Down Under Cruise & Dive Diving & Snorkelling Review

So this was a great day at the reef! Ticked off all of our favourite underwater things – turtles, clownfish, maori wrasse, diagonal-banded sweetlips and reef sharks – and that was all on our first dive of the day at Saxon Reef. The Down Under Cruise & Dive day tour gives you around 3 hours of in-water time, visiting 2 different reefs, with the option of unguided diving and time for snorkelling. Their 3-level boat Evolution is well-planned for ease of movement and well maintained, with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. When we went out with Down Under Cruise & Dive on Saturday 11 March, they delivered on service, sites and smiles so without further ado, I’ll dive right into our review.

Down Under Cruise Wally

Hello Wally well, that’s what they call him anyway, this beautiful big Maori Wrasse we dived with at Saxon Reef.

Down Under Cruise & Dive Trip Review (March 2023)

Your Down Under Cruise & Dive day commences with check-in at the Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal from 7.15am, followed by boarding from 7.30am for a 8.30am departure. Evolution can carry quite a few guests – there were 160 on board the day we travelled – but there is plenty of space across the 3-decks and it didn’t feel crowded. For scuba divers, you have allocated seats / tables on Level 2 and you’re greeted by the DiveMaster who shows you where to go / sit. The dive briefing is also provided on Level 2 – for certified and introductory divers. There was complimentary tea and coffee on boarding, with a selection of mini-choc-chip muffins and pumpkin scones. It’s approximately a 90-minute trip to your first reef site and during this time the crew provide safety, reef, diving and snorkel briefings. They also discuss the optional extras which are the semi-submersible tour and diving, which is in addition to the standard day tour price. It’s a maximum of 3 dives during the day, which can be guided or unguided, and Down Under Cruise & Dive visit 2 reef sites which are suitable for diving and snorkelling. We visited Saxon and Hastings Reefs, but Down Under Cruise & Dive have 12 moorings at 6 reef locations – they pick the best sites on the day of travel, to maximise experience pending weather, wind and tides. [Diver Alert – Check out our Diving Saxon Reef and Coral Gardens review, on our Cairns Dive website.]

“It’s our first opportunity to do unguided diving, since our son became a certified Junior Open Water Diver 3 months ago, so we were all super excited! The benefits of being unguided, means that if you find something that you love – like a giant bommie of branched finger corals, providing home for anemones and around 50 anemonefish – you can stay there all dive, which we did! Saxon Reef is one of Cairns’ outer Great Barrier Reef sites and our time spent exploring the ‘Coral Gardens’ site was amazing. We had 2 unguided dives here and the highlights included seeing a giant maori wrasse, schools of diagonal-banded sweetlips and paddletail snappers, 2 green sea turtles and so much more.” – Julie Johnston

Down Under Dive Tour Review Cairns’ Great Barrier Reef

The vibe on the boat was high, as divers and snorkellers were in and out the water, raving about the reef and all they had seen. Conditions at Saxon Reef were amazing, clear blue water with underwater visibility of around 15m. The site we visited ‘Coral Gardens’ is a wall dive for scuba divers and for snorkellers, the corals were only about 3m under the surface so there was lots to see. You can find our diving Saxon Reef and Coral Gardens review on our Cairns Dive website. Down Under Cruise & Dive have an on-board underwater photographer, who is in the water most of the time, getting photos of everyone on the reef. These images are available for review on the return trip to Cairns and can be purchased to create the perfect reef souvenir. As we were unguided diving, the DiveMaster – Ben – provided us with a site briefing before we jumped in. ‘Coral Gardens’ is a wall dive with lots of bommies to explore as well. There was lots of marine life and so many highlights for our family. The four different types of anemonefish – including the classic ‘Nemo’ – and the most intrigued little Green Turtle who seemed to enjoy our company, as much as we did his.

We did 2 dives at this site and then, while the boat moved to its second reef destination for the day, we enjoyed the hold and cold buffet lunch. This included BBQ steaks (which is not your usual reef tour lunch), chilled prawns, breads and a selection of salads. The second site we visited was at Hastings Reef and again, the water was looking good. We did 1 dive here (but didn’t get any photos) and then finished our water time with a quick snorkel. Snorkellers see a different array of fish, with parrotfish, angelfish, chromis and six-bar wrasse plentiful on the upper-levels of the reef. We also saw a barracuda.

Down Under Dive Cairns Reef Day Tour Review

Down Under Cruise & Dive are one of the few locally owned and operated boats, providing Cairns Great Barrier Reef tours. Their boat Evolution is one of the newest boats in the marina, making its reef tour debut on 30 December 2015. It’s maintained in excellent condition and there’s plenty of air-conditioned indoor seating, outdoor seating and sunlounges for relaxing. The crew were all very efficient and approachable. Included in the day tour price is the trip to and from the reef, hot and cold buffet lunch, morning and afternoon tea, a complimentary glass of red or white wine, snorkelling equipment and a guided snorkel tour. Optional extras are the scuba diving, unguided or guided for certified divers and introductory diving (no experience necessary) for those wanting to try diving. They have a semi-submersible at Hastings Reef and you could book a tour on this too.

Safety is a priority on Down Under Cruise & Dive with a crew member positioned on the top deck, acting as look out whenever there were divers and snorkelers in the water. Numerous head counts were conducted throughout the day. DiveMaster Ben was awesome. His dive site briefings were good and he was always on the dive deck, to provide advice and lend a hand, when he wasn’t running the guided dives. He came around with fish ID charts on the way back to Cairns, to help identify some of the marine life we had seen and fill out Dive Log Books. Down Under Cruise & Dive left Hastings Reef around 3.45pm and got us back into Cairns at 4.20pm.

Here Are Ethan's Thoughts Of It All

“I was very excited to go back to the Reef. I really wanted to see a Shark, Turtle and a Clownfish and I got to see them all. The boat was very modern and big. It was very cool because it had lots of decks. The unguided diving was amazing and it was the first time I had ever done it. I liked it because you could stop and look at things you love. We found a massive bommie with lots of anemone fish and a massive moray eel. Diving with my parents was way better than being with a dive guide, because we all like the same things and could stop and watch them. My highlights where swimming with a turtle and seeing a shark and that was my day with Down Under Cruise & Dive.”

Down Under Cruise & Dive Ethan
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Questions About The Down Under Cruise & Dive Day Tour

Where does the Down Under Cruise & Dive tour go?

The Down Under Cruise & Dive tour takes you to Cairns’ outer Great Barrier Reef, departing from the Marlin Marina. They have 12 exclusive moorings at 6 reef locations and visit 2 each day. Generally speaking, the first site will either be at Saxon Reef (which is where we went) or Norman Reef. The second site is always at Hastings, for the semi-submersible tours.

How long is the Down Under Cruise & Dive day tour?

The Down Under Cruise & Dive day tour departs Cairns at 8.30am and returns around 4.20pm. Check-in is from 7.15am at the Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal, with boarding from 7.30am. You have around 3 hours in the water during the tour.

Can I dive with Down Under Cruise & Dive?

Yes, you can scuba dive with Down Under Cruise & Dive. They offer certified diving and introductory diving. For certified divers, you can choose guided or unguided diving. Maximum of 3 certified dives per day. All equipment is included in the dive price.

Can I snorkel with Down Under Cruise & Dive?

Yes, you can snorkel with Down Under Cruise & Dive. All equipment is provided and included in the day tour price and there’s the option to participate in a free guided snorkel tour.

Is Down Under Cruise & Dive suitable for non-swimmers?

In our opinion, no. If you can’t swim and aren’t comfortable in the open ocean, then this is probably not the day tour for you. Down Under Cruise & Dive visits outer reef destinations and does not have a pontoon, sand cay or island. They do have a semi-submersible tour, but if you can’t swim, then this will be your only opportunity to see the reef (other than looking down at it from above). However, Down Under Cruise & Dive does provide all manner of flotation devices, including vests, rings and noodles and these are available for all guests to use, to maximise comfort in the water.

Is Down Under Cruise & Dive suitable for families?

Yes, Down Under Cruise & Dive is suitable for families. We took our 10 year old and there were other families on board the boat.

What’s included in the Down Under Cruise & Dive day tour?

Lots. The trip itself, to and from Cairns to the outer Great Barrier Reef. All snorkelling equipment (and dive equipment, if you purchase certified or introductory dives), a guided snorkel tour, hot and cold buffet lunch and morning and afternoon tea, with 1 free glass of white or red wine. There’s also the opportunity to purchase souvenir photos, taken throughout the day, on the return journey to Cairns.

Where does the Down Under Cruise & Dive day tour leave from?

The Down Under Cruise & Dive day tour departs from the Cairns Marlin Marina, with check-in at the Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal.

Do I need to pre-book my Down Under Cruise & Dive day tour before arriving?

Pre-booking is not essential, but is recommended. This is a popular Cairns reef tour and does fill up. So if you want to ensure you can travel and dive with Down Under Cruise & Dive, then yes – we would pre-book.

Down Under Cruise & Dive Day Tour, What You Need To Know

Down Under Cruise & Dive do tours to and from Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef every day, on board their modern boat Evolution. The boat is well maintained, with lots of indoor and outdoor seating. It makes good travel time to and from the reef (around 90 minutes each way) and provides you with around 3 hours to swim, snorkel and scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef. Not all dive boats from Cairns allow unguided diving – Down Under Cruise & Dive do. The crew are efficient and helpful and the itinerary managed the water access for divers and snorkelers with maximum efficiency. This tour is suitable for people of all ages, looking to get in the water and explore and experience the Great Barrier Reef.

  • Snorkel equipment included
  • Dive equipment included (if diving)
  • Wear sunscreen and sun smart clothes
  • Meals are included
  • Additional beverages and snacks can be purchased
  • Digital photos can be purchased

About the Author

Julie was born in Cairns and grew up running around in the cane fields south of the city. She has explored, breathed and loved everything about our amazing Cairns region her whole life. Excited to be able share this wonderful place with our son and see it all again through ‘new’ eyes. Watch this space for more info on the people, places, destinations and things you can do up here.

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