Onboard marine biologists give enrichment lectures on the Great Barrier Reef and its abundance of sea life. This is particularly helpful in recognising the types of fish and coral you see from the glass-bottom boat or when snorkelling and diving. A range of books also helps in the accurate identification of what you see underwater. A brief historical overview of the area includes the exploits of Captain James Cook, who ran aground in the area while charting the coast; interested passengers can learn more about Cook on some of the shore excursions.
A small library in the lounge includes novels as well as glossy books on the reefs, rainforests, Australian animals and marine life. There are a number of board games such as Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly, Scrabble and chess, along with Sudoku, word-finds and colouring-in sheets for children. A selection of movies for playing on the lounge television includes Nemo of course. (Trivia: The name Nemo was taken from the word anemone.)
* May require additional fees
Once during each cruise the marine biologists set up a 'touch tank' of marine specimens including different types of coral, sea cucumbers and sea stars so passengers can get a close look at their anatomy. Fish feeding, when everyone is out of the water, attracts large species such as sharks, trevally and batfish.
The open Bridge policy means passengers can sit in the bridge and chat to the captain and crew anytime while underway. A high bench seat gives an excellent view and there are binoculars for whale spotting.
At 6 each evening passengers are invited to the upper deck Lounge Bar for pre-dinner drinks (though the lounge is open all hours). This is a time for guests to mingle and chat about the day's adventures. It's also an opportunity for the trip director to go through the next day's itinerary. After dinner on the last evening of each cruise there is a fun trivia quiz based on the facts given during the enrichment lectures.
The ship has two small bars: One is located in the dining room on the lower deck and the other is in the Lounge on the upper deck. Both bars are essentially the same, surrounded by a few bar stools. Although you can order a drink at any time by calling the purser or a staff member, the bars are not manned around the clock.
The bar in the Dining room is primarily used during meal service and for those who want to linger over after-dinner drinks. There are stools at the bar and a large U-shaped sofa opposite and dining tables take up the rest of the space.
The bar in the upper deck Lounge is more popular as there is ample seating and a great view; along with stools at the bar there are comfortable sofas and lounge chairs inside and tables and chairs on the adjacent outside deck. This is where pre-dinner drinks are served at 6:00 p.m. each evening. Although not crowded, many passengers congregate here at this time, and while there two staff are stationed behind the bar, initial orders can be a bit slow, especially if there are lots of cocktail orders. Many use this 'time as an opportunity to chat with fellow passengers as you wait for your drinks, as the ambience is relaxed and convivial. Some passengers retire here for an after-dinner drink, but most head to bed early. It's all quiet by 9:30 p.m. or 10:00 p.m.
There is a selection of spirits and liqueurs ranging from AU$8-14, beers are AU$7-8 and all cocktails are AU$12, except the cocktail of the day, which is AU$10.
There is no swimming pool onboard; it was removed during a recent refurbishment.
As an expedition ship there are no onboard facilities like climbing walls or ropes courses. Recreation is focused on exploring the islands and reefs and includes beach walks, bushwalks and mountain hikes, depending on the cruise. Both cruises include glass-bottom boat tours, snorkelling and diving the Great Barrier Reef.
The glass-bottom boat is accessed straight from the deck and lowered into the water via a hydraulic platform. This doubles as a swim platform once the boat has manoeuvred off and makes getting in and out of the water easy for snorkellers and divers.
Books, board games and videos are available in the upper deck Lounge.
The Sun Deck is adjacent to the Lounge on the upper deck and has a shaded area as well as space for sunbathing. There are timber tables and chairs under the shade that are sometimes used for meal services during warm, calm weather. There are now eight deck lounge chairs, which can be moved around depending on whether passengers want sun or shade. They are comfortable, but guests need to call a staff member to bring out the cushions as they are put away when not in use.
A collection of books, games, cards and movies for passenger use is housed in cupboards in the upper deck Lounge. A selection of items for sale, on display in the Dining Room, includes laminated fish and coral identification cards, books on the reef and rainforest, charts of the cruise routes and monogramed clothing.
There is no internet cafe or Wi-Fi onboard but the ship remains within mobile network range for much of the cruise. While there is no laundry, there is a clothesline in the cabin bathrooms.
There is no spa onboard.
As this is an expedition cruise there are ample opportunities to keep fit by walking, climbing or jogging during onshore visits and by swimming, snorkelling and diving. The more energetic can conquer a 385-metre peak (1263 feet) before breakfast on the four-night cruise. There is no fitness complex or exercise equipment onboard other than kayaks, which can be used during beach excursions.
While there is no minimum age to sail aboard the ship, there are no children's clubs, programs or babysitting facilities, so keeping an eye on crawling babies or very young children, especially on the open deck and up and down the steep, narrow staircases could be a bit stressful. That said, fellow passengers sometimes lend a helping hand for well-behaved young children. It's certainly a great cruise for teaching interested kids about the reef ecosystem, learning to snorkel or taking an introductory dive (minimum age 12).
Staterooms can accommodate three people, but a family of four will need to book two cabins. (If children are too young to sleep in their own cabin parents often opt to sleep separately with one child each.) Most children will find lots to eat from the varied food on offer, but special meals can be arranged if necessary.