A lot of change has occurred in this magical part of the world, including a damaging cyclone in 2017 and environmental warming having bleaching effects on the coral. In fact, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority just released their 2019 outlook report showing a decline in visitation around the Whitsundays explaining, “A result of damaged resorts that had to close, reduced water quality and damage to reef ecosystems following the cyclone. Back-to-back bleaching events around this time may have also affected travel plans. In response to the underwater damage, some tourism activity appears to have shifted to more island-based activities, while damaged fringing reefs recover.”
I remember the first time I visited the iconic Great Barrier Reef, I took a helicopter for a magnificent visual of the perfect coral reefs and the famed heart shaped reef before hovering near several small floating pontoon islands seemingly attached to the reef.
Cruise Whitsundays has been one of the most popular Great Barrier Reef destinations on its Heart Pontoon, a multilevel reef facility permanently moored 39 miles from shore at the Hardy Reef. Traditionally used for day-trippers who want to explore the reef for only four hours, they began offering overnight adventures with their popular but pricey ReefSleep, and now they are launching ReefSuites, Australia’s first underwater hotel.
Visitors can now avoid the throngs of day-trippers and overnight in their own private underwater suite. Opening at the end of this year, there will be two underwater rooms featuring premium bedding, glass-walled en suite, and floor-to-ceiling views of the underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef.
All meals and beverages, breakfast, lunch, morning and afternoon teas and dinner are included with deck top dining under the stars. Snorkel the reef all day and even try nighttime snorkeling which brings out a variety of creatures. Priced at $749 per person this is a luxury option not accessible to budget travelers, but certainly an outrageous option for bucket listers.
I was fortunate on my first snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef to have a private visit without hundreds of other tourists, and this experience makes it unique and special. They also offer a semi-submersible boat for people too frightened to do the snorkel on their own. It is truly a heart-racing experience swimming among sharks while floating within inches of razor-sharp coral.
For a slightly less expensive experience, visitors can do the ReefSleep experience on the main deck utilizing double swag tents from $525 per person. Cruise Whitsundays operates daily catamaran transfers to the reef from the Port of Airlie Marina via Hamilton Island. They can also arrange helicopter transfers directly to the pontoon.
According to reps with the company, Cruise Whitsundays supports the region’s unique natural environment by working hand-in-hand with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. They ensure all elements of the project are approached in a sustainable and environmentally conscious manner.
The company also claims to have achieved the largest natural coral transplant ever to be undertaken on the Great Barrier Reef. More than 4000 pieces of coral have been sustainably removed from old moorings and successfully replanted onto the existing reef wall to rejuvenate the local environment. They have established a coral farm to encourage further growth in the area.