Port Douglas Reef Tour; choices, costs and our experience

Queensland has a lot of bucket list items, and the Great Barrier Reef is most certainly one of them. On our journey up the coast, we decided we had to book onto a Port Douglas Reef Tour, and despite getting absolutely shocking weather it was a great day out.

Great Barrier Reef diving
Exploring the Great Barrier Reef on a Port Douglas Reef Tour

Why a Port Douglas Reef Tour?

The Great Barrier Reef is absolutely massive, and there are dozens of places you can leave from to do a tour.

Port Douglas is one of the more well known locations, and it so happened that we had time here whilst catching up with family at the Tropic Breeze Caravan Park to make good use of, and so we decided to book onto a Reef Tour.

Port Douglas views
There’s lots of places you can head to the Great Barrier Reef, with Port Douglas a common option

What tours are available?

There’s quite a number of different Port Douglas Reef Tours that you can do. Quicksilver is one of the most well known, and they have a massive boat that punches out to a pontoon that is set up for you to spend the day at, and it has all the facilities.

When we arrived at the marina, we were shocked to see the size difference between our boat and the Quicksilver one.

Why did we go with Calypso?

In the end, we booked with Calypso, because they were as well priced as we could find, had availability and were a smaller, more personalised tour group.

You can go with the big guys, but they literally take hundreds of people out at a time, and with that many people trying to enjoy a small slice of the reef its never as enjoyable as going on a smaller outfit.

Calypso boat at the Great Barrier Reef
There’s some massive Great Barrier Reef tour boats, and a number of smaller ones

SCUBA diving, snorkelling or both

If you’re going to do a reef tour, the standard arrangement is to snorkel, and they provide all of the gear needed to do this. They give you pool noodles if you want, and you bob around on the surface looking at the amazing coral and fish.

If you are more confident, you can ditch the pool noodles and free dive around, with a fair amount of freedom. We were told to take our weight belts off (insurance issues), but had a great time free diving.

Swimming around the Great Barrier Reef
We had a ball exploring the Great Barrier Reef in 3 different spots

If you have a SCUBA ticket though, you can pay to do the SCUBA dives as well, and the price goes up depending on how many dives you do. This is done in small groups of people, with one instructor looking over the group.

SCUBA diving the great barrier reef
We had a lot of people keen on SCUBA diving

Alternatively though, you can do an introductory SCUBA dive (or 3 if you really wanted), and we were keen to give it a whirl. I’ve done a heap of free diving, and asides from using a scuba setup in a pool have never really tried it, and we paid the extra $100 to do an intro dive.

We did it at the end of the day, as they told us we couldn’t free dive after SCUBA diving, and had a ball.

I couldn’t believe how calm and relaxing it was compared to getting smashed by chop on the surface, and it was a truly awesome experience, rather than the much more fast paced free diving that we are so used to.

Giant clam on the Barrier Reef
SCUBA diving is a completely different experience

Watch our vlog

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What’s the day like?

The dive companies ask you to arrive 15 – 20 minutes before the boat takes off, and they check you in, and get you on board, ready for the vessel to depart. It heads off towards the Great Barrier Reef, which takes around 40 minutes depending on the weather, and then they Moore up, and get you diving.

Heading along in the boat
The drive in and out isn’t short, but its necessary
The reef is spectacular
It’s impossible not to be awed by the reef

There are two or three dives during the day, with morning tea, lunch and some snacks in between. You want to get into the water fairly quickly, or you miss out on a lot of diving time, and its fairly smoothly run, with limited down time.

Until around the end of May, you get given stinger suits, which are important to wear to avoid interactions with the box jellyfish and irukandji, which are very nasty.

What did we think of Calypso Reef tour?

I’ll admit to feeling a bit deflated when we arrived and saw our vessel against the Quicksilver one. I was even more deflated with the weather, which was around 30 knot winds, and nearly resulted in the day being cancelled.

When we arrived there was a mouthy bloke overseeing the swapping of some life rafts, and a car accident which resulted in some guests arriving quite late (and in combination meant we got going later), but from then on, things improved dramatically.

The crew on the boat were sensational, the food was really good, and the diving was pretty awesome, despite a fair bit of chop being around.

Good food onboard Calypso
The food and staff were exceptional on the boat

We had a fantastic day out overall, and I can certainly see the appeal of going with a smaller outfit over one of the massive one that has hundreds of people on board.

Calypso boat at Port Douglas
The smaller boats certainly have a lot of appeal

Do you need seasickness tablets?

I very rarely get sea sick, and can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been unwell in small boats, in very big swells.

Despite this, the crew urged everyone to take seasickness tablets, and even had them for sale. I did take one from family, and wouldn’t normally, but given what you pay its not worth the risk of messing it up. We did see a number of people get sick on the way out, which I’m sure happens all the time.

Choppy behind the Great Barrier Reef
This was the calm area, behind the Reef!

What did we pay?

We spent $360 to do the day tour, which included a $100 SCUBA introductory dive. It’s certainly not cheap, but also not bad value. My folks, who tagged along only paid $260 each just to do the snorkelling side of things.

Did we take the kids?

Sarah and I both discussed taking the kids, and decided against it. This was for a myriad of reasons, but at 4 and 6, and still only learning to swim in a calm pool, it didn’t seem worth the money.

Sarah might have come, but she also doesn’t really enjoy snorkeling, and with family over in the Port Douglas Caravan Park, it didn’t make sense to fork the money out for something that was probably not going to be enjoyed. 

It would have been $189 per child, plus another $250 for Sarah ($640), and I know it would have been money not well spent, especially with the weather we experienced.

Swimming in the spa baths
Our kids are still learning to swim, and it would have been a waste of money

Is it worth doing a Port Douglas Reef Tour?

I think you have to see the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland. It is unbelievable, and we barely scratched the surface. I’m pretty sure that the Ningaloo Reef is equally as good (or maybe even better, and certainly far more accessible), but there is no doubting the beauty and reputation of the Great Barrier Reef.

If you’re thinking about it, we really recommend a Port Douglas Reef Tour, and Calypso did a really good job on the day overall when we visited.

Enjoying the Great Barrier Reef
It was a great day out, and a big credit to Calypso

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