Did this on June 9, which is still today. Spent so much time with the whale sharks I feel like we're BFFs now. It was AMAZETASTICAL. Best part, other than the whale sharks, humpies (what the crew called humpback whales), tons of spinners (dolphins that like to spin when they jump out of the water), a dugong, two sea snakes, a leopard shark, a turtle, a mink whale (didn't get to see the 'minky' as the crew called them though, but my partner did), and several Chuck Norris jokes, was the customer service. We chose 3 Islands over others because of the rave reviews about their service, which, I can honestly confirm, is awesome. Very hospitable, friendly, informative, and upbeat, the crew made the experience that little bit more special. Also, the cd of photos that is part of the package, not an extra cost. Luke, who has a very interesting nickname that I won't mention here, was awesome and made an effort to get me and my partner in photos. I always like reading in-depth reviews, so if you're like me, read on, if not, that's probably all you need to know.
Picked up from accommodation by a smiley Tara, plopped on a bus, and then given a very informative talk about the wildlife, some history, and the area, which I enjoyed because I had no idea what the giant tower looking things in front of us were (radios, turns out). Then got to ask Tara a bunch of questions about the whale shark, like why do they look like they do. She was very knowledgeable and obviously loves the giant critters.
Then got on a small boat to get on the big boat (Draw Card). The crew members made an effort to remember our names, which is always nice. No faffing about though, which is good, and straight into getting our gear - they provided fins, snorkel, mask, wetsuits, and even rashies. The crew was good to give info about the water and gear (temp, if we need a wetsuit, pros and cons of wetsuits) and about snorkeling. Little thoughtful things, that emerged throughout the trip, really stuck out, such as ginger candy, which I ate most of and probably no one else did, lots of anti-fog for the masks (I hate foggy masks), and cushions to sit on (I hate when my bum gets sore). Very hospitable, quickly offered drinks. A safety briefing followed, and also important information about the boat and activities ahead.
Boat was spacious, clean, well presented, not smelly, except for the gas from the motor but there's nothing you can do about that, had storage boxes for all your gear. Spent about half an hour going out to the outer reef. Beautiful day, scenery, you name it. Was on the bow for most of it soaking up the sunshine and sea spray. Saw some humpies and a leopard shark.
On the outer reef had a starter snorkel to get used to the water and make sure our gear was all good. Wasn't a great sight for snorkeling, but then a dugong (also known as a sea-cow or a manatee) did show up. I only saw it for a brief instant, and yes it looks like a FAT dolphin that's been punched in the face a few times and has recently been dumped by the love of its life. Then a nice morning tea (which isn't just tea, but also includes snacks). Cakes and fruits and breads and coffees and teas for everyone. Had plenty for everyone which is a plus.
The aptly named spotter plane quickly spotted a spotty whale shark, which was close to us, a very convenient whale shark. Briefing about how to snorkel with the shark. It wasn't really a briefing, more of an informative puppet show, without puppets, but with action figures instead. Received some great tips on making the most out of your time in the water and an inspiring quote: 'don't let yourself have a sub-standard time with the whale shark'. Split into two groups of ten, I was in group one so we got in first (both groups got lots of time with the whale sharks).
Jumped in the water, and the next face I saw was a big fish face with tiny eyes, A WHALE SHARK. It was huge. Swam with it for maybe ten minutes, not sure. Repeat 6x. Posed for photos with the shark. Saw different sizes, sexes, fish swimming around it, and behavior. The first whale shark was very chill and swam near the surface the whole time. Other whale sharks swam under us. Still others would swim near the surface dived down for a bit, then come back up. A vertical whale shark is neat to see, really gives you an idea of how freaking massive they are. In between whale sharks, we spent time on the bow of the boat soaking up sunshine, or circling around a big group of spinner dolphins.
One interesting aside, one whale shark swam up right under the boat, and an older lady in our group, who decided not to come in because she was tired, was in exactly the right place in the right time, jumped in the water as the whale shark got to the boat and she got a photo with it too.
A note on safety, the crew were always around, had floaties for those who were not strong swimmers, and there was a small boat that followed us around and all you had to do was raise your arm up and it would come pick you up for whatever reason. My girlfriend tested it out, it's true.
Lunch was good. I'm vegetarian but forgot to mention my special dietary needs when I booked the trip. No fuss as there was pasta and salads, along with deli meats and roast chicken, and bread and butter. Being a vegetarian, I'm not sure why I wished they had prawns too. Plenty of food as I had three serves. Again service was great as lunch was prepped in under fifteen minutes, and trash and dishes handled really well.
Chilled out for a bit then had an afternoon snorkel on outer reef. Better than the morning outer reef snorkel, saw black tip reef shark, a long pipe fish, some jellies that had neon lights installed on them. An easy leisurely snorkel. Headed back, which didn't seem to take long, because Boss Noss split up the trip back with the afternoon snorkel. Clever move Boss Noss. After snorkeling, more food, cheese, crackers and fruits. Having the three meals was great because chasing whale sharks requires energy.
Group photos. Couples photos. Emotional goodbyes. Bus trip back to the accommodation, did surveys, wrote in a comments book, got a bumper sticker, a fridge magnet, and a pen too, woohoo! Got shown a plant that's in the shape of a bird at the end of the bus trip. Pretty neat.
Picking up photo cd tomorrow from 9am, which is a great turnaround time, or can be posted to you for $5.
I could probably write more, but I shouldn't because I just got back from the whale shark tour and I still haven't showered so I'm a bit salty. Just want to say thanks to the crew, and that I definitely highly unequivocally recommend not only this experience, but to have this experience with 3 Islands. Also, they played good music on the boat. If not for the whale sharks and the crew and the photo cd, go for that at least.
Oooh, one question, if someone from 3 Islands ends up reading this. Why are you called 3 Islands? And what are these islands three?