

Book cover

The Spanish had the Philippines as a colony for over 500 years. Originally ruled from Spanish Mexico, it has a blend of cultures not seen elsewhere in Asia. Today, the Philippines is a predominate Catholic country. Over 80% of the people are Catholic with another more than 10% other christian faiths. This can be seen in the week long Holy Week celebrations, the observance of All Hallows Day and the 3 month long lead up to Christmas.
This small selection of churches located in the Province of Pampanga are some of the oldest in the country, but they are just a few of those left behind when the Spanish left in 1898.

I received a number of comments about the photographs I had taken of these churches, that I decided to publish them in a book.

It is not a very large book but it is very nice. It can be found on Amazon and ordered from any book store. Best way is to order from the createspace site for Churches of Pampanga

Churches of Pampanga Philippines

December 4, 2016 by Charles W. Davis
St James the Apostle Church: Betis, Guagua Pampanga This church is considered one of the finest remaining example of a Colonial Spanish Church. The details in the ceiling paintings and the quality of the carvings behind the alter attracted the devoted and art lovers alike.

St James the Apostle Church: Betis, Guagua Pampanga
This church is considered one of the finest remaining example of a Colonial Spanish Church. The details in the ceiling paintings and the quality of the carvings behind the alter attracted the devoted and art lovers alike.

Churches of Pampanga Philippines

From the late 1500’s to 1898, the Philippines were a colony of Spain. The Spanish’s mandate from the Pope was to find new lands and convert the heathens to Christianity. At the time, the Lubao River and what is now called the Betis River were navigable and it became a natural place for the Spanish to develop. The Spanish settle at a small native village and in 1576 established the Pueblo of Bacolor. The local “land lord” was Don Guillermo Manabat.

The Bell Tower of San Guillermo Parish Church The first church was built on this site in 1576 with the establishment of Pueblo of Bacolor. Present church was built in 1764.

The Bell Tower of San Guillermo Parish Church
The first church was built on this site in 1576 with the establishment of Pueblo of Bacolor. Present church was built in 1764.

San Guillermo Parish Church

Spanish towns were built with a common concept. There was a plaza, often with a fountain in the center, on one side of the plaza was the church. The clergy selected Saint William the Hermit as the town’s patron saint. Saint William’s Spanish name was San Guillermo Emitano and the church became know as San Guillermo Parish Church. Today Bacolor is a small town shadowed by its larger neighbors San Fernando and Lubao. It has a very important past however.

  • In 1745, Bacolor was the acting capital of Pampanga which at that time cover an area now divided into 6 provinces ( States )
  • In 1755 it became the official capital of the province.
  • In 1762 when the British attacked Manila, the Spanish government moved the National government to Bacolor.
  • In 1764, while still the national capital, the original church was replaced by a stone one that still exists. By Royal Degree Bacolor became Villa Bacolor, one of only three “Villa” in the country.
San Guillermo Parish Church This stone church was built in 1764, replacing the original church which was heavily damages by some earlier earthquakes and had its dome collapsed a few years earlier.

San Guillermo Parish Church
This stone church was built in 1764, replacing the original church which was heavily damages by some earlier earthquakes and had its dome collapsed a few years earlier.

San Guillermo Parish Church Close up

San Guillermo Parish Church Close up

The church that remains today has most of the features of the church built in 1764, however there has been significant changes due to the force of nature. In June of 1991, Mount Pinatubo volcano erupted with one of the strongest eruption in recorded history. The eruption change the course of history for many Filipinos and the effects of the eruption was felt worldwide as the ash cloud in the atmosphere eventual covered the entire earth and raised the worldwide temperature. Highly productive farmland was turned into waste land in the area around Bacolor. After the initial disaster, more follow in the form of lahar. Lahar is a combination of the ash that reached the ground, small debris and water, it looks like the concrete coming out a commercial cement truck. Thick,slow moving and unstoppable. Like concrete when it dries out it is super dense. Every heavy rain brought more material off the mountains. In September of 1995, the situation became so bad that half of the 12 meter high ( about 40 feet) church was under the lahar and the town of 50,000 had to be evacuated.

Interior of San Guillermo Parish Church

Interior of San Guillermo Parish Church

In the photograph above, the green banners are above the top of the 12 meter high walls, as you can see today they are much less than 12 meters. In the photograph of the front of the church the entrance doors were at one time about 20 feet tall. If you look closely at the bell tower photograph, through the tree you will see an arch, it is just above ground level. That was the second level of the tower. The first level and the entrance are all now buried.

Alter and Retablos This area is well known for the quality of the alters and the Retablos. A Retablos is the structure behind the alter.

Alter and Retablos
This area is well known for the quality of the alters and the Retablos. A Retablos is the structure behind the alter.

As you walk around the outside of the church you will see small half circle windows, these are the top two or three feet of what once were large stain glass windows. Rounding the back of the church you come to a large open field, with a few triangular shapes sticking out and a small dome.

: Campo Santo De Bacolor The cemetery of Bacolor was in use from 1776 till 1991 when it was covered with six meters of lahar.

Campo Santo De Bacolor
The cemetery of Bacolor was in use from 1776 till 1991 when it was covered with six meters of lahar.

This is the church’s cemetery used for about 250 years, there are thousands buried here. However the graves are all covered with about 12 feet of lahar. The roofs of the structures you see in the cemetery are two stories tall. There are plaques along the walls showing the names of those that are buried here according to the church records.

Immaculate Conception Parish, Guagua Pampanga Immaculate Conception Parish dates back to 1590, the last major modification was in 1892. destination a Historical monument in 1982

Immaculate Conception Parish, Guagua Pampanga
Immaculate Conception Parish dates back to 1590, the last major modification was in 1892. Designated a Historical monument in 1982

Immaculate Conception Parish, Guagua Pampanga

Within ten miles of San Guillermo Parish Church are another twenty or so churches built before the Spanish left in 1898. Each has its history, and some really stand out. Immaculate Conception Parish, in Guagua Pampanga is about four miles away. While much of the outside of the building is hidden from view, inside some of the original portions of the building can still be seen, while most of it is from it renovation in 1892.

 Church of Lubao Founded in 1572 and moved to current location in 1602. current building dates to 1630. building is made of brick, the mortar to hold the bricks in place was made from sand mixed with egg whites.

Church of Lubao
Founded in 1572 and moved to current location in 1602. current building dates to 1630. building is made of brick, the mortar to hold the bricks in place was made from sand mixed with egg whites.

Church of Lubao

Here is something for you to think about as you eat your eggs for breakfast. The Church of Lubao was built in 1630. the tower is part of the original structure. It is made from bricks. Like any masonry work, mortar is used between layers to stick them together. In this case the mortar was made of sand fixed with egg whites.

Church of Lubao Designated a Historical site in 1952, it was also the church where President Macapagal the fifth President of the Philippines(1961-1965) was Baptized in 1910

Church of Lubao
Designated a Historical site in 1952, it was also the church where President Macapagal the fifth President of the Philippines(1961-1965) was Baptized in 1910

In addition to the religious history of this church, the church was used as a revolutionary headquarters in the uprising against the Spanish in 1898 and in 1899 was used by the Americans as a hospital.

Lubao alter The alter and Retablo of the Lubao Church

Lubao alter
The alter and Retablo of the Lubao Church

Lubao Bell Tower Bell tower of Lubao Church was used as an observation point by the Revolutionaries in the late 1890's

Lubao Bell Tower
Bell tower of Lubao Church was used as an observation point by the Revolutionaries in the late 1890’s

Christ Statue, St James Church While Betis artist were known to work mostly in wood, in the later centuries they also became renown for their work in stone and even more recently have adapted Lahar to be used for statues.

Christ Statue, St James Church
While Betis artist were known to work mostly in wood, in the later centuries they also became renown for their work in stone and even more recently have adapted Lahar to be used for statues.

St James Church

St James the Apostle Church often called the Betis church is in the Betis section of Guagua Pampanga has been called the Sistine Chapel of Asia. The ceiling of the church has a number of finely painted panels with various scenes. It is a Baroque inspired design that was built initially in 1660 with wood and other lightweight material, however that structure was upgrade as it caught fire a number of times, in 1770’s the church was rebuilt with concrete materials.

St. James Ceiling The painting in the ceiling at St. James date back as far as the late 1700's. They have been restored a number of times with major work done in 1930 and 1970.

St. James Ceiling
The painting in the ceiling at St. James date back as far as the late 1700’s. They have been restored a number of times with major work done in 1930 and 1970.

St. James Dome Another example of the art work in Saint James church

St. James Dome
Another example of the art work in Saint James church

Betis Pampanga is a little town with an international reputation, a reputation for fine furniture. The local artisans produce some of the best hand carve furniture in the world. There are many myths and stories about when this started, most people discount the stories saying it is a recent development but archive documents suggest differently. Betis is the name of a wide river in Spain. When early Spanish settles arrived in the area they saw a similar looking river and named it Betis and the town took the name. In the Spanish archives there are many references to Betis carvings, however they had been attributed to the area in Spain. However documents found in the archives in Manila from the Spanish colonial period seem to indicate that the Betis was the one in the Philippines. The most accepted fairy tale is that in the late 1600’s the local workers learned wood carving from Chinese Slave labors who were task to build the interiors of the newly constructed churches. The Filipinos quickly learned and adapted the traits, they also became very skill at being able to reproduce items of arts from drawings and painting of the items. Being highly skilled wood carvers and devote ( whether voluntary of not) Catholics they spent considerable time creating beautiful alters and Retablos.

 St James Alter The Alter and Retablos of St. James

St James Alter
The Alter and Retablos of St. James

The Betis church has eight chapels within a few minutes walk from the church. Each of these also have very elaborate Retablos. They are consider the finest collection of Spanish Retablos from their era.

Ceiling painting at St James It is hard to estimate the sizes of the ceiling paintings but pacing off the distance on the floor looking up, I would estimate this ceiling painting is about 10 feet by 15 feet.

Ceiling painting at St James
It is hard to estimate the sizes of the ceiling paintings but pacing off the distance on the floor looking up, I would estimate this ceiling painting is about 10 feet by 15 feet.

Wood Carving A wood carving in the style that Betis became famous for. Date is unknown but expected to be a few hundred years old.

Wood Carving
A wood carving in the style that Betis became famous for. Date is unknown but expected to be a few hundred years old.

Smaller wood carvings like this one that is on the wall at St. James’s were a status symbol in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. The Spanish controlled the wealth and very few Filipinos were allowed to have the finery that the Spanish enjoyed. The locals used the carvings as their show of devotion and if it was expensive and everyone knew it, well that was secondary.

The Spanish left their influence on the Philippines in many ways, but most of those ways center around the church. Churches such as these with long rich histories are a product of that time.

Note: This article was written about 3 years ago for another website. However, I had retained all rights. That website is no loner active, so I uploaded the articles here. It was one of 6 photo essays that I did for the other site.

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