From the moment I stepped onto this ship I was impressed by the friendliness and professionalism of the wonderful crew. Safety was paramount, both on and off the ship. I remember during one of the earlier safety briefings thinking, 'if someone were to get into difficulty on this cruise, they couldn't be in more capable hands'. Little did I think that I would be that 'someone'.
I was setting out on the seven night cruise from Cairns, combining the three night cruise going south with the four night cruise going north. I had chosen Coral Expeditions because there was no single supplement for solo travellers, like myself, and with only forty (or less) passengers and open seating in the dining room I felt it would be easy to get to know my fellow cruisers. I was not wrong. Everyone, both crew and passengers, were looking out for each other, but not in an intrusive way. If you wanted some 'me' time, just to take in the magnificent views, read a book or stroll along a deserted beach, you could do this.
The crew were incredibly well organised, but the organisation was low key – you never felt regimented. You could do as much or as little as you wanted. There were activities for different ability levels. There were many opportunities to view different reefs either by glass bottom boat, snorkelling or scuba diving. Kristen, the marine biologist, and Lex, who was clearly passionate about this marine wonderland, made the glass bottom boat tours so enjoyable. Kristen's presentations in the ship's lounge on the Great Barrier Reef were informative and interesting, the touch tank was a great experience, especially for the children, the fish feeding off the back of the boat was another memorable activity.
Pre-dinner drinks was always a lovely time. What nicer way to sip a glass of wine than sitting on a tropical beach of an uninhabited island watching the sun go down! Other evenings we would have pre-dinner drinks in the ship's upper lounge and this was an excellent opportunity to get to know ones fellow cruisers.
Must mention the food – wow! - it never failed to amaze me how chef Mitch could produce such a variety of tasty, colourful, well presented dishes from his relatively small kitchen. I thoroughly enjoyed every single meal.
It's hard to pick my favourite part of the cruise, but if I had to, it would be the Hinchinbrook Channel. Not a sunny day but the cloud covered mountains reflected in the still waters produced an ethereal feeling. The day started before dawn with a boat cruise into one of the mangrove-lined inlets. It was so quiet. What a privilege to be there! Later that morning when we went for a bushwalk on Hinchinbrook Island we got back our 'land-legs'. I found the creek crossings a little challenging but Evie, the dive instructor, and other crew members were there to help us cross safely.
Unfortunately, my wonderful cruise came to an abrupt end on the sixth morning off Lizard Island. I experienced medical problems whilst snorkelling. Evie responded to my hand signals and cries for help in a flash and swam out to me whilst Ricci brought the dinghy over. I was gently lifted into the dinghy and taken back to the ship where I was hooked up to oxygen. My memory of the episode is a little blurry but I do remember the caring, competent and professional way Evie and Ricci and the rest of the crew looked after me. There was an urgency but no panic. In my 70 years I have seen a lot of teams at work but the crew of Coral Expeditions II was the most outstanding team I've ever seen. It was reassuring to feel that they were working together to achieve the best possible outcome. A doctor was found among the passengers and the captain liaised with the doctor and the flying doctor. The purser, Udo, gently explained that I needed to be flown to the Cairns Base Hospital for tests (I really didn't want to leave the ship!) and then he organised my packing wrapping everything in polythene to protect against salt water ready for my transfer to the island resort and then the flying doctor back to Cairns.
The kindness and support shown by the personnel of Coral Expeditions did not end with my evacuation from Lizard Island. I had barely arrived at the hospital when I received a visit from a lady who introduced herself as Tracy, hospitality and operations manager from Coral Expeditions Head Office. Tracey kept in touch with me while I was in hospital, checking to see if there was anything I needed. When I was discharged from hospital, Jacinta, also from head office, picked me up and drove me to my hotel.
Words cannot adequately convey my gratitude to Evie, Ricci and the rest of the crew. If it hadn't been for their prompt and competent action I believe I would not be here to tell the tale.
I was travelling solo but I never felt alone. I highly recommend Coral Expeditions and hope to travel with them again one day.