We just returned from our trip to Australia and New Zealand which included a couple of days in Port Douglas and snorkeling tour booked with Quicksilver. I wanted to share our experience with this tour so that other are better prepared.
We booked this well in advance and chose to add the introductory snorkeling tour.
First, the good things about the tour and Quicksilver. All the logistics at the port went smoothly. Cruise to the reef on the big catamaran was smooth and snorkeling equipment provided on the pontoon at the reef was fine.
Upon checking in with the guided snorkeling tour leader on the boat, we were advised that if we are not comfortable with swimming for 45 minutes with the group, we should perhaps not do this tour and they will refund it if we choose not to do it. None of us are strong swimmers so we were discussing this. At this time, they suggested that perhaps the "Ocean Walk" helmet dive might suit us better since it involves no swimming.
So, we talked to the person handling the Ocean Walk. We had no idea what it was. Person responsible explained that it was a pressurized helmet dive where in you dive and walk to the reef on a platform under water and will be guided by experienced scuba divers. We are assured that this would not interfere with any other activities that we want to at the reef. So, we opted for this very expensive dive and opted out of guided snorkeling tour. This turned out to be a big mistake!
After a while we were give a time slot of 1pm for the dive. We were told to be at the dive platform 10 minutes before the slot and warned NOT to go any semi-sub tours (free) that start after 12.30pm.
The boat arrived at the pontoon a little after 12.00 and Quicksilver put out a pretty good lunch spread. We had a 1pm slot for the dive so we decided to eat lunch first which took 15-20 min. Since we were told we shouldn't get on the semi-sub tour after 12.30, and it would take too long to put snorkeling gear on and snorkel for a bit on our own, we just hung around and decided to do the tour of the "Underwater Observatory".
Underwater Observatory was the first let down. You go down the steps for may be 1 or 2 meters and there is a windowed chamber under the water that is a few meters long. There was no one there and that should've been a tip off that this is waste of time. We did not see anything through the windows other than the reef in the distance and the red fish they "feed" so that they hang around. Was very disappointed, but the helmet dive should be fun right?
Next was helmet diving which we were very exited about. We put on the heavy gear and was lead down a stair case in to the water. This is where the scam unfolded. This wasn't any kind of "Ocean Walk"! You just stay on a platform under water (probably 3-4 meters below) holding on to a rail facing the reef. The guide with scuba gear will then perform some "tricks" for you such as feeding the same red fish that appear to hang around because they are used to the feeding and the guide blowing bubbles at you! You don't see any other marine life of the reef. They also take some pictures and video that they later try to sell!. That is it! So, we paid as much as the actual cruise for this stupid trick and wasted all our time! It was 1.30pm by the time we got out and returned the gear.
We were told that we had till 2.00pm to return to the boat to leave. At this point, we haven't done any meaningful reef activity, and we only have a few minutes. There is a semi-sub tour at 1.40 and that was the last one. So, we had to choose between doing some snorkeling on our own or do the sub tour and not do any snorkeling! We didn't travel half around the world to not snorkel on the GBR at all, so we chose to do that. Our friends that were with us only did a few minutes of snorkeling and got on the last trip.
Snorkeling on the reef by ourselves was amazing. As we venture out on to the reef we were treated to tons of marine life and the beautiful reef itself. It would've been wonderful to spend more time doing that as opposed to wasting time with the Ocean Walk scam!!
Then our friends returned from the sub-tour and told/showed the magnificent views of the bustling reef they saw from the sub. We were mad that we missed that (free) tour because of the stupid helmet dive.
We are very disappointed that we spent a lot of time and money to get to GBR only to be scammed by the stupid helmet dive. I would've gladly paid more for the actual cruise instead of this scam. I would've rated this five stars as well.
Buyer beware and know what you are getting in to. If I were to do this again (which probably won't happen in my lifetime), I would skip lunch (it was good, but takes time) and would stick with the guided tour. Keep in mind you only have about 2 - 2.5 hours at the reef and spend it wisely!