The 'south-east monsoon', high winds and seas, is what keeps the liveaboards away from RA from June thru Oct, and also closes Misool Eco Resort during the same period [difficulty getting customers and supplies from Sorong].
I seem to recall the scheduling revolving around the season and weather of Komodo, and when the weather is seasonally poor there, the boats head to RA. I looked into a trip to RA for last September, as a friend had time off then. I only found one boat, the Pearl of Papua, that was in RA. All other boats were still in Komodo. I think it is a 12 month a year destination.
I seem to recall that Deb Fugitt runs her trips on the Ondina, and has for many years. She runs a trip in October, and I seem to recall reading that it is one of the first RA trips every season. I do not know if she books the Ondina because of the boat, or the schedule. Most of the other operators start running RA trips in November I think.
Bill also mentioned that the preferred flight route was through Jakarta. I was told the same thing when I was looking into a trip. I wanted to go through Manado, and add a week of diving around Lembeh to a liveaboard in RA. I recall being told that there was a reliability issue with the flights between Manado and Sorong, and if I opted for that route, I should add at least one extra night in a hotel in Sorong in case I could not get there on the scheduled day. I definitely want to dive Raja Ampat. As it is such a difficult place to get to, as well as an expensive trip, I think a 10 day live aboard is by far the best option. It is too far to go to be limited to a few dives a day in one location. Ed
Deb Fugitt has run her trips for a number of years, she also reduces the number of divers to 12, from the boat capacity of 16, and hires another dive guide, increasing from 3 to 4 the number of guides. This allows more room on the dive deck, there were 16 aboard on my trip, and space was so cramped at least 2 divers had to suit up outside the dive deck. The RA MPA has strict rules governing the number of guides and crew for each liveaboard and rules for operation.
The key to getting to preferred dive sites is the route the captain takes, and the ability of the cruise director to negotiate with his counter parts on other liveaboards seeking to dive the same sites. The sites around MER are literally owned by MER with a lease agreement from the indigenous peoples. To dive within the MER MPA you must get permission from MER. There are other sites, especially Manta Sandy, which are dived by many liveaboards, but also by several land based operations, your cruise director again must take into consideration the times other liveaboards and 'day boats' maybe on the same site. The cruise director is also very important in getting permission [$$$] to dive some of the piers at night, or setting up a visit to the Allui Bay pearl farm [WW take OTW & $$$$ for pearls from the factory store!!!]. The cruise director on Ondina was excellent at making these arraignments, unfortunately as our cruise was ending he said he would be leaving the boat when it went to dry dock.
As I previous said, use Manado Safari Tours for domestic Indo flights, they know what airlines are reliable, and if flight schedules change, they will make new reservations on other carriers. 3 weeks prior to leaving on my first trip, I got an e-mail from MER telling me to contact MST, because for some reason [NSA??] MST's e-mails weren't getting thru to me. They were trying to inform me the airline I was schedule on had quit flying the route and would have to be rebooked on different airlines, with an overnite layover in a different city. Everything was taken care of with a few e-mails, and a representative met me at the airport with tickets and hotel vouchers. There are at least 5-8 airlines, which fly strictly domestic Indo routes, in a variety of different aircraft, but not all of them fly the same routes, forcing you to possibly inter-connect along your intended route. If you are required to make an overnite layover, MST also can direct you the better accommodations, than you can by trying to hunt them down, even thru Expedia, and like the airlines are going to require payment with an Indo bank issued credit card.
To book a RA trip of this nature, I think, a boat contract should be made at least a year in advance, if not 2. I started communicating with MER 10 months prior to the beginning of the trip, before construction on the resort had been completed. My last trip, I did intensive research for 2 weeks to find the resort & the boats with available space at the right price, then pulled the trigger on the entire trip 6-1/2 months in advance. I was lucky, I got one of the last spots available on the relocation cruise from Lembeh to Sorong. My feet never hit dry ground when I transferred from Mermaid I to Ondina in Sorong harbor. My Spawn had arrived on Ondina and was wondering where her dad was, I was having breakfast on the boat moored next to her!!!