Choosing a Whitsunday Cruise

The , 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 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 can be difficult given the bewildering array of cruises.

Whitehaven Beach
The silica sands of sparkling Whitehaven Beach

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 . 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.

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Top sail
Top sail on a sail boat

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.

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Anaconda III
Prime seats on the sail boat

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.

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Sunset Whitsundays
Sunset in the Whitsundays

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.

Whitsundays map

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  1. Wouldn’t mind relaxing on a sailboat in sunny Australia right about now :).

  2. Heather says:

    Ten years ago, I went on a 3-day cruise to the Whitsundays–to this day, I still dream of Whitehaven Beach!!

  3. restlessjo says:

    There are some posts that just lure you in with a stunning photo, and then don’t disappoint.

  4. Ali says:

    My man is super keen to try a Whitsunday’s cruise soon, so this is another great-timed, informative post!

    1. Peggy Tee says:

      You will love it! Have a great time!

  5. Took a cruise to Daydream Island and Whitehaven Beach, loved it!

  6. interesting – im surprised to hear some tours are cheap as chips, my experience of that part of Australia is one required a lot of money! My brother had his wedding on Hamilton Island and his reception on a boat as it cruised the Whitsundays.

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