A trip to the Great Barrier Reef with kids was beckoning, “come, tick me off your bucket list”.
The big question was whether we wait until the kids were ‘old enough’ to see The Great Barrier Reef to or just go ahead and take them with us? Our excuse for going right now, global warming of course! The reef might not even exist when the kids are older. Off we went to tropical North Queensland.
How does it work, taking small children to The Great Barrier Reef for the day?
Most tours consist of a 1.5 hour one-way cruise departing either Port Douglas or Cairns. Then you spend around 4 hours on a floating pontoon anchored to the reef, cruising back during the late afternoon. The pontoon acts like an extension to the boat with facilities such as change rooms, free snorkel equipment, a buffet area, covered seating areas and even a fixed underwater viewing area.
The vibe is very much that you are a tourist. All the tours we looked into were fully booked and had similar capacity. So forget visions of snorkeling all alone in the wide blue ocean. It’s more like dodging someone else’s flippers and lining up for food. That said, the tours are very smoothly run. For families, it’s perfect as you are treated to resort-style facilities and lots of activities to keep kids occupied, all the while seeing one of the natural wonders of the world.
A trip to the reef with young children is not leisurely. It’s a mad hustle; making sure everyone has gone to the loo (which is only on the boat), putting on swimming gear and sunscreen, fetching the right size snorkel equipment, and so on. It’s a lot of hectic coordination and holding the kids back because they want to dive in.
Once you are set up, it’s awesome out there. By tag-teaming your activities, like going for a snorkel, you get a chance to be kid free! This works really well as one person is left making sure the kids don’t drown, whilst the other gets to explore the reef. If you swim out far enough; you do get that little moment of feeling like you and the abundant fish and marine life are the only ones in the ocean.
As for the parent on duty, it’s a non-stop keeping-them-busy job. One option is a semi submersible tour around the reef. Included in the package. A buffet lunch is a good time filler as well. Fish feeding is pretty awesome; these huge fish sneak up from the under the pontoon and do a manic feed. There’s also a platform in the water where snorkelers put their gear on where the kids can splash around. On another tour, they offered a a small caged wading areas for toddlers to safely play.
If I learned anything about snorkeling with the kids at the reef, it’s probably that you should make a test run before you go. The tour was equipped with everything you needed,but it’s just a matter of getting our kids use to the heavy vests, the masks and, for Liam, how to breathe through the snorkel. He swallowed a whole heap of sea water and there were tears. So it ended as quickly as it started. Layla was also a little non-plussed with being in the water, which was a little chilly at the time we went. It’s not that exciting for them. They can’t really check out the sea life.
However, of all the places I’ve dived and snorkeled,The Great Barrier Reef really did live up to my expectations. Amazing soft coral, schools of different fish, cool things like giant clams and huge groupers. The time flies out on the reef and before you know it, you are having a cup of tea, cruising back, and spotting whales.
Keep an eye out for my downloadable 10 days in North Queensland, a sample itinerary on things to do, places to go, and where to stay.
Have you been to The Reef with kids? Any tips, advice or insight. Please comment below.