GREAT AMERICAN VACATION
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Eye to Eye Marine Encounters. On these all-inclusive dive/snorkel live-aboard trips, you can visit world-renowned northern Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea sites, including 2,000-foot drop-offs and pristine coral gardens, top shark-spotting sites, and turtle-nesting grounds. John Rumney, who pioneered swim-with-whales in Queensland, brings 30 years of experience on the Reef and extensive ecological knowledge and nautical expertise to the expeditions, working with highly skilled divers, scientists, and skippers to ensure each trip is as exciting as it is eco-friendly. 10 Captain Cook Hwy., Port Douglas, QLD, 4877. 07/4098–5417 or 0417/726–622. www.marineencounters.com.au.
Poseidon. This advanced eco-certified operator conducts guided snorkeling and PADI-style diving trips to sites at three separate parts of the Agincourt Ribbon Reef on a small, usually uncrowded boat, and longer cruises to Outer Great Barrier Reef sites, with excellent pre-dive briefings by a marine naturalist, high safety standards, and a wider-than-average choice of dive sites. A day's cruise to three Agincourt sites is A$220 for snorkelers, and includes morning and afternoon tea and a buffet lunch (Lycra suits, masks, snorkels and flotation devices, and wet suits are A$5 per day). The cruise with introductory diving, including dive gear and up to three underwater forays, is A$280 with one dive; subsequent dives are A$40 each. For certified divers, a full day in the water is A$240–A$275 (gear is an extra A$20 per day). Everyone pays a reef charge of A$6 on board. Port Douglas transfers are free; from Cairns or the Northern Beaches, it's A$30. Grant and Macrossan Sts., Port Douglas, QLD, 4877. 1800/085–674 or 07/4099–4772. www.poseidon-cruises.com.au. From A$220 (cruise and snorkeling); from A$240 (with diving); A$6 reef/admin tax. Daily 8:30–4:30.
Quicksilver Connections. This company runs fast, modern catamarans that speed you from Port Douglas' marina to a large commercial activity platform at Agincourt Reef on the outer Barrier Reef, where options include marine-biologist-guided snorkeling tours (A$54–$72), introductory or certified scuba dives (extra A$110–A$155), 10-minute scenic heli-tours (A$159), and "Ocean Walker" sea-bed explorations (A$155). There's also a semi-submersible underwater observatory, included in the A$215 rate. A quieter sailing excursion to a Low Isles coral cay, closer to shore (A$167), includes a biologist-guided glass-bottom-boat trip and snorkeling. Everyone pays a A$6 reef tax. The staff is patient, efficient, and knowledgeable. The trip includes a varied lunch buffet and dive/snorkel gear. Transfers are available from Port Douglas accommodations, Palm Cove, the Northern Beaches, and Cairns (A$10-A$26). Port Douglas Marina, 1 Wharf St., Port Douglas, QLD, 4877. 07/4087–2100. www.quicksilver-cruises.com.
The Silver Series: Silversonic. High-end catamaran Silversonic whisks visitors to three pristine dive-snorkel sites on Agincourt Reef, known for its high-visibility waters. There, you can spend five hours amid spectacular corals on the edge of the Coral Sea trench, with turtles, rays, tropical fish, large pelagic species, and, in season, the odd Minke whale. Cruises run daily, weather permitting; the tariff includes a "tropical smorgasbord" lunch, morning and afternoon tea, free Wi-Fi, snorkeling, and gear; guided scuba dives cost extra. Coach transfers from local accommodations are included in the cruise fare; transfers to and from Palm Cove, the Northern Beaches, and Cairns are available for a surcharge. Port Douglas Marina, 1 Wharf St., Port Douglas, QLD, 4877. 07/4044–9944. www.silverseries.com.au. Full-day snorkeling cruise, A$208; scuba diving A$35–A$65 (1 dive), A$55–A$120 (2 dives), A$75–A$80 (3 dives), A$6 reef tax/admin.
Wavedancer. The palm-fringed Low Isles have a rich history, but the main attractions lie underwater. The surrounding coral gardens shelter a wealth of marine life, including bright parrotfish and "Nemos," giant clams and green turtles. When you tire of snorkeling, you can join a glass-bottomed boat tour, marine biologist–guided shore stroll or heritage walk (on which you'll visit the island's lighthouse, circa 1878, and learn about the Low Isles' pioneering role in coral-reef research), or relax and soak up some rays. Quicksilver's day cruise on 98-foot sailing catamaran Wavedancer whisks you from Port Douglas to the Low Isles in less than an hour, allowing plenty of time for snorkeling, sunbathing and strolling; the rate includes all snorkeling gear, reef presentations, supervised snorkeling (including guided expeditions), glass-bottom boat tours, a tropical buffet lunch, morning and afternoon tea, and transfers from Port Douglas accommodations (and, for a fee, from further afield). Bring a towel, hat, sunscreen, swimsuit, and shirt (to avoid sunburn), cash to buy bar drinks and souvenirs, and a credit card for underwater cameras and extra tours. Departs from Port Douglas Marina, 1 Wharf St., Port Douglas, QLD, 4877. 07/4087–2100. www.quicksilvergroup.com.au. A$167 cruise; A$6 EMC/admin charge, A$10 Pt. Douglas transfers, A$ Cairns/Nthn. Beaches transfers.