Very hard to find with Google. I only found big ships; Coral Expedition (CE) with small boat was the only choice with key words such as "cruise the Great Reef Barrier”. Tougher to find Coral Expedition II (CE) in the Great Reef Barrier on Trip Ad search engine. This may be one reason why so few reviews are published and awardly mixed with Kimberley & Asia cruises comments. Besides, passengers are in majority from old to very old and probably not tech oriented. I must do justice to the exeptional team on my 7 days trip in August 2017.
The reservation team:
In spite of being a last minute reservation 2 weeks before departure, every inquiry on email were handled immediately by the reservation team as compared to other cruise lines competitors who did not answer to my inquiries. Dawn and Benjamin dealt with my contraints and changing schedules, found 4 + 3 days trip in an upper deck cabin without single supplement, 1st big pleasant surprise. CE kept my luggage at their office and brought it to the terminal at boarding time, which freed an extra day visiting Cairns. 2nd pleasant surprise. Even more exceptional is their after trip care: they wrote to me about forgotten items on my cabin asking for directives on what to do with them ! 3rd surprise.
The weather challenge:
- Many got sea sick, but it's a trade off for an intimate, small boat with limited number of passengers. It was not an obstacle for my fun. CE is so generous as to depart even when very few people registered.
- Dry suits and all gears provided at no charge; I kept them on everytime I got to the ocean so I could last longer.
The passengers :
- Cons: average age of passengers in my trip was above their 70ies, oldest was 91 yo. In spite of clear warnings from the crew that some activities required a very good physical fitness, some elderlies overestimated their capacity, could not follow and might be limiting factors. I would have preferred a younger, more dynamic and sport crowd to team up with.
- Pros: luckily, they were lively, happy, fun, well travelled with experienced to share. The very few young adults were more tensed, avoided eye contacts, nearly hostile or simply shy, but gradually relaxed towards the end of their trip. Packages were either 4 days length (North leg, my favourite) or 3 (South leg), new passengers joined in between; making up your group and bonding was facilitated compared to other formula with passengers joining any day for different trip lengths.
Wonder how CE select their staff with such interpersonal social skills, personality, attitude. Those qualities could not be trained. Maybe all Aussies are as nice, kind and generous ?!? Coral Exp, please keep them happy so they could contaminate us with their strong spirit.
13 staff members multi-talented, with multiple professional expertise and skills, switching tasks and responsibility seamlessly, from captainship to skippers to general maintenance to restaurant assistance and back. Everyone does everything, yet tasks seemed well defined, nothing got overlooked. They knew our names, even though we don't wear our name tag all the time and passengers rotation is every 3 to 4 days.
Maintenance team were so efficient and discreet that we don’t get to see them; the rooms were always made up regardless of how many times we used the room and the bathroom, unlike in major hotel chains, 4th surprise. Thanks to Jay, Samy, and Aaron (?).
Charlie with a heart of gold provided first aid for an elderly who travelled alone and broke his wrist; they took him to the hospital and back to the boat. Everyone helped him up and down the stairs, in rough sea or for glass bottom boat trips.
Carole the purser from France, looked after us.
Dany the marine biologist presented the ocean inhabitants like romanced stories or a cartoon characters, each personalized with their funny peculiarity, temperament, specific job in the food chain & in keeping the reefs.
Ford, the engineer, is one of the lesser known crew member. He worked round the clock and fixed plumbing, engine, everything maintenance, you name it. Ford has worked for so many years on cruise boats and will tell you about diving in the area and in New Zealand.
In the kitchen, Karina and the other chef (forgot his name and lost a point on the trivial pursuit !) did magic with the unreal sea food buffet. I am impressed with the prawn avocado salad; steamed red snaper; Morton Oysters; impossible roquette salad with parmesan, pine nut and pear; prawns marinated in coconut, lemon grass; or seared, Asian style salad, coconut & lemon grass fried scampi, chow mein; lamb racks. I ate so much and wished that one of the meals would be less appealing so my stomach could rest ! I would have loved more Australian fruits on my next trip with you, promised ?
Here come the activities:
I was not aware of all the land activities, I won't list them all here to leave room for surprises. That makes my 5th surprises. Land activities do not seem to be included in other live board cruises. Bring your sport walking shoes.
Picnic, wonderful snorking and kayaking on Lizard Island beach till sun set; the next day mooring there, we went for a 3 hours walk up to the top of Lizard island only for the fittest ones; getting down the same steeped path seemed scary but actually much easier. Stunning views that compensate for the wake up call at 5:00 am. Check the wild orchids; the yellow flower shrubs (similar to the yellow flowers that bloom at the Vietnamese New Year and turn black and red after they ripen) contrasting with the deep blue back ground; the piles of rocks and stone that each visitor is supposed to bring up to the peak of the island.
Fish feeding sessions night and day: we were in the water and saw a huge humphead Maori wrasse all blue and green, bigger than me, staring at me. I was scared for nothing as Maori humphead are only kind and curious.
Very interesting visit to the very expensive Cooktown sea front; museum entrance fee on your own.
Not as many dives as in other liveboard bc of land expeditions.
2 bottom glass trips at each site, for those who don't want to get wet or unfit to swim. Very skilled, precised skippers holding the boat still above interesting spots, positioned aside so to let the sun light gets through; parked the boat of 15 passengers with only one trial on top of the boat lift. Even though I dove and snorkelled, I went on all bottom glass trips to listen to Dany’s explanations, to have a sample of what to expect, then decide if I wanted to snorkle there. We love you Dany !
We were unlucky with the mangrove expedition at high tide. No fauna, birds, crocs visible. Turtle farm very instructive but nothing to see there.
My baptism to diving with Ricardo:
Con: no dive site layout. I suggest that we have a printed itinerary on the daily new bulletin.
Pros: the 1st test dive of my manipulation of the equipment took 30 mn; 2nd dive 11,50 m (= 37”) at Ribbon Reef #3 spectacular, 33 mn; 3rd dive 11.90m, the max allowed 12 m for beginners, 36 mn fabulous. Wordless. In 1st dive, I was alone w Ricci. 2nd, Sami and David got along but followed us autonomously.
Saw a cleaning station w neon blue damsels, Nemo the clown fish in ocre and blue collar in and out of anemone. Big yellow fish with brown polka dots under the corals. Huge califlowers bolders, jack fruit, bamboo, clayfish antennae, butterfly fish, no angel fish, yellow trumpet fish with green lines, square black flat fish with yellows stripes, dark blue box with yellow spots. Big bénitiers no colour, probably victims of bleaching. I dreamt, years ago, of swimming with a school of fish friends, no one else, in the deep blue. Dream came true ! We were given feed-backs after every dive.
Everybody looked after you so that you set your equipment adequately for your comfort and fun.
Colours are dissapointing in the South leg, even under the sun. Without the sun, even the North leg could be blah. Out of my 4 dives, only 2 really did wonders, the 1st being a test dive. You could see as many with snorkling alone, although you will miss out on the tall walls, the deep blue above you, shoals of fishes. Snorkling in Polynesia was much better years ago.
While passengers were loading on and off in between the 2 legs of my trip, a visit were organized to Thapukai place, at the foot of Kuranda rain forest. We had to wait for unecessary period of time and missed out on visiting the wonderful facility.
We snorkled and dove at Dunk and Lizard Island, Nathan reef, Watson's Bay on Cooks Island ?, Ribbon Reefs 3 and 9 and Escape Island
No tip policy in Australia, so I managed to offer small gifts to express my gratitude, which the crew really appreciated.
Dropped me off to my after cruise hotel.
I did not keep track of all the beautiful details daily and must have missed quite a bunch, so please amplify the pleasure.
Thanks to all the team of Coral Expeditions. Go with them !
(same comments posted in Trip Advisor)
Everything was so clean I walked barefeeted at all time throughout the boat. Never have had sand on the floor or sea salt on the lazy chair in the upper deck. My room was located next to the Cpt and the command “office” where the team has its meetings, which welcomed visitors when the door is open. Beautiful super quiet upper deck cabin with wooden panels, clicking doors, generous space and showers; I would not pay more to get a luxury cabin located at the corner with an extra window. Capacity for 3 occupants. Small beds may not satisfy tall passengers. Nice classical radio station in the back ground in my room, when the reception was possible as we sailed far away from land. No internet is a very welcome issue. Keyless policy provides a sense of absolute freedom and confidence. High quality toilettries that handled very well the aggression of sea, salt and wind to my problem skin and hair.
- Cons: low ventilation in the bathroom which fogged up with every shower, clothes hang on the line never get dry. Temperature on the boat and in the room in the 1st leg of 4 days in my trip was very very cold, while the weather outside was plainly beautiful and warm. The 2nd leg of 3 days did not have this temperature problem.