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Photo Review: Solstice 12 Night Great Barrier Reef Jan 2 2018

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One more photo from our Airlie Beach day: A view of the tendering towards the end of the day from our cabin balcony:

 

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Although our dive/snorkeling was not great on this trip, you should check out the reviews on TripAdvisor to get more information and data. Cruise Whitsundays offers many different trips than just the one to the pontoon, so you have to be aware of that when you read the reviews. I talked to one of the CC'ers on our roll call (clementefan) during the Elite Cocktail Hour later that day, he mentioned that he took a sail and snorkel excursion (Celebrity shore excursion IE15). He was disappointed with the snorkeling. Although our experience was also disappointing, I was not discouraged because the we still had Cairns (2 days) and Port Douglas still ahead of us which were supposed to be the highlights of the cruise.

 

All I can say is that after the 2 hour ride back from the pontoon to the cruise ship, we were tired and exhausted. During the ride back you have an opportunity to buy photos that were taken of you while at the pontoon. But my mind was dreaming of getting a hot shower, fresh change of clothes, food, and alcohol. When the catamaran arrived, we still had to wait about 20 minutes because we were 3rd in line waiting to get permission to dock along side Solstice.

 

Because I anticipated that we might be back too late for our 6pm main seating at the MDR, I booked the Silk Harvest for Dinner.

Edited by mahdnc

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Information on the catamaran used for our shore excursion: Seaflight. Courtesy of MarineTraffic.

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Day 6, Sun Jan 7: Cairns Day 1 (Tender)

 

Celebrity Today

MDR Dinner Menu

No MDR Dessert Menu

Shore Excursion: CN30 Exploring The Great Barrier Reef ($299 USD per person) run by Reef Magic Cruises

 

The title of these two days at Cairns is "Men Plan, God Laughs". An extraordinary amount of planning went into making these two days at Cairns great. I studied this thing to death including using MarineTraffic.com to watch the tendering process of the March 2017 GBR cruise at Cairns and Port Douglas. The bad news was that the precautionary plans completely failed. The good news was that the two days went great. So sit down with your favorite beverage and I will tell you how Cairns went.

 

 

 

 

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First off, a summary about my research and the planning. Until this cruise, we have always independently booked our diving and not gone through the ship--for the usual reasons: it's cheaper, more private and efficient (the few times you get to enjoy the best of three worlds). So my intention was to find the best dive/snorkel company at Airlie Beach, both Cairns days, and Port Douglas. Well most of the independent dive companies do not want to deal with cruise passengers because they run big boats that leave early to get to the outer reef. It's like a plane full of people--it will not wait for you. And the cruise passengers have to take a lengthy tender into shore (and in the case of Cairns, take a ~20 minute cab ride on top of that). So you get the feeling that the past history has been that many cruise passengers miss the dive/snorkel boat and want their money back which is not refundable for those reasons and then probably end up posting complaints on TripAdvisor (this is all my conjecture). So the dive companies almost hang up on you the moment they find out you're a cruise passenger. It's like you have leprosy. I contacted over a dozen companies during my search. This is so different than the Caribbean where my family of 4 is typically 50-100% of the customers on a dive boat.

 

Airlie Beach was not do-able because Solstice arrives late, so I booked the dive/snorkel excursion thru the ship. Same thing with Cairns Day 1. I booked a dive/snorkel trip through a large company for Cairns Day 2 reasoning that the overnight stay of Solstice would make it easy to get to the dive boat in time to check in. For Port Douglas, Celebrity offers no snorkel/dive excursion--much to my amazement. So I booked through a private company who's boat left later in the morning which I felt we should be able to make in time.

 

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Here is a screenshot of my MarineTraffic app as I was watching Reef Magic 2 perform tender duties between Solstice and Yorkey's Knob during the March 2017 GBR cruise. The tendering took over 30 minutes each way.

 

 

When I watched the March 2017 GBR cruise unfold on MarineTraffic and from information that Travelling8 got from passengers on that cruise, I was stunned to learn how long the tendering took including the long lines to get off the ship (especially if you did not enjoy the priority of getting off the ship first because you booked an excursion through Celebrity). As a result, I decided to book two rooms at the Doubletree in Cairns during the Solstice overnight to ensure that we could get to the dive boat in time. The ship's snorkel excursion was approx $300 USD pp while booking direct was $160 pp which meant that I could pay for both hotel rooms and still have some cost savings for my family of 4. There! I am going to beat the system!! Yay--or so I thought.......

 

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The ship anchors near Yorkey's Knob which is just north of Cairns. When I woke up, I of course ran straight to the balcony to open the drapes to see what I could see! It was sunny. It was Cairns. It was beautiful.

 

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The photo below was the morning view from my cabin after Solstice anchored. There were all these boats--many of them were shore excursion boats--spread out in front of me like people lining up to get cash from the ATM money machine. I could feel my adrenaline flowing!

 

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There are 4 shore excursion boats in this view from my balcony. The 1st boat on the left was used for my shore excursion CN30 (Exploring the Great Barrier Reef), the next boat to the right was for CN01 (Great Barrier Reef), and the boat on the extreme right was used for CN54 (Overnight on the Great Barrier Reef).

Edited by mahdnc

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we're thinking of booking our excursions in Cairns through celebrity - to ensure we get off the ship in a reasonable time frame

I know they are more expensive through celebrity, but for piece of mind I'd hate to book a private excursion only to find it takes 2 hours to get tendered into shore and we miss out.... besides we've got OBC to spend, so might as well use it on something :-)

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Day 6, Sun Jan 7: Cairns Day 1 Shore Excursion (CN30 Exploring the Great Barrier Reef)

 

I was so excited for this day. Cairns is the main commercial center for the Great Barrier Reef. And we were going to spend two glorious days here. Yes! There are three snorkeling excursions offered by Celebrity: CN01 Great Barrier Reef (goes to the Marine World pontoon run by Reef Magic Cruises, CN30 Exploring the Great Barrier Reef also run by Reef Magic Cruises, and CN54 Overnight on the Great Barrier Reef run by Sunlover by Starlight.

 

We were booked on CN30 which is the snorkeling trip that is done from a dive boat without any pontoon. I bought the tickets on line for about $299 USD per person. They were $319 USD per person by the time you booked on board the cruise ship.

 

Again, we enjoyed the immense convenience of being picked up at the cruise ship and then dropped off there when the excursion was done. That saved 3 hours of time compared to having to get to Cairns for your snorkel/dive boat.

 

There were about 100 passengers on this shore excursion boat when I looked around to estimate the number of people. That's equal to $30,000 USD in revenue! There should have been an Australian Navy destroyer sailing along side us to protect Celebrity's cash.

 

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While on board, the certified diving group was getting its training and orientation

 

The boat was very comfortably equipped. However the one hour ride out to the reef was extremely ROUGH. A lot of us got sea sick very quickly. Bags were handed out to all the passengers. My entire family got seriously nauseous with my son and I becoming vomiting casualties. You could not go out on the open deck to combat the seasickness without getting seriously soaked/wet from the sea spray which is what my wife did. She said there were 3 crew members up there with her tossing their cookies. Sigh. I absolutely hate getting sea sick on diving trips because your best remedy is to get off the bobbing boat and into the water--but with a mask on your face and an air regulator jammed in your mouth. Yuck.

 

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Snorkel Supervisor! Notice how the steel platform has two levels with one platform conveniently located beneath the surface of the water.

When the boat reached the diving location, Saxon Reef, it dropped anchor. My daughter and I looked around at the ocean and then at each other. You could see big white waves crashing onto the shallow reef. It looked so hostile from our vantage point. I think we were both thinking, "this was NOT in the brochure".

 

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I am borrowing this map from Silver Swift which did not operate this trip. You can see Saxon Reef on the map in the center which is where our snorkel boat went.

We all got our gear on including our stylish and fashionable stinger suits to protect us from the jellyfish (which we wore on every dive at every port on this cruise). The back end of the dive boat has a nice wide submerged platform to make it very easy to get in and out of the water. It sure beats using a traditional boat ladder.

 

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The top deck of the snorkel boat was where you got your stinger suits and other gear.

 

The setup with a dive boat is different than with a pontoon. There are snorkel supervisors carefully watching things from the back of the boat. And there was a small motorized raft available to go and rescue anyone that needed it. The biggest difference is that there are no fixed ropes floating in the water to mark where you could go or not go. While still on the boat you are told by the crew where you could go snorkeling, but they asked you to take your face out of the water once in a while to look to see if the snorkel supervisor was summoning you to get back closer to the boat.

Altogether we there were two snorkel/diving sessions with lunch served in between. I was mildly surprised (and disappointed) that the snorkel boat did not relocate to another reef for the second session. From what I had researched, this was customary with a lot of the dive/snorkel companies.

Edited by mahdnc

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Day 6, Sun Jan 7: Cairns Day 1 Shore Excursion (CN30 Exploring the Great Barrier Reef) continued

 

Unlike the snorkeling at Airlie Beach, the sun was out which made a big difference when you were in the water. The visibility was pretty good. And when went out in the water a second time, I was more aggressive in snorkeling away from the boat and out onto the reef. There was so much to see. The amount of fish was amazing. Sometimes I would be looking at something in the distance and my view would be suddenly obscured by a school of fish swimming in front of me. How cool is that?

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There were also an abundance of these Giant Clams (above photo) which were amazing to look at it with its vibrant colors and intricate patterns. The best part was that they couldn't swim away from you so you could take your time to look at it. We also saw reef sharks, sea turtles and a ray.

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Yes, that piece of coral on the left in the above photo looks amazingly like a human hand!

 

 

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At times it felt like I was swimming in an aquarium.

 

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At times the water was so clear that you wouldn't know that a photo like the one above was taken underwater!

Edited by mahdnc

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Day 6, Sun Jan 7: Cairns Day 1 Shore Excursion (CN30 Exploring the Great Barrier Reef) continued

 

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A lookout posted on the top deck of the back of the ship kept a watchful eye on us.

Edited by mahdnc

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So grateful for the photo's of the cabin, my parents and I are in cabin 8107 and I've struggled to find pictures of it. We booked it for the 2 bedrooms, I love my parents but 19 nights is a long time for 3 of us to be crammed into 1 cabin, so to have the extra space and storage area is great.

Shame about it being quite sparse with furniture, I was looking forward to there being a dining table so we could have room service in there if we wanted and not eat off our laps!

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So grateful for the photo's of the cabin, my parents and I are in cabin 8107 and I've struggled to find pictures of it. We booked it for the 2 bedrooms, I love my parents but 19 nights is a long time for 3 of us to be crammed into 1 cabin, so to have the extra space and storage area is great.

Shame about it being quite sparse with furniture, I was looking forward to there being a dining table so we could have room service in there if we wanted and not eat off our laps!

 

 

 

You're welcome! We have 8107 on Solstice booked in 2019. Can you do me the reverse favor and either take photos or tell me whether there's a dining room table in there? I suspect it's not there, but you never know! My email is mahdnc at yahoo dot com

 

By the way, here is the dining room table that our stateroom attendant brought in:

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And the small dresser with drawers:

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You're welcome! We have 8107 on Solstice booked in 2019. Can you do me the reverse favor and either take photos or tell me whether there's a dining room table in there? I suspect it's not there, but you never know! My email is mahdnc at yahoo dot com

 

By the way, here is the dining room table that our stateroom attendant brought in:

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And the small dresser with drawers:

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Absolutely! I plan on taking lots of photos and sharing them as I've struggled to find much information on the cabin.

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Day 6, Sun Jan 7: Cairns Day 1

"Love Me Tender"

 

And then it happened, my careful plans for Cairns started to unravel like a cheap sweater. In checking with Guest Relations on the day before, they had estimated that the last tender going to Cairns today would be around 9pm. The last tender leaving from shore according to Celebrity Today was supposed to be 10:30pm so that made some sense.

 

So now as we began to sail back to Solstice after our diving was over, I started to look at my watch. I reminded the family that once back on the ship we needed to quickly shower, eat dinner in our stateroom, make sure our overnight bags and dive bags were packed, and catch the 8pm tender to shore so that we could get to our hotel rooms for the night. We were staying at the Doubletree as part of my plan to ensure that we could make it early next morning to the dive boat that I had booked independently.

 

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The diving platform at the rear of the boat (Reef Magic II) was folded up when we sailed.

 

 

 

When our dive boat arrived at about 6:50pm, it was great to see Solstice. But she was already busy handling tenders so we had to wait our turn. Finally it was our turn and we got off the dive boat and headed quickly to our cabin. While I was waiting for the shower, I called room service for dinner. It was 7:30pm. We were a little behind schedule, but nothing awful--I just wanted to make sure that we were able to catch one of the last tenders going out to shore (Yorkey's Knob).

 

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Then I heard the ship's propulsion thrusters turn on which made me worried. I called down to the Guest Relations attendant to confirm when the last tender was going ashore. She said that for safety reasons the Captain had already stopped the tendering at 6:30pm earlier that evening. Holy cow. We had already missed the last tender and didn't even know it. Now I have heard of people missing their cruise ship because they missed the final tender. But have you ever heard of someone being stranded on their cruise ship because they missed the last tender?

 

So my insurance plan completely blew up in my face. We were now going to spend the night in our cabin and not in the hotel room. I was already in the penalty period for cancelling both rooms late. And there was a good chance that we might miss getting on tomorrow's dive boat which would cost us more. I immediately started working on Plan B. When I talked to Guest Relations I made sure that our names were on the special tender that goes out first thing in the morning before the normal tendering service began. When I did the planning for this cruise, I didn't think that taking this early tender was good enough to make the dive boat, but that's what we were going to have to do after all......

 

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Edited by mahdnc

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So this makes a lot of sense now. We saw tenders coming in, but no one going back out. I suppose part of this would have been if the weather/ currents got really bad and we had to move early. I thought it was interesting when Captain Tasos was telling us about how he eventually had to use the complete length of the anchor to try and keep us in place.

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I thought it was interesting when Captain Tasos was telling us about how he eventually had to use the complete length of the anchor to try and keep us in place.

 

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Yes, he said that Solstice had trouble maintaining a firm anchor during Day 1 at Cairns. And that the ship had to re-anchor two more times during the day. And--as you said--the final anchor drew out almost the entire length of chain that was available. I can only imagine the groaning that occurred on the bridge each time they realized that the anchor was sliding.

 

I met the Captain a few days later and asked him if both anchors are ever simultaneously used. As I guessed, he said "no" because you risk the ship rotating and twisting the anchor chains together. Evidently his superiors frown upon that kind of thing.

 

Slight correction to my earlier post--Guest Relations said that the tendering was stopped at 6 pm, not 6:30 pm.

 

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By the way, I want to thank the Doubletree for not making me pay the penalty for cancelling both rooms so late. When I called the hotel that evening to at least let them know that we weren't going to make it, I didn't even try to ask them to waive the cancellation fee. But I found out the next day that they did--here is my text exchange with their customer service rep:

 

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How cool is that?

Edited by mahdnc

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Cairns Day 1. Susanne's Day

 

We went on a Ships Excursion to Karunda via Skyrail and back via the train in Gold Class. We chose this as my Father-in-law loves trains and we wanted the most comfortable journey possible for them. When we went to Airlie Beach we did the Aqua Duck (I suppose I should have put that in this review. Well worth doing if someone doesn't want to do diving there) and we left as soon as we arrived at the theatre. Not so much today. We arrived at the theatre at 10.15 for 10.30 and got our lovely stickers and then waited, and waited, and waited. It was close to midday when we started moving towards where we had to board the tender. We ended up sitting up top right near the front which is why we were at the place where the excitement happened. Because the tenders are so large it took a long time for it to fill and we eventually started moving slowly .... towards one of the portholes of the Soltice. The side of the tender buckled and the side window shattered over the 10 of us sitting closest to it.

 

When we finally got off the tender we were whisked off to the Skyrail station which was pretty much a madhouse as there was several tours happening at once and we were all very late. We were told there were 2 stops but we only had to get off at one, which is what everyone seemed to do. This is a pity because we have done the skyrail with our boys before and the stops are all very pretty, but we had to be at the railway station for a 3.p.m departure and no one wanted to miss that.

 

 

The Skyrail is a gondala which goes over the rainforest. Each gondala holds 6 people and that is how many people they squished in because of the crowding. We had great views looking over towards Cairns and Yorkey's Knob and then could hear the birds and insects in the trees. My mother-in-law was surprised by the forest as she thought it was going to be full of flowers.

 

The biggest problem with the skyrail was that because there was so many people and we had two walking stick users we got ignored when we tried to reboard the skyrail. My husband kept trying to tell them to consider that we were also in the line and the woman boarding people kept turning her back to him. It ended up being another staff member who went over and told her to put us on a gondala, and that there were people with a pram who were waiting too.

 

 

We didn't stop at the next stop - not going to risk it, but we would have got better shots of the waterfall there.

 

(I'm having trouble adding photos so I'll try again in the next post)

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So I guess the tender sailed with the broken window? Also how much did the accident delay things? I imagine they checked up on the well being of you guys and the boat?

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The ship didn't even know about the accident for a start and other than sweeping up some glass and putting up a board it didn't seem to delay things much more than it was already delayed.

 

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So hopefully these will work.

Some photos of the Skyrail part of the day. I haven't edited anything so you need to take them as they are. My MIL has just got an iPad and has discovered how to take photos on it (including selfies!) and it's amazing how many photos we have with accidental fingers. But we love that she took lots and lots of photos.

 

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It was 2.15 by the time we finally got to Karunda and with three of us not being the most ambulatory of persons (2 octogenarians, 2 on walking sticks and they are not all the same persons) and needing to be at the railway station for a 3p.m. departure as well as the station for both being a decent walk away from Karunda itself we decided to have an icecream and a sit and bypass Karunda and the shopping centre. This was a bit disappointing, if we had been able to leave earlier, or chosen the following day for the tour we would have seen Karunda, but this is all hindsight.

 

The Railway Station is quite lovely and we boarded our Gold Class carriage with no problems. If I had my choice again I would still pay the extra and go Gold Class, comfortable single seats, beverages served the whole trip which are included in your price (hubby enjoyed having a few beers as we travelled) and either morning or afternoon tea depending on the time of day. We had cashews, a really nice fruit and cheese platter and mango sorbet.

 

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We stopped at a few places and saw some beautiful waterfalls again on the way. We also saw some wallabies towards the end of the trip on the train to the delight of those that are city dwellers or from overseas.

 

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The tendering trip back was uneventful other than again the long wait to get alongside the ship. I think from memory we were bobbing around for about 50 minutes waiting to disembark. We were talking to one of the photographers who said that they were supposed to back on board by 6, but there was no way they could get in trouble if had boarded a tender before 5 and didn't get off until after 6.30 as that isn't their fault.

 

Normally we would have a 6 p.m. dinner seating but we ended up going to the buffet that evening.

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I'm totally giving up on supposed 'free' photo hosting websites. Both ones I tried today have now tried to sting me for money and all I wanted to do was post a few photos here.

 

I hadn't posted any of these photos on Facebook until a few moments ago so now I will try that way.

 

The broken window.

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Skyrail carriages at the first station.

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Skyrail from the train.

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Skyrail boardwalk

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Waterfall from Skyrail

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And now for the others and hope they stay.

 

Karunda Station

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On the train.

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Looking back from our carriage to the rear of the train.

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Falls 1

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Falls 2

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Wallabies

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Susanne, nice pictures. Especially of the wallabies!!

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Day 7, Mon Jan 8: Cairns Day 2

 

Celebrity Today

No MDR menus because we ate at Sushi at Five

Shore Excursion: Independently booked a snorkel/dive trip to the Great Barrier Reef which cost $210 AUD per person for snorkeling and $305 AUD per person for a 3 tank guided dive.

 

Our family's mission today was to get to our dive boat which was located at the Cairn's marina by 8 am to check in. Back in November I had booked my family of 4 for this tour. I chose a boat that seemed to be more oriented for divers vs snorkelers. Of the four dive trips that I had booked on this cruise, I was thinking this would be the best. I had paid a total of $915 AUD which would be forfeited if we missed the boat.

 

Our plans to get there early by staying overnight at the Cairns Doubletree completely collapsed when the tendering to shore was prematurely stopped at 6 pm the night before because of high winds. As a back up plan, I had signed up at Guest Relations a few days earlier for a special early tender for Cairns Day 2. I told them that I needed to be at Yorkey's Knob by 6:30am--not knowing if they could/would accommodate it. They put my name, number of people in my party, stateroom number, and desired time to be ashore on a list which resulted in getting a tender ticket and instructions sent to our stateroom:

 

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On my "Live" thread, I documented the time it took to get to Cairns along with photos which I will supply the links to those photos but not re-post here. Based on the time stamps of my photos, here was how things progressed:

 

We showed up at 5:53 am at the Grand Foyer Deck 3 where a continental breakfast was offered which was great.

 

At 5:54 am we were instructed to form a line in front of the stairs by the elevators.

 

At 5:56 am the line began moving downstairs to the gangway. You had to show and surrender your tender ticket to descend the stairs. Our tender ticket had the letter "A" which implied we were the first early tender and maybe there might be a couple other early tenders before the full blown tendering process started.

 

At 5:58 am my family boarded the tender which was the small ship's tender, not the large commercial ones that would be used later in the day.

 

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At 6:02 am the partially full tender sailed away. There were maybe 15-20 people on board. You can see a second tender in the background of the photo above which suggests there was a "B" tender that was going to load next. The skies did not look promising as dark clouds hung all around us. Thankfully, the ride was pretty smooth.

 

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At 6:30 am our tender arrives Yorkey's Knob. Once we got off the tender, I realized that suddenly we were doing great schedule-wise. All we had to do was find a cab which I presumed/hoped would be available in abundance during this port day. But the parking lot at the marina was pretty dead when we arrived. There were two taxi vans there, but they had been reserved ahead of time by other people on our tender. So after standing around for a few minutes and surveying the entire parking lot, I realized that there were no taxis coming to the marina for passengers--or at least it was too early. So I used my taxi app that I downloaded at Newcastle and called for a cab.

 

At 6:42 am our taxi arrived to pick us up. The ride to Cairns was uneventful and traffic was predictably light. It wasn't all that scenic either although you do pass by the airport on the way there.

 

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At 7:06 am our taxi arrived at the Marlin Wharf by the Sheraton. The fare was $50.10 AUD. Once our tender sailed away from Solstice, it took a little more than one hour to get to our destination in Cairns--in this case and under rather ideal conditions.

 

Incredibly, we were now officially early as the dive boat was not ready to take on passengers! So ironically my elaborate/expensive plans to make it on time to this dive boat not only didn't work, it wasn't needed! Overplanning at its worst.

 

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Edited by mahdnc

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I am reading with interest and totally understanding of your experience. We sailed Solstice February to March in 2017 and had some fun and games with the tendering in Yorkeys Knob, Airlie Beach & Port Douglas.

Your planning is admirable and despite the set backs you were very fortunate to get the early tenders the next morning, not to mention getting a taxi at Yorkeys Knob!!! No mean feat. :D I'm very happy to read it all turned out OK for you (so far.......) ;p

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