As you’ve probably read in the previous post, we had intended to visit the Great Barrier Reef once but we loved it so much that ended up going there 3 times during our week in Cairns. We decided to go with different providers. This is a fair comparison of the 3 Reef Cruise companies we tried.
If you check reviews on the internet, all the 3 have a very good rating but one of the companies was just one big disappointment. That was the last one we tried, Reef Experience.
Sunlover turned out to be the most expensive and second best.
Our absolute favourite (except for a couple of things that could be better), was Reef Magic.
Read on to know why.
Sunlover depart Cairns at 9:30 and the journey to the Reef takes 2 hours, with 1 stop on the way. Reef duration is 4 hours.
Reef Magic depart at 9:00 and take you to the Reef in 1,5 hour without any stop. Thus you get to the Reef one hour earlier which is yours – both leave at the same time, 15:30. Reef duration is 5 hours.
Reef Experience promise up to 6 hours of Reef time but the reality is different. The departure time on their site is stated as 8:00, but in our case they were running late, forcing people to wait under the rain for 30 minutes, departing Cairns and arriving at the destination 30 minutes later as well. Moreover, after boarding, all the passengers were given forms to fill in, creating more chaos and delay. The second snorkelling location was available 75 min instead of the promised 2 hours. So in total, they stole 75 min from their passengers’ reef experience.
All the three boats we tried were different. The bigger boats tend to be more stable but the size is not only what matters. The Sunlover’s boat was bigger but it didn’t make the journey smoother or easier. On the contrary, we noticed more manoeuvres to avoid the waves with the Reef Magic smaller catamaran. The Reef Experience boat was even smaller and it was the least enjoyable, it was not at all modern, piece of art and very stable, as it was promised on their site.
The seats of the Sunlover and ReefMagic boats were soft and comfy, Reef Experience – hard and inconvenient.
All the 3 boats were well air-conditioned, Reef Magic a bit too much.
Sunlover had plenty of motion sickness bags everywhere on board which was very handy.
At the Reef Itself
All the 3 cruises we’ve taken bring you to the outer reef (supposedly, more interesting than the inner reef).
Sunlover and Reef Magic boats take you to the pontoon, which is a large floating platform with shade and all the equipment necessary for snorkelling, diving and other activities for fish watching: a semi-submarine, a glass bottom boat, an underwater observatory and a kid’s pool – a small enclosed area where kids can safely play in the water, with a bonus of lots of colourful fishes coming for a visit. The pontoons didn’t differ much.
Reef Experience had no pontoon and the boat took to us to 2 different reefs, but it didn’t make our experience richer. On the contrary, lots of time was wasted on changing the location.
The locations of Sunlover and Reef Magic were with a much reacher marine life and more colourful corals than of Reef Experience, where the corals were actually mostly bleached.
Reef Experience had the least modern equipment, including very thin and torn wet suits.
The Sunlover staff on the boat was friendly but the feeling was like at the market where everybody tries to sell as much as possible to you. We didn’t like all that commercial attitude. The staff at the pontoon were a bit grumpy.
Reef Magic had less commercial attitude and more informative presentations, like the one from a marine biologist with a very nice (and not too long) talk about the Great Barrier Reef and some history around it. We also appreciated how skillfully the captain avoided big waves on the way to and from the Reef.
Reef Experience crew seemed to be the least professional from the 3 cruises. Their management, when we complained, pointing the issues with the organization, first ignored us and then simply refused not only a refund of any kind, but even to acknowledge their fault.
The prices are slightly different, not only for the cruises but also for the things not included in the package, like diving, lockers, wetsuits rental, with Sunlover being the most and Reef Experience the least expensive.
We are by no means affiliated to any of the companies, this is a fair comparison based on our personal experience which might be helpful for somebody, like us, trying to choose among all that diversity of offers around the Great Barrier Reef.