My wife and I have not been on many cruise ships, preferring independent travel and small venues over the crowded, packaged ships we see so often in port at home (San Francisco USA). The sailing on the Coral Ex II for 4 nights on the ... Read More
My wife and I have not been on many cruise ships, preferring independent travel and small venues over the crowded, packaged ships we see so often in port at home (San Francisco USA). The sailing on the Coral Ex II for 4 nights on the Great Barrier Reef appealed to us due to the itinerary, size of the vessel and, of course, the chance to snorkel and dive on the Great Barrier Reef.
My rating of Excellent stems from a nearly flawless experience by the ship's crew and the fact that all our expectations were met or exceeded on this cruise. We only booked the 4 night sailing, which has an extension to a more southern itinerary for 3 additional nights, and regret not booking the extension!
To be specific, embarkation was done in Cairns, Australia, which is one of the largest towns in Queensland and we spent a few days enjoying the tropical atmosphere (Botanical Gardens were wonderful), and seafood. The Esplanade was an area for strolling and relaxing prior to our cruise.
Formalities for boarding were handled efficiently and in that friendly Aussie way, with outstanding cookies and excellent coffee and tea ready while we mingled with the other guests. It was a small group, around 40 people, and a nice mix of singles, couples, and families. Since it was just before the Christmas holidays, we felt we just missed the crowds of holiday travelers. The bookshelves had donated novels, marine life guidebooks, and games for guest use.
Cabin was larger than I expected, and once our luggage and personal items were stowed, the area was fine for the two of us. Nice wood paneling and the bathroom was actually larger than I expected with complimentary toiletries and fresh, fluffy towels every day. I was a bit disappointed that there was no card to acknowledge that we would be celebrating our 25th anniversary during this cruise, but more on that later...
The itinerary would take us on the first day from Cairns north to Cooktown, the largest town in the Cape York area, and I had an interest in visiting their botanic garden. We stopped on the reef for a dive/snorkel and although bleaching was evident near the tops of the reef, at depth all seemed fine as the water was a bit cooler. I want to say that the staff at the Coral Ex office responded to my questions regarding reef condition promptly and were accurate in their description.
Sadly, the Cooktown botanic garden was closed for Christmas holidays, but not after we had hiked uphill in tropical heat for half an hour. Our plan to catch a taxi was laughably overestimating the facilities in this small but charming town. Fortunately there were pubs serving cold beer and the Cooktown museum, with good AC and fascinating: well worth the visit.
Our next day was spent at Lizard Island, one of the reasons we booked this particular cruise. I had always wanted to see it, the fringing reefs, though suffering from bleaching, still had wonderful life (giant clams, an octopus, rays, and lots of fish), plus the historic ruins of a homestead in addition to the uber-expensive resort. Upon returning to our room, we found a bucket of sparkling wine and the staff's best wishes for our anniversary. So I am an idiot for thinking they forgot. We shared the bottle at dinner that night, graciously hosted by the captain (Charlie).
The next several days were out on the open water at the Ribbon Reefs, another destination I was interested to see. Diving was good, and weather/sea conditions perfect.
Now for the stars of the cruise: the staff. Forgive me if I forget the names (pro tip: remember that names of the staff!) but every staff member from the captain, purser, chefs, room attendants, dive staff, and marine biologist were hardworking, gracious and devoted to anything and everything you might need. Seasick? Cut finger? Lost dive gear? On a special diet? More towels? I personally witnessed an attentive and caring staff for four days that made this holiday special. It can be confusing at times: some of the staff did more than one job from food service to driving the Zodiac boats, although to my knowledge only Captain Charlie piloted the ship.
And the food. Upon disembarkation, I actually told the Captain that they should market the cruise as a foodie expedition first and reef cruise secondly. The quality of every meal, especially dinners, coming out of the ship's kitchen was extraordinary, considering we were in the middle of the ocean on a small ship. Extraordinary not just for taste, but the presentation of each course. Even in buffet style, it was all pleasing and professional. I personally appreciated having two different salads with my dinner, and the seafood was a treat, especially on the first night. Lots of choice, as well.
I am an experienced scuba diver and although I wouldn't characterize this cruise as a 'dive boat', the diving staff were knowledgable and equipment was in fine shape. As I said, there is some bleaching of coral, but divers could still see good sections of reef and I enjoyed my diving. No need to bring your own gear.
All in all we enjoyed this small ship experience so much that we are looking at their other offerings for future trips. Well done, you guys, and see you in the Kimberley someday! Read Less