It’s no secret I had a magical time underwater in Sharm El Sheikh. But what about onboard the boat?
Liveaboard reviews can be tough to find, and I feel like it’s the kind of thing you really want an honest personal assessment of — considering there’s no escape once you’re onboard! So I’m writing the review I wish I could have read while I was in the planning stages of my own Egyptian liveaboard. The Cliff’s Notes version? The King Snefro fleet is an insanely affordable, excellent value way to see the Red Sea and I highly recommend it — with caveats.
Heading somewhere else? PADI Travel is super user friendly with a very convenient booking process and great communication. Plus, booking with them comes with tons of perks. But more on that below — let’s get right down to it.
The King Snefro 5 is a twenty-two meter long yacht that can host up to ten divers. The air-conditioned bunk bed cabins are below deck and have either ensuite or shared bathrooms with marine head toilets and warm showers.
The dining room, common living area and the diving platform make up the mid-deck, and up top you’ll find the sun deck, where there are a few simple loungers and shaded seats perfect for a post-dive snooze.
There’s no sugar coating it — our cabin was teeny tiny! But we packed light and we weren’t there unless we were sleeping or occasionally, I was editing on my laptop before bed. The bathroom, on the other hand, was surprisingly spacious. If you’re looking for a super luxury cabin, this definitely isn’t the liveaboard for you — but we weren’t fussed in the slightest.
When we weren’t underwater, we spent most of our time up on the sun deck. With four sun beds and six guests, we were often in a bit of a scramble to snag one, but when we did, it was bliss!
One thing there wasn’t onboard the King Snefro? Wifi! Kat had occasional service with her provider, Vodafone, while my SIM Orange was out of range most of the time.
A few things to keep in mind when you’re packing for the King Snefro 5: the power outlets are European two pin sockets, and toiletries are not provided, so be sure to bring reef-safe versions.
Read my full liveaboard packing list!
While most divers agree the most awe-inspiring dive sites of the region are in the Southern Red Sea, we’d never been before, so we figured we’d be wow-ed by just about anything. We knew we wanted to depart from Sharm El Sheikh, which using PADI Travel’s liveaboard search tool, left us two primary four day itinerary options: one featured wreck site superstars the Thistlegorm and the Dunraven, while the other took in the reef-tastic sites around the Straight of Tiran.
When in the planning stages, I’d confessed to Kat that I wasn’t really a wreck dive enthusiast. Sure, I enjoyed the Kittiwake in Grand Cayman and the HTMS Sattukut in Koh Tao, and had a soft spot in my heart for that shallow wreck in Santorini — not to mention wrecks in Bermuda, Oahu, Malta, The Bahamas, Utila, and the Perhentian Islands — but I wouldn’t say I go absolutely nuts for them or anything.
In the end, we settled on the wrecks after consulting with friends who knew the area well — they told us we’d be raving mad not to dive the Thistlegorm, which they promised would knock our dive booties off regardless of wreck-thusiasm.
Plus, they assured us it was savviest to dive the Thistlegorm by liveaboard; by day boats it would require an ungodly wake up hour and we’d compete with crazy crowds. The Tiran sites, on the other hand, were simple to visit by day boat on future trips to Sharm El Sheikh — not that we loved it there, to be fair.
The trip begins and ends in New Marina Sharm El Sheikh in El Wataneya. You’ll likely fly into Sharm El Sheikh International, though you could also allegedly fly into Cairo and bus over to Sharm — brace yourself for a long ride, if you do. The liveaboard starts at 6PM on day one, and ends at around 4PM on day four.
Most nationalities require a thirty day visa for Egypt, which is issued on-arrival at Cairo Airport for $25USD. However, there is also a fourteen day ‘Sinai-only’ visa, issued as a passport stamp at any international Sinai entry point such as the Sharm el Sheikh airports.
Two of our fellow divers had arrived via Sharm El Sheikh and missed the warning that to enter Ras Mohammed National Park, home to many of the premier dive sites we’d be visiting, we had to have full Egyptian visas. Had we already left shore, this could have been a tad disastrous — luckily, we were still in harbor for the night, so they had plenty of time to return all the way to the airport, get the visa, and get back without disrupting the itinerary in the slightest.
Technically you only need to be Open Water certified with fifteen logged dive for this liveaboard. However, you won’t really get to experience the magic of the star dive sites unless you’re Advanced Open Water, or doing the course onboard.
Why? Because an Advanced Open Water certification is required for wreck penetration dives — which makes up three of the dives on the itinerary. Additionally, the Thistlegorm requires at least 20 logged dives (which, if you only have fifteen when you’re boarding, means you only have 19 when you jump in to dive the Thistegorm on day two, but no one seemed to notice this except for my math-loving inner nerd.)
If it’s been more than a year since your last dive, you’ll have to do a scuba refresher onboard.
It total, there were eleven dives offered onboard — five reef dives, three wreck dives, one wild dolphin dive, one cleanup dive, and one night dive (which I personally skipped.)
Frankly, the only dives I found truly challenging were the Thistlegorm dives, due to the current and the deep wreck penetration, and the dolphin dive, due to the entry, but perhaps we got lucky in general with easy conditions. The backwards roll entries could definitely be intimidating to those used to doing exclusively giant strides.
Before each dive, Ahmed would give us a very thorough briefing in the living room. Pay attention, because you’ll get a ton of insight into what’s coming and where to find the best stuff.
One of my only complaints about the King Snefro is that I wish we could have done more of the dives with enriched air. We requested to do as many as possible on nitrox, but were only allotted two per person.
Read all about what we saw and what dive sites we visited in my recap post!
Like most liveaboards, the King Snefro averaged three or four dives a day, sometimes with a night dive. Here’s a sample schedule from our first day of diving:
7:00am – briefing
7:30am – dive one
8:45am – breakfast
10:30am – briefing
11:00am – dive two
12:30pm – lunch
2:30pm – briefing
3:00pm – dive three
4:30pm – snacks
6:30pm – sunset dive
8pm – dinner
As one of those people who can’t dive without something in my stomach, I was setting my alarm for 6:30am so I could grab a tea and a piece of fruit and set up my camera before we sat down for the briefings. All that diving is exhausting, so I was also collapsing into bed not long after dinner! Most people stayed up way later than I did, but I just passed out hard every night. To be fair I was also recovering from being a bit under the weather in mainland Egypt.
When we weren’t diving, sleeping, or eating (the main activities on a liveaboard), we’d often read, listen to music, and chat up on the sun deck.
The food aboard the King Snefro was amazing. To be honest, my expectations were low. It was a tiny boat out at sea for four days! But I thought they did a great job mixing Egyptian staples with a few European dishes. Plan ahead if you have dietary restrictions — I let them know ahead of time I didn’t eat fish, which was no problem, and they can also cater to others with advanced notice.
I eat a lot on liveaboards, diving expends a ton of calories and you need to refuel! I managed to stick to my pretty typical diet of meat, veggies and fruit, with some added in carbs for energy (and fun).
This will come as no surprise to anyone, considering my trip recap could have been subtitled “I Love Ahmed, The Greatest Dive Guide Ever, #Ahmed4Everrrr,” but I really liked our dive guide Ahmed. Some of his dive briefings were so long and thorough I felt like I’d received an associate’s degree by the end of them, but the guy knows his stuff and there is no such thing as being too prepared for a dive, especially some of the advanced ones we were doing. I also love that he incorporates a clean up dive into his trips!
We had one potentially dicey moment on our trip, when deep within the Thistlegorm I saw one of our fellow divers make a bee-line for Ahmed with a panicked look on her face. Uh oh, I thought, and watched as he calmly assessed the situation, saw her air gauge fluttering, determined her air was not open all the way, reached back to amend, and then immediately got her feeling comfortable again, within the space of a few seconds. It was amazing, and the sign of a truly experienced dive guide.
We had five crew onboard — a captain, a first mate, a chef, a steward, and our dive guide, Ahmed. Aside from Ahmed, the staff spoke limited English and so our interactions were limited. However, the captain was good-natured and had a big laugh one afternoon while we drove the boat, one of the crew had a blast photo bombing us while we were taking photos one afternoon, and the deck and kitchen staff were always very accommodating and eager to please.
I did have one awkward moment. The last day of the liveaboard, one of the crew came up to me in broken English and told me that another one of the crew wanted a photo with me. I deflected by saying that we were about to take a group photo. Maybe others would find that flattering or not even blink at the request — and it was a request which was immediately dropped when I politely turned it down — but I just didn’t feel comfortable so I declined.
It was nothing that would stop me from recommending this boat or even booking it again myself — in fact, it was a mere shadow of the attention I’d expected to receive in Egypt based on other women’s experiences they’d shared with me — but it is worth noting, since so many are so curious about this subject. It’s also a notable reminder that skimpy bikinis are far from the norm in Egyptian culture (I saw young women from Cairo learning to dive in Dahab wearing burkinis) so wearing them is going to understandably attract some curiosity. If you want to head it off from the get go, wear a cover up around the boat.
This trip was so affordable it was hard to believe. While I was a guest of PADI Travel, the entire shebang was a whopping 340 euros or $423USD. What’s that entail, you ask? Essentially, everything!
• Our Final Breakdown
$423 USD — Liveaboard fee
$13 USD — Two nitrox tanks for the Thistlegorm
$7 USD — National Park fee
$84 USD — Tips for the boat crew
TOTAL: $527 USD
So, $527 for twelve dives, three nights accommodation, nine meals, plus snacks, tips and transportation? I’d say that’s a pretty dang good deal. Plus, being at sea means no impulse shopping, spa treatments, or nights out — classic budget busters.
• What’s Included
Guided dives, accommodation, all meals including snacks between dives (seriously, you won’t go hungry), non-alcoholic beverages including bottled water, tea, coffee, and soft drinks (I’m seriously guessing had we emailed them a specific brand request, they even would have accommodated it), and transfer to and from the boat from the airport or local hotels.
PADI Travel also includes dive insurance IF the trip is over $1,000USD per person. This trip was not, but it’s a pretty cool bonus if you qualify.
• What’s Not Included
Dive insurance is mandatory to board the King Snefro and you will be asked for proof. Travel insurance is also highly recommended, separately. World Nomads offers both! Check out their scuba dive insurance, and their travel insurance offerings.
It is mandatory that you rent a dive computer (10 EUR per day), SMB or Surface Marker Buoy (2 EUR per day), and dive light for night dives (7 EUR per day), if you don’t have your own. Mandatory National Park fees are 6EUR per trip and payable on the boat.
Tips are not included — don’t forget to factor them in and bring cash onboard. The standard tip for a liveaboard is 10-20% of the cost of the trip. Since this was a budget liveaboard, but we felt we had received luxury service, we tipped at the top end of that equation.
• Optional Extras
Optional onboard extras include beer and wine (you can BYO liquor with no corkage, which is a huge bonus), rental equipment, courses, and nitrox upgrades. Here’s a price list from King Snefro:
• Mask, fins and snorkel — EUR 30 per trip
• Wetsuit — 10 EUR per day
• BCD — 10 EUR per day
• Regulator — 10 EUR per day
• Full set of rental equipment (BCD, regulator, wetsuit, mask, fins, boots, snorkel, computer, torch, SMB) — 35 EUR per day
• Set of rental equipment (BCD, regulator, wetsuit, mask, fins, and snorkel) — 25 EUR per day
• Nitrox 32%, 12 liter tanks (only if available, must be prebooked) — 5 EUR per dive
• Advanced Open Water (280 EUR per course)
• Nitrox course (119 EUR per course)
• Deep dive speciality (225 EUR per course)
• Wreck dive speciality (225 EUR per course)
Again, make sure you bring enough cash onboard for all local payments, which can be made in local currency, euro, or US dollars.
I was super excited when I heard the news that PADI had acquired the dive travel agency Diviac to form PADI Travel. One of the leading liveaboard booking websites in the world combining with the world’s leading dive organization? Surely, greatness would result. And it has.
PADI Travel offers the largest selection of liveaboards and dive destinations on the market, and is only continuing to grow. It combines the ease of online booking with the concierge service of a travel agent, offering 24/7 support, eco-friendly trip ideas to help customers dive with a purpose, and a crazy knowledgeable staff — the team averages 2,500 dives per customer service representative, spanning a total of 80 countries around the world! So, needless to say — they probably have some insights and advice to pass along.
It’s also just a fun website to get lost daydreaming on. Thanks to PADI Travel, I learned there are Red Sea liveaboards leaving from port as exotic as Sudan and Djibouti — and now they’re on my bucket list.
Speaking of bucket lists, where should I liveaboard next?! Top of my list right now are Oman, Fiji, The Maldives, Indonesia, The Similans, The Galapagos…. okay, it’s a long list.
This post was brought to you by PADI Travel.