This is my 1st actual cruise - just done day trips before. So this is written from the perspective of someone who is new to all this. Colour me impressed.
What do you get when you cross the untouched beauty of the outer Great Barrier Reef with an experienced crew whose focus is on making sure you get to see as much of it as possible?
No prize for guessing it is Coral Expeditions 7 night Great Barrier Reef Cruise on the Coral Explorer II.
Setting off on in Jan 2020, we had a largely international passenger list (Austrian, German, British, Dutch, Americans vs a scattering of Australians) and passengers aged from 8 to 60+. We experienced magnificent beaches, (seemingly) endless rainforest and day after day of jaw dropping coral reefs.
This isn't the sort of grand cruise with 4,000 of your closest friends where you amuse yourself sipping martinis in a deck chair - though you could - apparently the espresso martinis Kiahani was making were excellent (as were her and Rosie's Lemon, Lime and Bitters)
Instead it was a 'get out and get about' sort of trip - even for the oldest of us. You go on this trip to get out onto the islands, the beaches and particularly to dive, snorkel and take a glass bottomed boat across the outer reef. If you weren't confident in the water the apparently inexhaustible trip director Richard was always ready to jump in and tow you round holding on to a life ring, leaving the perpetually smiling Dive Instructor Liv to break the bad news to the younger cohort that you needed to be at least 12 to go scuba diving in Australia.
While we were out in the water, Wairu (with his umbrella) and Mate John (always with his cuppa) would keep an eye on us, ready to zoom in on the Zodiac or Glassy to retrieve us if we ran into any difficulty.
When we came back on board Jamil and Beau would have snacks waiting till to tide us over till lunch or dinner.
In the background skippers David (north leg) and Simon (south leg) working and reworking the schedule, course and anchorages to keep us comfortable and maximise our ability to see everything we could. Engineer Ford keeping everything running while teaching Liv more about the ship's systems. The gentle hum of Purser Manfred's soft French accent was (seemingly) always in the background reminding us to hold on so we do not fall down the stairs.
Professionals putting on a professional performance, but with smiles and a welcome.
Everyone knowing their jobs and working together to make the trip a success. They made it look easy, but I am sure it wasn't.
... and a success it was, as we sailed hundreds of kilometers to meet an octopus, several Epaulette sharks, a Green Sea Turtle and endless, endless fish.
Ribbon Reef #9 (my favorite) was like swimming in a great big warm fish tank packed with tropical fish. Hundreds of them, thousands of them - inches from your facemask.
Then there was Yamacutta Reef, Ribbon #3, Escape Reef, Dunk Island, Lizard Island and Nathan Reef.
I feel tired just thinking about it.
It being stinger (and rainy) season we all wore "stinger suits" - which turned out to be nothing really - just body covering panyhose which you would forget you had on once in the water.
The water 28C or so, so you could spend hours (literally) floating face down breathing through a snorkel as you watched the amazing display beneath you.
I must have spend at least 20 hours in the water over the 7 days aboard. Sometimes the sun shone, sometimes the rain pelted down - but it didn't matter. Always beneath you there was this engrossing scene of the reef doing its thing. Right there - for real - in front of your face - not on a TV screen.
Overall an extraordinary experience, and if you are wondering if you should go - the answer is "Yes".
No "ifs-buts-or-maybes" - just "yes". (Unless you are likely to give Manfred a mighty scare by falling down his stairs - they are a bit steep).
I have always found the idea of "cruising" a bit off-putting, but I am glad I bit the bullet and went on this trip.
Now I am looking at Coral Expeditions Kakadu and PNG trips (swim with whale sharks - sure!)
Fine if you are by yourself as I was. A bit cozy for 2. Mainly because storage is limited.
Cable locker right behind the bulkhead by your head.
In the bow so maximises movement of the ship - avoid if vulnerable to sea sickness
There is a reason this is the cheapest cabin on the ship, but if these issues are not a problem for you (they were not issues for me) then this cabin is a bargain.