and If you’re looking for Great Barrier Reef Tours from Port Douglas, congratulations, you picked a great place from which to explore the reef. Port Douglas Australia is a stunning holiday town in Far North Queensland, home to beautiful 4 Mile Beach, close to Mossman Gorge and the Daintree Rainforest as well as the cooler Atherton Tablelands, but the reef is a huge draw for tourists and most will be visiting the reef during their time in Port.
We’ve lived in Port for years and have tried all the options ( with kids and without) as snorkellers and scuba divers, so let us tell you what it’s like, what to expect and a little about the experience of visiting the reef from Port Douglas.
There are plenty of choices in tours, boats and pontoons as well as various ways to see the reef. You can snorkel, scuba dive or see the GBR from a glass bottomed boat or semi submersible, along with a few more unusual options. Let’s take a look at Great Barrier Reef tours and cruises from Port Douglas.
Great Barrier Reef Tours Port Douglas, Your Choices and Options
The following Great Barrier Reef tours are available from this page. Full details of your day on the reef and the options the various tours offer guests, are below. Click through here or read our notes further down the page.
- Quicksilver Agincourt Reef Pontoon, semi submersible
- Wavedancer Low Isles, beaches and glass bottom boat
- Silversonic Agincourt Reef 3 Locations, Minke Whale License
- Outer Reef Cruise, 2 Locations Deep Sea Divers Den
- Wavelength Reef Cruises
Video – What’s it Like Out on the Reef?
We take a little look at snorkelling, scuba diving and liveaboard reef trips to the Great Barrier Reef in our video below. Check out the sharks!
Booking Your Great Barrier Reef Tour From Port
If at all possible, book your Great Barrier Reef Tour from Port Douglas in advance. Obviously each ship can only hold a finite number of visitors and in high season they do sell out. You can use our links below to find out more and to book through a company we use and trust. This company also has a best price or money back guarantee if you’d like to take a look at that.
You can, of course, also book locally in any of the shops operated by the reef boat companies, there are many in Port Douglas, on Macrossan St and in the marina. Tour Groups and high season may limit availability.
Will You See Whales on Your Trip to the Reef from Port Douglas?
Yes, it’s quite likely if you are travelling at the right time of year.
Dwarf Minke whale season is approximately July to September.
Humpback whale season is the same period.
Smaller boats are better able to stop to give you a better look. Swimming or snorkelling with whales is generally illegal, but Silversonic has a license for Minke whale encounters as do Divers Den. To swim with the minkies you’ll need to book a minkie whale tour.
What Will You Need to Take With You to The Reef?
Swimwear, a towel and sun protection are essential. You can take your own gear if you prefer. I generally take my own long sleeve, long leg wet suit. I don’t like the short suits.
You can borrow floaties or pool noodles out there for kids or weak swimmers, or you can take your own flotation devices.
Sunblock is now considered a huge problem on the reef, the chemicals destroy marine life. Therefore, either get a safe product such as this one, or cover yourself as fully as possible with sunsuits, rashies and so on. In stinger season you will have to be fully covered anyway.
We generally wear our swimmers under our regular clothes for the journey out but after being in the water all day you will want something warm and dry to change into for the return trip. There are toilets or changing rooms on the boats or pontoons if you need them. Some boats will have a fresh water shower to rinse off at the end of the day
Underwater cameras are questionable. I’ve never got decent pictures with a disposable nor with the kids’ cheap waterproof digitals ( although the above photo of my son on the surface was taken with a waterproof camera similar to this one) .
It was difficult to take underwater photos unless you really knew what you were doing. Most of the boats have their own photographer who will swim around taking shots all day, you can then buy his images of you as well as stock images of the reef and fish as well as any cool creatures that visited during your day. Or you could get yourself a GoPro.
These days of course there is GoPro and these work just great! See my shot below.
To use your GoPro on the reef you’d probably be wanting a floating handle, as below.
Do Great Barrier Reef Tours Operate During Stinger Season?
Yes they do. Your chances of encountering a deadly jellyfish are slimmer on the reef than in inland waters but most boats and cruises will require visitors to wear a full-body stinger suit as a precaution. You could possibly take your own stinger suit or wet suit, but they do stock them and usually have them in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes you’ll pay extra for gear hire, sometimes not.
If you are visiting Port Douglas during the wet season keep a close eye on long term weather forecasts, cyclones visit us in the north and at those times the reef just won’t be happening.
Is Lunch Provided on The Reef?
Most of the reef fleet from Port Douglas provides a really good tropical buffet lunch. We’ve never had a bad one and everyone eagerly looks forward to a plate of salads, pasta, noodles and tropical fruits after a morning in the water. You will also find some hot items on some reef buffets and in winter these are very welcome.
Wavelength wins for me as all food is vegetarian, helping us reduce our impact on the planet.
Most boats will also provide cake, fruit, tea or coffee, you get incredibly hungry after snorkelling and they do like to keep you well fed.
What If You Don’t Want to Go in The Water?
Yes, you can still see the reef without getting wet. If you have concerns about age, lack of water confidence or anything else that makes you unsure about snorkelling or diving, there are glass bottom boats and semi submersible tours waiting to show you the GBR.
The big pontoons also have underwater viewing areas where you can see plenty of fish and watch the snorkellers and divers exploring.
Quicksilver Outer Barrier Reef Full Day Cruise. Pontoon Based with Semi Submersible Included
Quicksilver is the biggest ship operating out of Port Douglas and passengers spend their day at a permanent pontoon on Agincourt Reef.
We’ve taken this trip many times, as snorkellers and scuba divers and it’s always been great.
The pontoon offers an underwater viewing gallery and you’ll find that because the structure is permanent, many sea creatures have made their home around the pontoon’s anchor points.
There is fish feeding, plenty of steps for swimmers to access the ocean, lifeguard supervision and marine biologist talks. Extra features such as helicopter tours, marine biologist guided dives and introductory dives are available at additional cost.
Your day lasts 7 hours, and boarding commences at 9.30 am at Port Douglas Marina. Enquire about pick ups from your hotel. Some of the other boats go out earlier.
Silversonic Great Barrier Reef Dive and Snorkel Adventure
Silversonic is another one we know well. Silversonic takes you to 3 locations on Agincourt reef and it’s an 8 hour day.
Again, touring the reef with Silversonic was a great experience. This ship has a license to swim with dwarf Minke whales in season ( Minke season is roughly July to September). Minke whale tours from Port Douglas are available.
Great Barrier Reef, Diving and Snorkelling From Port Douglas with Divers Den
This is an 8 hour day including pick up from your Port Douglas hotel. You have 4 hours in the water at 2 different outer reef locations. Divers Den took us to Agincourt Reef most recently in May 2019 and we had a great day. The crew on their Port Douglas boat – Aqua Quest – are superb and the 2 dive and snorkel sites we visited were interesting and quite different. A hot lunch was much appreciated as the temperatures dipped for our tropical winter.
The only thing Divers Den didn’t give us was a marine biologist talk. For that we think you’d like Wavelength or Calypso. Guided snorkelling and free guided scuba diving were available when we travelled with Aqua Quest. Elsewhere there is a charge for scuba guides. Introductory diving is a possibility on Aqua Quest too and looked to be extremely popular.
Aqua Quest is almost identical to their Cairns boat, Reef Quest, but the crew tell me that the Port Douglas operation is usually less busy, giving you a better day out. You can book Aqua Quest from your Cairns hotel too. Port Douglas Reef boats generally head further north than the Cairns operators, this is certainly true of the Divers Den operation. The outer reef sites we visited with Aqua Quest were parallel with Cape Tribulation.
Divers Den are a well respected local business, now owned by a New Zealand company – they were previously called Deep Sea Divers Den, the name has changed. Snorkelling is included in the price, diving is extra. Divers Den operate Aqua Quest out of Port Douglas ( The Cairns boat is Reef Quest, the Live Aboard is Ocean Quest).
Wavedancer Great Barrier Reef Sailing Tour with Snorkelling, Glass Bottom Boat and Scuba Options
Wavedancer is an absolute beauty but this sailing boat won’t take you to the outer reef, instead you can enjoy your day on the reefs and beaches of the Low Isles.
This daytrip lasts 7 hours and you can enjoy a complimentary glass bottom boat tour and guided snorkelling with a marine biologist.
We’ve taken this trip and it was very enjoyable. We saw a lot of turtles and a huge variety of fish, many extremely large. Returning to Port on the deck of a catamaran with Drew playing guitar was a wonderful experience. Wavedancer is owned by Quicksilver.
Wavelength Reef Cruises – Snorkel Only.
Wavelength are a smaller operation and family owned. They’re most certainly my pick for a great day snorkelling with a strong eco edge. They are one of only 2 family owned reef companies operating out of Port Douglas currently.
We happen to know the owners, they bought the old Wavelength boat and moorings a few years ago . John and Jenny are both marine biology graduates and committed to reef conservation. Wavelength is a smaller outer reef snorkel operation.
We loved our day snorkelling on Wavelength and the 3 reefs they took us to were absolutely beautiful. Their marine biologist talks were some of the most informative and eco conscious I’ve heard and I love that all food is vegetarian.
The boat we were on was only 6 months old and sparkling new.
Calypso were a family run operation until recently. The company has now been sold and in our opinion, it’s not as good as it was.
We went out with Calypso in January 2019 and have been to the reef many times with them in the past. They have multiple boats operating out of Port Douglas for both divers and snorkellers.
They’re nowhere near as huge as the Quicksilver boat, but still a fair size. We enjoyed our day on Calypso none the less, just things seem to have slipped somewhat in terms of food and maintenance of the boats. Maybe it’s just teething problems and everything will come good once the company has fully changed hands.
There are other dive and snorkel boats operating out of Port Douglas, as we get a chance to try them we’ll add them to this post. We feel that we cover the best, most popular and most well known GBR cruises here.
We hope you found our round up on options for visiting the Great Barrier Reef from Port Douglas useful. You can also visit from Cairns and there are options from north of the Daintree river. One thing’s for sure, even if you only do it once in your life, it is absolutely worth every cent you spend to see one of nature’s greatest marvels. You’d probably like our Things to Do in Port Douglas blog post next. Have a great holiday in paradise!