Activities on Sunlover Reef Cruises

Cairns attracts millions of tourists every year with one of the main draw cards being the world heritage listed Great Barrier Reef.  During our recent visit to Cairns, we went out to the Great Barrier Reef and had a fantastic day with Sunlover Reef Cruises.

Sunlover Reef Cruises goes out to Moore Reef and provides a variety of activities which allows people of all ages and swimming ability (even non swimmers) to experience the reef. 

Here’s a quick rundown of all the various activities on board the Sunlover Reef Cruise.

Great Barrier Reef Snorkelling

Most people come to the great barrier reef to snorkel and this is the main activity on the Sunlover cruise.  All the equipment you need such as snorkels, flippers and life jackets are provided.  During the journey to the reef, crew members provide detailed instructions on how to use the equipment which is beneficial for first time snorkelers.

At the reef there is a large cordoned off area where snorkelers can go.  The area also includes resting stations.  There are 2 life guards on duty the entire time to ensure everyone’s safety.  The water is calm, and there is a huge variety of coral and tropical fish to explore.  The coral and fish here is spectacular, so be sure to bring an underwater camera because you will no doubt want to take some photographs.  I seriously took a million photos!!!

I really loved how there is a large sitting platform from the pontoon into the ocean - this makes it super easy to get in and out of the water.  I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I always feel really uncoordinated with flippers on and trying to get from a boat to the water is never easy - so the platform is awesome.

Snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef

Guided Snorkelling Tour

For those wanting to learn a little more about the reef, a guided snorkelling tour is a great option.  We opted to do this during our trip and loved it!

We had Ted, one of the 2 marine biologists onboard take us out for a 30-minute guided tour of the reef.  Ted pointed out a variety of marine life such as clams, clown fish and showed us the various corals.

I am not the most confident swimmer, so what I loved about the guided snorkelling tour is that Ted has a floatie which we held onto and he just pulled us along as he pointed out various things in the ocean.  This makes it ideal for young children or people who are not totally confident in the water.

The guided snorkelling tour is an optional extra.


For non-swimmers or those not too keen on snorkelling the semi-submarine is a great way to still get to experience the Great Barrier Reef.

Once you get on aboard the pontoon at Moore Reef, there is a large board with the various times that the semi-submarine tours leave.  Tours go for 20 minutes and leave a few times each hour.

On the tour you will get to see the same fish and coral that you see snorkelling, which is great - but for me it is still not the same as actually being out in the ocean amongst it.

Glass Bottom Boat

Like the semi sub marine tours, the glass bottom boat is another great way for non-swimmers or those not too keen on snorkelling to still get to experience the great barrier reef.

The various times for the glass bottom boat tours can be found on the pontoon on the same sign as the semi-submarine tours.

We didn’t join a glass bottom boat tour as we had already done the snorkelling, guided snorkelling and semi-submarine, although it certainly is possible to have enough time to do the glass bottom boat as well.

Seawalker Helmet Diving

Now this is an interesting activity.  Whilst seawalker helmet diving is somewhat similar to diving, you in fact don’t even get your hair or face wet as you wear this helmet which allows you to breath normally - apparently you don’t even need to be able to swim to do it.  No prior knowledge or experience is necessary - this is something I am certainly keen to try in the future.

Seawalker Helmet Diving is an optional extra.

Scuba Diving

If diving is your thing, you can even join an introductory or certified scuba dive out on the reef.  All equipment is provided and there are only 4 people to a group with 1 instructor. 

Scuba Diving tour is an optional extra.

Underwater Observatory

At the back of the pontoon, there are stairs that lead down to the underwater observatory.  This was a great hit with Myla who went down a few times during our time on the reef. The underwater observatory is very similar a large fish tank - there are constantly fish swimming around - it is just magical to sit and watch.

Kids Pool

The guys at Sunlover have really covered off on ensuring there are activities at the reef for all ages and ability and this enclosed pool is an example of this.

The pool is a small enclosure which sits next to the pontoon directly in the ocean, so kids, or in fact anyone, can have a splash around feeling completely safe. It's only about knee deep and you even see a few fish straight from the pool.

Water Slide

For those adventurous types, you are going to love the waterslide which goes from the top deck into the ocean.  We didn’t try this out during our cruise - but there were heaps of guests on board having a blast on the waterslide.

Tropical Seafood Buffet Lunch

Between 12 pm to 1.30 pm a delicious buffet lunch is served. I am not sure if the same food is served each day, but on our cruise, we had chicken penne, beef curry, prawns, bread rolls, a variety of different salads and fruit.  There was plenty of food and it was yummy!

I liked how they served lunch over the period of 90 minutes so not everyone was trying to eat at the same time.  Lunch is served on the boat, which is moored up against the pontoon throughout the entire time at the reef. This gives you the option of eating your lunch on the boat or taking it out onto the tables and chairs on the pontoon.

Scenic Helicopter Flights

You can even fly over the great barrier reef from the pontoon with a scenic helicopter flight. We were so lucky in that when we flew into Cairns we had some magnificent views from the airplane of the Great Barrier Reef - so I can only imagine how gorgeous it must look from the helicopter.

Scenic Helicopter Flights are an optional extra.

Marine Life Touch Tank

At 2.45 pm Marine Biologist Pablo took the kids to a large tank on the pontoon where we had a sea cucumber and star fish.  Pablo told the kids all about these sea creatures and their important roles in the ocean. The kids especially loved being shown where the sea cucumber and star fish bums were!

Fish Feeding

Immediately after the touch tank, Pablo took the kids to feed the fish. During the fish feeding he continued teaching the kids about the marine life. Pablo is a wonderful guide with so much enthusiasm and passion for the marine life.

Fitzroy Island

For those who prefer an island base to experience the Great Barrier Reef from, Sunlover Reef Cruises provides the option for passengers to spend the day at Fitzroy Island. 

Fitzroy Island is located only 45 minutes from Cairns and passengers are dropped off before the boat continues to Moore Reef.

Whilst I have not been to Fitzroy Island, the view of the island from the boat as passengers were dropped off, was absolutely stunning! This looks like a gorgeous island to spend the day at, and it’s definitely on my list for next time.

Guests spend 5 hours at Fitzroy Island and can take part in activities such as rainforest walks, snorkelling, diving and kayaking. Food is available for purchase at the Fitzroy Island café.

Our Verdict

Sunlover Reef Cruises is very well organised and all the staff both at the check in terminal and on board the boat are very friendly. 

As soon as we arrived at the terminal there was someone telling us where to go to check in and how to reach the boat. Once onboard the boat there was plenty of instructions about how the day was going to go as well as safety instructions and information about the various optional activities people could join. I really liked how the information was given out in a variety of different languages.

The boat is very comfortable with 3 levels and both inside and outside seating. Inside is super comfortable with lounge type chairs. 

There were plenty of crew members onboard helping people or providing information. 

The journey to and from the reef takes about 90 minutes and parts of it can be quite rough, so it is recommended to take sea sickness pills (these can be purchased onboard if you don’t have your own). We took sea sickness pills once we boarded and were fine, but there were several people sick onboard. The crew are well prepared though with sick bags.

You get to spend 4 hours at the pontoon and we found this plenty of time to do all the activities we wanted to do as well as have some down time.

We had a fantastic day on the Sunlover Reef Cruise and would highly recommend it.

Looking for somewhere to stay in Cairns?

We spent 1 night before and 1 night after our tour on the reef in Cairns at Hides Hotel. Hides Hotel Cairns is a fantastic budget family friendly hotel in a central location perfect for seeing everything in Cairns and within walking distance to the Reef Fleet Terminal.

We stayed in a family room which had a queen bed and 2 singles.  Often in family rooms, particularly in budget hotels, the space is so cramped, but this was lovely and spacious, as was the bathroom. There is no bath in the bathroom, but there are additional taps down low in the shower for washing small children.

The hotel also has a small pool, whilst nothing fancy it's perfect for families.

A light breakfast of toast, cereal, boiled eggs and tea and coffee is included which is served on the hotel’s lovely old veranda.

Also across the road from the Hides Hotel is Woolworths, which was great for us as we always purchase snacks to take out and about with us during the day. There is also a range of family friendly cafes and food courts nearby.

There is nothing fancy about Hides Hotel Cairns, but for the price and location, I doubt you will find a better option.

Written by Thrifty Family Travels, who traveled with Sunlover Reef Cruises and stayed at Hides Hotel Cairns in July 2017.