Best family travel experience ever – Great Barrier Reef Australia

9 May 2017

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– I can’t wait to hold a small fish, an orange and yellowish one!
– I can’t wait jumping in the water and swim!

I look at them jumping up and down like two little excited lambs, while my mind is active and fighting negative thoughts: “I wonder how it will be? We’ll manage to snorkel? None of us has done it before. Pfff, we paid a lot of money on this one day trip, it’ll better worth it!”Leaving Cairns airport  towards our next 2 nights host hotel, I’m trying to ease the boys excitement:
– Eh, I do not think we will not be allowed to catch any fish and I do not think they will be still so we can catch or touch them, even if we see the fish so very close. But we will swim, we will snorkel, we will see a lot of fish and corals, it will be so much fun.


The last thought on my mind right then was that we will have the best family travel experience, right there, near  Cairns coastline, Queensland, Australia.


Before embarking the catamaran


Great Barrier Reef (a surface of over 2000 km) truly is a natural wonder of the world, a dive and snorkel paradise for professionals, but also for beginners such as our family; the Reef Barrier consists of over 3000 reefs and coral gardens, 1500 fish species, 400 type of corals, 5000 molluscs species, some of the most beautiful tropical islands of the world and 30 whale, dolphins and porpoises species (some kind of cetacea mamifer, resembling the dolphin, black back, grey laterals and white belly).


The pontoon and the catamaran


I don’t expect to see whales or dolphins, these Reef excursions are organized by travel companies at different parts of the Reef (we were at Moore Reef), near their own pontoons, confined and safe. But I cannot wait to see the coral garden and explore there, off the ocean, what I just imagined in my dreams so far.

After the bad airport shuttle experience, we head for the Doubletree by Hilton Cairns hotel and decide to take a short walk and visit the small town of Cairns. Enough to explore the area and see how long we walk down to the starting point of the next day trip.


On our way to Reef Fleet Terminal


Departure point is the Reef Fleet Terminal, a short 10 minutes stroll from our hotel. Withinb this huge space there were check in counters for all travel companies exploring the Reef or nearby islands, a store and a coffee shop  in the waiting area.


I had reconfirmed the trip two days earlier and been advised to arrive at the Terminal for check in one hour before departure. At 8.30 a.m., we change at the check in counter our prepaid voucher for catamaran tickets and drop a quick look (and some money) in the store: we pay 20 AUD for each of the boys snorkeling gear, as we decide for hygiene reasons to buy their mask and tube, even if the necessary equipment is offered free of charge on the pontoon, on all adult and child sizes.

We congratulated ourselves on this decision when we found out that the equipment was sitting in large trash cans (I imagine cleaned), by categories, placed in seawater with a disinfected substance. For children, the gear was in separate containers and you served yourself with the right size.

Check-in counter inside the terminal


For an hour and a quarter during our travel with the catamaran to the pontoon, we’re watching short videos about the Barrier, as well as Emergency Rescue Instructions. The team explains what activities we can take at the pontoon, their timetable, how to use snorkeling equipment, but also what optional we can buy for a complete experience .


On the pontoon, we apply the sun-block protection cream, we equip ourselves and listen to the instructions. That is, we, the adults, because Ionut and Andrei are super excited, do not have the patience to listen to the explanations, they just want to jump in the water and see the fish. I do not know your children as they are, but mine when they are excited and / or enthusiastic, they move a lot, talk loudly, mask the emotion through the nagging.

Instead we, adults in the first experience of this kind, think of the horror of not being able to breathe through the hose in the mouth, we feel the choking feeling when pulling the non-existent air from the mask onto the nose and the fear that the tube might flood and that we can drown on the spot gives us chills.
I remember the instructions on the catamaran: we breathe through the tube through the mouth, not the nose, and when we enter the water we do not sink completely, but we just put the face in the water, not the whole head. We can not drown, we have vests that keep us safe on the surface anyway.

We help the boys fit their equipment correctly, repeat the instructions a few times, and keep them assured that we are always there and that we will have fun. We show them the permanent lifeguards on duty and explain their signal to ask for help: waving their hands.



We fit the masks on our eyes and nose, we teach the boys to rinse them if they become unclear because of the steam or water, stop and pull the hose out of his mouth and empty it if they head deeper than they were supposed to.

“Wow, mom, what a nice feeling!”
“The water is so warm and clear!”
“Look, these little blue fish, how close they come to people!”
“Have you seen that purple fish?”
“Look at that white coral as a cauliflower! And the other one looks like a brain!”


We have a lot to say to each other, but with the tube in the mouth and the head in the water, we can only signal with our hands and feet and show the wonders pointing our fingers. You can also see them on our Instagram account or dedicated album in our Facebook account.



We swim as far as we can in a safe demarcated area, among the colorful banks of the fish that pass by us, the coral gardens that wander along the water and even try to reach the fish. We explore everything, amazed by this fantastic kaleidoscope of underwater views. It’s hard to believe we’re there, so close to corals, fish, that what’s going on it’s real. We rejoice like children of beautiful fish with orange, turquoise, purple, yellow, white that swim underneath us and hide under the coral reefs that dance like in the Little Mermaid. We fill our souls with the joy of what we see and feel, the more we share this experience with the dearest people in our lives, our children.


Here is a short video of our experience at GBR!

Stay tuned, you may also want to read the second part of the article, Great Barrier Reef  – TOP PICKS, or the third one, Great Barrier Reef – 10 SMART TIPS, but also our good and bad experience in Cairns – a lovely tropical resort, gate to the Great Barrier Tours, but also to other tropical islands where we would have liked to stay, or a description of our stay at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Cairns.

Finally, we invite you to tell us in a comment what wonderful, memorable, unforgettable experiences you have had on your holidays and where! A little planning for the next holiday never hurt, and inspiration can come from your answers.

And, you already know, share so others find out what’s great about the Great Barrier Reef and travel with us virtually, through our stories!

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