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mahdnc

Live: Jan 2 2018 Solstice Great Barrier Reef

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Thanks. I wish the weather was warmer at home!

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mahdnc

 

I have just come across this thread and found it extremely helpful as I will be on Solstice on March 30th.

 

I liked the look of the Quicksilver trip that you did but I'm a little confused which port that one. We intend to go across to Hamilton Island from Airlie Beach but which of the other two ports would you say were the best for snorkelling? Cairns or Port Douglas?

 

Thank you

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Port Douglas is where Quicksilver is located along with several other snorkel/dive boats.

 

I found the snorkeling great at both Cairns and Port Douglas. I would highly recommend either one. I will admit that during the cruise, I favored my snorkeling experience at Port Douglas slightly more because I saw the most Giant Clams there. I never saw one before until this cruise because they are only found in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Edited by mahdnc

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Port Douglas is where Quicksilver is located along with several other snorkel/dive boats.

 

I found the snorkeling great at both Cairns and Port Douglas. I would highly recommend either one. I will admit that during the cruise, I favored my snorkeling experience at Port Douglas slightly more because I saw the most Giant Clams there. I never saw one before until this cruise because they are only found in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans.

 

 

Thank you, thats very helpful.

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Hi All Don't do snorkling at or near Airlie Beach or the Whitsundays as the coral was smashed with the cyclone. We were there only 5 months ago and hardly any fish to see or coral to look at. The clarity of the water is still murky. We went with Ocean Rafting and they are great though like I said don't for for the snorkling leave that till your further up the coast. Airlie is a nice town and some nice resturants if you just want to have a wander around :)

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Rod&Deb, you make a good point about the impact of the cyclone from early last year.

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Hi Mahdnc:

 

I'll be going on this cruise in March/April of this year and was thinking of booking the "Overnight on the Great Barrier Reef" excursion while we're in Cairns. I'm unable to find any reviews for it and was curious if you know of anyone who went on it and what their opinions were.

 

Great job on blogging your cruise, I enjoy reading about it. :-)

 

I never ended up talking to anyone on our cruise that booked the Overnight on the GBR tour. However I have identified the company that operates the tour who Celebrity uses. They are Sunlover Reef Cruises. They have an excellent webpage that does a very nice job of detailing what the two days are like: Sunlover By Starlight

 

Apparently you take the catamaran to the pontoon on Cairns Day 1 and do the normal stuff on the pontoon that is offered during the day (snorkel, scuba dive, helmet dive, glass bottom boat, etc. some activities are free some are extra cost). The catamaran then leaves with the day passengers on board at 3:45 pm and the overnight passengers stay on the pontoon. You have the pontoon pretty much too yourself for the evening, night, and early morning until the catamaran arrives on Day 2 at 11:30 am with the day passengers. At the end of Day 2, you leave on the catamaran with the day passengers.

 

Here are a few items that are not mentioned well in the website (if at all):

 

1. The number of customers is limited to 20 for the overnight with a crew of 4.

 

2. It is more like camping out under the stars. There are fancy sleeping bags (called swags) that are provided for you to sleep on the deck of the pontoon. There is a top deck on the pontoon that is open to the stars for the nice nights. For the rainy nights, the fancy sleeping bags are located on the first deck of the pontoon where it is under cover.

 

3. Normally pontoons are not equipped with bathrooms and so you use the bathrooms (with plumbed toilets) on the boat/catamaran that brings you to there. After the catamaran leaves the pontoon for the night, there are Porta-loos installed on the pontoon in the change room cubicles. Camp showers are rigged up in another block of change rooms.

 

4. There is wi-fi on the pontoon.

 

5. You have to bring your own telescope or binoculars.

 

6. Night diving is not offered.

 

7. Sunlover offers the tour for $499 AUD/person. On our cruise, Celebrity was charging $649 USD/person.

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Here is the picture of Sunlover's pontoon and catamaran:

 

b8159007a4c2db51ab90cad92a61f03b.jpg

 

And a picture of the fancy sleeping bags (aka swag):

 

0cd2d4908f18cd3996ef5d42695e544f.jpg

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I never ended up talking to anyone on our cruise that booked the Overnight on the GBR tour. However I have identified the company that operates the tour who Celebrity uses. They are Sunlover Reef Cruises. They have an excellent webpage that does a very nice job of detailing what the two days are like: Sunlover By Starlight

 

Apparently you take the catamaran to the pontoon on Cairns Day 1 and do the normal stuff on the pontoon that is offered during the day (snorkel, scuba dive, helmet dive, glass bottom boat, etc. some activities are free some are extra cost). The catamaran then leaves with the day passengers on board at 3:45 pm and the overnight passengers stay on the pontoon. You have the pontoon pretty much too yourself for the evening, night, and early morning until the catamaran arrives on Day 2 at 11:30 am with the day passengers. At the end of Day 2, you leave on the catamaran with the day passengers.

 

Here are a few items that are not mentioned well in the website (if at all):

 

1. The number of customers is limited to 20 for the overnight with a crew of 4.

 

2. It is more like camping out under the stars. There are fancy sleeping bags (called swags) that are provided for you to sleep on the deck of the pontoon. There is a top deck on the pontoon that is open to the stars for the nice nights. For the rainy nights, the fancy sleeping bags are located on the first deck of the pontoon where it is under cover.

 

3. Normally pontoons are not equipped with bathrooms and so you use the bathrooms (with plumbed toilets) on the boat/catamaran that brings you to there. After the catamaran leaves the pontoon for the night, there are Porta-loos installed on the pontoon in the change room cubicles. Camp showers are rigged up in another block of change rooms.

 

4. There is wi-fi on the pontoon.

 

5. You have to bring your own telescope or binoculars.

 

6. Night diving is not offered.

 

7. Sunlover offers the tour for $499 AUD/person. On our cruise, Celebrity was charging $649 USD/person.

 

Thank you so much! My 71 year old mother booked that excursion for herself, so all that information is a great help to her. I'll be doing one of the GBR snorkeling/scuba excursions instead. I know you did one of those also. I see they have 2 offered at Cairns, do you know what the difference is between them? I would like one that offers scuba diving for first timers. I've always wanted to try it, and I can't think of a better place to experience it.

Again, I thank you for all of your time, the information you have provided has been crucial and made our trip planning easier. :-)

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Thank you so much! My 71 year old mother booked that excursion for herself, so all that information is a great help to her. I'll be doing one of the GBR snorkeling/scuba excursions instead. I know you did one of those also. I see they have 2 offered at Cairns, do you know what the difference is between them? I would like one that offers scuba diving for first timers. I've always wanted to try it, and I can't think of a better place to experience it.

Again, I thank you for all of your time, the information you have provided has been crucial and made our trip planning easier. :-)

 

I’d be shocked if anyone took a first timer scuba diving. You need your scuba certificate beforehand or there is a three day course out of Port Douglas. Not really suitable for a cruise

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Thank you so much! My 71 year old mother booked that excursion for herself, so all that information is a great help to her. I'll be doing one of the GBR snorkeling/scuba excursions instead. I know you did one of those also. I see they have 2 offered at Cairns, do you know what the difference is between them? I would like one that offers scuba diving for first timers. I've always wanted to try it, and I can't think of a better place to experience it.

Again, I thank you for all of your time, the information you have provided has been crucial and made our trip planning easier. :-)

 

you cannot go scuba diving unless you have your scuba diving certificate... you will be able to snorkel, but unless you have your diving cert you won't be allowed to dive.

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On both Cairns days there are two snorkel trips offered (along with scuba options):

 

1. CN01 "Great Barrier Reef"

a catamaran picks you up at the ship and travels to a floating pontoon that is anchored next to a coral reef.

 

The pontoon is a very elaborate multilevel structure that is pretty stable in the water and is the hub for all the activities. Snorkeling and riding a glass bottom boat are activities that are free. Scuba, helmet dives, helicopter rides are extra.

 

There are roped off sections in the water around the pontoon for snorkelers to stay within under the watchful eye of lifeguards sitting in elevated observation chairs.

 

All the snorkel equipment and dive equipment are stored on the pontoon and distributed from there.

 

The pontoon has overhead protection from the sun and rain. Chairs and tables are provided. There are fixed platforms and stairs that make entering and exiting the water very easy.

 

2. CN30 "Exploring the Great Barrier Reef"

This trip does not involve any pontoon. A snorkel/ dive boat picks you up at the cruise ship and takes you out to the reef. In theory the boat can visit different reefs each day or even during the day (depending on what permits they have) which is the biggest advantage over a pontoon.

 

All activities are conducted from the boat. This means it is limited mostly to snorkeling and scuba. No helicopter, no semi submersible rides.

 

Entry into the water is done off a platform that is lowered from the back of the boat. There are no roped off areas to limit where you can swim. There are lookouts (lifeguards) that watch all snorkelers from the top deck at the back of the boat.

 

Because of the boat's flexibility on reef destination and its focus on snorkeling and scuba, this trip provides a more pure snorkel/ dive experience versus the pontoon.

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On both types of snorkel trips, CN01 (pontoon) and CN30 (no pontoon), two types of scuba are offered.

 

The first kind of scuba offered is for certified divers. You have to bring your divers card and in theory show your dive log to establish when your last dive occurred (they like to see that it has been less than a year since your last dive but this is not always checked). As certified divers, you can go diving without supervision. However a dive master is usually provided for your group as a courtesy to show you around. They are familiar with the reef and having one is very nice.

 

The second kind of scuba is for non certified divers. This includes beginners that have never dived or even snorkeled before. The dive is geared towards introducing people to diving. These types of dive trips are much more heavily supervised. Although not necessarily one to one, there is a high number of master divers involved versus beginner divers. The depth of the dives are shallower (15 feet?) as a safety precaution and you usually don't dive far from the boat or pontoon.

 

Your confidence level as a first time diver should dictate whether you do this from a pontoon (CN01) or the back of a snorkel/dive boat (CN30). In general I would recommend the pontoon because it is easier and better set up for this activity. It allows you to concentrate on becoming familiar with your scuba equipment.

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On both types of snorkel trips, CN01 (pontoon) and CN30 (no pontoon), two types of scuba are offered.

 

The first kind of scuba offered is for certified divers. You have to bring your divers card and in theory show your dive log to establish when your last dive occurred (they like to see that it has been less than a year since your last dive but this is not always checked). As certified divers, you can go diving without supervision. However a dive master is usually provided for your group as a courtesy to show you around. They are familiar with the reef and having one is very nice.

 

The second kind of scuba is for non certified divers. This includes beginners that have never dived or even snorkeled before. The dive is geared towards introducing people to diving. These types of dive trips are much more heavily supervised. Although not necessarily one to one, there is a high number of master divers involved versus beginner divers. The depth of the dives are shallower (15 feet?) as a safety precaution and you usually don't dive far from the boat or pontoon.

 

Your confidence level as a first time diver should dictate whether you do this from a pontoon (CN01) or the back of a snorkel/dive boat (CN30). In general I would recommend the pontoon because it is easier and better set up for this activity. It allows you to concentrate on becoming familiar with your scuba equipment.

 

Again I thank you for the information. I'm an experienced swimmer and snorkeler, but I think I'll take you recommendation of the pontoon just to be safe.

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On both Cairns days there are two snorkel trips offered (along with scuba options):

 

1. CN01 "Great Barrier Reef"

a catamaran picks you up at the ship and travels to a floating pontoon that is anchored next to a coral reef.

 

The pontoon is a very elaborate multilevel structure that is pretty stable in the water and is the hub for all the activities. Snorkeling and riding a glass bottom boat are activities that are free. Scuba, helmet dives, helicopter rides are extra.

 

There are roped off sections in the water around the pontoon for snorkelers to stay within under the watchful eye of lifeguards sitting in elevated observation chairs.

 

All the snorkel equipment and dive equipment are stored on the pontoon and distributed from there.

 

The pontoon has overhead protection from the sun and rain. Chairs and tables are provided. There are fixed platforms and stairs that make entering and exiting the water very easy.

 

2. CN30 "Exploring the Great Barrier Reef"

This trip does not involve any pontoon. A snorkel/ dive boat picks you up at the cruise ship and takes you out to the reef. In theory the boat can visit different reefs each day or even during the day (depending on what permits they have) which is the biggest advantage over a pontoon.

 

All activities are conducted from the boat. This means it is limited mostly to snorkeling and scuba. No helicopter, no semi submersible rides.

 

Entry into the water is done off a platform that is lowered from the back of the boat. There are no roped off areas to limit where you can swim. There are lookouts (lifeguards) that watch all snorkelers from the top deck at the back of the boat.

 

Because of the boat's flexibility on reef destination and its focus on snorkeling and scuba, this trip provides a more pure snorkel/ dive experience versus the pontoon.

 

 

Do you know the company that Celebrity used for the "Exploring The Great Barrier Reef" tour?

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Do you know the company that Celebrity used for the "Exploring The Great Barrier Reef" tour?

 

CN30 "Explore the Great Barrier Reef" is run by Reef Magic Cruises. We took that trip on Cairns Day 1. The trip was very good although the ride out to the reef that day was very rough. My only disappointment was that the boat stayed in one spot once it arrived at the outer reef. It is very common for GBR day trips to visit 2-3 different spots.

 

Reef Magic Cruises is also used for CN01 "Great Barrier Reef". A different boat picks up passengers at the cruise ship and takes them to the Marine World pontoon for the day.

 

I am fairly certain that this company was used for the Mar 2017 Solstice GBR trip.

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How far in advance do you recommend signing up for CN01? Does it fill up quickly? We're taking this same cruise but not until October 2019 and I don't want to miss out but it's still so far away! Thanks!

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Because they are fully refundable if you cancel a few days before the excursion, I would advise that you book it now. Especially if you are reasonably sure that you want to go on it. If Celebrity drops the price afterwards, you can easily rebook it. On Day 1 at Cairns, there aren't any options to buy a snorkeling tour from another company because you would get to Cairns too late (tender ride and then a cab ride into town). So the ship's excursion is the only game in town that day!

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How far in advance do you recommend signing up for CN01? Does it fill up quickly? We're taking this same cruise but not until October 2019 and I don't want to miss out but it's still so far away! Thanks!

 

I'm scheduled to go on the cruise departing March 30, 2018 (2 months away) and that excursion is still available. Hope this helps.

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We went to the Australia Zoo today. It is a nice zoo. It was not crowded. But it was hot outside!

 

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Can you tell a bit more about the Australia Zoo? We are considering that....looks like Celebrity offers a 6 hour or an 8 hour tour. The difference (as we can detect) is the amount of time allowed to explore the zoo. Which time did you choose and what other recommendations might you have? Thanks much!

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Can you tell a bit more about the Australia Zoo? We are considering that....looks like Celebrity offers a 6 hour or an 8 hour tour. The difference (as we can detect) is the amount of time allowed to explore the zoo. Which time did you choose and what other recommendations might you have? Thanks much!

 

c18b56335bc56f897d2afc26d7b954bb.jpg

 

Only two of us went--my son and me. My wife and daughter did "Day at the Gold Coast" BS10.

 

We bought BS08 which is the 8 hour tour. And the tour did last exactly 8 hours long. This includes the motorcoach ride which was 70 minutes long in each direction. The motorcoaches were very comfortable. There was a person that narrated during the whole ride up talking about a variety of different subjects including some of the sights that we were passing along the way.

 

The bus drops you off right at the front gate. It picks you up there as well. So the walking from the bus to getting inside the park was minimal. The tour guide gives you some verbal instructions that include when to come back to the buses. She does not tour you through the zoo. You do that on your own.

 

The zoo is very well done. I was pretty impressed with its overall design and the quality of the facility. It is more like a very nice zoo and not so much like Sea World. When I say Sea World. I am referring to all the shows and large audience seating. The Australia Zoo has that, too, but it has much more.

 

A few days before we got to Brisbane, my wife and I had lunch in the MDR and we were seated with a very nice Australian couple who lived in Brisbane and had just relocated to an area close to the Australia Zoo. I talked to them about the Australia Zoo and the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary as I was thinking of perhaps going to the latter on our own instead of the zoo. They strongly urged us to go the zoo. To them the zoo was clearly a much better choice.

 

There is quite a lot to see at the zoo. It is clearly geared towards families, but like Disney World the adults had fun, too. I was surprised that it was not crowded at all during our visit and so it was easy to get around. The marquee attraction, the crocodiles, were impressive to see. There is a very nice large fenced in park area for you to walk around with the kangaroos.

 

The day was beautiful but the sun slowly exhausted me as the day wore on. The tour guide that narrated on the bus advised us to check out the hospital after we were done seeing the zoo because you have to exit the zoo to see it. There was an expected $2AUD (coin) donation if you visited. I was too exhausted at the end to see it and I simply wanted to get back on the bus, so we skipped it.

 

There are were a lot of great photo opportunities including zoo employees walking around with animals (mainly birds). We ended up eating lunch there which was good--it is not part of the paid excursion. We also bought a photo op with a cheetah. Many of the private animal encounter appointments were already booked by the time we got there. You pay extra for these. You should go to the Australia Zoo website for more information about what is there.

 

I really looked hard at doing the zoo on our own.. We paid $132 USD per person for the excursion. If you buy general admission tickets at the zoo itself, it is $59 AUD ($46 USD). So you can see the monetary incentive for doing it yourself. Also if you buy the tickets on their website in advance, it gives you an opportunity to purchase an animal encounter (like with a koala) in advance--if that is important to you.

 

The problem that I could not solve was ground transportation from the port to the zoo. The distances involved made private transportation expensive. Originally my family of 4 was going to go so I had $344 in savings over the shore excursion to buy transportation. But then when it became just my son and I, it made sense just to buy it through Celebrity.

 

It was not clear to me the difference between the two Australian Zoo shore excursions that were offered besides one being 6 hours and the other one being 8 hours long. From what I could tell, there were two motorcoaches of passengers that were taken from the ship to the zoo to give you an idea of the demand for the excursion.

Edited by mahdnc

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Thank you very much for the thorough and helpful response! We, too, wondered about the feasibility of arranging our own transport and came to the same conclusion as you did. I also had wondered how much you liked the zoo because I had read that you had adult kids along (which we will, as well- our 20 yo daughter, who is a student at the University of Newcastle this semester), so it was good to hear that it was a fun zoo for a varied age group of adults. We now have the zoo booked for the Brisbane port (through X) and also are using Quiksilver (independent of X) for some snorkeling in Port Douglas as you did. Now we just need to finish planning for Cairns and Airlie Beach. Your live report and extra information has been so helpful; THANKS! :)

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