Hans Christian Andersen is a repurposed and large diving liveaboard that provides basic but comfortable accommodation from which to explore the Philippines best dive spots. Here's my review of what's good and bad about this liveaboard and whether you should consider taking a trip on it
May 2013 - Hans Christian Andersen has undergone a major refit and upgrade and rebranded as the Discovery Palawan. I'll be on the Discovery Palawan in May 2013. You can read my forthcoming liveaboard report about the Discovery Palawan in June 2013 - please sign up for the Divehappy mailing list (see right) if you'd like to know when the Discovery Palawan liveaboard report is published.
In June 2011 I visited Tubbataha Reef, Calusa and Cagayancillo on a transition trip from Puerto Princesa to Cebu on the Hans Christian Andersen Philippines liveaboard, I've written up a report about Tubbataha diving separately - this report focuses on the liveaboard boat itself. The Hans Christian Andersen spends March to June diving Tubbataha, then crosses to Cebu to dive the Visayas during July to November, and then returns to Palawan to dive the wrecks of Coron and the surrounding area during December to March. Follow the links for my previous diving reports on each area. (You might also find my Best Diving In The Philippines overview useful).
Essentially the Hans Christian Andersen is a large steel boat that's been repurposed from its original training vessel origins to become a liveaboard that can accommodate up to 34 divers. Such is the size of the boat that we had 28 on our trip and it still didn't feel crowded - there are numerous cabins below decks and six on the upper deck along with a saloon and then a very large outdoor dining area upstairs where all meals are served. In future the number of divers might be reduced to 24 maximum - check before booking.
The Saloon and Mess Deck
Given it's not been purpose built, the ship feels quite quirky but also very solid and reliable. The saloon bar which is fully inside the ship is split between two rooms and has groovy 70s green leather seating and stained glass, while the upstairs outdoor eating area feels very pleasant, even when it's raining due to rolled down plastic see-through covers (although it could do with a bit more protection to stop raining coming in at lower leg level. We had a downpour at one point and the chairs and tables got quite wet).
Moving around the ship takes a bit of getting used to - there are steep staircases up and down from the upper deck where meals are served and dive gearing up takes place, There's also a big step over for the main door into the saloon, and then two more steep staircases going up or down to the upper and lower cabins.
I had an air conditioned upper deck cabin with double bed which was spacious and with a good sized ensuite shower and toilet, as well as a decent sized window. The water pressure for the shower is good, but the water never gets super hot - pleasantly warm is about it. The aircon works quite well - not super cold but adequate, from a fairly ancient looking but reliable unit. Sometimes it felt a little stuffy as if the aircon was struggling to beat the heat outside, but this was just on a couple of occasions. There's a small desk and stool as well if you want to sit at a table to work, and a cupboard for storing clothes. In all, the cabin was very pleasant and definitely felt like a little sanctuary to catch some sleep between dives or work on photos.
Food was uniformly excellent - usually a meat dish, fish dish, pasta or rice and also a vegetable dish, with ice cream and or fresh fruit for dessert. (Breakfast always had eggs and sausage or meat of some kind available along with fruit juice). Generous helpings and second helpings usually available too. The food is served buffet style and the staff were very attentive about dishing it up and also clearing away plates and refilling water etc. There's also tea and coffee always available. At night after everyone has gone to bed there is usually bread or cookies and always fruit in the saloon for late night snackers, although some of the staff sleep in the saloon so you need to tread quietly.
The Dive Setup
There are four chase boats on the Hans Christian Andersen, three being used to send out divers and the fourth as a backup. They are carried on deck when not in use so each morning they're lowered into the water by hydraulic cranes. The engines are a bit elderly on the boats and could do with being beefed up. The boat boys are very helpful at getting you in and out of the water and understand how to handle camera gear. They can be a bit trigger happy with the engine when coming in to pick up divers on occasion.
Everyone's dive gear is stored upstairs on the main mess deck near to the eating area. Guests don wetsuits and masks and then go downstairs to the quite small main deck and get into the chase boat where their bcd and reg is already setup and their fins are waiting. At first this felt a bit weird but it works very efficiently and its great having so much space for everyone to change in and out of their dive gear on the upper deck. Care has be taken going up and down the stairs however as they are steep. Gearing up on the boat is a bit of a struggle, especially as care has to be taken to keep the boat balanced. The crew help you don your tank and it falls into an easy routine quickly.
Dive times are usually 60 minutes - each group has a guide but can wander off a little with their buddy. Our guide Omer was excellent, but he was a freelance guide from Puerto Princesa rather than full time on the boat.
Camera Gear Setup
Camera gear is very well provided for on the Hans Christian Andersen which was a nice surprise. There are large rinse tanks on the main dive deck where cameras can be placed as soon as boats return. Several small tables in the saloon are reserved for cameras to be left out and also there's a large battery charging area too. The boat boys, as previously mentioned, are very good at handling camera gear and remembering to remove dust caps etc.
Hans Christian Andersen is not a luxury, purpose built dive boat, but it's certainly a good contender for a comfortable few days diving. Once you get past the quirks of how things are set up to work around the ship's design, the boat functions reasonably well and the generous, well-prepared food at mealtimes and general friendliness and helpfulness of the staff make it a very pleasant boat to hang out on between dives too.