Randy and I have talked about doing a scuba diving liveaboard trip for years. Really, we’ve talked about it ever since our first dive trip to Fiji for our honeymoon. However, it was never something we considered doing with the kids. A liveaboard with kids didn’t even enter our realm of thinking! If we were going to make it happen, it would have to be reserved for one of those super-special, grandparents babysitting, parent-only vacations. And then, we met the Baser family. They had fallen into a crazy good deal for a liveaboard when traveling on Flores, in Indonesia. The boat had said “sure, bring your kids!”, and so they did. And it worked!

We had planned to dive with them while in Thailand, but on our snorkeling excursion we couldn’t get over the garbage in the “marine park” and the sad state of the coral. Until then, we hadn’t even considered diving Indonesia. But, we started talking about Raja Ampat and the amazing Papua diving waiting to be discovered. After hours of searching, emailing, and online chats with a few different companies, we finally found one that had space for everyone, wasn’t going to charge us for the kids, and would work within both family’s timelines. It seemed like it was meant to be!

So we signed ourselves up for a scuba diving liveaboard with kids in Raja Ampat!

Our liveaboard boat, the MV Empress.

Initially, I thought we were a little crazy to even consider it. 7 nights on a liveaboard with kids sounds like some people’s worst nightmare! The boat was small, and we’d be a long way from civilization. Also, there were 19 dives planned over the 6 full days on board. Although this seems like a lot, many of the other Raja Ampat Liveaboard boats are 10-12 days, with 30+ dives. 7 nights felt like a reasonable compromise.

The kids were SO excited to spend a week on a boat. They love any type of transportation that involves sleeping. So far on our big trip, we’d been on a sleeping airplane, a few sleeping trains and a sleeping bus. This would be our first sleeping boat.

Raja Ampat is well off the beaten path

The Raja Ampat island chain is accessed via Sorong, the major port in West Papua, Indonesia. It’s basically the end of the earth. But it sure is beautiful!!

My first thought was, “how to get to Sorong?!” There aren’t many flights to Sorong Indonesia. One has to fly through Jakarta, Makkassar or Manado. We lucked out and found a direct flight from Jakarta to Sorong, but it was still a long trip. Our journey took us from Bangkok to Jakarta on day 1. Then we left Jakarta and arrived at the Sorong airport on day 2. We spent the night in Sorong, and enjoyed the chance for a tiny West Papua experience.

(Left: Kacela flagging down the “yellow bus”, the only form of public transportation in Sorong! Right: Randy and the 3 girls piled into the “yellow bus” on the way to the grocery store.)

We finally got on the boat on day 3! We were picked up from our hotel and driven to the port, where we took a small dingy to the MV Empress. It was a few hours before everyone and everything was loaded onto the boat, and by about 2:30pm we were starting the 14hr transit to Misool in South Raja Ampat.

Our first views of the MV Empress, our home for the week.

We set up some boat-rules with the kids, especially for when all 4 adults were diving. The boat wasn’t exactly child-proof, but it was possible to keep the kids out of harm’s way. They weren’t allowed to go to the upper deck without an adult present, mostly because they weren’t allowed to go up or down the stairs unless someone was watching. And, when the adults were in the water, they had to be “below deck” unless one of the crew was sitting on the back deck with them. It was helpful that the crew was amazing. There was always someone around to lend a hand, both when we were in the water, and when we were all on board.

(Top: Our boat from above. Spending time relaxing on the top deck. Middle: Kacela looking out at one of the thousands of little islands. Bottom Left: Learning about the different types of fishies in the Pacific Reef Fish book. Bottom Right: The little dingy trailing behind the boat. Very Bottom: Just chilling on the sunbed on the upper deck

Below: A few stunning Raja Ampat Sunsets)

The Best Diving in Indonesia

Best Diving in Indonesia, Liveaboard with Kids in Raja Ampa

I woke up the first morning excited to get in the water. I hadn’t been scuba diving in almost 2 years, and couldn’t wait to watch the wondrous ocean up close. The first descent was everything I hoped it would be. As the ocean closed in above me, my breathing took on a regular rhythm. With each breath I sank deeper into the underwater world. There were just SO many fish! The reef was absolutely teaming with thousands of fish, of all shapes, sizes and colours. Even better than the fish was the coral. There was such diversity in the types of coral. It was sad to see some places where the coral was stressed out and starting to bleach from an increase in ocean temperature. It made me very grateful to have the opportunity to do this now.

(Our tanks all lined up ready to go, and the first dive site “two trees”!)

The first day of dives was incredible. We saw large schools of jack fish and barracuda, enjoyed swimming through the five-striped snapper fish-balls, and discovered new creatures, like the tasseled Wobbegong shark, that I didn’t even know existed! There were big fish, like reef sharks and manta rays, and tiny creatures such as pygmy seahorse and nudibranchs. The reefs were simply bursting with life, and it was absolutely incredible to be surrounded by it.

 

Then, on day 2, my ear started to bother me. Every time I dive, I seem to have issues with my left ear. This time I was optimistic it wouldn’t bother me, but optimism only goes so far. I made it 5 dives in 2 days, and then I had to sit out. I probably could have pushed it, but who knows how much damage I would’ve done.

Instead, I enjoyed hanging out with the kids.

When everyone else went diving, we’d take the dingy to one of the many deserted beaches around the Misool Island chain, and go snorkeling. Raja Ampat is almost as amazing in the shallow waters as it is in the deeper water. One day we saw a blue spotted ray and a 2ft black-tipped reef shark playing around in the shallows. The kids watched the baby reef shark swim around for almost 15min, and were incredibly excited about it. Calais had it in her head that she wanted to touch a reef shark. I have no idea where that idea came from! I didn’t think she’d even see a shark, and was really excited for her that it actually happened. Of course, she didn’t get to touch it, but at least she got to see it!

One of the beautiful, secluded beaches we visited during our week. Everyone skipped a night dive one night to hang out here together. It was so beautiful we stayed until the sun had completely set and drove back to the boat in the dark. The kids even stayed in the water until it was dark!

We had many more secluded beach adventures, each one as incredible and as special as the one before.

(Top left: Riding the elevator back to the boat from the dingy. Top right: Playing on the beach. Bottom: One of the incredible views from the front of the boat, there are beaches in each little hidden bay amongst the curves of the island.)

We definitely have some future divers on our hands! During one of the dives (when I was on the surface, and not part of the dive), I put my gear on and jumped in the water with the girls. They took turns breathing out of my octopus, going about 1m below the water’s surface. Both of them loved it! When our dive master finished the next dive briefing, Calais exclaimed “that sounds amazing, can I go?”. She thought she could just hang out with Randy and breath out of his “second tube”. It did sound amazing, and I felt a little bad that they were stuck on the surface with me! Calais has already asked for scuba diving trip for her tenth birthday! That girl’s got some good, but expensive, taste!

(Left: In the dingy, on our way to one of the many little beaches. Right: Walking along the beach, with no one else around!)

I did manage to get 2 last dives in before we finished our trip.

Randy and I did the last night dive, and my ear did okay. Night dives aren’t my favourite, because I often feel a bit disoriented under the water in the dark. I do love all the little creatures that can be found at night though! On this particular dive we saw a couple pygmy sea horses, which was the reason I went on the dive! They’re so little and cute, and just hang out on the massive sea fans, dancing in the current as they hang on with their tiny little tails. They’re easier to see at night versus the day, so I had high hopes we’d find them.

We also saw a Spanish dancer, and a juvenile lion fish. Lion fish (scorpion fish) are one of my favourite types of fish to see when diving, and seeing the juvenile was incredible. It was only about an inch long, and was clear with black stripes. It looked just like a tiny lion fish, but a different colour. I’ve never seen one before, and likely never will again. It was pretty incredible.

I opted out of the first dive on the last day, which may have been a mistake. According to Randy it wasn’t an overly exciting dive, except for the end, when they saw two giant manta rays. We’d seen a few on previous dives, but these two came really close to them. And then, they got to watch them from above during their safety stop.

It was enough to convince me to jump in the water for the last dive.

I had a difficult time equalizing on the way down, and Randy and I quickly lost the instructor and the rest of our dive team, Anton and Colette. We made our way in the direction we knew they were going, fighting the current the whole time. Both of us were using our sticks for brief moments of respite while constantly pushing forward. Before long, we found the other group, and somehow managed to end up in front of our team! They caught up to us, and we enjoyed one last dive together. We even managed to get an underwater picture of all 4 of us! I saw 2 more giant Manta Rays, although they weren’t as close as the ones on the dive I’d missed. There were also a half a dozen sharks, a massive lobster, and a bunch of schooling fish. Despite the crazy current at the beginning, it was a great last dive!

The Deserted Island

On our last night we took the dingy to a small sand atoll in the middle of the ocean. It was idyllic!

The water was shallow, with gentle lapping waves, and surrounded by coral with dozens of species of fish. We all enjoyed snorkeling and just being present on that little piece of paradise. Once we were done in the water, Calais and I decided to wander the beach. A few steps down the beach and I was shocked by the amount of garbage that had washed ashore. This was a tiny, uninhabited island. The dive boat visited once every week or two, but they weren’t leaving behind any trash. The trash had all washed up from the ocean. It was so depressing.

Colette and I grabbed a garbage bag, and began picking up the trash. The girls helped periodically, and Richard, one of the other divers, joined in. We filled 4 large black garbage bags, and could’ve done more.

It’s easy to point a finger at the Indonesians in a shameful way, and I agree that they could be taking better care of their trash. However, I don’t think we, in North America, are much better! It was incredibly apparent that we have a huge plastic problem, and we, as a family, are trying to be better with our plastics consumption. I truly believe this is a situation in which every little bit does make a difference.

My Final Thoughts

We found it was totally possible to do a liveaboard with kids in Raja Ampat, but I caution this isn’t for everyone! At this point our kids are incredibly well travelled and in the travel groove. By this, I mean they adapt easily to the heat & humidity, living all together in cramped quarters, eating whatever’s put in front of them because there’s no other option, and can entertain themselves for hours on end with little more than some Lego and bed sheets!

Going with another family was also a huge factor in the success of the trip. The kids played together and kept each-other occupied. The adults were able to take turns getting some much needed rest & quiet time between dives with someone always available to be on “kid-duty”. I wouldn’t caution against doing this, I’d just ensure you know what you’re getting yourself into before deciding it might be a good idea for you and your family.

What to Pack for a Liveaboard with Kids:

  • An iPad or computer loaded with movies. Not that you’ll need many, but they come in very handy on rainy days, transfer days & for a bit of down time.

  • Cards and Games for non-electronics time!
  • Food supplies: most boats are well stocked, but I’d recommend bringing some juice, extra milk and a jar of peanut butter.
  • Small lifejackets (if your boat doesn’t normally have children passengers, they may not have child lifejackets). We found inflatable ones along our travels, but you can also order them from Amazon.
  • Snorkel mask (for yourself and the kids. We love our kid’s snorkel masks, but they’re not made anymore sadly. This is the best replacement I’ve been able to find that comes in an itty-bitty size for little kids. )
  • Reef Hook & Stick (there’s quite a bit of current, you’ll want at least one of these!). I like this single hook because it’s easier to find space for one hook rather than two!
  • Sun-shirt
  • Reef-safe sunscreen. This one also has jellyfish sting protection. It’s what we used on the boat, but a few of us still got some tiny jelly stings, so I’m not sure how well that works!
  • Sarong – can be used as a sheet for sleeping, playing with, or on the beach.
  • Rum! We figured if we were bringing the kids, we could bring the booze too! The boat had beer, but we brought along Sailor Jerry rum, which seemed appropriate for a boat trip.
  • Medications, etc:
    • Decongestant
    • Rehydration salts
    • Swimmer’s ear drops
    • Liquid medicine syringe (for rinsing your ears with fresh water after each dive)

(Saying goodbye to Raja Ampat from the plane)

The Details

Where We Stayed

POP! Hotel Jakarta Airport

Randy booked this hotel and did a great job! It’s less than 10min drive from the airport (if the traffic isn’t crazy), and the room was comfortable. We opted for 2 rooms so everyone would get a good night sleep, but it would be possible to cram in a family of 4 if you needed.

Cost: $57.76 USD ($74.22 CAD) for 2 rooms

Luxio Hotel in Sorong

This hotel was really nice, although for the price it should have been!! We fit all 4 of us into a double room; Kacela slept on the floor and Calais slept on the window bench. It was walking distance from a small grocery store, and a short yellow-bus ride away from the mega mall (which isn’t really a mega mall at all!).

Cost: $97.75 CAD

What We Did

MV Empress

Raja Ampat is expensive, so even our budget boat was a massive splurge. The MV Empress was basic, but had everything we needed for the week. There were 8 adults and the 4 kids on board, so it was a nice, small group. We had a triple room with shared bathroom, and Basers’ had a triple room with their own bathroom. Although our room was small, it was all we needed. Randy slept on the top bunk, I slept on the double bed with one of the girls, and the other one slept on one of the lounge cushions on the floor! They each took turns sleeping on the floor. The staff were all amazing with the kids, so although the boat was far from child-proof, I knew there was always multiple people watching them.

If you’re thinking about heading to Raja Ampat, Indonesia…or on a Scuba Diving Liveaboard with Kids, don’t forget to PIN ME FOR LATER!!!