Great Barrier Reef out of Airlie Beach

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#1
Sarasota, Florida
1,013 Posts
Joined Oct 2010
Please share your thoughts / comments about doing a ship excursion at Airlie Beach for the GBR.
I'm told that it's a 7 hour day, with 5 hours devoted to rt boat ride to the reef. Have you done this? would you recommend it ? We have snorkeled before elsewhere, & I know the reef is THE thing to do, but is it really ?
thanks
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#2
Country NSW, Australia
576 Posts
Joined Feb 2010
Hi

We have recently done this. We did the ship tour from Airlie Beach on Rhapsody of the Seas. It is a 2 - 2.5 hour each way trip out to the pontoon and you have about 3 hours out there.

The pontoon has roped off areas where you can snorkel and if you go outside of those areas, the tour people will tell you to go back inside the ropes.

Semi-Submersible and glass bottom boat were also available for viewing. Certainly saw alot more from the glass bottom boat as they took you further from the pontoon. We did get to see more coral and turtles and fish from there. They also offered diving for anyone who wanted to do it - extra cost for this.

Did I enjoy it? Yes and no. Would I do it again? No.

I think it is one of those things you have to do atleast once. It is a long ride out, but the time went quite fast as they showed various videos, had talks from marine biologists but also did safety talks with us which included signals for while we were snorkeling incase we got into difficulty.

The tour group were great. It just wasn't what I thought it would be. I didn't expect the perfectly clear water and the amazing coloured coral and the abundant marine life that you see on videos and pictures. I figured you had to go to more secluded areas than a pontoon.

I did expect to see some coral though and some fish. We got fairly murky water (admitedly it was a dull day), and saw maybe 5 fish in the hour or so we were in the water. I actually had more fun snorkeling at Green Island or in the South Pacific.

I am sure others will give different stories. It is something that I think, if you do snorkel, then you should do. The cost does come into it and I think that is another reason why we wouldn't do it again.

Having said that, even though we were disappointed, I am really happy that we did it.
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#3
Australia
786 Posts
Joined Mar 2012
Can't speak of a tour out from Airlie Beach but there are places to see the reef and then there are PLACES TO SEE THE REEF. If you understand what I mean. You really need to do your homework - we did our reef trip out of Cairns to Michaelmas Cay which limits the amount of people on it in any one day. It was the best snorkelling I have every done. Yet people who stayed nearer Cairns and went to the higher impact tourist areas were disappointed.

From what I can tell with my limited experience is the more easily accessible reef experiences are not necessarily the best. Also we had a clear calm day, if it is stormy and the sand is stirred up visibility can be impacted.

Oh and lastly we did not do this on a cruise, it was a land based trip so we had plenty of time.
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#4
1,594 Posts
Joined May 2007
We did the same tour thru the ship and it was rough seas going and coming. People vomiting everywhere!! I wouldn't do it again. Yes, you are moored alongside a pontoon and there is an underwater observatory and I think a submarine ride. We paid about $230 US. There is a water slide at the top of the pontoon and the excursion was run by WhitSunday.
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#5
California
184 Posts
Joined May 2010
My experience was also with Rhapsody of the Seas and I have much the same thoughts as "Hard-habit-to-break" I would not do it again but was glad I booked the trip. My ship also went to Carins and I took an 1/2 day independent tour of Green Island ($79.00 AUD +$7 stringer suit and $2 for a locker). I saw many more type of hard and soft coral at Green Island and more and larger fish. Even found Nemo in his sea anemone (a clown fish)! The best viewing was by the pier you could just walk to the loading dock and jump in.

Besides being cheaper $249 USD for Airlie Beach vs. $82 AUD; the ferry ride was much shorter 45 mins for Green Island vs 2 to 2.5 hours to Reefworld Platoon. The water was much rougher at the Paltoon and 6 women were saved of the water by life guards during our short visit and one man from our ships tour sadly died. I was bruised from the ropes and others snorkelers kicking while try to get out of the water.

I hope that my information helps you make an informed decision. Enjoy your cruise!
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#6
Melbn, 'Straya
1,985 Posts
Joined Aug 2009
The GBR isn't the only place to snorkel and its a long boat trip from Airlie Beach. There are places around the Whitsunday Islands (off Airlie Beach) eg Manta Ray Bay. Make Google your friend.
#7
138 Posts
Joined Nov 2008
You are traveling at a great time to see the GBR! We are also going to be there in Oct. Since we are not doing a cruise, we are able to take a tour out of Port Douglas. It will take us about 90 minutes to get out to the reef. Do you know if the ship's tour is through Quicksilver? I would not recommend going to the lower isles, as it is not as good.

I have been doing tons or research on various tours to the "outer" reef. Most of the people say, you need to go there. Have Fun.
#8
Clermont, FL
1,259 Posts
Joined Aug 2006
Although we did the GBR (OPAL REEF) out of Port Douglas. the words of wisdom are pick the smallest group you can. We had 35 people on the Calypso Snorkel only boat. We were able to swim away from the crowds at all our stops and the fishies were every where and not scared off by 100;s of people sloshing about.
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#9
1,971 Posts
Joined Sep 2007
In the last month we were on Dawn Princess, both at Ailie and Port Douglas. We tried to arange private excursions to GBR from both places, but no tour operator would take us as they couldn't guarantee to get us back on board the ship in time. Very disappointing really. They ship's excursions were very expensive and very crowded.

Sandy in Spain
#10
Sarasota, Florida
1,013 Posts
Joined Oct 2010
Thank you for the responses. We have decided to forgo the GBR, as we will be snorkeling elsewhere. Yes, I know it's not the same, but this is a huge trip trip for us (80 days) & I need to spend wisely.
thanks again, ron
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#11
77 Posts
Joined Jul 2006
We will be in Airlie Beach on November 25th on Celebrity Millennium. We are thinking of taking the tour off of the ship to the Reef. How is the weather generally at this time of year? Are the seas usually rough at this time of year from Airlie? They are offering this tour also out of Cairns, but there are too many other tours we want to do out of there, so that's why we were going to do it out of Airlie.
#12
Toronto
1,494 Posts
Joined Jan 2009
In the 1st week of jan 2012 we did both the Cairns and Airle Beach tours. As others noted most of the time is for travel. From Cairns we had rough seas and about 30% of the paasengers were making use of the barff bags. Conditions can vary but if it rough enough the trip may be cancelled

Both places had similar set ups. Besides snorkeling there was a submarine type boat ride and the main pontoon had a lower level viweing area. At Airle Beach evreyone wore specai; suits to protect themselves from jelly fish. This was not needed on Cairns at that time. The jelly fish are seasonal. I'm not sure if they are around in late Nov.

Our GBR tours were post cruise ship vacation. We cruised southbound to Sydney at the end of Nov. From Darwin to Arilie Beach it was very calm but around Brisbane we had 20 foot waves for about 8 hours. Those that did the ship GBR tours then had a good time but only a short time on the reef.
#13
Pensacola, FL
467 Posts
Joined Jun 2009
We did it in March from the Solstice - one of the worst shipboard tours ever - lots of catamaran time, about 2.5 hours on the pontoon. The folks who did it in Cairns were much happier with their experience. The Whitsunday boat and pontoon are much older. Did we enjoy - yes. We went to the GBR and wanted to snorkel. Would we do this tour again - NO.
#14
Nova Scotia
1,497 Posts
Joined Sep 2003
Originally posted by BSinPNS
We did it in March from the Solstice - one of the worst shipboard tours ever - lots of catamaran time, about 2.5 hours on the pontoon. The folks who did it in Cairns were much happier with their experience. The Whitsunday boat and pontoon are much older. Did we enjoy - yes. We went to the GBR and wanted to snorkel. Would we do this tour again - NO.
Ditto from me!

Went on ship excursions at Airlie Beach and Cairns. AB - long, crowded rough tide to a stinky dirty...smelly..stinky...(have I said it smelled really bad) crowded pontoon, rushed crowded lunch, then another long, crowded rough catamaran ride back to the ship. Never again here!

Cairns was better, as in it didn't smell, but the catamaran was very crowded (people were sitting on the stairs!). The pontoon was crowded also, and the snorkeling very crowded. I *may* do this again, but would certainly look for other options first!
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#15
1,971 Posts
Joined Sep 2007
We wanted to do a private trip to GBR from Airlie, but no private company would take us because they could not guarantee getting us back to the ship on time. The only thing was to do it with the ship which was really expensive, we thought long and hard about this as GBR is THE place to go, in the end we didn´t do it either here or Pt Douglas. From what we heard from fellow passengers, most were disappointed and many had been seasick on the journey.
I have read that using the inter island ferries makes a good day out, perhaps contact the Tourist office for details or http://www.cruisewhitsundays.com/
The town is a big back packer spot, but the town itself isnt really up to much, small craft market, a few shops and lots of bars. Many people on our cruise stopped at the local lagoon for the day as it was ´Stinger free¨, also no charge to use.

Sandy in Spain