There is so many cruises to choose from, it can become a nightmare to choose the right one. Many offer cheap day tickets but you want to go with an operator that has a reef platform. From memory, only a few operators had this. I have been booking a few of my tours through this site and they have a pretty comprehensive listing
Also, I joined their facebook page and I received another 5% off!
We eventually chose to go out on the reef with Calypso, out of Port Douglas. It certainly wasn't the cheapest trip, costing us each $140 with another $18 for the transfers but we were very impressed. It is a family owned/operated company and the 2 boats they run are very similar though the one we went on, Calypso 111, was only a few weeks old.
It can take up to 50 passengers, although we only had about 34, and I think there were about 6 staff. Morning, afternoon tea and lunch were included. We went to 3 different sites which showed us different aspects of the reef, and there was plenty of time for diving and snorkelling at each site. There was a talk about the ecology of the reef and a guided snorkel trip. There was a stong emphasis on safety, butlots of encouragement to have a go. There was a group of certified divers under the care of one staff member, many first time divers with others, and those of us who were snorkelling had our own staff member to supervise and encourage us. There was an olderMexican/American woman who was a non swimmerand with a lot of encouragement and assistancefrom the young staff member she snorkelled thee times and eventually had almost to be forced aboard, she was having such a good time.
There were a couple of experienced scuba divers who had dived all around the world who found the experience a bit tame and boring but for the rest of us it was a wonderful experience. The different fish, their behaviour, colors and sizes, the coral, the bomis with the deepwater drop-offs at the edgesI just love snorkelling.
I couldn't recommend Calypso's trip more highly.
Excellent crew and small groups are the highlight of TUSA Dive. One of the longest running companies in Cairns, they provide excellent value for the money. The company supplies all equipment (some for a fee) and the lunch provided follows traditional aussie bbq fare, is plentiful and is quite tasty. Can be booked through any Cairns Tourist Information Centre.
The trip is a couple of hours out to the reef but once you are there they are extremely concious of the fragile nature of the reef system.
As I am 20 weeks pregnant I wanted to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef with a company that was able to offer more individual attention. I didn't like the thought of being one of 100's on a large boat.
We definitely found what we were looking for with Ocean Spirit. The number of people on the boat was comfortable and there was a large number of friendly staff to assist. We hadn't even taken our last bite before a staff member was there to collect the plates.
Ocean Spirit offer everything you need for the ultimate snorkelling experience. We watched a video on reef life so we would be able to recognise fish when were snorkelling, they have a semi submergeable for seeing underwater while staying dry and an excellent freshly prepared buffet lunch. I wear glasses and Ocean Spirit were able to lend me optical goggles to use while snorkelling for a $20 deposit (refunded when you return the glasses).
The champagne and live music on the sail home enhanced the day.
If you enlarge this photo you will see a very attractive and quite large fish, called a Parrot Fish.
We saw more of these fish than any other kind (apart from the tiny fish) on our 3 snorkelling sorties. They are called Parrot Fish not so much for their brilliant colours, but for their unusual beak-like mouths, which actually chomp coral quite loudly, and they also bite solid rock!
The reef is their natural home, but even so, they are still responsible for quite a lot of damage to the coral. On the other side, it is partly due to the huge populations of Parrot fish on the Barrier reef that the islands have such white sand - when the coral has passed through the fish, it is extruded as a very fine sand, which collects and is eventually built up, even forming new little islands. Other dangers to the reef include the (also natural, not introduced) Crown of Thorns star fish, which literally kills and chokes the coral.
I'd been snorkelling over the Barrier Reef, but never out in open water before, and it was both a bit scary (just crossing the deep water to get to the shallower reef area further out from the boat's deeper anchorage) and exhilirating all at once.