The Whitsundays, an archipelago of 74 white sand beaches are strung out like a necklace in the Coral Sea. The islands top many dream destination lists, and with good reason. There are stretches of empty, glittering beaches, clear warm waters, great diving and snorkelling, and isolated national parks.
Some visitors decide to set up base on one of the resort islands – Hamilton is great for families, Hayman for luxury and South Molle for privacy. But the best way to see the Whitsundays is undoubtedly by boat – anchoring in a sheltered bay for the night, swimming in crystal clear waters, setting sail for different islands every day. There are many options available, ranging from bareback rentals, to dive focused excursions, to party boats to luxurious catamarans. Choosing a Whitsunday cruise can be difficult given the bewildering array of cruises.
Decide on the kind of cruise you want to go on
Does your idea of the perfect cruise include on-board jacuzzis and sipping champagne as the sun sets? If so, you’d do well to steer clear of the party boats that sail out regularly from Airlie Beach. The first thing you need to decide is what kind of cruise you are looking for. Is it a luxurious catamaran with romantic dinners? Or are you after a cheaper, more social experience? There are cruises that cater to divers, with a full dive deck and a slightly different route from the other sightseeing cruises. Or perhaps you are looking to set your own itinerary and sail on your own private cruise – bareback boat rentals are also available in the Whitsundays.
Determine the route and schedule
Routes plied by the cruise boats vary, but almost all will go by Whitehaven Beach. Other stops may include Nara Inlet on Hook Island, Blue Pearl Bay on Hayman Island and Manta Ray Bay. Typically cruises are at least 2 day/1 night affairs, but to really appreciate the beauty of the Whitsundays and get your inner pirate on, I would suggest at least a 3 day/2 night cruise. Longer cruises give you a chance to sail out to further points in the archipelago, and may also visit the Great Barrier Reef. Cruises usually don’t have a set route as the sailing is determined by tides and weather conditions. Depending on the cruise you choose, departure days may vary. Usually there is at least one cruise departing Airlie Beach every day; 1 day, 2 day or 3 day trips being the most popular cruises on offering.
Question the cost
Cruise costs run the gamut from cheap as chips to extra expensive – in most cases you get what you pay for. It’s important to be clear as to what is included in the price – tips are usually not included, but meals should be. Alcohol is usually sold on the boat on an honour system, where patrons make a mark on the sheet, then the bill is tallied at the end of the cruise – if you are planning big party nights out, it may be worth your while to ask how much drinks cost. Other hidden extras include marine park taxes, which are charged per day, and wetsuits, snorkel or dive equipment.
Choose your operator
Most cruises are booked through third party agencies so when choosing a cruise, try to speak to the company that owns the boat instead of a reseller. The decision to choose one cruise over the other should hinge on things like crew to passenger ratio, the size of the cabin, and whether the cruise is operated by an accredited sailing company. It is also a good idea to read other travellers’ reviews to get first hand accounts of how good a particular cruise is.