We got quite excited initially being able to finally meet with the divers of Alvaro Diving Centre, having read so much complimentary review online. By the end of the trip, a love-hate description would be suitable to sum up our experience with the company.
Overall, I would say that Alvaro Dive Company is an average service provider. On a rating of 1 – 5, I would rate a ‘2’ from the perspective of a student, but a ‘4’ if I am joining the company as a fun diver. Some of the pointers below would sum up the pros and the cons of diving with the company.
As a student enrolling for dive courses, here are some things worthy to note:
- Company does not provide a separate boat for fun divers and students. This can be quite a hassle especially when the company caters to both fun divers and students. Student divers may be expected to wait on board the boat with nothing much to do as some sites are not suitable for beginners (especially those going for confine water). From our experience, Sop was sometime expected to wait the entire day on the boat just so that she can do her confine water which occur at the last dive. Especially waste of time if you are looking at a short holiday and would like to complete the course as soon as possible so that you still have time to tour the island. Alvaro should consider charting separate boats for fun divers and students, and this could include smaller longtail boats if it is a smaller group of students.
- Compared to my other experiences where one instructor is attached to me throughout my entire course, Alvaro appeared to be short of instructors during our course with them. We realised that our instructor was taking on a few groups of students consecutively and had to bring groups into water one after another (one our first trip, we had to skip the first dive as he had to complete the course with the last master diver student, and on our last trip, he was already taking another group into water right after Sop completed our last open water dive). This can be quite distressing especially if you’re not a fast learner and required more time to build confidence in the water. Luckily for us, a master diver trainee was attached to the instructor, and he was able to provide to Sop with more attention while she went through the course.
- Time catered for the student is also tight especially when you had to get back into the boat such that the boat can move to the next dive site to cater to the fun divers. Some of the underwater exercises were also not completed in the end with Sop due to the lack of time.
- During our dive, planning for one of the days was also confusing as we were left on the boat with no instructions and unattended to. Our instructor had been assigned to bring another group for their fun dives. Luckily for us, the diver masters were a helpful bunch and tried to slot me in for some dives with them. Sop had to wait the entire day for her instructor.
- The centre promotes SSI over PADI, with special discounts given to SSI divers. However, a few things to note would be that SSI does not provide the learning package for divers as compared to PADI (i.e. diving theory book etc). All materials must be loaned with a deposit of 1000 baht while you are on the course. Also, the OWD with SSI seemed to have some differences as certain topics were not covered, such as the using of compass and basic navigation with compass under water.
- Lastly, for both fun divers and student divers, the centre does not provide meals, which compared to all my previous dive experiences, would usually provide for meals. They do however provide for refreshments such as biscuits, drinks, and fruits on the boat.
Now for the pros:
- Boat was amazing. The Sea Cutter was exceptionally spacious and well organised within. Ample of space to load and unload your equipment. A beautiful deck on top for you to relax and chill out is also available. The boatmen were also helpful and friendly. All the crew were honest, and you will feel safe to leave your belonging on the ship, even valuables, while you dive.
2. The equipment is in good conditions and well maintained. Did not give us many problems during our dives. As compared to some of my other experiences where poor equipment can really give you a headache, Alvaro’s equipment is in good order, giving you additional confidence at sea. The team also ensure that you will have your equipment in order before you leave for sea.
3. The arrangement of three dives per trip out at sea makes it worthwhile for fun divers who are looking at clocking more dives.
4. The master divers and the master divers’ trainees were a great bunch of people to be with. They are friendly and extremely helpful, making up for the dive experience with Alvaro. The dive masters really did an excellent work in ensuring that you enjoy the fun dives.
Overall, if you are an independent diver looking for some fun at sea, Alvaro would be suitable for you. The well-maintained equipment and the new boat will make sure you get the best comfort at sea. The dive masters are also friendly and helpful.
On the contrary, if you are a student thinking of picking up a course with Alvaro, I would recommend other operators. The lack of instructors and the combining of fun divers together with the students on the same boat could result in a great waste of time, especially when you must wait your turn to do the confine water. More flexibility to allow for more practice time could also be helpful for the students who may need a longer time to be confident in the water or a longer time to master the skills.
Overall, we were still grateful that Sop got her certification, I managed to clock ten dives, and we got to meet some nice people from Alvaro. If you take away the planning concerns, I think the people from Alvaro is still a great bunch of divers to be with.