I don’t post here nearly as often as I would like, or as often as should compared to how much I utilize this site, but every once in awhile I have an adventure while travelling that is just so great I wind up saying “I need to post a positive tripadvisor review when we get back.” The overnight Reef Encounter operating out of Cairns, Australia is one such experience.
In terms of a ‘Bucket list’ wish list of things to do – snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) of Australia has always been pretty much #1 for me. And in May 2011 I was able to make that dream a reality. Of course it’s a long way from my hometown of Boston, MA, USA, but after a year of planning and saving, my wife and I were able to get there as part of a two-week long trip of a lifetime to Australia.
As to this portion of the trip, if I had any fears of coming back from the GBR saying “it was OK, but I’ve seen better in Mexico or Hawaii” – WRONG. It really was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done! Just unbelievable. We went out with Reef Encounter/Reef Experience, which I had read quite a bit about here, and I just can’t say enough good things about this outfit. I wish we had stayed at least another night! The crew was fantastic. The overnight boat was very comfortable. But once you get in the water – OMG. Suffice to say, I’ve snorkeled many great places in the Caribbean, Mexico, etc., but this just blew them all away. I even finally got convinced to try Scuba, which for some reason I have always been hesitant to try, and boy – what a thrill! The young woman who gave me the half hour trip down, Lucy, did a super job with a somewhat nervous newbie. Over the better part of 24 hours I did 5 incredible snorkels, and 1 dive seeing small sharks, turtles, a school of a dozen four-foot long buffalo parrot fish, more schools of other fish than you can imagine, and corral that defies description – thrill of a lifetime! I can’t provide enough superlatives about the experience, or the group at Reef Encounter that made it happen. To clarify – there’s Reef Encounter and Reef Experience – the Experience is the day boat for day trippers from Cairns – and from there you can transfer to spend a night, or two or more on the Encounter. I wish we had stayed at least one more night. I’ll say again that the crew on the overnight boat was first rate. Helpful, friendly and there because they love what they do. It also should be pointed out they do a tremendous job when it comes to safety – making sure you do a quick sign out and back in each time you go in and out of the water. They really have their act together. I also should mention that my wife is not that comfortable in the water and was given special consideration. One of the gals on the boat took her along in the water as a guide which not only took the pressure off of me (and made it so I could go off and enjoy myself), but having an experienced person in the water with her made a huge difference.
Overall, this really was just a great trip. I can’t compare it to other outfits in the region – and of course the GBR is so vast you could spend a lifetime exploring its many wonders. All I can say is we were extremely happy with the Reef Encounter– the boat, the location out on the outer reef, the crew were all excellent. The sleeping accommodations and the food were very good as well – maybe not gourmet, but plentiful and well prepared.
Which brings me to one other thing on the overnight with Reef Encounter. They do offer a ‘Top Deck’ level, which is quite a bit more money, and which I had seriously considered. Here’s my opinion after the fact. The folks we saw who did it probably didn’t regret it. I didn’t regret not doing it (and we are fairly fussy travelers – early 50’s, not part of the backpacker set). The Top Deck gets you a slightly larger room (but not a huge difference). They get (in this instance) ‘a guy’ who kind of takes care of them the entire time – drinks, help with your dives, etc. – he’s there for you. Dinner up top with the captain of the ship with some champagne? Charming I’m sure. To me, it seemed like it sort of made those folks a bit distant from the rest of the people on board – most of whom we really enjoyed meeting and chatting with –we met nice people from Europe, other parts of Australia, all over the world really. So, make your own decision there. If you need the additional pampering and don’t mind spending the extra money it could be well worth it. I certainly did not feel like I missed out not going that route though.
In summary, I spent a lot of time researching our entire trip (I have a write up about our 2-week long trip in the Australia Forum). Our night out on the Great Barrier Reef with Reef Encounter was not only the highlight of an incredible trip, but truly was one of the most amazing experiences ever. Highly recommended!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Reef Encounter,Great Barrier Reef, Cairns Liveaboard is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef’s floating luxury boutique hotel. Spend one night or several nights on one of the Natural Wonders of the World. Transfers departing from Cairns, Queensland daily, offering guests a unique opportunity to enjoy the ultimate reef experience. Enjoy the sunsets, relax, snorkel or scuba dive the crystal clear blue waters. ... more less
- Reservation Options:
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- Also Known As:
- Reef Encounter Hotel Great Barrier Reef