Help a Newbie get the Most out of the Great Barrier Reef -- Liveaboard? Spirit of Freedom? ProDive?

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Lacey, WA
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Hey all, I have a trip booked to visit Australia this November. It was fairly sudden and I will be traveling / diving solo. One of the primary motivating factors for me was -- of course -- the GBR.
I decided to follow my dreams and finally get my certification. Unfortunately, the earliest OW course I could find is late October: 1 week before my departure. As such, I will only have 4(?) dives as part of that course.

I would really love some advice as I am a little worried about getting everything in order before the trip.

From scouring forums and reviews online, it seems like 1) a liveaboard is the best way to really experience the reef, and 2) out of the liveaboards, Mike Ball and Spirit of Freedom are the best around. I have looked into many different options from budget (Rum Runner) to Coral Sea Dreaming to the two aforementioned 'luxury crafts'.
Mike Ball only has available dates on Nov. 24 & 28 which does not fall within my trip dates (Nov. 7 - 20)

Questions:
1) Comparing the SoF 3 night / 4 day trip to the Pro Dive 2 night / 3 day trip there is ~ a $600 difference for the same number of dives. As I understand it, this is primarily because SoF goes out to the Ribbon Reef. What makes these dive sites worth it? Would they be suitable for someone brand new to the sport?

2) I am concerned about missing dives. If I am paying to be taken out to these amazing dive sites, then I do not want to be left on the boat. When I inquired about the feasibility of one of the SoF liveaboards, they said "You will be able to take part in most of the dives as long as you are confident in the water." For those of you with experience, what would this mean realistically speaking? Out of the 11 dives would I have to sit out 1 of them? 2, 3..?
If it is of relevance: my certifications will be in the PNW. So it will not be my first time in the ocean, but will be my first time in warm water.

3) Along with my last question, would taking my AOW be worth it? I specifically sought to take my OW before so I would not have to deal with it on vacation. However, if this will get me more out of the trip then I am happy to do so.
SoF told me that, "The 4-night Coral Sea trip is catered to Advanced divers, and we would only recommend you booking this trip if you would like to take your Advanced Course onboard."

3a) Would the AOW add enjoyment to a 3-night? If I did it, would it provide me with sufficient knowledge for the 4-night? If so, I would love some feedback on the differences in the routes. It looks like the 3-night gets Cod Hole whereas the 4-night gets Coral Sea (both go to Ribbon Reef).


I am looking to get the best experience possible and really see the Great Barrier Reef. I do not know when, or if ever, I will be able to make it back to this amazing part of the world. Any and all advice is so greatly appreciated.
I am open to other dive companies as well, I have just primarily been looking into getting out to the Ribbon Reef since I was told "that was how to do it right", but please share your experiences as well!

One last note: if anyone did know of a company that booked in the middle of the week I would actually prefer that as that would free my weekend to go on a dive with a friend in Sydney. Unfortunately, both the SoF liveaboards go over the weekend.
Thank you everyone for taking the time to read and answer!
 

Doc

Was RoatanMan
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I will be traveling / diving solo. finally get my certification. Unfortunately, the earliest OW course I could find is late October: 1 week before my departure. As such, I will only have 4(?) dives as part of that course.

I would really love some advice as I am a little worried about getting everything in order before the trip
Getting everything in order before the trip? Finding that perfect snorkel? A little worried? OK, that shows a good perception of what you’re facing. That’s 1/2 the battle. You’re facing a very steep learning curve to reach a point where you’re not a danger to yourself or others.

I took a quick Google search around Lacey/Tacoma Washington and here in mid-August, i see bunches of earlier options for OW long before late October, although class space is indeed tight.

i deduce from your profile that you may have focused your OW classes at Tacoma Scuba- there are other providers offering certs from other agencies, they’re all the same to 98% of us on SB. Many independent instructors will do 1:1 classes for you…tonight :wink:

…they said "You will be able to take part in most of the dives as long as you are confident in the water." For those of you with experience, what would this mean realistically speaking? Out of the 11 dives would I have to sit out 1 of them? 2, 3..4?
“Most…as long as you’re confident”. I’m not sure how I would be able to judge that level of competence in a new diver on a short term liveaboard situation. I do not value such a response above an attempted mollifying of your fears and a sales tactic.
If it is of relevance: my certifications will be in the PNW. So it will not be my first time in the ocean, but will be my first time in warm water.
So it will be lifetime dive #5, but in a slightly different environment. Leave the dry suit at home?
3) Along with my last question, would taking my AOW be worth it? I specifically sought to take my OW before so I would not have to deal with it on vacation. However, if this will get me more out of the trip then I am happy to do so.
Do the AOW back home first? Yes, more logged dives. Do it on the liveaboard? Yes, because it will put an instructor in the water with you and increase your raw survivability ratio markedly. Having a personal Pro, essentially hired on to watch you? Your best option.
SoF told me that, "The 4-night Coral Sea trip is catered to Advanced divers, and we would only recommend you booking this trip if you would like to take your Advanced Course onboard."
That is contradictory advice at best. Again, I sense overselling by a non-involved booking agent. Having your personal Pro glued to your hip would be your life ring.
3a) Would the AOW add enjoyment to a 3-night? If I did it, would it provide me with sufficient knowledge for the 4-night?
Whatever will be will be, Que sera, sera.

This is your first lifetime SB post. It is somewhat odd. You have buckets of trip related details, oodles. About what some feel is very challenging diving.

All that understanding of travel options, and you’ve bought yourself a local OW package in the PNW (in October, no less) all on your own, no small thing. But no stated perception of the dive skills challenges that you only brush on the periphery. An odd “dichotomy”.

“Following my dreams and finally getting my certification…”

Dreams inferring long term… and should lead to even more long term planning. i would recommend a few Australian land-based, day-dive excursions specifically suited for new divers.

i would also recommend the Koala Experience because November is late Spring and the skiing will suck.
 

btscott

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I have done multiple trips to GBR. I did my OW with Deep Sea Divers Den way back when. Gone to inner with Pro Dive and outer with SOF and most recently Mike Ball. You will most certainly get the best there is by diving with either SOF or Mike Ball. I did prefer the SOF boat to Mike Ball, but both basically go to the same spots.

Regarding you diving... honestly, no one is going to want to be paired with you as a completely new diver. While I don't consider the GBR to be difficult diving, your just an unknown. In the GBR, you will be paired with someone or you can pay extra to dive with a divemaster as diving is on your own agenda. My suggestion would be to either do your AOW on the trip which will have you diving with a divemaster or pay the extra money. Regardless of which one you choose, I would recommend the outer reefs that SOF and Mike Ball hit.
 

Pressurehead

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My suggestion would be to either do your AOW on the trip which will have you diving with a divemaster or pay the extra money.
Good suggestion, send them an email and ask if it can be done, with the exchange rate US to AU it will be worth it.
 
https://www.shearwater.com/products/swift/

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