Dont let your dream trip turn into a...NIGHTMARE HOLIDAY
The brochures show smiling divers emerging from crystal clear water - its an underwater paradise where nothing can and should go wrong. But is this the reality of our diving holiday experiences What happens when your holiday turns into a nightmare Our readers talk to Brendan OBrien - and he in turn looks at how to avoid the worst happening to you

YOUR BIGGEST HOLIDAY NIGHTMARES appeared to involve the standard of diving facilities and instructors. Not surprisingly (because of the sheer number of you who travel there) liveaboards in the Red Sea featured prominently when we asked about your dive holidays from hell.
ÂÂÂÂ Nick Ramsey spent three days on a Red Sea liveaboard as part of a shore and sea package, and described the whole experience as very disappointing. He said he had dived wrecks in better shape than the vessel we found.
ÂÂÂÂ He went on to describe how, when the engines first started, the fuses blew. This created a wall of blue diesel fumes that somehow managed to spill out of his cabin when he opened the door. Sleeping on the deck was almost a good idea until the morning greeted him with the biggest cockroach I have ever seen scuttling over my body.
ÂÂÂÂ Just when things couldnt get any worse, they did: The crew were the most miserable I have ever come across - not a smile, not a laugh, and no apology for us never leaving sight of land!
ÂÂÂÂ In a more disturbing account of liveaboard hell, Martin Wilkinson remembers a trip with his girlfriend on which they arrived to be greeted by a deck awash with blood, swilling from side to side as the boat rocked at its moorings. It turned out to be nothing more sinister than fish blood. The boat had just returned from a successful day of fishing, but it was not an ideal introduction to the week.
ÂÂÂÂ Some feebler souls may have turned back at this point, but not Martin. We had nowhere else to go, so we went inside, through a galley where a crewman was trying to clean up but was only succeeding in spreading fish slime around the walls and work surfaces with a filthy rag. There were legions of cockroaches all around us as we lugged our bags below.
ÂÂÂÂ Our cabin, the only cabin, was a triangular slot in the bows with four bunk benches and barely room for one person to stand. We were supposed to share it with another couple who had been hoping for a romantic cruise with a bit of diving in between! And just when they thought it couldnt get worse, we discovered that the toilet was broken and the door would not close.
ÂÂÂÂ Martin had hoped that the diving would cheer the couple up, but when they anchored in the middle of nowhere and the skipper told us to dive, no sign of a reef, no information about depth or currents and no guide to give us a briefing, we refused.

Threat of mutiny
Faced with mounting complaints and the threat of mutiny, the organisers eventually pulled their fingers out. Our guide had managed to find us a craft designed for diving. It was small and stank of diesel but it was reasonably clean and we had our own small cabin. Compared to the first squalid little tub, it felt like a luxury cruiser.
ÂÂÂÂ The good news for anyone feeling a little unsure about Red Sea diving is that this all occurred a few years ago and, in Martins own words, standards have since improved.
ÂÂÂÂ More recently, however, Steve Chambers found the liveaboard on which he had booked to be lacking in many of the basics. We could cope with the absence of air-conditioning in the cabins, we just slept on the deck, but when the electrics started to blow, including the navigation equipment, I started to get worried.
ÂÂÂÂ Fortunately for the skipper (who wasnt quite sure what to do), Steve is blessed with some rather fortuitous skills. Im an electronics engineer by trade - but the last thing I thought Id be doing on my diving holiday was getting my hands dirty in the engine compartment!
ÂÂÂÂ Luckily, Steve managed to fix the problems and became the hero of the hour. We made some good friends on that trip and the diving was good. We just viewed the problems as part of the adventure!
ÂÂÂÂ If fish blood and guts, cockroaches and failing navigation equipment isnt enough to make you think carefully about checking out your future temporary home very carefully, the following may persuade you.
ÂÂÂÂ Despite the ocean being quite large, and most hazards relatively small, a disturbing number of boats seem to bump into very immovable objects. James Hardisty described his misfortune in being on a liveaboard with one of the skippers familiar with this concept.
ÂÂÂÂ We had a fantastic week diving the Deep South towards the St. Johns area. On the way, we had to make a slight diversion, as the skipper of another liveaboard had decided to take a short cut. Normally skippers in these parts go round the reefs, as they are very close to the surface, but not this one. He ran straight over the top of one of them.
ÂÂÂÂ It took two boats, including ours, to pull it off.
ÂÂÂÂ Judy (who asked to remain anonymous) had a more direct and worrying experience while on a recent Red Sea liveaboard holiday. At 4.50am there was a massive crash, followed by a loud grating noise resounding through the cabins. Everyone piled up on deck to find that we had crashed into a reef.
ÂÂÂÂ The boat was lodged three-quarters on the reef, with the bow a good 30Â higher than the stern. Apparently the captain had fallen asleep and we had smacked at full speed into the side of the reef!
ÂÂÂÂ Over the next few hours, Judy and her fellow-divers were treated to an unusual form of wreck-diving on the surrounding reef. Looking up at their boat hanging off the reef with the dive deck submerged made for a distinctive logbook entry.
ÂÂÂÂ Despite several failed attempts to pull the boat off by other liveaboards, the tide eventually did the job, said Judy. Not an ideal way to spend a day on a liveaboard and not exactly great news for the reef that was ploughed into!


No danger of this liveaboard departing unnoticed while its divers are in the water - an unusual view of Judys holiday home

Like a torpedo
While we had plenty of replies about liveaboards, we had only a handful about dayboats. Either they are fine, or possibly British divers are less inclined to complain about poor standards on a boat they have to put up with for only a day.
ÂÂÂÂ The most common nightmare seemed to concern numbers of divers. Eddie Bridger described it as the lets get as many people in the water as possible, never mind what level of experience syndrome. Eddie had had the opportunity to experience a variety of Caribbean mishaps while on a cruise that involved visiting several islands dive operators.
ÂÂÂÂ These included: cylinders not being strapped in properly and disappearing to 20m below like a torpedo shot from a submarine tube; faulty alternative demand valves; shredded O-rings; and dives ruined by operators willing to take out divers asking such questions as: Is the BC inflate where I should breathe from!
ÂÂÂÂ Instructors and divemasters seemed to be readers second-biggest nightmare. We received numerous accounts about operations all over the world that employed divers whose abilities, skills and qualifications were said to be questionable.
ÂÂÂÂ Rosey Simpson highlighted how one bad experience of poor instruction could affect a divers confidence about getting back into the water. I was in Viti Levu, Fiji and had signed up to take the PADI Open Water course at a nearby dive school. The first days diving was perfect - good viz, abundant wildlife and an attentive instructor who really managed to put me at ease.

Rapid ascent
The second day, however, was less good for Rosey. We were in a beautiful atoll in calm water - it was perfect. One of the things Id discovered, however, was that I used up air quickly.
ÂÂÂÂ The previous dives had been fine, my air had been checked regularly and I didnt feel in any danger but this time I was with a different instructor and he had a different style, with far less patience. I had difficulty keeping up with him. This soon became a big problem. We were away from the main group when I spotted something of interest in about 15m of water.
ÂÂÂÂ I signalled to the instructor that Id seen something, and went in for a closer look, but he seemed reluctant to go any closer and suddenly darted off.
ÂÂÂÂ I realised I was down to 50bar and couldnt catch up to show him, as the exertion had dropped me down to 30bar and I was starting to feel very uneasy.
ÂÂÂÂ Fortunately Rosey managed to grab hold of another member of the group and made a rapid ascent, as she was by now having trouble breathing.
ÂÂÂÂ Just before we reached the surface I felt a horrific pain in my right ear. Luckily, my eardrum wasnt perforated, merely stretched. This could have contributed to a major incident but the final insult for Rosey came in the instructors reply when she voiced her concerns: These things happen - youd have to learn to deal with it some time!
ÂÂÂÂ And the effect on Rosey I havent dived since.
ÂÂÂÂ Often its the small print that causes problems when purchasing a service, but what happens when there isnt any
ÂÂÂÂ This became a problem for a group of Scottish divers who thought they had booked a liveaboard holiday via a diveshop intermediary.
ÂÂÂÂ A spokesperson for the group explained how several of them had previously enjoyed a diving holiday arranged by a dive shop. Following on from this, the manager of the shop contacted them about another trip.
ÂÂÂÂ As the previous one had worked out well, they all sent off £200 deposits, followed by the balance in the form of a cheque.
ÂÂÂÂ It wasnt long before their suspicions were aroused and they checked with the tour operator behind the holiday. To their amazement, they discovered that they werent booked on the trip at all. No money had been paid in, and all the cheques from the dive operation had bounced.

Happy ending
Fortunately this nightmare had a happy ending, as the tour operator provided a discount and took over all the arrangements for their holiday, but it was a close thing.
ÂÂÂÂ To this date, they havent managed to recover their deposits, and probably never will.
ÂÂÂÂ One of the traditional topics of conversation in the UK can become a massive nightmare overseas. Many of you wrote in to highlight the one factor that is uncontrollable on any holiday - the weather!
ÂÂÂÂ Alex Roskoss was looking forward to some of the Meds best diving in Malta. However, the first view we had from the plane should have told us not to bother. There was an impressive tower of cloud filled with lightning emptying the heavens onto the island.
ÂÂÂÂ Alex remained optimistic and the first day of diving arrived. Unlike everywhere else, the dive centre wasnt flooded. But without even expressing the mildest curiosity about our qualifications, log-books or experience level, the staff proceeded to supply tanks, weights and a knowledgeable local guide.
ÂÂÂÂ Unfortunately, that was just about all they provided. The allegedly faithful dive-centre boat had sunk in the storm. Apparently it was unable to float in the rain.
ÂÂÂÂ The only option open to Alex was shore-diving. However, the diveable bays around the island were almost solid with light brown soil run-off. After a week of diving in muddy crowded waters and enjoying the post-dive power cuts and refreshing smell of rot in the hotel, Alex decided that the horror of the week was enough to keep me from Malta until Ive exhausted all of the sludgy, cold, featureless pools I can find.
ÂÂÂÂ Alexs experiences were mild compared to those who were trapped in the Caribbean hurricanes last summer. Deirdre Walsh visited Grenada, hoping for some diving in a tropical paradise.
ÂÂÂÂ She described how the plans to dive after a small tropical storm had passed. The small storm turned out to be Hurricane Ivan and the rest of the holiday was spent watching the locals trying to put the island back together. Needless to say, the post-small storm diving never happened.
ÂÂÂÂ Andrew Price describes the holiday nightmare we are trying to forget in Grand Cayman. He and his wife are relatively new to diving and had hoped for 11 nights of Cayman Coladas and 10 days of diving the Cayman reefs and wrecks.
ÂÂÂÂ Again Hurricane Ivan had other ideas and on day two it struck. Graphically, Andrew describes the experience for us. Imagine standing next to the platform edge as a high-speed train passes. Now do it for two days solid, the building creaking, floodwaters rising and 400 people without a flushing toilet.
ÂÂÂÂ Now add a dose of old-time religion, waily-waily music and prayers for our souls. We only survived because the Lord didnt want the singing any nearer!


When a hurricane does this to your hotel room, its quite possible that youve chosen a bad time to visit

ÂÂÂÂ Once the hurricane had passed, they witnessed the devastation. The shelter and the dive centre had lost their roof, but worse still, the boat had sunk. But at least it wasnt on the roof of a nearby hotel, like a couple of other boats were! Our hotel had lost all power and running water, so it was time to go home.
ÂÂÂÂ But the nightmare didnt end there. It took two days of queuing and sleeping rough before we were able to get on a flight to Miami, where we checked into a really posh hotel - so posh that they didnt blink as a very dishevelled and smelly couple wandered into reception and asked for a suite with the best bathroom in the hotel, and then ran up a room service bill that would put Elvis to shame.
ÂÂÂÂ We dont have the space to mention all those of you who contacted us, but were grateful for your help. After looking at all your varied contributions, weve come up with a checklist of considerations to ensure that your next holiday doesnt transform itself into a diving nightmare.
ÂÂÂÂ Dont worry, your next diving holiday wont be like those above because you will have observed all these golden rules of holiday-planning - wont you

Golden Rule 1:
Use credit
Always pay for holidays with a credit card rather than a cheque or cash, then at least you have a chance of a comeback should anything go wrong.

Golden Rule 2:
Check that any travel agent you use is ABTA-bonded, and try to book your holiday with a tour operator who holds either an ABTA or ATOL (Air Travel Organisers Licence). ATOL protection affords you a certain degree of protection should anything go wrong, and is designed to prevent you from losing your money or, in the short-term, being stranded abroad.

Golden Rule 3:
First-hand experiences
If you havent previously been to the resort or liveaboard that youre considering, and dont know anyone who has, log onto the Divernet Destinations Forum. Divers in the virtual community have a wealth of knowledge about resorts all over the world and are usually more than willing to share this information with you. Divernets Travel section also carries a wealth of past articles about destinations which may be helpful.

Golden Rule 4:
Ask your hosts
Check the resort / liveaboards website and send your questions to the contact us e-mail address. As long as they are reasonable questions, dont worry if its a bit of a list - a good provider will be happy to put your mind at rest. If it doesnt reply, or the reply is unsatisfactory, you may want to consider what level of service will be on offer when you arrive.

Golden Rule 5:
Ask the tour operator
Ask your tour operator if any of its staff have been to the resort or on the boat. The good ones are likely to have checked it out thoroughly, but if they havent, or cant put you in touch with someone else who has, ask yourself: if they havent been to see the resort, can I trust them to sell me the holiday If you phone the tour operator and it sounds as if they are reading from a brochure or cue card, just throw in a few questions and youll soon find out how much they know about the holiday.

Golden Rule 6:
Check the tourist board website for the location but dont automatically believe everything you read about diving. The staff may not be experts and may not have consulted those who are. Certain dive correspondents have been sent halfway round the world on the invitation of a tourist board, only to find that, while it might be the best season for traditional holidays, it is the worst for diving!

Golden Rule 7:
Weather forecasts
Dont be caught out by predictable weather. Many glossy brochures do not mention the hurricane season, or the windy season in the southern Red Sea or the monsoon season in the Indian Ocean. Read John Liddiards article on global weather patterns in this issue. Otherwise your virtual friends on the Divernet forums can help, or check out websites such as for accurate data on weather patterns. The Travel Guide book covers most major destinations, with advice on when to go not only to avoid bad weather but to enjoy seasonal underwater attractions.

Golden Rule 8:
Check the centre
Establish the credentials of the dive centre and its instructors. Throughout the world, most are now PADI-affiliated and if you have any concerns the PADI websites Quality Assurance section has a useful blacklist of all individuals banned from running PADI courses, usually for malpractice. It also contains a list of resorts that are no longer PADI centres, or which advertise themselves as such but arent. And if a centre is advertised as being affiliated to another training agency, you can always email that agency through its website to check it out.

Golden Rule 9:
Acceptable risk
If youre concerned that an exotic destination may pose unacceptable political or health risks, check it out on the Foreign & Commonwealth Offices website, or the Department of Healths website, before making a decision.

Golden Rule 10:
Keep it in perspective
Keep a sense of perspective. One cockroach, dripping tap or rude instructor need not ruin your holiday, and if you feel you have paid a bargain-basement price for the trip, you should be prepared for a few rough edges. Bear in mind that tour operators do suffer from a certain breed of holidaymaker who goes out looking for trouble, complaint form ever to hand and compensation ever in mind. Such people undermine the cause of those who have genuine grievances.

Golden Rule 11:
Collect the evidence
If your holiday really does not live up to its promises, make a point of telling as many people at the resort as possible, and make a record of who they are and what they say. Take pictures or videos, and tell them why you are doing this (in case of a future claim against the company) and how you would prefer to avoid any unpleasantness by negotiating a solution that will enable you to enjoy the rest of your holiday and prevent any future bad publicity.

Golden Rule 12:
Iron hand, velvet glove
If you have to persist in complaining, keep your head and decide what exactly it is you want to achieve. Satisfying as it may be at the time, shouting and raging is rarely effective. Make sure you complain to the right person - a manager on site or the tour operator back home - rather than a hapless employee who may have no authority to remedy the situation. Turn your complaint into a polite question: What can you do to put this right and give them the chance to do something good for you. Youll be surprised how often this works.

Holidaymakers from hell Weve heard from readers, but what about those on the receiving end of complaints - the tour operators We spoke to several individuals who told us that a large proportion of customer complaints are trivial and, indeed, may even be contributing to future increases in holiday prices. The biggest problem seemed to lie in peoples expectations. One leading diving holiday specialist said he was always astonished by the number of complaints he received about foreseeable problems. Psychologically some of our customers are not adapting to the fact that conditions abroad are not the same as in the UK - so we get complaints about sand in the Red Sea, heat, dehydration and how the foods different and I didnt like it! Another tour operator told me how recently we had a man contact us after holidaying in 43ÂC in Dahab. He said: You didnt tell me Id have to drink to avoid dehydration. I couldnt believe what I was hearing. The weather always seems to be a problem, said another operator. Some people expect a refund because it rained for the week, or the wind stopped them reaching a specific wreck. They hadnt checked whether that time of the year would present them with good or bad weather. If asked, I try to be as specific as I can be, but I cant predict the future. I can tell them its near to the monsoon season, or where the prevailing wind will come from, and let them make their own decisions. If I say it will be hot and sunny and it isnt, theyll hold me to ransom when they get back for a refund. Expectations on baggage allowances often lead to anger at the check-in. Ultimately it all comes back to us, claimed one frustrated operator. Were working with the airlines to obtain a reasonable baggage allowance for diving kit, but when divers expect an extra free allowance of up to 20kg, the airlines are within their rights to say no and charge up to £16 a kilo. The fuel costs for 20kg multiplied by 30 divers on a flight is substantial, and has to come from somewhere. If you try to get it onboard without the airlines knowledge it can be dangerous. Several years ago, a plane overran the runway because of excess baggage. The media has a lot to answer for. claimed another operator, who blames one-a-night TV holiday programmes for an increase in trivial complaints. We sell quite a lot of holidays at a price that only just covers the airfare. We add in a room-allocation-on-arrival hotel and all the transfers, and then get complaints when the holiday isnt quite 5-star. If it costs £199, what can you expect We try to put people in the best hotel we can, but sometimes we cant avoid it being next to a building site. Customers need to ask themselves why is this holiday so cheap You really do get what you pay for. We no longer have the ability to be reasonable, stated a manager of a large diving holiday company. If a plane breaks down and a replacement cant be found straight away, a lynch mob soon forms. But these things happen - delays and mechanical breakdowns take time to remedy. Even when the replacement plane arrives, we get complaints that it isnt the airline they wanted to fly on. We have to be so careful in our terms and conditions, as we get far too many people complaining about the smallest of things, I was told. Ive just had one person complaining about air fills - a compressor broke down on the liveaboard and a back-up was used. However, it managed only 180 instead of 200 bar, and they were demanding a partial refund for a ruined trip. Another operator told us how if we say they will get in four dives a day on a liveaboard and, because of the weather or other unforeseen circumstances, they dont, they expect a refund. He also believes some people are becoming, serial complainers who spend a lot of time looking for faults not covered by the terms and conditions. I know of some people who manage to get three or four free holidays a year this way, he claimed. Ultimately, he believes the customer will be the loser. While we always try to deal reasonably with genuine complaints, those people who hold us to ransom over our terms and conditions are costing us a lot of money in legal fees and sometimes in pay-outs. Theres only one place that money can come from if we are to stay in business, and thats the customer.

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