My cruise with Coral Expeditions began with their smooth and generous handling of my travel delays. They went above and beyond to make sure I could embark as planned. Because of my delayed arrival, I did not get to see anything of Cairns.
The cruise itself went from Cairns to Cooktown and then along the Great Barrier Reef and back to Cairns, departing Monday evening and returning Friday morning.
The first night featured a spectacular buffet dinner in the comfortable dining room, where I met my fellow cruisers. There were only 22 of us, so everyone was able to meet and mingle. The other guests ranged from a family (grandparents, parents, and ten-year-old) to several retired singles and couples to a couple of middle-aged vacationers (including me). Everyone but me was Australian; I am American. We all got along swimmingly.
At our first stop, Cooktown, we toured the town and then visited the Cook Museum, where a member of the local Aboriginal community gave an excellent lecture on Cook's interactions with the Aboriginal people. The museum was located in a former nunnery, with an addition in spectacular modern architecture. I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about Cooktown from the various exhibits.
We then cruised out to the Reef, enjoying a presentation from the cruise director on the Reef, the threats it faces, the corals, and the fish and other creatures. We anchored at Lizard Island and enjoyed cocktails on the beach at sunset. We spent the night there and the next morning snorkeled and scubaed the fringe reefs along the island. The rest of the cruise saw us visiting the ribbon reefs at the edge of Australia. Amazing!
While I cannot scuba (asthma), several of my fellow cruisers took advantage of Coral Expeditions excellent dive services daily; the dive captain also offered introductory diving lessons (for those who had no medical obstacles!). Those of us who snorkeled saw many amazing corals and fish. Our vessel, Coral Expeditions II, also has a glass-bottomed boat, and we had multiple trips daily where the cruise director (also a marine biologist) helped interpret what we were seeing. We saw a minke whale, reef sharks, and countless gorgeous tropical fishes.
Our cruise also benefited from the presence of Naomi Hogan, an illustrious Aboriginal artist, who discussed her work and supervised us in hand-building clay artwork. The clay was engineered to dry in the sun, so we were also able to paint our projects under Naomi's supervision. Several guests on the cruise were there specifically because of Naomi's lectures and art classes.
There were other evening activities, but I am unable to report on them as I was dealing with serious jet-lag (14 hour time difference!) and went to bed early every night.
The food continued to be excellent throughout. Every morning was a buffet breakfast including hot and cold dishes. Lunch was likewise a buffet. Mid-afternoon was tea, with freshly baked scones and clotted cream, as well as other snacks. Dinner was varied: one night the captain barbecued on the deck, and the two other nights we ordered from the chef's menu. There was a full bar, where we paid by the drink. Some of my cruisemates purchased bottles of wine that they then drank over several meals. An espresso machine was available in the lounge 24-7 for espressos, cappuccinos, and lattes, and other hot beverages were also available full time.
My cabin was very comfortable; I was alone in a cabin with two single beds and was not required to pay a single supplement. The linens were soft, and the mattress was top-notch. The bathroom was spacious for onboard, especially the shower, which also featured an extendable clothesline for bathing suits and other wet clothing. The decor was slightly old-fashioned.
The crew were professional, friendly, and generous, giving five-star service. In addition to the captain, tour director, dive captain, and chef, there were also a purser (who ran the dining room), two deckhands (who also helped with snorkeling and diving), two stewards (who waited tables and cleaned our rooms), and several other staff. I believe there were 13 staff total, giving an excellent ratio with 22 guests.
I give Coral Expeditions, our vessel, the crew, and the cruise my highest recommendation. A fantastic experience.