Copyright 2014 - Jesse Cancelmo for Island Dreams Travel
Island Dreams' has just completed another successful group dive tour to Crystal Blue Resort, Anilao, Philippines. Tour conductor for this trip was underwater photo pro and journalist, Jesse Cancelmo. We asked Jesse for his comments about the resort and the Anilao diving experience. We hope you will find Jesse's insight, and his excellent photographs, to be of interest.
GETTING to the PHILIPPINES -- There are many good options for air travel to Manila. We had travelers that used Emerites, United, Delta, Singapore Airlines, and Korean Air. After trading notes, I'd say the best way to get to Manila from Stateside is via Narita, Japan. One guest, who embarked from New York City, and traveled via Narita, had many hours less travel time than others. My Emerites flights all went very well. There was a long layover in Dubai outgoing, but that was minimized by hotel and a meal in Dubai that Emerites picked up. Another guest who flew from Cincinnati on Delta Airlines also has no issues. Unfortunately, the folks flying out of Houston on United Airlines experienced substantial delays outgoing and on their return.
REMINGTON HOTEL for MANILA OVERNIGHT -- The Remington proved to be a good, comfortable hotel, and quite convenient in that it is close to the airport. Check-in was a bit slow, but other than that it was a great layover option, especially with the complimentary airport to hotel transfer.
TRANSPORT to the RESORT -- Crystal Blue operates an excellent van transport system. We had three large vans for our group of 13 divers. Our service was on-time outgoing and return, and we were able to stop midway along the route for snacks and bathroom break.
CRYSTAL BLUE RESORT -- The rooms were very clean and comfortable, with daily service and fresh towels on request. As Island Dreams had pointed out in advance, the lodging rooms are on the side of a steep hill and are on three levels. The top level is a good leg work out.
HOTEL STAFF -- The hotel staff at Crystal Blue Resort was super accommodating, friendly and helpful, always looking to please. We give top marks to all, from the front desk staff to the great group of gals at the restaurant continuously on the lookout for guests needing anything.
THE DINING -- Excellent food was served breakfast, lunch and dinners. Coffee was available every morning at 6 am or earlier. We were offered wonderful varieties of meals from pasta to blue marlin. The seafood was especially good. Rave reviews from everyone in our group for the food and the chef.
RESORT PHOTO PRO -- Mike Bartick was a very helpful photo pro. He is an extremely talented nudibranch and muck creature photographer, and put on several professionally polished photo presentations that were full of wonderful shooting tips. As a veteran photographer myself, I was moved to re-look at how I approached my photography of nudibranchs and other macro subjects.
GREAT CAMERA ROOM -- Crystal Blue has perhaps best designed camera room I've seen to date. In addition to all of our underwater gear, there was still plenty of room for topside cameras, computers, etc. There was very good lighting at each individual work station along with plenty of electrical outlets, all 220v. No plug blade adapters were needed.
DIVE OPERATIONS -- Our diving was very well organized and always ran on time. The crews handled our dive gear and cameras very well. They were always wanting to please, and flexible to our requests. We had three boats for our group of 13, and all of the boats worked well. Two of the three had good cover from sun. One did not, but no one complained. I can't say enough good things about the boat crews. Back at the dive shop, the dip tanks for cameras and dive gear always fresh and sparkling.
ADDITIONAL DIVES AVAILABLE -- Our basic package included 23 dives. For those who made a few more, the additional dives were billed at $35 each, which I believe is a bargain.
THE DIVE GUIDES -- All of the dive guides were exceptional critter spotters. I dived with all three of our groups, so experienced the spotting talents of Pong, Glen and Ricky (all lead spotters). All of them were great. It was interesting to hear from each boat group that they were positive they had the "standout guide." Doesn't get any better than that!
UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY OPPORTUNITIES -- Every dive was 60 minutes minimum. Some dives were up to 90 minutes long. Typically we had three dives a day, with an option to do a night dive. The muck diving opportunities and level of image capture productivity was among the best I've seen anywhere, including famous Lembeh Strait. We saw more nudibranchs and frogfish than anywhere I've been. We did not encounter a blue ring octopus or a Rhinopius on this trip, but we did see an astounding number of frogfish in size ranges (huge to miniscule) like nowhere I've been. For me, the most productive muck sites were Secret Bay and the area around Town Pier. The wide angle coral reef photography can be excellent, but while we were there, visibility was uncharacteristically poor.
TIPPING SUGGESTION -- The resort recommends that the tip be divided into three different "buckets" - Dive Guides, Dive Boat/Operations, and Hotel Staff. I suggested that our guests more heavily weigh the hotel staff portion because it includes more people than the other groups.
ANILAO PHOTO GALLERY -- As a picture can be worth many words, you might also wish to view a selection of Ken Knezick's Anilao images displayed on the Island Dreams Facebook page. Find that gallery via the link below, but please note that your browser may prompt you to open that link in a new window.
THE BOTTOM LINE -- Our trip to Crystal Blue Resort was nothing short of wonderful trip, and great photo ops were had by all!
Report and photos by Jesse Cancelmo - for Island Dreams Travel
Report and photos copyright 2014
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